Paper Boi falls down the rabbit hole, coming out the other side with a realisation we've been waiting for him to have.
“Woods” is Paper Boi’s wake up call.
After spending most of Atlanta’s run juggling life between reality and fame, Al aka Paper Boi faces several struggles, emerging on the other side with a renewed sense of purpose. From the moment the episode opens to Al laying on the couch, his mother’s apparition behind him, cleaning up and berating the mess of the house, we’ve entered Al’s journey into the rabbit hole, his last little dose of holding on to his values before succumbing to the demands of fame.
When Al’s phone rings, it’s Earn snapping him back to reality. His mother’s apparition gone, leaving behind a slight hum, Earn is hung up on as Al doesn’t want to have to deal with him or his half-assed ways. Cue Darius in the kitchen providing the show’s only comedic element as he prepares a pasta that Al’s going to skip out on. Good thing too as Darius literally puts his foot into it, mocking an expression used by many celebrity chefs’s.
Once Al leaves the safety of his house, it’s to meet Sierra. A potential love interest, she’s a confident purple-haired woman who picks him up for a day date. She gives as good as she gets in conversation and is able to bring a smile to Al’s face - a hard task these days. He even lets his guard down, allowing her to take him on an itinerary that reeks of coupledom despite being “allergic to girlfriends”, according to Darius.
Sierra, though, starts to change Al’s mind about what it means to “keep it real”. She’s the poster child of Instagram celebrity fame - something that was touched upon last week. She’s worked her way up from exotic dancer, proudly pointing out her past at a strip club as her and Al drive by. She wants the fame and fortune and is going to get it through whatever means: posing with fans, putting on a show of smoke and mirrors while being awful to those who don’t help her access that fame.
Urging him to “level up” with his management, Sierra is flabbergasted when all Earn can deliver is free booze to Al. She mentions he should be getting free shoes and clothes, at least. “You need someone who’s working for you,” she tells Al.
Al, though, doesn’t care about the “fake” trappings of celebrity. He reiterates that he doesn’t like being approached by fans, he hates taking pictures and stresses that he doesn’t like using Instagram after Sierra suggests that he needs to raise his game. Out getting pedicures, the two get into a verbal fight where there’s only one loser: Al.
Sierra makes great points of having to upgrade his manager, start treating himself like a celebrity because everyone else around him is doing the same. And Al retorts defensively, defending himself with anger and passion, Having pitched the idea of the two teaming up to form a celebrity power couple, Sierra’s idea is shot down by Al. Her tacts don’t work with his “I’m trying to stay real” vibe.
He leaves the salon, despite Sierra being his ride. Walking around, Al’s third interaction of his No Good Awful Day continues. This time, rather than work with Al, three strangers try and take advantage of Al, straight Robbin’ Season style.
From the moment they’re introduced, Atlanta creates a sense of doom. It’s one of the best shows doing this right now and you fear for Al the second the three stand in a semi-circle around him, exchanging glances. One distracts Al while he gets sucker punched by another and the third pulls out a gun. Al realises that he’s nothing more than cash and success to these guys. They run off with his chains, his watch and after head-butting the one with the gun, Al runs into the forest being chased by bullets.
A badly-beaten Al lies low, holding a measly stick for protection, breathing heavily. Minutes pass, daylight is waning and Al gets up and leaves. As he loses himself deeper in the forest, we see deer guts (yet another Get Out reference). And then a mysterious voice is revealed to be a downtrodden old man who is very mentally ill. Whether real or Al’s apparition of his future, his subconscious, director Hiro Murai pans out to reveal the extent of the forest and to show how alone Al truly is in there.
It’s interesting that nature is the place where Al comes to the realisation of who he is moving forward. Shots of the half-eaten deer with its guts spilling out are a constant reference, in an ode to the survival of the fittest. Robbin’ Season in Atlanta is all about that and it’s about time Al remembers that too.
The life Al has been leading, dipping into his fame when it’s most convenient for him isn’t going to work anymore. Yes, his manager is woefully inadequate. Yes, he can no longer get weed without someone snapping a picture of him. Yes, people talk shit about him in the same breath that they praise him. Yes, he’s forced to do stupid commercials. But all of this is the trappings of fame. The path was chosen for him the moment he decided to become a rapper and his career took off.
He leaves the woods after the old man puts a knife to his throat. The old man gives him an ultimatum: make a move and get out of these woods or stay and get robbed of everything. Al realises he needs to go out and seek what’s being laid out for him: wealth, success and fame.
The last scene of “Woods” signals Al deciding that he can’t keep it real anymore. When a star-struck white kid recognises Al, he calls him over. He may look his worst with a swollen lip, bloody face and clothes and cuts across his face but he poses for a picture with his fan. He’s ready to take on what comes his way and make some changes to his life. He’s ready to embrace Paper Boi.
* When is the last time Donald Glover was on screen with important dialogue? So far, we’ve had shots of him in the back of a car, through an Insta story and a disembodied voice on the phone. He's truly taken a back seat this season, allowing the other actors to shine.
* Apart from Van, Atlanta keeps drawing black female women as caricatures. Though this point deserves its own article, it’s something the writers should reflect on for next season.
* Does Darius deserve his own cooking show? He’s always in the kitchen with his apron on cooking up something good.
* Atlanta, lately, has truly been blurring the lines between comedy and horror.