The first episode of Atlanta's Robbin' season, "Alligator Man" gives us an insight into both the solemnity and absurdity we have come to expect and love from the show.
Proceed with caution. Spoilers ahead.
A character we’ve never met before, Curtis, strolls down the street and pops into his friend, Droop’s, house. He discusses how he couldn’t get any “gas” earlier. ("Gas" is slang for high-grade marijuana as well as a subtle way to tie in a scene later on, where Darius and Earn get the old-fashioned kind of gas.) Droop lets him know that he can get an eighth if he orders the No. 17 meal at a local fast food place. The two decide to swing by the fast food joint to pick up some food. It seems like a soft opening for the return of such a highly-anticipated and much-beloved TV show. But, as always, the audience is sucker-punched.
When the camera pans back to the car, there’s a gun pointing at the cashier and Curtis (he’s wearing a mask, so I’m unsure) jumps out of the car and runs into the restaurant firing off bullets, finds the weed stash and attempts to walk out. Problems arise when the cashier returns fire with a semi-automatic of his own. A shoot-out ensues, with the only victim being one of Droop or Curtis’ girlfriends crawling out of the car, blood pouring out of her head. The camera focuses on her before panning out to reveal the city, the season and the title of the show and season.
Welcome to Robbin’ Season.
It’s been noted by everyone, including the people within the show, that Robbin’ season will flow differently from its predecessor. A more linear, grounded experience with storylines that move from one episode to the next; it’ll be more in the vein of a traditional sit-com narrative. And the first episode of the season premiering on FX, "Alligator Man," lays down more plot-points than it reveals.
We meet Earn waking up where we left him: at his home, a storage unit. He’s being kicked out and his possessions won’t get the decency of being auctioned off. People are coming by just to grab things. When he turns up at Alfred’s house, there’s tension. It’s felt instantly by Earn as Darius and Alfred seem to not be speaking to each other. It’s serious enough that when probed by Earn, asking what’s wrong, both Darius and Alfred tell him they don’t want to talk about it right now.
Darius gives Earn a ride to his probationary officer meeting before grabbing some food at a gas station. Their dialogue overseeing a possible break-in sets the tone for the season.
“Christmas approaches, and everybody gotta eat.”
“Or be eaten.”
It’s serious, sombre and a reflection of the reality lived by millions. A brilliant segue into the main conflict of the episode.
"Alligator Man" centres around Willy (Kat Williams in a redemptive performance that manages to intertwine his comedic genius with a straight-laced act that deserves a 1,000 words of its own) and his girlfriend Yvonne arguing over a missing $50. Earn heads over to the house after being asked by Alfred (or told, we’re not sure as the power dynamic between the two is still murky).
He tries to make peace between Yvonne and Willy with the entire sequence of events being equal parts alarming, comedic and surreal. The cops eventually show up. Neighbours gather outside as Willy refuses to step outside of his home. He threatens them with an alligator; a claim backed up by the neighbours. The looming threat of an untamed alligator hangs over the scene before Yvonne, Darius and Earn make their exit. Willy, we think, is going to finally succumb to the cops request to step outside.
Atlanta’s genius is how it manages to straddle both the absurd and the real at once. One moment, Willy is handing Earn a golden gun, telling him to take the chip off his shoulder, warning him not to end up like him; the next scene has the alligator strutting out of the house to “Hey Love” by The Delfonics before seeming to pass out on the lawn while Willy is running down the street in his bathrobe and socks.
Earn’s association with the events that unfolded is simple: he needs to stay on Alfred’s good side. He seems to rely on him for money and, right now, for a couch. Willy calls him out on this which brings about a delightful yet heated exchange between Earn and Willy. But right at the point where most sitcoms would go the expected route, Atlanta skews off in a different direction.
Earn returns to the crib and finds the couch is occupied by Tracy, Alfred’s friend whose freshly released from prison. The episode closes on Earn feigning that he’s good, leaving the house and shutting the door on a potential place to sleep for the night. It’s a brilliant continuation of season one, where audience expectations were often subverted for either the absurd or the emotional; sometimes both.
The anticipation that lingered throughout season one, occupying many of the episodes, returns, feeling more so like dread. "Alligator Man" shows that seemingly illogical moments filled with surrealism will still exist within the show, but take a backseat to the plotline. Whether it was the 5-minute opening scene or the organic use of a real-life alligator, the episode teaches us to prepare for a solemn season scattered with scenes that retain the greatness of the show.
Welcome to Atlanta.
- Atlanta continues to have some of the best commentaries on race and politics in America. Earn having to negotiate a payment plan of the $375 anti-drug classes he’s being forced to take is a brilliant take on the catch-22’s that plague the criminal justice system.
- The funniest part of the episode is Darius’ conspiracy theory that ‘The Florida Man’ is a white man doing all the crazy shit in Florida that makes it into the news. He then delivers the line “think of him as an alt-right Johnny Appleseed.” The montage that accompanies Darius’ claim along with the episode’s plot is a phenomenal nod to the years-old meme.
- Hoping it’ll solve things between the duo, Earn proclaims his love for both Darius and Alfred. The moments after, filled with awkwardness, felt like minutes before being punctuated perfectly by laughter -- one the audience could share in.
- Glover's frequent collaborator and director, Hiro Murai, is quickly becoming a favourite. After this week’s shoot-out scene, we're keen on him to direct an action movie.