Photo: Guy D’Alema/FX
Now that we are past mid-season, I can say with confidence that this final season of Atlanta exceeds the previous one by a mile. Critics of modern culture are sharper, the comedy is increasingly relevant, and Brian Tyree Henry’s acting is such a joy to watch. Over the years, his portrayal of Al has created a fascinating and beautifully developed character arc that adds to the series’ success. I feel the same for the characters of Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield and Donald Glover, but this episode is a showcase of Henry’s talent.
We’ve seen Al transform from a local rapper into a bona fide celebrity who organizes stadium tours. His rise to fame is an aspiration for many – like the young man who is barely able to support his family as he waits patiently for his big break, convinced that it only takes a moment to go from being a corporate employee. mall food court to rap superstar. Al understands the privilege and rarity of his situation, which has catapulted him into a new life, but comes with a new set of problems and is still plagued by his past. Now that he’s a public figure, the decisions he made years ago are even more likely to affect his future. There was no way for him to anticipate that a YouTube video from the prehistoric year 2007, a time before social media became the soul sucker he is today, would come back to bite him in the ass.
In the Atlanta universe, a Lipstick Alley conspiracy theory attributes most recent murders of black men to the Crank Dat Killer, a murderer who appears to be targeting those who have made videos doing the “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy) dance.” Al is initially unaware of the plot (because he still relies on cable TV for his news), but when Earn and Darius rejoice that they’ve never made a video of themselves dancing, Al’s mind turns to his own YouTube upload, which he made with an old friend of his at the top of the trend. Although he claims not to be bothered by being a potential target of the killer, Al immediately asks Earn to have the video removed from the internet. It only has 25 views, but wants to prevent fans from finding the post and promoting the killer.
Earn and Al venture to the studio after their discussion of Al’s “Crank Dat” video. As the talented artist that he is, Al records his song in 15 minutes before an unwanted visitor enters the room: a fellow rapper who calls himself Some Guy Named Doug and whose incessant requests for collaboration Al did everything possible to avoid. (Al admits winning that although the guy is incredibly nice, his music sucks downright.) Al goes so far as to pour the leftovers of his booze on studio equipment as an excuse to dodge Some Guy Named Doug’s request to do something on the spot.
Shortly after leaving the studio, Al rewatches his “Crank Dat” video in his car and finds a recent comment with the skull emoji by an account whose profile picture is simply the letter A. Okay, Pretty little Liars! Naturally, the cryptic comment worries Al even more, and he becomes consumed with the thought that the killer might be coming for him. The next day, he calls the closest possible person to the source: Soulja Boy himself.
While it’s not as great as Gunna’s cameo from a few weeks ago, we get an on-screen appearance of Soulja Boy as he talks to Al. Soulja admits his own fear of being caught targeted by the Crank Dat Killer causes him to flee to his “safe farm”, and he advises Al to do the same because, “like a good nigga, a safe farm is there”. Unable to feel safe even in his own home, however, Al goes to the mall incognito and grabs a pretzel. The waiter recognizes this because only a famous person would think that wearing sunglasses indoors and a hat without a logo while frantically looking over their shoulder is understated. Al goes out to eat his pretzel when he notices a car pull up with the GPS loudly announcing the arrival at the desired destination…which happens to be exactly where Al is.
The driver gets out of the car and looks grimly at Al, shouting “Paper Boi!” to him. Al runs, his paranoia causing him to believe it is the Crank Dat Killer, and initiates a chase through the mall. While Al is apparently safe and hidden, pretending to shop at a kiosk, the man opens fire on him. The entire mall erupts into madness as another shopper (pushing a stroller?!) begins to fire back. More people with guns are joining us, which heightens the anxiety in my mind about the flexibility of our country’s gun laws. Amidst the flurry of bullets, Al continues to try to escape. For some reason, the budding rapper working at the food court decides it’s the perfect time to show off his skills in front of Paper Boi. Terrified and filled with adrenaline, Al pushes the young man into a glass case.
Adding even more craziness, Earn and Darius are also at the mall, meeting in the parking lot with a mysterious shoe plug who can get them a pair of exclusive Nikes that have been impossible to find due to the beast nature of resale. He operates out of a van and is known in the neighborhood simply as “Shoe Man”. He offers them the Nikes in their sizes, delighting Darius and Earn until they are told the price: Instead of money, Shoe Man wants to see Darius and Earn kiss. Earn is unequivocally opposed to the idea of providing sex service for the shoes, but Darius is willing to make the sacrifice. I mean, I would too, depending on the friend and the shoe. But I’m guilty of the mindset Earn is critical of: I’ve paid disgusting sums for some of my sneakers even though I know deep down that I overvalue running shoes (which I I wouldn’t dare to run). We all have our vices.
Earn and Darius begin to haggle with the man, debating exactly how many minutes of kissing needed for the shoes before asking for privacy to talk about it. Earn makes a convincing argument against the kiss, but it’s not convincing enough to dissuade Darius (or himself). The weird shoe hold returns; plays “All My Life,” by K-Ci & JoJo; and gets a comfortable view of the pair in his rearview mirror. Darius purses his lips and Earn reluctantly leans in and kisses him back. As their lips meet, the rowdy from the mall spills out into the parking lot and the Shoe Man is shot in the head. Shocked, Darius and Earn take their shoes off and rush out of the van to avoid involvement in the filming.
Al is still trying to find safety amid gunfire flying through the mall. He drives to the parking lot and hides behind a car when, of all people, Some Guy Named Doug happens to appear. Al quickly gets into his car and emphatically thanks him for saving his life. To Al’s disappointment, Some Guy Named Doug is actually on his way to the studio, leaving Al no choice but to jump to a song, unable to say no to the man who saved him from death. a shooting. The beat sounds like something my one-year-old nephew and I would do on one of his Fisher-Price toys, but Al is indebted to his savior.
Darius, Earn, and Al reunite at Al’s apartment at the end of the episode, and Darius informs them that the Crank Dat Killer has been identified as a random man and not the one chasing Al at the mall. This shooter turns out to be someone Al has been fighting with since high school. Darius asks what happened, and Al simply says he thinks the man was still crazy. Al glances at Darius’ sneakers and compliments them, to which Darius replies that he had to “do a little something” for them but it was worth it. The three men leave the details of their day impossible to explain to each other while listening to the trashy collaboration of Paper Boi and Some Guy Named Doug.
• When Al is sitting outside the mall enjoying his pretzel, a group of young boys record a TikTok dance. It’s a great way to show the cyclical nature of black culture and traditions. While it’s a reach for Darius to compare Al’s video to the spiritual nature of black dancing, he’s right – one thing we’ve always taken away from our African ancestors is our love for the joy and community of dance.
• Atlanta is no stranger to polarizing celebrity guest appearances, for example Liam Neeson and Chet Hanks, and now we can add Soulja Boy to the list of dodgy cameos. I agree with the argument that he played a huge role in popularizing YouTube and is a trailblazer, but I still found him a little sticky after his ex-girlfriend came forward alleging abuse .
• I have a confession, which I can’t believe I’m admitting, but I follow Earn’s news philosophy: I get my breaking news and speeches from Twitter, conspiracies and gossip from Lipstick Alley or Reddit, and if I’m interested in a specific topic, I do my own research for articles. I’m sorry, but I can’t afford all these paywalls and cable subscriptions when Black Twitter kept me more informed than CNN.