"Atlanta": "Robbin' Season" is a slow burn; Katt Williams shines
Arriving with more questions than answers, “Alligator Man” continues the show’s tradition of allowing a theme to explore itself, even if it forces viewers to read between the lines.
After receiving much acclaim during its 2016 debut, Donald Glover’s Atlanta made its long-awaited return to FX on Thursday night (March 1) with more than a few bangs.
Opening with Clark and Droop deciding to get “an eighth” from Mrs. Winners, a local fast food joint, the two newly introduced characters prepare audiences for the shift to be experienced in the serie’s current iteration. We begin viewing the young men conversing over a local rapper named “Chris,” whom they both remark disdain for.
“He wanna be somebody so bad,” the video game-playing Droop says, before asking Clark what his plans are for the rest of the day. The casual banter between friends parlays seamlessly into the purpose of the characters. What begins as a quick move for some “gas,” nightmarishly becomes an exchange of gunfire between Clark and an assault weapon-wielding employee at Mrs. Winners, as the young man robs the eatery of their stash. The encounter is not without a victim.
Robbin’ Season has begun.
Picking up sometime after the finale of “The Jacket,” we see Earn waking up in his storage unit to an employee going through his belongings. Although Earn tells the man he can’t just take his things without proper procedure, Earn’s knowledge of Storage Wars proves fruitless (“This ain’t that”), and he is nonetheless robbed as he watches the man walk away with a box in hand.
Something is different this time around. The atmosphere is dark and the season itself is obviously colder, evidenced by Darius’ less than enthusiastic appearance when Earn arrives at Alfred’s house. Without any actual focus on Al’s budding music career, the rapper currently sits on house arrest, and there’s an unexplained rift between Darius and his longtime friend. In this same setting, we meet Tara, a woman that Alfred is seeing in some capacity. She appears to be the source of their distance. Given the show’s history, it’s not likely we’ll get the full story or an answer (yet) as Earn’s interest in the drama is rejected by an “I don’t want to talk about it” from both men.
A subsequent car ride puts Darius back in the driver’s seat, and much like “The Streisand Effect,” we are privy to another conspiracy-laced anecdote. Earn reveals to Darius that his parents are in Florida visiting his dying uncle. This prompts Darius to explain the “Florida Man.” This entity, as Darius puts it, is responsible for the state’s “abnormal occurrences.” Spewing the worst possible headlines from “Florida man shoots unarmed black teenager” to “Florida man beats a flamingo to death,” Darius relays to Earn that “Florida Man” is working with state government to discourage the black vote.
We later learn that Earn was arrested for narcotics possession, clarifying to his probation officer that it was “half a joint.” After he is instructed to give a urine sample, we later catch up with Earn and Darius at a gas station. Snacking on a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Earn asks, “What flavor is a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto?” Darius, who offers a Chester-kind of vibe, replies “Hot.” “I am tasting hot,” Earn retorts. The moment, which is quite brief, is one of the few bursts of genuine levity in the episode. Adjacent from the happy-go-lucky moment is a crime scene, a body lays covered on the ground. “Robbin’ Season,” Darius says, perched on the car’s hood. “Christmas season, and everybody gotta eat.” Finishing the disheartening sentiment, Earn says, “Or be eaten.”
The mode of survival has always been a recurring element. It lurks in the world of Atlanta, hidden inside of mysterious events that baffle both the characters and ourselves. Glover’s vision has frequently questioned the concept of death, and to a subtler extent, living by the gun and dying by the gun. The show’s first episode “The Big Bang” put a gun in Alfred and Earn’s hands in the opening minutes. Earn has waken up to a gun in his face. Quavo had “Percy.” Darius went to practice at a shooting range, except his target was a dog. And there were even kids in the neighborhood playing with toy guns, inspired by Paper Boi. But it’s played casually. There is never a big moment that earns the introduction of weaponry. No “ooh” and “aah” moments. Gunplay is just a part of the everyday conceit of life.
Enter “Alligator Man.”
Drama has ensued at Willy’s house, and Alfred tasks Earnest with solving the situation before police can arrive. The chaos that is taking place in Willy’s house draws Darius into the fray. Willy has locked his girlfriend in the bedroom and won’t let her out. He believes that she stole $50 from his pocket as he slept, she denies it and assumes he must have drank it, adamantly denying so. Willy is Alfred’s father and Earnest’s uncle.
Earn takes charge of the situation asking the woman to admit whether or not she took the money. He offers her one hundred dollars to satisfy his uncle and de-escalate the situation. Darius finds adventure in ogling over Willy’s pet alligator, likens the animal’s chamber to an Azealia Banks SnapChat, referring to the Fantasea rapper’s chicken sacrifices. Meanwhile, police have made it to Willy’s home, refusing to leave and proclaiming to know how the law works. The police don’t resort to violence here, they entrust Earn to handle the situation before they have to.
Yvonne, Willy’s girlfriend, later admits to taking the $50 from Willy. In addition to taking the money, he hurls insults at her. In return, she tells the police he kidnapped her. Pissed off, Earn and Willy have a heated conversation. It is revealed that Willy’s home actually belongs to Al. Willy, insulted by the cold fact, insinuates that Earn is “scared” of Al. Paper Boi is now Mr. Moneybags. He reckons that Earn is learning the truth about family. “Family is business,” Earn interjects and tells Willy what he is truly scared of – turning into him – “Someone everybody knew was smart but ended up being a know-it-all, fuck up, jay that just let shit happen to him.”
The statement understandably hurts Willy but brings back the familiar thread of Earn’s circumstances. He’s still homeless and while he is a smart guy, he revels in his own self-destruction. Earn doesn’t apologize for what he said, just that he shouldn’t have said it. Willy knows it’s only a matter of time before the police arrest him so he chooses to give Earn a gold-plated handgun. He tells him that he’s going to need in the music business and for Al’s protection. With no option but to help his uncle, he takes it. Willy’s last bit of advice for Earn is to get rid of the chip on his shoulder, a time waster. Evading police, Willy sets loose his alligator to the sounds of The Delfonics’ “Hey Love,” which you’ll know was sampled by The Notorious B.I.G. for “Playa Hater,” a ballad for the criminal minded.
The night comes to an end. We get a familiar moment between Earnest, Alfred and Darius, the latter two share a smoke. Earn retrieves Willy’s gun, amusing the pair. Just as he asks Alfred to stash the gun, we meet Tracy, Al’s boy who just got out. Tracy is now occupying the couch, effectively leaving with Earn without a place to sleep. Keeping the gun, Earn departs into the night, alone as always.
“Alligator Man” is a solid installment for Atlanta. Arriving with more questions than answers, the episode continues the show’s tradition of allowing a theme to explore itself, even if it forces viewers to read between the lines. The best beats usually take place within character-driven sequences. Thanks to the show’s sharply written script, the show always manages to keep viewers locked onto scenes without ever losing its balance. Therefore, between Glover’s narrative and director Hiro Murai’s uncanny talent behind the camera, the episode adds another layer to the city and to the history of the characters we love to watch.
Stealing the spotlight for every second he appears is none other than Katt Williams as Uncle Willy, or the “Alligator Man.” His presence unfolds into a reality check for Earn. As previously mentioned, he is the kind of person he does not wish to be. Sold by Williams, chewing up dialogue and spitting out something that’s rooted in real life experience, as a viewer, you’re immediately drawn to the visibly shabby comedian. Best known for the pimp aesthetic that made him famous in projects like Friday After Next and his own special The Pimp Chronicles, Katt’s performance as the cigarette smoking man, shackled by a life filled with bitterness, is what guest spots are all about.
“Robbin’ Season” feels like a slow burn. We’ve yet to see how the true life Atlanta tradition weaves itself into the fabric of the series, or how it will affect our characters in the long run, but as always, we’ll continue to watch.