Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” reclaims its magic in its fourth and final season

Atlanta has seen many ups and downs since it first aired on FX in 2016. In its first two seasons, the comedy series and its creator and star Donald Glover became critical darlings, garnering widespread acclaim and some fancy hardware, including two Emmys and Golden Globes. However, the highly-anticipated third season has been pushed back nearly four years due to scheduling conflicts with the show’s increasingly in-demand cast and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. So when the show returned in March, it was disappointing to find that none of its gags, social commentary, and usually well-crafted standalone episodes were really worth the wait.

Now in its fourth and final season, Atlanta has a bit more to prove than it did a few years ago. Will Glover and the other writers on the series be able to eliminate the bad taste they left in viewers’ mouths? And will a show so prone to distractions and narrative excursions be able to offer its main characters a satisfying ending?

At least in the first three episodes of Season 4 Atlanta has regained a foothold. It helps that the writers have brought the series’ main protagonists Earn (Glover), Al (Brian Tyree Henry), Darius (LaKeith Stanfield), and Van (Zazie Beetz) back to their usual haunts in the US, where they can’t escape theirs often depressing and disappointing realities. Despite an interesting locale in Europe last season, where Paper Boi embarked on a reasonably successful tour, the writers often turned away from their ensemble’s unique perspectives to explore myriad big themes of death, redemption, housework and in general. Whites with little payoff.

Back home, however, the characters are forced to face up to their responsibilities and acknowledge how much progress they may or may not have made since Paper Boi’s accidental breakout hit turned their lives upside down. Notably, Earn outstrips his peers and expands his resume as a talent manager while Al hopelessly navigates an industry he wasn’t built for, or rather isn’t built for anymore. It’s exciting to watch the previously aimless Earn finally be able to provide for his family, but to see him outgrow his cousin and presumably eventually leave him behind is devastating.

However, the first episode, aptly titled “The Most Atlanta,” is a fairly light, plotless fare that combines the show’s surrealistic method of storytelling with some local, in-house humor. Perhaps TV’s toughest on-and-off couple, Earn and Van are apparently back together spending a day shopping at Atlantic Station where they can’t avoid their exes. Meanwhile, Al ends up on a strange scavenger hunt that leads him to a funeral for a murdered rapper. And Darius is being pursued by an elderly white woman in an electric scooter who is trying to stab looters amid a riot (IYKYK). And that’s really all. It’s a fun transitional episode that suggests the interpersonal and systemic horrors these characters thought they left behind in Europe will always be waiting for them back home.

In episodes 2 and 3, the show is back in full swing and running on all cylinders. In The Homeliest Little Horse, written by Ibra Ake and directed by Angela Barnes, Earn begins by seeing a therapist in what is probably the most important moment he has had throughout the series, often not exhausting his psyche over his explored beyond facial expressions. Among other racist encounters with white women, he recalls an annoying incident when a white airport employee prevented him, Van, and Lottie from boarding a plane. (This dialog-heavy episode is also a good showcase for Glover’s talent as an actor). At the same time, we watch a white woman successfully pitch a children’s book to a publisher — or at least we think so, until these parallel storylines eventually coalesce to deliver an elaborate moment of Karen revenge.

Written by Jamal Olori and directed by Adamma Ebo, Born To Die is by far the most unique, with a level of poignancy and utter sass, of a Season 1 episode. It’s no shock that the consequences of Atlanta the Yes, really Work often focuses on Al. Henry is a stellar performer, and Paper Boi is oddly one of the most adorable characters to see on TV (although he’s a bit grumpy). Aside from that, AtlantaIts depiction of the rapidly changing and predatory music industry – something its creator is extremely knowledgeable about – is often its strongest social commentary. And this final season is no different.

“Henry is a stellar performer, and Paper Boi is oddly one of the most adorable characters to see on TV (although he’s a bit grumpy).”

Al gets a depressing reality check about the fate of his career when he attends a meetup for rappers in their flop era. One of the paths to financial success, according to the group’s leader, is finding a white rapper who’s likely to garner a huge following and win Grammys to mentor and direct. The episode is a scathing critique of the Jack Harlows of the world, whose mediocrity and appeal to white audiences has made them bigger stars than black hip-hop artists with real talent. But it also brings Al to an important crossroads in his career, which has been practically on life support for halfway through season one.

Additionally, in a separate storyline, Earn is on a mission to sign D’Angelo for his talent agency, leading to one of the funniest (and goofiest) plot reveals I’ve ever seen, which I certainly won’t spoil here.

Atlanta Season 4 premiere, The Most Atlanta, starring Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles.

Guy D’Alema/FX

While season 4 is certainly an upgrade from last season so far, Atlanta There are still a few things that need to be addressed – particularly Van’s storyline, which was largely an afterthought in Season 3 until the exceptionally good finale devoted entirely to her spiraling movement. Her relationship with Earn has always been intentionally ambiguous. But it would be nice if viewers could get some clarification on whether Van is actually in love with him or is just content with stability. Aside from raising Lottie and following him, what does her future hold? The same could be asked about Darius, whose entire livelihood seems to revolve around the success of his friends.

For all intents and purposes it seems so Atlanta is officially back, even if it feels a bit late. The series may have previously let Twitter discourse and viral moments get in the way of great storytelling. But as the show comes to a close, it’s nice to know that Glover and his team of talented collaborators still got it. Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” reclaims its magic in its fourth and final season



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