Earn, after a series of L's, sets in motion another event-filled night for Paper Boi and the crew leading to bruised ego’s and faces.
“I think we need to talk about a real problem,” Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) says to Earn (Donald Glover). They’re sitting on a couch under a Confederate flag emblazoned on the wall at Epsilon Theta Xi; a frat house full of white guys. They’re not in any danger themselves but after a night filled with chaos, Earn is getting his dues: he’s being fired as Paper Boi’s manager.
Al gets real with his cousin. It’s been a long time coming as any viewer of the show could have predicted. He’s mismanaged Paper Boi’s career; he’s bad with money and after last week’s episode Al realised how important his next moves truly are: “I gotta make my next moves my best moves,” he says. “Something’s gotta shake.” He’s dropping Earn and seeking new management, namely Clark County’s manager: Lucas (who made another appearance this episode).
What tipped Al over the edge are the events that unfolded that night. The episode starts with Al, Earn and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) packing their bags. They’re headed out of town for a free show at a college campus in Statesboro. It’s free because, as Earn puts it, “If you want this money, we need this college fan base.” He dangles the promise of a $60,000 payday as an incentive. But when Tracy (Khis Davis) decides to tag along, Earn is visibly upset. At first, he makes excuses why he can’t come before Al decides to pay Tracy $200 to be his security for the night.
Al, unenthused already by the prospect of playing a free show, is giving his cousin one last shot to prove his chops as a manager but gets even more annoyed when he finds out they don’t have hotel accommodation. Earn has been talking to Violet (Jerusha Cavazos), who organised the event, on Instagram, who’s offered her place instead. This way, according to Earn’s logic, they can save that hotel money in exchange for Al having sex with a fan.
When they arrive Violet’s run-of-the-mill college apartment, Darius sums up everyone’s feelings by stating, “This place kind stinks.” Her apartment is cramped: two ladies already live there and four dudes need to find space to sleep for the night. Al’s accommodation, though, is easy: right next to Violet in her bed. As they lay down in the all-pink room, Violet is ready for a snuggle as Al is clearly uncomfortable and contorting his face in agonising awkwardness. Subtracting points from Earn’s status as a manager, Al lays there as Violet recounts a dream she had where Al was a crane and she was a crocodile. It ends with: “And then I ate you. There was blood everywhere.”
At this point, after recent episodes, you wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta was going down the path of another horror episode. Thankfully, the comedy and light-hearted nature of the episode picks up. The second act unfolds where everyone, clad in pyjama-wear as an ode to House Party, is drinking and enjoying themselves post-show.
Things take a turn when Violet sees Al smiling and talking to two women interested in his work for academic purposes. A drink is poured on his head from the floor above. Wildcard Tracy springs into action. So far he’s approached the job with the utmost seriousness. He’s suspected a car of tailing them, inquired about surveillance cameras and ensured that whoever approaches Al is cool. It isn’t surprising then when he responds to Violet’s hostility by shoving her face causing her to fall back down the stairs. The slow-motion fall is excruciating to watch as you fear for her until Earn saves the day, catching her. She repays him by slapping him as hard as possible across his face.
Violet then gets her brother and friends to protect her which leads to Tracy sucker-punching one of them before a classic cat-and-mouse game ensues. The chase goes through the school in tribute to countless college movies. They finally find themselves outside, walking down the street hankering for some weed.
Darius sniffs out the strain and leads them to the frat house where the white residents recognise Paper Boi and profess their love of rap. After inviting the gang inside to smoke with them, the eeriest part of the episode unfolds. They sit around on the couch as eight all nude fraternity pledges kneel in front of them with burlap sacks covering their heads. Tracy and Darius head off to check out the gun room which leads Al and Earn with one of the frat residents.
Reminiscing about snap music, he plays D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” and makes the pledges dance along to it. They dance, snap, their penises bounding around until he orders them to stop and takes them to their customary “blind spot.” Al and Earn are left on the couch together, laughing when Al, rests his head back, sighs and says, “Tonight, man.” And you know what’s coming.
Though Earn tries to defend himself, blaming Tracy squarely, it’s obvious that he’s clutching at straws. This conversation is pre-meditated and isn’t without cause. Al has been thinking about this for a long time and has a replacement lined up. Earn was just too blinded by his own pride and complacency to ever see this coming.
Earn’s failure to be a manager has been inevitable since the beginning of the season. He could barely handle money, he got stunted on hard by his own hubris, he lost the race to Michael Vick; the list is endless. Despite tricking us into thinking he’s the sane one, Earn, much like the pledges, has the burlap sack on his head, blinded by everything.
And he eventually spirals out of control when returning to Violet’s room, he realises his laptop is missing. This season has truly been Robbin’ Season: he’s lost his girlfriend, his job, his laptop and his eventually, his face. Tracy lands blows on him after Earn challenges him to a fight on the drive home.
His face, badly swollen from the fight, Earn scrapes himself off the asphalt, sits back in the car and starts to gain some clarity on his life. Much like Al at the end of last week’s episode, Earn may finally be starting a new path after hitting rock bottom.
* Darius may have had the least lines in the episode but they were the funniest. It’s hard to choose from when he asks Earn, “You’re not allergic to jicama are you, by chance?” or right as they’re leaving the house, “I found my fork. I’m ready!” or “I was thinking about joining the NRA,” he tells the frat brothers, who are fellow gun enthusiasts.
* Anyone else catch Tracy’s habitual raid of a fridge anytime he’s in a house? He seems to make himself at home quick.
* Also: his detail as security was hilarious. The comedic timing he landed each line with was done with aplomb, undercutting the tension at times.