Every week, Atlanta has delivered something just slightly different. This week’s episode, “The Club”, was an exercise in playing with its surreal side while also being just plain real. Last week’s “B.A.N.” was a hint at the show’s increasingly strange setting, and “The Club” confirmed it. The show’s version of the city with a million “Peachtree” streets is just slightly different from our own, so the character’s problems mirror ours. (Except for trying to explain who was driving the invisible car that ran everyone down.)
The episode briefly reunites Earn (Donald Glover), Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), and Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) as the three sit in the VIP area at the club for a “club appearance”. Alfred tells Earn that he hates the club, while Earn reminds him that they’re there to get paid. NBA star Marcus Miles is also in the club, stealing Alfred’s thunder by spending ridiculous amounts of money. Things start to get weird when Earn goes to get paid. The manager keeps evading him through trickier and trickier means. The last of these ends up employing a Scooby-Doo-style revolving wall. It’s a brilliant visual gag, from the way the manager presses against the wall to the look on Earn’s face. His bewilderment earns him the attention of a female bartender, who gives him shot after shot. He mentions several times that he hates shots — we find out later why.
Without Earn around to make him behave, Alfred buys a bunch of champagne to attract girls to the VIP section. He announces it and girls come running, but so do wannabe rappers who just want to leech off of his money and (arguable) fame. Meanwhile, Darius leaves the VIP section to “watch some people smoke”. He has a lengthy interaction with the bouncer, starting with Darius asking him, “have you ever had to throw out another bouncer?”
Glover and Henry have both shown their acting and comedic chops in these first eight episodes, but it’s the weird supporting characters that are the most fascinating. Stanfield’s Darius is one of these, his increasingly bizarre behavior making him stand out from just about every character on television right now. He’s Dave Chappelle in Half-Baked blended with The Big Lebowski‘s “The Dude“, spouting wisdom as often as he’s spouting utter nonsense.
After the conversation with the bouncer, Darius leaves the club for a bit. When he returns, the bouncer informs him that he’s not allowed in the VIP section without the right color wristband. Darius has on two wristbands, though neither is the correct color. He asks the bouncer about their conversation, he was just in the VIP section. The bouncer ignores him, and he leaves, whispering, “this means nothing.”
Things get progressively worse for Earn and Alfred after Darius leaves. Earn gets wasted, but the bartender writes “fire alarm” on the tab. He pulls the fire alarm and opens the spinning-wall door, going into the back and trying to demand money from the manager. He barfs on his shoes mid-sentence, and only gets $750 of the $5000 they were promised. Alfred tries to buy some more bottles to keep the girls around after a temper tantrum, but Marcus Miles buys all of the alcohol in the building, then leaves.
Alfred is furious. One of the girls tells Alfred that she’s glad because she met a guy like him. He takes this as a come-on, but she walks away and tells him she has a boyfriend. When he tries to tell her that she was leading him on, she gives him a speech (similar to the one the bartender gave Earn) about why people come to the club.
Clearly, Earn, Darius, and Alfred don’t belong at the club. They go to leave, but when Earn tells Alfred about the money, he snaps. He goes into the back, smacks the manager around, and gets his money. Earn and a crew of guys watch in horror as Alfred throws the manager around. Earn’s co-worker, Swiff, who also happened to be at the club, films it on his phone. Swiff is another character that adds texture to the gritty magical realism of Atlanta. His brief presence in the episode makes it that much better because he’s a brilliant caricature of certain aspects of black culture. Each of the characters on Atlanta, no matter how minor, has unique details. There are no basic stereotypes here.
The show’s music has been fantastic, and this week’s maintained that streak despite the satirical club setting. The cinematography was especially on point, featuring a lot of use of color correction to make things pop. There are shots evocative of Nicolas Winding Refn’s work, in an episode of a show where a man vomits on his own shoes before demanding money.
Earn and Alfred regroup in the parking lot, as Darius (their ride), has already gone home. They have a riotous conversation about being hungry before gunshots go off and everyone flees. In the madness, someone (probably Marcus Miles, who has been shown with the car) runs over a bunch of people with an invisible car. It’s a split-second moment that’s shocking and hilarious. Darius was convinced the car was real while Alfred denied it, but the scene shows Darius may not be as dumb as he can sound.
Later, the three get something to eat at an all-you-can-eat diner that looks an awful lot like a Waffle House. While discussing the night’s exploits, the news comes on and reveals that Alfred is wanted for questioning in connection to the shootings at the club, where the owner has also placed a charge for the “robbery” of five grand. Alfred’s only response? “F*** the club.”
- In the beginning scene, Alfred tells Earn to track down the manager, because Alfred doesn’t trust him. When Earn asks why, he says “he’s a Nigerian”. Earn reminds Alfred that Darius is Nigerian (established in the episode where his nationality means he knows who Steve McQueen is). The joke pays off in the end when Alfred calls Darius to ask him to head out. When Darius tells Alfred that he’s already home, Alfred mutters something about “Nigerians”. It’s a smart little gag, and one of the funnier ones in the episode.
- The look on Earn’s face when the manager disappears through the revolving wall. He’s completely stunned, just like the audience at home.
- Each of the little moments that were well thought out despite being a quick gag. Atlanta is clearly crafted with love, and it’s refreshing in an overly mass-marketed and saturated media landscape.