Back from the ATL: On ‘Atlanta,’ Season 2, Episode 3

Jesse Taylor's 'Atlanta' recap returns with a look at season two, episode three.
By    March 22, 2018

Jesse Taylor always uses Michael Vick in Madden.

Passion of the Weiss will take a full week to thoroughly analyze the impact of a show like Atlanta. Here’s our deconstruction of Season 2, Episode 3: “Money Bag Shawty.”

This season’s theme of “Robbin’ Season” started off making viewers think it might delve deep into the issues of inner-city crime. But the previous two episodes have seen a shift to more white collar crime, giving a different meaning to the term “Robbin’ Season.” We’ve seen white people stealing culture from black musicians, robbing black people of their opportunity for success in the corporate world and, in the case of episode three’s “Money Bag Shawty,” depriving Earn from spending the money that’s burning a hole in his pocket.

Following a week where this column insinuated a link between Atlanta and the lyrics of Vince Staples, this week the show actually opens with a direct reference to Staples and the viral video of a mom crying because she was so offended by the lyrics of “Norf Norf.” In Atlanta, it’s Paper Boi who rapped the lyrics that made a mom cry. The new, Atlanta-style spin is, she was put over the top by a line supporting Colin Kaepernick, which to her was the most offensive thing of all. Of course, the viral video only served to help Paper Boi’s single reach gold status.

The quick success, and cash Paper Boi and Earn receive from it, results in Earn trying to spend the money but taking L upon L upon L. After being aggressively told, “Man, fuck you dude!” by a waiter, Earn complains to Van (welcome back Van!) that he’s always getting stunted on and that he would love to stunt on somebody. What follows is Earn failing miserably each time he attempts to stunt. Donald Glover showcases his brilliance throughout the episode playing the laid-back Earn as he reacts to the world around him going crazy. It’s also a great showcase at how successful Atlanta is at turning on a dime between comedy and drama. It’s the funniest show on TV and also the most uncomfortable.

With Van’s return, we see she and Earn are still trying to make their relationship work. When Earn showcases his newfound money to her, she’s the first to be skeptical. “You’re gonna get us robbed.” She was right, but not in the way she thought. Instead, a movie theatre employee robs them of their dignity when she refuses to take their $100 bill without making a copy of Earn’s driver’s license and credit card. It gets worse when the woman takes the $100 bill of the white man behind them, no questions asked. When Earn approaches, the man flashes a pistol beneath his jacket.

Next, Earn tries his luck at a Hookah Bar, where he is forced to leave after being accused of using a counterfeit $100 bill. He finally decides to take Van to a place that “definitely knows how to treat someone with money.” A strip club. In this case “Onyx Atlanta,” a place that finds unique ways to milk guests for their money.

In a world where invisible cars are a reality and Justin Bieber is black, Atlanta ends the episode with a new absurdist twist—legendary Falcons quarterback Michael Vick spends his evenings in strip club parking lots challenging people to foot races for money. While Van wonders if Vick’s doing okay, a fully rested Earn calculates that Vick has raced six times in 10 minutes and concludes he can take him. “Sometimes you just got to stunt on people.” Without showing the race, the defeated look on Earn’s face tells us the result as he and Van drive off. Van is frustrated at his idiocy and states the obvious to Earn: “It’s Michael Vick.”

In a separate storyline, Paper Boi has a reunion with Clark County, the local rapper from last week’s “Sportin’ Waves.” After selling out for a Yoo-Hoo commercial, Clark County continues to prove himself as a perpetrator in the rap game. He invites Paper Boi to the studio to record some tracks, turns down his offer to hit his Hennessey or smoke his herb (he doesn’t drink or smoke, but thinks it’s lit), but then gets on the mic and raps about drinking Hennessey and smoking herb.

When the equipment crashes, Clark County is unnecessarily rude and threatening to the engineer. But when it comes time to act on his threatening words after another crash, Clark County walks out of the studio and leaves the beat-down of the engineer to his crew members. Paper Boi isn’t a fan of Clark County and leaves the studio (but isn’t about to save the engineer’s ass).

What did Darius do?

Darius is TV’s runaway 6th Man of the Year Award winner. Some may compare him to Andre Iguodala or Jamal Crawford, but I take it back to the original 6th Man, Vinnie Johnson of the Bad Boy-era Detroit Pistons. Darius immediately heats up any scene he’s in, just like “The Microwave.” With Van, one of Atlanta’s starting players, back in the lineup after two DNP-CD’s (did not play—coach’s decision), Darius received less playing time this week and didn’t get a lot of shine. But he still had some great “What did Darius do?” moments.

  • Tells Paper Boi, “Yo, that white woman crying, that was the best thing that could have happened to us. The tears are powerful.” This leads to the episodes best line as Paper Boi toasts to “White tears” while drinking a shot of 1800 Tequila.
  • He’s a hugger, as Clark County finds out when he meets Darius.
  • When he comes across unreleased Harriet Tubman $20 bills that were introduced by the Obama administration but put on hold by Trump, he gets very excited and exclaims, “Them the Tubs?!”
  • Enjoys counting money, even when it belongs to someone else, in this case Clark County.
  • In addition to a love for counting other people’s money, he holds money to his ear and says, “50 thou on me with the phone.”
  • When invited to slap some butts at the strip club, he declines but is okay with just watching.
  • Thinks wearing a brand new all white suit to the strip club is a good idea until Paper Boi sets him straight.
  • Instead, he wears a head wrap to the strip club.
  • Tells Earn people don’t go to strip clubs to save their money.

“Money Bag Shawty” had a plethora of great lines and moments, so it’s only fitting to end by reminding you of just a few:

  • Earn walking into a movie theatre that sells alcohol: “When you’re drunk, one thing you want to do is sit in a chair for two hours.”
  • Clark County’s line about Nic Cage buying a dinosaur is actually a real thing.
  • Earn and Van joking about the saying “Caught red-handed” being based on something racist, then pausing as they seriously ponder that it might actually be. According to a few web searches, it’s not.
  • The off-camera DJ at the strip club:
    • Called Van “Annie Hall” and “Pink Toe.”
    • “Shorty’s ass so fat on stage it look like a birth defect.”
    • “We got Bankhead Barbie. You know her. You love her.”

In the end, Paper Boi and Darius smartly provide Earn with the sad summary of why he has been failing at spending his money.

“Money is an idea, man,” Paper Boi says. “Look, there’s a reason that a white dude dressed just like you can walk into the bank and get a loan. You can’t even spend a $100 bill, man. You need to stop actin’ like you better than other n****s. And then they’ll start treating you better than other n****s.”

“Yeah, cause otherwise, you’re just another n***a,” Darius says.

Dialogue like this leaves a lasting mark on its views. They were also delivered at a strip club shortly after the DJ introduced a dancer by letting the crowd know, “She been on house arrest for giving illegal butt injections.”

Like I said, no show turns on a dime from comedy to drama like Atlanta.