Atlanta is back, and if, after four years since Season 2, you expected to see Earn, Alfred, and Darius in the first episode back, you’d be sorely disappointed, but should we be?

I was pleasantly surprised by the direction this episode took. Donald Glover has said in interviews that this season’s theme is ‘Curses.’ In the haunting opening scene, there’s a fascinating monologue that, if you keep this theme in mind, really excitingly plays into that. Especially as the caucasian man in the boat says of white people, “We’re cursed too.”

We don’t follow the two men; in a (seemingly) disconnected story, we follow a young boy, Loquareeous. He is disruptive in class, which spirals into a series of events. What’s great is in the 35-ish minute run time, you start to question where reality ends, and fantasy begins. But, even as the episode progresses, that line blurs, and it becomes a lot harder to determine which is which. This has always been Atlanta’s strongest suit. This idea that you don’t know if what you’re watching is real or not, it’s this heightened reality, but it always speaks to real-world themes and ideas.

Jordan Peele Influences Abound

In this episode, writer Stephen Glover and Director Hiro Murai craft almost a smaller version of a Jordan Peele horror flick. However, there’s so much tension and terror even within this episode. As Loquareeous becomes ‘Larry’ and the episode further dives into this parallel between Loquareeous being with his adopted parents, and slavery, it becomes clear that this episode.

Even as the episode scales and we watch the family visit the Grand Canyon, there’s this eerie sense that the adopted family cares more about the perception of their own actions and not of the welfare of Loquareeous or his adopted siblings. So when they take drastic action, it’s almost an extreme response to them seeing their perceived ‘perfect family’ falling apart. They know that they’re ‘cursed’ even though they are in the situation due almost in full to their own actions and choices.

Compare this to Loquareeous’ own mother, who is more upfront with any negative emotions she has. While she’s not the seemingly loving parent of the adopted family, she clearly cares more for the child’s well-being and is less concerned with how her actions appear.

Questioning Reality In Episode One

As Earn awakens at the end, we ask, did Loquareeous really exist? Was this a case of a dream within a dream? The ending certainly implies that Loquareeous’s story was simply a dream or a projection of Earn’s insecurities. Personally, I think it exists as a bookend to remind viewers who aren’t as savvy as others that Atlanta is still a show about Earn and his supporting characters. Or perhaps I think that to say that what we watched for this episode was all a dream seemingly undermines the actual value of it, or maybe not. Atlanta is not a show about easy answers, and that’s why it’s so great.

Atlanta Episode Two “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town”

Picking up where we left off at the end of “Three Slaps”, we see that Earn and company are in Europe. Since we last saw the crew, it seems like time has progressed as we now see that Earn is sleeping with women he’s met while Paper Boi is on tour, and Van tells Darius that she has a Boyfriend. Maybe it’s just me, but I certainly was rooting for them as a couple that was and could be again in the future.

The episode has Earn trying to free Al from an Amsterdam prison, and Darius is helping Van look for clothes after her luggage is lost. After the last episode veered into unfamiliar territory, it’s nice to go back to the familiarity of there being a seemingly simple issue just exacerbated by the characters and their own quirks and traits. It’s episodes like this that always remind me of some of the best sitcoms where each episode has a tremendous self-contained story, but in this, you also have great moments of racial reflection.

The Crew Is Back Together Again

“ATLANTA” — “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town” — Season 3, Episode 2 (Airs March 24) Pictured (L-R): LaKeith Stanfield as Darius, Zazie Beetz as Van. CR: Coco Olakunle/FX

When we catch up with Al, he’s in prison, and people shout “Free Paper Boi.” Just as he’s about to be freed, he’s annoyed that his bail has been paid, which I found funny. It seems like Amsterdam prisons aren’t so bad. As they leave, they see a young boy seemingly in black face makeup, but they later find out it’s a character who fell through a chimney; I really enjoyed Earn saying how he appreciated the ‘rebrand.’ This keeps coming up in the episode and you see al and Earn become increasingly weary that it’s actually true.

Darius and Van eventually come across a long thought to be a dead musician who is alive and has long-lived his (real) death. This scene was truly haunting, and if the first episode this season had twinges of a Jordan Peele horror movie, this was more in line with Hereditary. Ari Aster would likely approve.

In the end, the black face subplot came to a head in a darkly comedic fashion and was a good payoff for a seemingly hostile move that came across as deeply disturbing and yet oddly triumphant.

Will Earn and Van get back together? The scene in the hotel certainly makes it seem like there’s some potential for them to get back together, but with Van having a boyfriend and Earn having flings in Europe, it may be some time before we get a payoff for that.

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