With such a short turnaround following an adventurous season three in Europe, FX’s Golden Globe Award-winning series Atlanta is pleasantly already back with its fourth and final season. Notably, the gang is back in the titular city and attempting to return to its roots within the first two episodes of the season. Moreover, the show’s social commentary is stronger than ever, with nods to recent events and ongoing tragedies that plague the community. However, outside of the subtleties that reflect the world in which the viewers live, the new season places a refocuses emphasis on the show’s four core cast members as they return home to lives they may or may not have mentally and emotionally moved on from.
Over the course of three seasons, Atlanta has put Earn, Alfred, Darius, and Van through various ups and downs that have shaped the characters we see in the latest installments. While they all come from humble beginnings, the success of Alfred’s rap career as Paper Boi has propelled them all in new directions that may leave them feeling complacent about the city from which they originate. What used to feel normal now feels taboo, and what used to feel like home feels like a strange land that they all have to find ways to navigate and cope with. For example, the plot in season four’s first episode, titled The Most Atlanta, sees Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) attempting to return an air fryer he received as a gift.
However, the store he enters is being torn apart by looters, a fact Darius seems to be oblivious to. This puts him directly into the crosshairs with a wheelchair-bound employee who accuses him of all people of stealing, and a pursuit takes place that seems to return the story of Darius back to true form. The woman in the wheelchair is based on “Target Jennifer,” a Minneapolis woman in a wheelchair who attacked protestors with a knife during the heightened Black Lives Matter rallies following the death of George Floyd.
Season three of Atlanta was riddled with standalone episodes that put distance between the characters’ arcs and the viewers. However, seeing Darius interact with, and running from, a seemingly crazy white woman in a wheelchair feels like exactly the kind of mishap Darius would find himself in. This already makes season four feel more like the show’s first two seasons than season three ever did.
Elsewhere, Alfred’s (Brian Tyree Henry) journey in The Most Atlanta finds him attempting to reconcile himself with his newfound fame while also grieving the death of a fellow local rapper by the name of Blueblood. Unfortunately, over the last few years, hip-hop fans have had to mourn the loss of hitmakers like Pop Smoke and Nipsey Hussle, something Alfred faces. However, his grieving period takes him on a scavenger hunt, with the landing place being a lowly-attended funeral for Blueblood. Despite all the glitz and the glamour of stardom, Alfred realizes that while the adventure does not feature many fellow fans, the most dedicated ones find a way to honor their fallen hero, which results in Alfred understanding what’s truly important in his ongoing quest to fame and fortune.
In both episodes, Stanfield and Henry stand out with performances that are equally entertaining and gripping. However, while the season premiere feels like the series of old, episode two displays the incredible character growth that the gang, specifically Earn (Donald Glover), has gone through. Titled The Homeliest Little Horse, the episodic story follows Earn as he goes to therapy. Growing up in a Black family with roots in the South, I can confirm that therapy is very much a strange bedfellow for Black Americans.
Seeing Earn take this brave step is such a welcome development. He finds himself comfortable enough to open up to the trauma of his past that shaped him and even sheds a few tears during a session. However, the episode also highlights one of Earn’s most toxic character traits: spite. He concocts a weirdly intricate plot to get revenge on a white woman that he’s long had beef with. While it seems Earn is progressing towards becoming his best self, the realization that he runs off spit and pettiness is a quick reminder of hard it truly is to change one’s ways for good.
While season three of Atlanta experiments with different genres and shines a light on many of the ghosts that haunt Black Americans, season four feels far more familiar and offers new insight into the characters we’ve come to know and love. The cast and the creators undoubtedly want to leave a lasting legacy as the series comes to an end. Thankfully, the first two episodes feel promising. It will be difficult to say goodbye to such a powerful series that means so much to so many, it is refreshing to know that it will likely leave us day one followers feeling satisfied. – Christian Hubbard
Atlanta premieres Thursdays on FX and the next day on Hulu!
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