Earn's Hustle Sort of Pays Off in the 'Atlanta' Finale 

'Atlanta' reaches a quiet, but significant conclusion.

For a show that started with a gunshot, “The Jacket” is a quiet conclusion to Atlanta’s first season. Finales usually demand action, conclusions, and huge reveals; Atlanta doesn’t give us any of those things. Instead, the show returns its focus to the journey of its central character, Earn. In my first review, I remarked that Atlanta represented a hero’s journey with the homeless Earn eagerly working to provide for his family. Atlanta’s finale drives home that point as Earn embarks on a seemingly endless journey to get his jacket back. This journey takes Earn from a strip club to a dangerous police encounter, a journey that is ultimately pointless. We don’t know why the jacket is so important to Earn until the end of the episode. The payoff is great — it turns out Earn isn’t so homeless and the key to the storage unit he’s been sleeping in was in his jacket. It’s an interesting character note since we don’t know how long he’s been sleeping there or if it’s a recent development.

The reveal finally lets us understand Earn’s priorities. While Alfred may want fame and Darius is just along for the ride, it’s always seemed like Earn just wants to provide for his family. Yet near the episode’s end, he still hasn’t recovered his jacket, and he’s home with Van and Lottie. He’s making dinner and everything is seemingly perfect. Van even asks him to stay over, a hint that they’ve reconciled after last week’s “Juneteenth” festivities. However, Earn leaves, taking off into the tense darkness of Atlanta’s night. You cant help but feel like something bad is going to happen after he leaves the safety of Van’s apartment.

As a storm starts to build, Earn finds his so-called port. It turns out what Earn really wants is something to call his own. As he says to Alfred, he’s not mad about losing the jacket. It was the key inside that represented his independence and a shot at upward mobility. Things may be better between Earn and Van, but he clearly doesn’t think he deserves to be with her until he can provide for her on his own. Optimistically, it appears as though his management of Paper Boi is paying off and he may be closer to realizing that goal. It’s hard to tell whether Paper Boi paid Earn because he actually deserved his 5% for landing a tour with Senior K or if he just felt bad for him over the loss of the jacket, but Paper Boi has clearly found a new sense of respect for his cousin. Earn did take Alfred from murder suspect to touring, TV-appearing rapper so something must be going right.

But that’s not to say that Atlanta is Earnest’s rags to riches story. If Atlanta has had a focus in its first season, it has simply been to showcase as many different stories as possible. Atlanta is not the story of a Black rapper on trial for shooting someone. Atlanta is not the story of three Black men constantly battling racists or defining their Blackness. Atlanta is just a story; sometimes its funny, sometimes it’s serious.

If you came to Atlanta expecting a tense serial dramedy that would reflect modern race relations in a neat package, you might be disappointed by Atlanta’s finale. The show is carefree in its ability to whip from police brutality to our heroes simply remarking that the shooting they just witnessed was “pretty crazy and a little cool.” Similarly, there are tons of threads left hanging — What happened to the masked men and Swisher smoker looking for Paper Boi? What happened to Earn’s money in Darius’s dog breeding plot? Was Paper Boi ever taken in for questioning after the club shooting? Did Van find a job? I’m okay with these plots being left up in the air; the show is still enjoyable without these answers. Maybe they’ll be addressed in Season 2, maybe they won’t. Atlanta was the weirdest, most enjoyable thing on TV this year, and it didn’t need a cohesive narrative to make that happen. Atlanta is carefree Blackness as television; it does what it wants and goes where it wants with no concern for expectations or politics.

What else?

  • Well, thats it for Season 1 of Atlanta. I’ve watched every episode of this show at least five times, and I still want to rewatch it.
  • There’s a lot to be said about the imagery of Earn waking up. The final scene in tonight’s episode is the first time we see him fall asleep, yet the season has had many moments where he’s waking up in other peoples beds and couches. Last week he woke up in another woman’s bed; this week it’s the floor of a party house they trashed the night before.
  • “We cool, but we ain’t cool. It’s like I know y’all, but I don’t know y’all. It’s like we brothers, but we ain’t brothers.”
  • Incredibly happy to hear D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli” in the opening sequence this week.
  • “I don’t know the titty median here.”
  • Paper Boi is really good at Snapchat, and that was a great way for Earn to retrace his steps.
  • There were two hilarious food cuts this episode: First, we see a herd of people dressed as cows and learn it’s Free Chicken Sandwich Day; cut to Earn eating a sandwich. Second, Darius and Alfred talking about Jamaican food then the immediate cut to Alfred eating a full takeout plate in the car.
  • “I really disagree with that being black peoples’ #1 problem.”
  • Earn begging the cops to dig through his jacket pockets while Fidel’s family cried is the type of comedy this show really nails.
  • I wish more had been done with Darius this season. He was never given moments of vulnerability like Paper Boi and Earn and far too often was left drifting in his own plot. At least we know he’s the kind of friend you can count on to put away two blunts if the cops are coming though.
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