TV Review: Atlanta, 4×10, “It Was All A Dream”

I expected the focus to return to Darius for this series finale of Atlanta. Following “Snipe Hunt” and “Andrew Wyeth. Alfred’s World,” which not only focused on Earn, Val, and Al but essentially wrapped up their character arcs, some sort of closure needed to be had for the other main character of this show. With that in mind, I was less inclined to believe the show would, in its own way, attempt to unravel its own surreal nature as a way to help send the show off into the sunset. I should have been tipped off by the episode’s title, “It Was All A Dream,” but why wouldn’t that just be a nod to other series that have tried to get away with this concept as a finale? Still, true to form, the sendoff for the series was equal parts hilarious, scary, and offbeat. What more could I ask for from a series that’s trafficked in matching the black experience with the surreal?

A risk from jump was casting Lakeith Stanfield as Darius and hoping his energy that wavered between appearing wise and being aloof would catch on for audiences. The whole cast benefits from how they have defined themselves, but Darius has always been the character most directly in touch with the more oddball elements of this series. If anything, Earn tolerate strange notions, Al is flustered by them, and Van will fight back if need be. Darius rolls with what’s going on, and this episode may give a reason as to why.

We learn that Darius has weekly self-deprivation tank appointments. Clear to anyone is how it relaxes his mind, allowing him to be more zen-like with all those around him. Thinking back on this series, it’s very rare we see Darius even approach appearing stressed. Yes, “Teddy Perkins” is an all-timer for this series, and this show has supplied a few harrowing situations, but Darius doesn’t tend to lose it very often. With that in mind, is this episode an answer to not only why Daisus is so chill but also some sort of backdoor explanation for many of the goings on in Atlanta?

A conversation in a drugstore clues us into the idea that this sort of tank therapy can have people go too deep and find themselves unable to get out of a dream without some kind of help. Yes, we all immediately start thinking of Inception, and plenty of people who want to guess the game ahead of time may wonder if we’re already in the dream. Whatever the case may be, setting up the stakes is a large hint that this episode is going to be fooling with the viewer.

True to form, our experiences with Darius’ dreams don’t stretch plausibility for a good long while. A chance encounter with an old friend does not set off many alarms. Given the show we’ve been watching for multiple seasons, there’s little reason to think the strange stuff happening is not just par for the course when it comes to this series. Being suddenly jerked out of a dream, however, makes sense as far as keeping Darius away from actual danger, but one may begin to question how this could apply to the series as a whole.

Naturally, we’ve followed a multi-season arc concerning Earn and his relationship with Al as his manager, let alone what Earn and Van have gone through. Unlike Simpsons episodes that flash forward to the future from one character’s perspective yet still have b-plots not involving them, I don’t think Atlanta is suggesting everything was always in Darius’ head. It’s more about accepting his relationship with these characters throughout the series. Whether high, eternally relaxed, or just being himself (though there are hints that he’s had wilder days in the past), Darius exists on a plane that works for him and can come in handy in some instances while proving dangerous in others.

Speaking of b-plots, Earn and Al join Van at a new place her friend wants her to support. It’s Demarcus’, a black-owned sushi fusion restaurant. Credit once again to Donald Glover and the writer’s room for finding the perfect ridiculous location to contain these characters while Darius is off on his own. The setup is great, from the restaurant being built inside an old Blockbuster, Al having to get his broken foot under the table, to the strategic placement of a Popeye’s across the street.

There have been efforts week after week to define Blackness in different ways on this show. This finale isn’t offering a whole lot that is new, nor do I believe what follows at Damarcus’ is some sort of final thought on the topic. However, it’s still fascinating to see the gears of this episode turning as it trots out the restaurant owner. Played to silly perfection by Calvin Dutton, Damarcus (using an affected accent and sporting a bowtie) hears all of Al’s complaints and desire to go to Popeyes and puts in his thoughts on the hypocrisy of the fried chicken joint and what it says about the future of Black culture.

There’s some insightful commentary buried within, but does it amount to much more than what’s been explored in other episodes? Not really, and that’s not a flaw. It’s more a curiosity that passes the time before things turn sinister – that is, before Darius arrives and saves the day. Or did he? It matters little, as we get a final time of joy shared between all four main performers as they enjoy their Popeyes while fleeing in a stolen whip.

With Earn and Van, along with their daughter Lottie, soon on their way to LA, and Al content with living on his farm and only occasionally heading into the city, it all comes back down to Darius. He’s comfortable, even if we only know so much about him (we learn of his brother Eze this week), and are unaware of his future intentions. That comfort extends to what he chooses to believe. As established, imagining an attractive version of Judge Judy is his totem (his way of knowing he’s in a dream). By the end of this episode, we don’t know what Darius is seeing on TV, but we know he’s satisfied with the outcome. Does he see a version of his life featuring his friends having a good time as merely something imagined, or is it the real deal? Does it matter? As noted from the start, Atlanta is a state of mind.

Bonus Tracks:

  • Yes, with all that’s going on, I do wonder if there was ever more to say about how to tie in any of the anthology episodes featured in the series. Not that I needed answers, but one does wonder if certain developments directly apply to the main characters in some way.
  • Al and Earn guessing what “Dep Date” means and sharing a moment is the perfect bit of chemistry that has constantly defined this show well.
  • “Smells like the manager is mean as hell.” – I’ll certainly miss Paper Boi.
  • “You have a beautiful spirit.” – Darius is ever the gentle soul and always rounded out the cast well with his low-key energy.
  • “I can’t stop thinking about the Popeyes.” – Van doesn’t get much to do this week, but that’s a really funny delivery.
  • The cop asking London about Homeboys in Outer Space is a perfect out-of-focus reference to help pull this universe together.
  • I’m staying away from the tea room.
  • A series about Demarcus’ would probably be much better than the actual Blockbuster series currently on Netflix.
  • “Lock the doors” – This show never veered away from having horror undertones, and it’s better for it.
  • Thank you to all who have read my coverage of Atlanta. Even on the rare occasion when this show was not in peak form, it’s nonetheless fascinating to take in and dissect. It’s of little surprise that the cast and director Murai have so many opportunities in front of them, as there’s been so much terrific consistency in one they have delivered. With that in mind, given the nature of this show, I look forward to what series creator Donald Glover has in mind next as far as hitting at this sort of level of creative expression.

Atlanta airs on FX and is available to stream on Hulu.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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