The last time Atlanta viewers saw Van, she was freshly fired and looking to buy weed from Alfred. After a hiatus last week while Earn, Darius, and Alfred went to the club, she’s back to try and weasel her way into high society. This week’s “Juneteenth” is a great character-driven episode.

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Earn and Vanessa’s relationship has been rocky from the start. In the first episode of the series, she goes on a date while asking Earn to watch their daughter. It’s been hinted at that Earn is sleeping around. “Juneteenth” starts with Earn waking up and lighting a joint beside a naked woman who definitely isn’t Van. His phone rings, and he gets dressed quickly, only to go outside to a waiting Van. She’s furious at him, not for the sleeping around so much as the fact that he’s high. She reminds him that the event they’re going to is important as her friend has a number of connections. She could make Van’s dreams come true. Finally, she brings up their daughter’s future and Earn says “why else do you think I’d be here?” Ouch.

They arrive at a massive mansion and meet the owners of the home — a NeNe Leakes-esque housewife, Monique, and her white and wealthy husband, Craig. Craig is obsessed with black culture, and it’s apparent in the Juneteenth celebration. (Juneteenth, by the way, is a celebration of the end of slavery, commemorated on June 19 each year.) The whole thing is over the top and bizarre, with black servants singing plantation songs and behaving like slaves. Earn even asks if they’ll be up for auction after the party, earning him a smack on the arm from Van.

Earn poses as Van’s “Ivy League husband” and she begs him to pretend that everything is on the up-and-up. She needs to make career connections and is now as reliant on Earn as he has been on her. It’s a weird exchange of power in the relationship.

earn and craig in the study atlanta
Awwwwkward.

The two of them are good at their game of pretending. Everyone at the party seems to enjoy their company. Craig, in particular, is fascinated by Earn and wants his opinions on his slam poetry. Earn thinks the entire situation is bizarre and wants to get out of there, but Van reminds him of how important it all is. He puts on a good face and charms everyone. He also delivers a monologue about how Vanessa does everything in their family and is an incredible woman who doesn’t get enough recognition. Unfortunately, he also says at the end that he couldn’t even look at another woman, despite her picking him up from a one-night stand that morning. She goes into a bathroom and cries and tells Earn that he’s mean. She then proceeds to drink as much as possible to forget it all.

Van has a great moment with Monique, asking her if she wished Craig understood her. Monique replies “I like Craig, I love my money.” With Earn, Van doesn’t have understanding or support, so she feels totally lost. After two valets try to give him a pair of panties to give to Paper Boi, he finally loses it. Monique says that every family has one “thug” in it, and he goes off about how fake and ridiculous the party is. “This is dumb!” he repeats. A drunken Van tries to apologize, but they simply leave the party. Craig apologizes for offending Earn, and he can’t handle it. “Stop being so nice,” he says as they exit.

On the way home, Van asks Earn to pull over and then initiates sex with him. Whether she did it out of desperation, longing for what they once had, or appreciation that he is above the rest of the world’s bullshit is anyone’s guess. Maybe it was just because she was drunk.

There was a lot of silliness in this episode (the part about the panties tops it), but it had a lot to say as well. The relationship issues between Van and Earn are played out in full. They’re currently just co-parents, and maybe friends. Earn knows he treats Van wrong but doesn’t seem to care. In addition to the relationship struggles, the episode had some interesting comments on white folks who try to understand black culture. It’s difficult to entirely appreciate something you can’t truly understand, and Craig’s views come off as sort of creepy. He wants to be black so bad, it’s obvious, but he’s still just a white guy who doesn’t totally get it.

Best Moments

  • Earn approaches Van at the buffet and describes the party as “if Spike Lee directed Eyes Wide Shut“.
  • Craig’s slam poetry about racial inequality is as ridiculous as it is terrible. One gem: “Jim Crow is haunting me, like in that movie Poltergeist.”
  • Everything with Craig and Earn is cringeworthy and funny. With the rest of the episode ranging from silly satire to more dramatic (and sad) representations of Van and Earn’s relationship, the Craig/Earn stuff is needed comedy.
  • When the valets recognize that Earn is Paper Boi’s manager, one of them pulls a pair of panties out for him to deliver to Paper Boi. The weirdest part? They belong to his sister. When Earn asks why he keeps his sister’s panties on him all the time, he responds with “You never know!”