Like the inaugural episode of this season of Atlanta (Three Slaps), The Big Payback veers into different a different story, with different characters; with all too familiar themes.

The setup for this episode is a relatively simple one. In an alternate reality, African-Americans are suing the descendants of slave owners who owned their ancestors. Not only are they suing these people, but they are also decisively winning too.

We see Marshall (played by The Hangover‘s Justin Bartha) as he has his headphones in, and pockets some cookies at a local coffee shop. Not only is Marshall ignorant of the world around him, but he’s also one to steal and take advantage of. In one scene you learn pretty much everything you need to about our protagonist (or antagonist) in this episode.

Blissfully Unaware

Marshall goes to work and overhears more of these cases being won and dismisses them; at the same time, he dismisses calls from an unknown number. Like in the coffee shop, Marshall chooses to ignore things he doesn’t want to deal with. Despite his inability to recognize the situation, we hear of major economic impacts due to these lawsuits. Ironically, as the situation worsens for Marshall and others, his attempts to showcase that he doesn’t have a care in the world are more genuine in those winning their lawsuits as they are able to quit their jobs and live stress-free.

Eventually, Marshall meets Sheniqua Johnson. Sheniqua tells Marshall that his ancestors owned her ancestors, and he owes her $3 Million and is almost assured she’s going to get his house as well.

Walls Closing In

Soon Sheniqua starts appearing at Marshall’s work and camps out in front of his home. With nowhere to go, and his wife confirming that she is divorcing him to avoid financial issues; Marshall lives out of a hotel.

In a conversation with ‘E’ (played by Tobias Segal), we see that the men are in similar situations; but E can’t seem to bear the truth of the situation, and while Marshall for most of this time hasn’t been able to either when E goes out and shoots himself, it seemingly sets Marshall on a new path.

A New Reality

As we close out the episode, Marshall is now working for a restaurant as a front-of-house employee. We find out that he is paying ‘Restitution Tax’ equivalent to 15% of his pay to Sheniqua. As we see him work, we see him serving some African-American parties; and with a mostly all-white front-of-house; it’s a powerful image to close out the episode with.


Like Three Slaps, the story in this episode veers into a different territory but ultimately showcases many of the same themes of Atlanta. We were told that this episode will focus on Curses, and in this, we see that Marshall and others are seemingly suffering from a curse, even though it’s retribution for past injustices.

Part of me also wonders how many of these types of episodes we’ll get this season. While I enjoyed this episode and Three Slaps, it seems that Atlanta is becoming less a show about a rapper and his manager and more an anthology series about different stories of racial injustice. It will be interesting to see if the show continues to tell more stories like this or focuses again on Al, Earn, Darius, and Van.

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