The opening sequence of Atlanta is set in the midst of confusion and anger, just before guns are drawn. The first words we hear from the character Darius (portrayed by Keith Stanfield) are “Hold on man, I’m getting crazy déjà vu right now.” The experience he’s referring to has yet to be revealed, so the line merely lives as an odd statement to share in the heat of the moment. Once you get to know the spaced-out lieutenant in the Paper Boi movement, it’s actually not that strange.
Despite how hilarious he is, Darius has yet to offer a pivotal moment that explains why he’s necessary to the show’s immediate plotline. Since the show contains only three lead actors, he stands out in a major way. Other than being Alfred’s (aka Paper Boi) right-hand man, he’s often relegated to a minor role with a handful of one liners. This doesn’t at all mean he’s a worthless character; it’s actually an additional element to his mysterious persona. And unlike Earnest (Donald Glover) and Alfred, we know next to nothing about his background, not including the reveal of his Nigerian heritage or the fact that he cannot conceive children due to his “balls getting smashed.”
But when would be an appropriate time to explain that story?
Darius is a lanky and seemingly clueless fellow. Five episodes into the series and his individual journey is just as befuddling as it was when we first met him. His actions tend to contradict what comes out of his mouth, but you can’t help but love his child-like innocence. While we’re not exactly sure what he’s capable of, it would be a mistake to assume he isn’t a brilliant character; he's arguably the most “woke.”
His relationship with Alfred is hardly explained but it would be safe to assume it’s his loyalty to the upcoming rap star that keeps their bond intact. In the series premiere, upon believing that Earn may have been a threat to Alfred and his home, Darius was prepared to do damage, holding a kitchen knife for safe keeping (though he did have a plate of freshly baked cookies in the other). It’s a brief moment but it truly speaks volumes to just how far he’ll go to ensure the well-being of his friend. Given Alfred’s “fuck off” demeanor toward everybody he encounters, including his own relative, Earn, it’s a wonder how he even came into contact with Darius in the first place.
Already an ingenious character, it’s the performance of Keith Stanfield that sells the character for what he is. Stanfield, more or less, owns the character in physicality rather than emotion and it shows. He’s emotionally reserved, but it’s pretty evident when a thought occurs in his mind. In episode four, “The Streisand Effect,” Darius and Earn visit a pawn shop in order to trade in a phone for quick cash. As expectedly unexpected, Darius is drawn to a sword that convinces Earn to exchange the phone for the weapon in order to receive a better payday. The sequence literally finds Darius being pulled into the sword’s atmosphere after a quick peripheral glance, very much like Snow White taking a bite of a poisonous apple. He’s absolutely hypnotized and without any lines of dialogue, you too are drawn to the sword. To captivate an audience with just your movement is an achievement in itself.
Darius is Atlanta’s hidden gem. He’s the type of character you've come across or were friends with at some point your life and learn a many great things from — whether you wanted to or not. He's a free being who operates on another plane of existence and sometimes feels like he's trapped to this world, and because of that, Darius doesn't let it hold him back from being himself.
Five best quotes thus far
“I know you don’t know me. My name is Darius. I was just wondering, could I measure your tree? … ‘Not right now,’ that basically means no.”
On the subject of jail food: “Food in there is genetically modified to make you lie.”
“You assume perversion of the word ‘daddy’; I think that’s stemming from a fear of mortality.”
“AIDS was invented to keep Wilt Chamberlain from beating Steve McQueen’s sex record. And by ’69 he was already number three on the all-time list. By ’71 he would’ve been that boy for sure.”
On being told he can’t shoot a dog: “Well, why would I shoot a human target? That’s weird.”
This is Part One in Rob Hansen's Atlanta character study series. Atlanta airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.