‘Atlanta’ Final Season Cements Its Legacy


Since its inception, “Atlanta” has never been what it seems. Beloved fragments of popular culture are picked apart to expose wider truths about Black culture, both in America and, in Season 3, across Europe. Audiences have grown with the characters, experiencing the dynamism of their relationships and the turbulence in their careers. The gang is finally back together, but now that they’ve grown into themselves, it’s finally time to pose the question: What’s next?

With Donald Glover at the helm as showrunner, the six-time Emmy® Award-winning series has been heralded for being one of the first shows on television to boast a nearly all-Black writers’ room. Co-executive producer Janine Nabers, who penned Season 4’s “Work Ethic!” episode, reflects on the wider impact the show had on the industry at large, saying, “I think ‘Atlanta’ gave Black people in Hollywood permission to tell weird, strange and subversive stories in 30 minutes.”

Acclaimed for its ability to reinvent itself and take risks, “Atlanta,” which in May became one of the few series to win a second Peabody Award, allows its characters to be fluid. It’s a trait that’s representative of the people of Atlanta itself: adaptable and progressive, cultural pioneers and relatable projections of ourselves, all the same.

Glover reprises his role as Earnest “Earn” Marks, making his return to Atlanta after accompanying Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) on his European tour. Earn’s worldview has expanded, putting him at odds with his life in the city and reevaluating the future he wants with Van (Zazie Beetz) and their daughter, Lottie (Austin Elle Fisher). City life finds itself to be too conspicuous for Paper Boi, relying on nepotism babies’ money and taking advice from rap star Soulja Boy — who, in the episode “Crank Dat Killer,” plays himself with hilarity in a fitting guest appearance — on the safe refuge rural living can provide. Darius (LaKeith Stanfield), the ever-existential nomad, remains as peaceful as ever, whether he is returning an air fryer to a department store in the midst of a protest, daydreaming in a sensory deprivation tank, or doing whatever it takes to buy a pair of limited-edition sneakers for retail price.

As Variety’s chief TV critic Daniel D’Addario puts it, “‘Atlanta’ draws upon the collective bad dreams endured by Black Americans in the 21st century” and “spins them in endless new directions.” Throughout four whirlwind seasons fueled by limitless possibility, Glover and the creative team behind the show transformed the comedy genre with inventive risk-taking and masterful storytelling, pushing the boundaries of what was possible on television.

Never fully forgetting Season 3’s anthology format, the series’ final season ushers in a reframed sense of surrealism. For example, Glover dedicates an entire episode, “The Goof Who Sat By The Door,” to a mockumentary alleging “the truth” about “A Goofy Movie” and its creation. Through the lens of Afrofuturism, the series examines institutions and false idols that are a living testament to the sacrifices of people of color for even a sliver of media representation, such as through (the fictitious) Tom Washington’s (Eric Berryman) time as CEO of a world-respected film and entertainment studio, as previewed on the series’ very own faux TV channel, Black American Network (BAN).

Everything has come full circle in Season 4. Earn is still thinking about his financial situation and neglected trauma. Paper Boi still can’t catch a break. Van still feels attached to Atlanta. Darius is still that unemployed friend wandering around at 2 p.m. on a random weekday. The beauty of this ensemble cast is that it has grown together; the tragedy is that it’s finally time to move on or else the feedback loop will never end.

Guy D’Alema/FX

In one of the series’ most emotionally-poignant reveals, Earn humbly sits in therapy; vulnerable and tense. He’s working through the emotional trauma of what he endured as a resident assistant at a prestigious university, that would have been his alma mater had he not left the school afterwards. In a sense, this breakdown of Earn’s best-kept secret unravels what had been the show’s most difficult subject matter to face on camera: therapy and the perceived emasculation that comes with mental health services in Black communities.

Somewhere between a nightmare and an alternate universe beyond comprehension, you never know whom or what you’re going to see next in “Atlanta,” with the show’s surrealism often hiding the objects of focus in plain sight. Blueblood, a posthumous rap legend, leaves an elaborate trail of clues in his lyrics, the infamous Yodel Kid (Tucker Brown) finds himself in the studio with Paper Boi and an iconic R&B singer is in hiding. Lunches at sushi restaurants become vindications of internalized prejudice, parking structures exist outside the concept of time, and a mysteriously powerful entertainment industry titan named Mr. Chocolate oversees a multitude of productions through security cameras and an intercom. This existential absurdity plays out like satire, giving the show’s message an unforgettable face, from the powdered pores of Teddy Perkins to Darius’ conception of a thick Judge Judy.

Guy D’Alema/FX

Marking one last goodbye to the ensemble cast’s namesake, Season 4 is a rollercoaster ride through community, perseverance and personal growth. After seven years of production, Glover has accomplished exactly what he set out to do in 2016: “I needed people to understand I see ‘Atlanta’ as a beautiful metaphor for Black people.” “Atlanta” is where we shared laughs, tears, horror and insurmountable joy.

All four seasons of FX’s “Atlanta” are available to stream exclusively on Hulu. 

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