Atlanta Season 3 may be taking us out of the U.S., but it most certainly hasn’t taken us out of the discomfort and unease of race and class issues. “The Old Man and the Tree” once again reminds us that even in a different country, these issues still persist.
The Old Man and the Tree: A Party With Opportunities
The setup for the episode is that Al, Earn, Darius, and Van are all going to meet with a reclusive billionaire named Fernando. Earn lays down the stakes of this party and meeting early on, saying an investor of Fernando’s caliber can catapult them into the next stage of Al’s rap career.
Upon arriving, they see a run-down front that we later find out is a ‘fake house’. In it we get some great moments, like Darius and Al getting free Nandos. (And of course it’s free, it’s in someone’s home.) Also, Fernando asks if Al wants to see a tree that Al believes to be marijuana. So when he instead finds that it’s just a regular tree, he’s quite disappointed.
The poker scene is a true highlight. Fernando escorts Al to a poker table where the two play some poker with a $20K buy-in. Fernando asks if Al believes in God. Al confirms he does, to which Fernando asks if he believes in the devil and cites the violence of this world and his enormous wealth as evidence of its existence. He then recounts the story of a ‘black ghost’ and how it came into Fernando’s home and yet took nothing. Al wins $40K, and with that, Fernando and his crew stand up and walk away. Leaving Al, like the ghost, to be someone who entered Fernando’s home and got nothing in return.
There was also the subplot of Earn and Van discovering TJ, a young black artist who was exploiting Will, another investor, for an idea with next to no payoff. Earn tries to spell it out, but is seemingly fighting an uphill battle in trying to save Will from being taken advantage of.
Darius attempts to grab some gin and is seemingly mistaken for hitting on a woman who takes things in a racial direction; this then devolves into a crowd viciously attacking the woman and calling her a racist despite whatever rebuttal Darius offers. Even though he is the most qualified person to speak on these issues, it’s a group of white people who are speaking on his behalf. It was a great display of white moral authority.
The Pursuit of Justice
When Earn, Al, and Darius all meet up, Earn tells Al about Will (the investor) being taken advantage of by TJ and seemingly dismissing the actions as wrong. But Al insists that Will, being white, will always be taking advantage of black artists like TJ, and seemingly affirms that TJ’s actions are indeed the right ones. Earn sees a photo of three white bankers with a black man shackled behind them. He then tells Will that he loves TJ’s idea. Even though it’ll put TJ in a position to take advantage of Will, it’s beginning to look more and more like justice to Earn.
Wanting to get justice in his own right, Al decides to rob Fernando and take him for all the Nando’s he can get. What’s great about this is that despite Al being as hot-head in many ways, he’s also getting justice, and you root for him. He never got his poker winnings, but robbing a billionaire will make things right for him. You can’t help but smile as he’s essentially righting a wrong.
Atlanta once again uses history to contextualize the present. Even if the episode shows these moments off with horror, humor, or a mixture of the two, it does a good job of keeping the protagonists the heroes of our story. There may be some history to overcome, but you also have three black men who have had enough of seeing history repeat itself and are starting to fix it, one box of Nando’s at a time.
Atlanta airs Thursdays on FX.