“Rap. Now there’s a funny one.”
Atlanta: Robbin’ Season’s latest and ghastly episode “Teddy Perkins” centers on Darius as he sets out to obtain a piano with multicolored keys from a reclusive musician. Learning of this rare decorated instrument in an Internet chatroom, Darius travels to the home of Theodore Perkins (possible reference to Anthony Perkins, star of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho), a wealthy man who claims to care for his ailing brother, a musician named Benny Hope who developed a rare skin condition that renders him unable to make contact with sunlight.
Conversation reveals that rap music hasn’t met Perkins’ approval, as he cites what he believes is its insufficiency as an art form. Darius contests the claim, saying, “Every now and then people just want to have a good time.” The answer doesn’t please Perkins, chuckling at the mere idea of said good time. But despite Perkins’ weird characteristics, his face lights up when Darius’ affection for older music comes to light.
“Teddy Perkins” isn’t just an episode littered with horror film references or one that abides by the Get Out standard of eerie that reviews and recaps can’t wait to namedrop. There’s a greater story being told: new school versus old school. An age-old debate where the outcome is the same all the time. Donald Glover and Hiro Murai remain truthful to the cyclical nature of new and old in the face of music.
Darius, since his introduction, has always been a creature that can adapt to the time around him. It’s clear he’s that old soul wise beyond his time and circumstances, even if his smarts are clothed in a stoner’s body. He’s also a young man, still learning himself. Part of his popularity, as a character, comes from the purity of his heart. Why do think you get that gut-wrenching feeling when Perkins draws his shotgun and aims it at him? Innocence, vulnerability, and youth stare down the barrel belonging to a begrudged man whose love was lost and stolen from him. A love he seeks to regain, but only through sacrifice.
With a career long forgotten, which birthed from pain, Teddy Perkins is a composite of the legendary artists mentioned in the episode. Stevie Wonder, Keith Jared, Dionne Warwick, and of course, the most noticeable of musicians that create Perkins is Michael Jackson, hence the physical resemblance. His home, a representation of the generations prior, is dark and gloomy and in the process of being renovated into a museum. Perkins doesn’t want Darius to leave though. His only guest in God knows how long, he’s enjoying the opportunity to teach the young man. Sure, he’s got some sinister plans in mind, but it’s all for the love of great music - their common ground.
After talking to Alfred, an up-and-coming rapper known as Paper Boi, Darius attempts to collect the piano and leave. Note that the piano was never for sale. He doesn’t want to be rude to Perkins but he simply wants what he came to get, and Perkins isn’t going to allow that.
The episode reaches its boiling point when Teddy reveals to Darius that he is going to kill him as a sacrifice. There Darius sits, shackled, waiting for his life to be taken, when “Benny” arrives and kills Teddy and himself instead. The murder-suicide symbolizes the inherent fact that the past is just that. You can’t eliminate the future, there will always be a next generation that leaves behind what came before it. Teddy Perkins couldn’t come to grips with such an idea.
Rap has always been the black sheep of music. Teddy’s disdain of rap and the new generation is made clear several times, mostly through facial expressions and a brief outburst of rage. From his perspective, the youth aren’t appreciative. In their parlor room chat, Darius reveals that he doesn’t actually play but wants the piano to idolize. While this isn’t alarming to the audience, given Darius’s ways, it’s why Murai and Glover place an emphasis on the single blood drop on the piano keys. Teddy truly had to suffer to earn his success and doesn’t see the same effort being made by the youth the do the same.
“Teddy Perkins” is a great episode with much to unpack even in subtler moments. There’s a reason it runs 41 minutes, to sustain its tone and chill factor. But for me, the episode greatly deals with generational gaps and issues that precede the Lil Xans of our era not caring for the Tupacs that are no longer. With that being said, Darius was the perfect lead for “Teddy Perkins” not because we wanted a LaKeith Stanfield-lead episode, but for the simple fact that Darius is Atlanta’s most empathetic character. The events transpired will shape his mentality for the rest of his life.