FX’s new comedy-drama series, Atlanta, isn’t pulling any punches. Last week’s back-to-back premiere episodes, “The Big Bang” and “Streets on Lock,” featured police brutality, racism, homophobia, and more. Protagonist Earn and his cousin Alfred were involved in a shooting, went to jail, and witnessed a mentally ill man get beaten by police. This week’s episode, “Go for Broke,” doesn’t seem like it’s going to go much better for the cousins when Earn tells Alfred early in the episode, “Just try not to die.”
Things aren’t going well for Earn, who dropped out of Princeton for as yet undisclosed reasons. He’s completely broke. The opening sequence depicts him trying to buy a kid’s meal at a fast food restaurant, only to be repeatedly shut down by the cashier. She eventually gives him a cup for water, and he fills it with orange soda while another employee watches. When he sees her, he holds up his finger in a “don’t tell” signal and backs away, eyes wide. It’s a scene where actor Donald Glover’s comedic chops shine through, his facial expressions and stiff body movements elevating the comedy.
Earn has a problem with earning. He’s essentially homeless, staying with his semi-girlfriend Vanessa while he tries to make things work. His job at the airport is based on commission, and he’s not good at signing people up for rewards programs. When he asks Alfred how he makes his money, Alfred tells him that he’s a drug dealer. While Earn and Alfred are smoking a joint and playing some video games, Alfred’s partner and roommate Darius pulls a gun from a cereal box. It’s bizarre and a little surreal, which fits in with the whole tone of the show. Everything on Atlanta seems slightly off as if the series takes place in some parallel dimension.
To try and make up with Vanessa after she bailed him out of jail, Earn offers to take her to a nice dinner. He asks his co-worker for a place to take her and follows his advice to go to The Indigo Lounge. (The fictional place is probably a reference to the once-popular Indigo Bar in Atlanta, though it’s now closed.) Earn and Vanessa head out for a nice date despite Earn only having 62 dollars to his name. He tries to find some street parking to avoid the $10 valet and ends up in a sketchy side street. A homeless-looking man wearing a Kroger supermarket vest and wielding a lightsaber tries to direct them to park in his “lot.” It’s the kind of thing that happens in Atlanta on a regular basis, and the show highlights the city well.
Meanwhile, Alfred and Darius head out to meet with “the Mexicans” they are buying drugs from. Plans change and instead of meeting in the city, they end up out in the woods. Darius is handcuffed to the briefcase of money, but they forgot the key. Darius and Alfred realize quickly that the guys they are dealing with are prone to violence. Just after sitting down, one of the gangsters (who are mostly black, not “Mexican”), opens the storage compartment on their camper and a man in his underwear falls out. They give him his clothes and tell him to head out into the woods. “You’ll find the city,” they tell him, only to shoot him with a rifle moments later.
The drug deal goes down surprisingly well following the incident. Earn calls midway through and asks Alfred to put $20 in his account to cover the dinner date he and Vanessa are on. Their waitress keeps offering high-dollar menu items, and Vanessa ordered those. Alfred agrees, but not before Earn asks him if they had met to do the deal yet. Thankfully, the guys don’t make much of it and take the money out of the briefcase, letting Darius keep it (and his attached arm).
Earn and Vanessa get into another fight back at her place. This role is so vastly different for Glover, best known as the goofy and sweet Troy on Community. Here he’s a little sinister, trying to manipulate the people around him to get what he wants. He’s just not very good at it yet, especially with Vanessa. She sees through his smooth talk and calls him out on it. Earn could eventually be a kind of antihero, but for now, he’s just a lost soul trying to figure it all out.
- Darius pulling the gun out of the cereal box. “Just so y’all know, there’s probably a bullet in here.”
- Earn’s coworker giving him advice and talking about his “favorite b*tches” in front of one of his (many) girlfriends. “I know you didn’t just listen to my conversation,” he says to her as she drives him down the highway.
- Alfred and Darius have a discussion about why it’s weird for Darius to call his gun “Daddy”.