After what felt like a return to form following last week's "Alligator Man," Thursday night's (March 8) episode of Atlanta continued the new season's strong start. Audiences are reacquainted with Alfred (a.k.a. Paper Boi) fresh from house arrest, properly introduced Al's new housemate Tracy, and made to wonder how Earn could irresponsibly try to flip $4,000. "Sportin' Waves" centers on the colliding worlds that surround Alfred, juggling his budding rap career while trying to remain invisible during his pharmaceutical sales. Earn, on the other hand, is focused on doubling the four grand he had to wait for during the events of season one, landing him opposite of Tracy.
The episode's cold open puts viewers in the middle of a shady drug deal, and as we saw in last week's episode, stakes is high and Robbin' Season isn't a joke. The newly-freed Al is looking to re-up with his longtime connect, who acknowledges that he's also a fan of Paper Boi. Appreciating the business and the respect, Al attempts to make his purchase until he is robbed at gunpoint for his money. The deed sours Al, and he's left stranded without money and his car keys. Al later vents about the situation to Earn, saying, "I can't even re-up and get my money back because he my plug." It's worth noting that Al's relationship with his dealer spanned the course of ten years.
At the office of an unnamed music streaming service full of predominantly white employees, Earn and Al obviously don't belong. The disconnect is evidenced when Earn attempts to play Paper Boi's music for the staff on a CD, when the office has recently installed a state of the art airplay system. The awkward exchanges between the two weigh heavily on each of them: Alfred still hasn't embraced his role as the rapper and finds difficulty commanding a room, while Earn still has his own career goals and maturity issues to work out. When the two meet local rapper Clarke County, Al labels Earn as his "cousin" rather than his "manager," a point that places their career progress and relationship under a microscope. When he meets County's manager, someone Earn shares history with, the man is stunned to learn of his venture. It is immediately sidelined when County's manager offers to take care of Paper Boi if Earn proves incapable.
The episode continues to follow Alfred on his quest to find a new plug. Several encounters find Al dealing with his street and internet celebrity, effectively diminishing all of the work he's put into the game prior to rapping. His dealings come at a price: handouts and instant gratification via social media. Al's state of transition leaves Earn alone with Tracy, who offers to double $4000 that Earn made from trading a samurai sword for a dog in last season's episode "The Streisand Effect." Tracy, sporting a du-rag for the majority of the episode, acts as Earn's shepherd into the series' subtitled Robbin' Season. Through gift cards that can be used at the mall, it's a scam too good to be true - but Earn takes a stab at investing. As rewarding as it is to see Earn finally get a come up, it is equally frustrating to watch Earn trust Tracy with his money. You see it coming from the moment 'Sportin' Waves" introduces Tracy, whose objective in this episode is to prepare for a job interview. However, the decision on Earn's part finally begs the question, where is Van?
Much of the dynamic between the parental couple and their on-again, off-again romance revolved around Van wanting Earn to accept responsibility, which we know he is actually capable of doing. Sure, he completely lacked judgment on this one and so far it is a missed opportunity to see her reaction, and likely objection, to his earnest attempt at making more money. Consider this: Van is the most sensible person in Earn's life.
The $4000 not only lead Earn to have a total lapse in judgement, it symbolizes his friendship with Darius, who made due on his promise that Earn could make more money in "The Streisand Effect." While the aloof Darius may not bat an eye, or cast judgement upon Earn, it merely goes to show the total value and precedence of money, and on what strength is a relationship based upon? Let us not forget that Earn's initial motivating factor was cashing in on Paper Boi's underground notoriety. Alfred himself even questioned the desperate Earn, having not been in contact with his cousin for quite some time prior to "The Big Bang." Remember what Alligator Man Katt Williams said in the season premiere: "You learn family is business."
Stealing "Sportin' Waves" is Brian Tyree Henry. After missing much of last week's premiere due to his house arrest, Henry's performance as Alfred is full of truly wonderful moments, even if a scene doesn't require him to speak. For the duration of their trip to the corporate office, Al never allows himself to be at ease. His moment to perform for the staff is bogged down by a general lack of enthusiasm seen in his constant rolling of the eyes and facial ticks that speak volumes about his mental state. While Alfred won't conform to what society wants him to be, even if it is a gangsta rapper, Henry's presence in the role commands so much authority that it is a shame whenever he's not onscreen.
As Robbin' Season continues, the energy of the series, while still comedic, ramps up the shaky atmosphere this season teased in the preview trailers. As made clear in the opening of "Sportin' Waves," there is no honor amongst thieves. Even the Migos carried more respect than the lows the city seems to be in at the moment. But that same lack of honor is enough to look at the characters we've grown to admire on Atlanta with a new eye. What do we really know about them? Earn's Princeton past is still clouded with mystery, Al has gleefully allowed Tracy to live with him, and we still know next to nothing about Darius. The added element of social media expands the theme behind Robbin' Season: who's playing who? But maybe the sketchy feeling the show has now instilled into the universe is purposeful and we are expected to watch with a changed perspective.