Previously on Atlanta, “Woods”
Here we are, at the crossroads many viewers expected Earnest and Alfred to early far sooner in their business arrangement. After 19 episodes of bad marketing decisions, gross incompetence yet somehow failing up, Earn was called out by Al after their latest debacle resulted in a blowout with a crazy fan, the most surreal encounter with some country boys, and worst of all… Paper Boi wasn’t paid a goddamn cent. At this point, it’s painfully apparent Paper Boi needs stronger, experienced management. A rapper that creates certified gold bangers shouldn’t be performing for future favors or cutting costs by shacking up with weird-ass women. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself… there’s plenty to discuss about the inner strife within Earn and Al, and who exactly is in the wrong about Paper Boi’s career path.
Since the series premiere it was clear to most of us that Earnest was mostly out of his element and pretty much in the wrong line of business. True, Marks had a few wins along the way thanks to his charm and ability to defuse a volatile situation with his shrewdness and quasi-erudite demeanor. Guile can only take one so far before one’s lack of expertise is a glaring deficit, and Earn’s erratic behavior along with his business and money-management shortcoming are too much for Al, Darius and even Tracy (Khris Davis) to overlook.
At least “North of the Border” starts on a subtle wave of optimism as the four drove to a fictional college to perform at their annual Pajama Jam. Naturally, Alfred believed everything was on the up and up until Earn revealed during the ride they don’t have a hotel room “per se”, and won’t be getting paid this occasion.
By the time they reach their suspect accommodations, Al really doesn’t want anything to do with the Pajama Jam or the screwy fan Earn met on Instagram (lawd) that expects to share a bed with Al. How Earn?! How are you gonna do your cousin like that to save a few hundred bucks? Now he has to lie their with a self-professed “fan” that leaves dirty footprints on her ceiling (how???) and shared her dream about killing Paper Boi after he got her pregnant. Oh, and she was an alligator and he was a white crane. Yeah, this night will end well…
Amazingly, the Jam went off without a hitch and most of the student body appreciated Paper Boi showing them some love. However, Al learned Clark Country’s manager actually got his client paid and received an advance. Then things went from bad to terrible when Tracy - who took his security way too seriously - mushed Violet in the face down a flight of stairs after she poured her drink on Alfred and some bonafide fans. Thankfully Earn was nearby to save her (and Tracy and Alfred) from a horrible fate but of course he’s slapped by Violet and chased out of the quad for his good deed.
All of this chaos paled to the ridiculousness Al, Darius and Earn witnessed inside a frat house during their hazing ceremony. The situation was already suspect when a pair of frat bros recognized Paper Boi and invited them inside their Southern fried man cave, complete with gun rack and wall-sized Confederate flag… and a dozen naked-ass white boys. While Darius went off to learn the merits of joining the NRA (seriously?! boy…), Alfred and Earn were treated to a disturbing snap by the booty butt nekkid pledges to D4L’s “Laffy Taffy”. Honestly, whole think pieces could be written about those 30 seconds of pixelated white meat dancing semi-luridly to the banger of 2005, but seeing that in high definition was enough for most of us. It was what occurred after the fact that was more startling: Now able to relax and collect his thoughts, Alfred finally let Earn know that he can’t take anymore Ls. His career can no longer be guided by an amateur and Marks is only become worse at his job.
Hearing that would make a person go on the defensive and mayhaps try to rectify whatever issues between provider and client, but as we know Earn doesn’t always think things though. Thanks to Tracy’s impulsiveness during the trip and car ride home, Marks tried to square up and take his frustrations out on a hardened ex-con that actually enjoys throwing down. Trace does his best to take it easy on Earn, but like everything else in his adult life, Marks doesn’t know when to hold ‘em or fold ‘em. Why Darius or Alfred don’t put any effort into stopping Earn is a testament to how tired they are of his antics. Yet it also alluded to a longstanding weariness on Alfred’s part to pick up his cousin over and again.
As we saw in “FUBU”, Earn’s fear and timidity was firmly established during his formidable years in middle school. Taking place sometime after 1998, the episode was a day in the life of young Earn, who like his present day self, is desperately concerned about being recognized yet continues to undervalue himself. What began with a carefree day out with mom at Marshalls steadily descended into a triggering recount of the horrors of middle school, the constant fear of being dragged by classmates and, though insignificant it may be in hindsight, poorly coping with bullies that may develop life-altering traumas.
Based on how his classmates and friends interact with Earn, he’s been a middle-of-the-fence kind of nerd. Smarter than most but not exactly the smoothest seventh grader around, Kid Earnest lucked out in having a solid circle of friends - and his cool cousin Al. With exception to this eventful moment in his scholastic career, Earn never appeared to make waves at school and liked it that way. That was, until he laid eyes on that ugly highlighter color of a jersey and the lives of him and his classmate Devin (Myles Truitt) were forever changed.
No doubt, like me, this episode was especially triggering because of the acerbic candor and dreariness associated with our middle school experiences. Yeah, high school wasn’t any better, but something about the three years before were particularly unforgettable - it more than likely has to do with our first legit occurrences of being receiving pettiness and cruelty from our peers. The expression on Earn’s face when he learned the boy that sits right next to him was wearing near-identical threads is something all of us have endured in our young lives. It may not have been the exact situation, yet the embarrassment and potential humiliation we’d suffer is all the same.
Once the kids heard someone was wearing bootleg gear, it was like blood in the water. It shouldn’t be overlooked that the drama of the day only affected the brown and black kids; when Earn is stressing to his pal Alex (Grady Port), he pays it no mind and think it isn’t a big deal. “Doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. I wore this shirt twice this week.” Well Alex, your’s shirt was busted. And two, the privilege you were born into is showing hard, son. We’ve all known a couple Alexes in our day. The kind of guy who’s affable and has a myriad of friends from various walks of life… yet he barely had a want in his life and cannot grasp the efforts we’ve gone through to be near his level, or realize the emotional damage we take in being valued by our appearance or demeanor - all because the system was designed to cater to his needs.
It’s not that Alex cannot care, he doesn’t know how because he’s evaluated solely by his character. Whereas Earn’s peers are ready to burn each other down at moment’s notice because they don’t have the hottest kicks or their Starter jacket ain’t official. It’s surreal to think all this mattered to us at so damn young an age. It permeated every aspect of our lives, from our friendships to potential relationship, as seen when Erica showed interest in Earn during science class, but only if he wasn’t a broke-ass nigga wearing knockoffs. That fucks with your self-worth, no doubt. And I can only imagine what girls went through during that time in their lives…
Sadly, the pressure of being seen as fake was too much for poor Devin. Soon after Alfred claimed he was the one wearing the bootleg jersey, Earn was relieved that the tables were turned on Devin, who was promptly harassed by high school kids as he got on the bus. For Earn his reputation for what it was remained intact. For Devin, it was too much and the following day, the principal informed his homeroom that he committed suicide. While the adults suspected his parents’ recent divorce was the catalyst (imagine how they must feel), the kids knew better. Devin’s incapability to know their cruel ways would eventually pass affirmed how potent and crippling the judgment of others was - and still is, to a degree.
Which brings us back to the present and Earn’s continued failure in managing Al’s career, and his irrational decision to fight Tracy. “FUBU” was a chapter gave us deeper insight on Alfred and Earnest’s friendship, how the former has protected the latter, and why Al is damn tired of looking after his cousin after 20 years. If Earn had never fully recovered from that day in ‘98, it would explain a lot about his fairly unimpressive life thus far. Perhaps the fight with Tracy is what he needed to gain a new perspective. Perhaps it could make him give up entirely. Guess we’ll all know soon enough in next week’s finale.
Atlanta S2E9/S2E10 Review Score
"North of the Border/FUBU"
Atlanta - S2E9/E10 - North of the Border/FUBU | Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beets | Writers: Jamal Olori & Stephen Glover | Directors: Hiro Murai & Donald Glover