Previously on Atlanta, “Champagne Papi”
Atlanta’s Robbin’ Season has been everything and more than we ever deserved as Donald Glover and Hiro Murai have fashioned a more intimate, darker take on the peaks and perils of success, the cult of celebrity and existential crises therein. The series continues to examine the overlapping issues, interests and struggles of the Black experience through absurdism and surreal imagery, yet Atlanta has been its best this season with its self-contained episodes. Everyone had their moment in the spotlight save Alfred but that all changed this week in “Woods”, a stark and gothic introspection that forced Al to confront the unrest that’s been slowly gnawing at his soul since the earliest moments of season one.
Perhaps since the airing of “B.A.N.” Alfred has been conflicted about his place in the current iteration of “the game” and the overall zeitgeist that has severely altered or displaced our empathy and spiritedness without our knowing. It isn’t like Al relies solely on Paper Boi to find a purpose in life or receive validation from the nameless masses; if anything, his alias has become a burden on his “real” self, forcing him to acknowledge the life he wants to live and the persona he’s adopted (and ultimately morphed into a character outside his control) are wholly incompatible. Nevertheless a balance must be struck or it could kill Alfred, figuratively and literally.
When one thinks of celebrity, almost always no one brings up the cons of being famous. Many of us immediately fantasize about the lavishness and advantages one gains seemingly overnight. The world may appear to be your oyster once you’re recognizable from Instagram to the East Point, but it could also hastily skew your worldview to a crude and cheerless place.
In the opening minutes of “Woods” Al appeared despondent that particular day, as he dreamt about his mother cleaning his house and scolding him to keeping it unkempt. Although it isn’t expressed directly, that day which smoothly fades into next was an important yet somber date in Al’s life: the death of his mother. It would explain the multiple voicemails and texts he received from Earn, who wanted to make sure his cousin was all right. As we know, Alfred hasn’t felt all right in a long time and he finally let his frustrations out on a friend who has her own demons, but allowed them to take the wheel long ago.
Al’s day out with Ciara (Angela Wildflower), a former dancer-turned-influencer quickly devolved from a quiet respite in a nail salon to a heated argument about nothing and no one is real anymore. While Ciara and Al hustled their way to the top, both have severely divergent perspectives on what’s important for their continued well-being. Whereas Al is singularly focused on maintaining his integrity and staying authentic to the streets, Ciara - like many IG models and social media celebutantes - is willing to live fully in the simulation, promoting brands that pay her pennies on the dollar for her scrap of clout. It wouldn’t be so frustrating to Alfred - or us for that matter - if Ciara’s ego wasn’t overinflated. Money doesn’t buy one happiness or class, as Ciara dogged her nail girl and her co-workers because they talked in their native language. Even if they were talking shit as Ciara suspected, they were within their right because she has a terseness and intolerant attitude towards those who don’t live exactly like her.
It isn’t until Al gets lost in the woods (while escaping a trio of chain snatchers) that the episode jumps into the surreal. Confronted multiple times by an old man named Wally (Reggie Alvin Green), Alfred became increasingly unnerved by Wally’s ramblings as he trekked deeper in seemingly endless woods. For once, Alfred was (mostly) alone in his thoughts in a world that was equally comforting and frightening. While the cracking and swaying trees provided shelter from the bluster and bustle of the outside, the environs forced Al to challenge with his insecurities. Every now and then like a slinking phantom, Wally would creep from a rotting log and hit Al with a grain of wisdom within his jumble.
Naturally, a homeless man that lives in the woods will eventually tire of someone stepping into his terrority and disrespecting him, and with his life on the line, Alfred finally gained enlightenment of sorts. Nothing puts one’s life in greater perspective than a boxcutter to one’s throat; though the scene itself is horrifying, in a way, Wally provided the needed push for Alfred to accept the knowledge he long suppressed. Al and Paper Boi can live in unison. His alias isn’t boxing him in, but a platform for greater opportunities. Most important of all, as Wally stressed by pressing a blade to Al’s jugular: make every second count.
Atlanta S2E8 Review Score
Atlanta - S2E8 - Woods | Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beets | Writer: Stefani Robinson | Director: Hiro Murai