Welcome to Atlanta: A Recap of Episode 11: Crabs in a Barrel

The latest from television's best show.
By    May 17, 2018

Jesse Taylor hangs at the Cracker Barrel. 


With two seasons complete, Atlanta is skyrocketing up the list of all-time greatest TV shows. Never has a show so honestly confronted modern racism while brilliantly using a variety of tones from dramatic and heartbreaking to abstract and hilarious. When looking at those series regularly mentioned by TV critics in the “GOAT” discussions like The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Seinfeld, Game of Thrones, Deadwood, and Louie (usually lower on the list but most similar in tone to Atlanta), one thing separates Atlanta from the rest: It’s the only one that’s wasn’t created and run by white males.

Donald Glover is the first minority to crack the code on creating a show that’s universally praised by critics (though some may fairly argue that Aziz Ansari and Alan Wang deserve a spot next to Glover for Master of None, and Issa Rae is another to watch). Glover’s additional challenge not faced by his white-privileged peers is his life away from show running as an actor and musician. If he needs to take another 16 months between airings—like he did after season 1—to make sure he comes back with a third season as good as the first two, fans should be willing to wait. It would be a dreadful 16 months with no Atlanta, but long-term, this is a show that has the potential to challenge The Wire in terms of its societal deconstructions, so let’s give Donald and his team the creative time they need to do it right.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take one last unnerving look at Robbin’ Season (like Earn staring at a forgotten gun sitting in his backpack at the airport security line). “Crabs in a Barrel” was a fitting end to a season focused on the existential crises of the two leads, Earn and Alfred, as they work through the difficulties of their partnership and inexperience in a twisted entertainment industry.

Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In

“Booker T. Washington aptly described the race in one of his lectures by stating that we were like crabs in a barrel, that none would allow the other to climb over, but on any such attempt all would continue to pull back into the barrel the one crab that would make the effort to climb out.”

  • Marcus Garvey, The Negro’s Greatest Enemy, 1923

Battle with the white man day by day / Feds takin’ pictures, doin’ play by play
They don’t never want to see the black man eat / Nails in a black man’s hands and feet
Put ’em on a cross or you put ’em on a chain / Lines be the same, he don’t look like me

  • Vince Staples, Crabs in a Bucket, 2017

“Ni**as do not care about us, man. Ni**as gonna do whatever they got to do to survive. ‘Cause they ain’t got no choice. We ain’t got no choice, either.”

  • Alfred Miles, Atlanta, 2018

Alfred breaks down his stance on their business partnership to Earn at the end of season 2. He’ll never get rid of Earn, but he also can’t afford to rely on him to run the business side of his rap career. He needs people with experience, connections and white privilege. Earn is sorely lacking in all three areas. But he does bring Al value in one area: loyalty.

“You my family, Earn. You’re the only one that knows what I’m about. You give a fuck. I need that.”

And Earn needed to hear that, after hearing time and time again why he was bad for Al. First, from the friendly but honest Orthodox Jewish passport clerk: “Part of being good at your job are your connections, and black people just don’t have the connections that my cousin has. For systemic reasons.”


Then, from Darius, who provides perspective to Earn as only Darius can—new gold fronts and all: “I see you learning. But learning requires failure. Al just trying to make sure you ain’t failing in his life.” And before he starts sounding a little too much like Will Smith, Darius adds, “Y’all both black, so, I mean, y’all both can’t afford to fail.”

Earn wasn’t afforded time to serve as a record-label intern making non-essential decisions while working his way up the entertainment industry ladder. He jumped into a managerial role for an up-and-coming rapper from Day 1 and was forced to learn while making make-or-break decisions.

 But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.

Sure, Earn has made a shitload of mistakes as Paper Boi’s manager, but like Randle P. McMurphy, one thing you can’t knock him for is effort. Earn has been working his ass off to connect Paper Boi with the right people and get him exposure. But his lack of experience has also led to his client being placed in a few undesirable and dire situations.

In the end, it looks like Paper Boi will move in a different direction with the leadership of his business team (white and preferably Jewish), and still keep Earn on but in a smaller role. It will be better for both of them, but being demoted has still gotta hurt for Earn.

Here are some standout moments from the episode, which centered on one day of Earn rushing around to get everything situated before leaving for a 2-month European Tour featuring Clark County and Paper Boi.

  • We’re reminded why Earn isn’t ready to be Paper Boi’s manager when he can’t even make it to a business meeting on time and has to have Lottie sit in on the discussion—despite his attempt to blame a religious Lyft driver who refused to pay attention to her GPS.
  • To emphasize the trivial dialogue of Paper Boi’s potential entertainment lawyer, the scene cuts to a shot of Lottie and the audio of the nonsensical children’s music playing from her headphones, then back to the lawyer’s babbling sales pitch without missing a beat.
  • The best Earn can do is get Paper Boi a meeting with a lawyer whose clients are one F-grade rapper (A.V., who would at least have a catchy super group name in “A.V. Club”) and four Love And Hip-Hop Atlanta “stars.”
  • In an effort to make Luke look bad, Earn says Paper Boi should be the headliner of the tour, not Clark County, but Paper Boi’s facial expression makes it clear that Earn’s point only serves to make Earn look worse for not getting him top billing.
  • We learn that Lottie is advanced in school, leading to a nice moment between Earn and Van as they try to credit the other’s smarts.
  • Earn has been absent in Lottie’s school which is exposed when the teacher meets him for the first time but knows Van well.
  • The teacher tells them, “If I see a steer smart enough to get out of the pen, I leave the gate open.” This slaughterhouse reference also speaks to the crabs in a barrel metaphor. The teacher tries to give some crabs an extra boost before the others can bring them down.
  • Earn is going to use his tour money to pay for Lottie’s new private school tuition and Van asks that he show up more.
  • One of the best scenes of the show was the quiet moment Earn shared with Lottie as he said good-bye before leaving her for two months.
  • From a touching moment with a kid to a hilarious one as the mover’s kids are playing a video game at Al’s house and the kid that’s getting his ass kicked in the game has sad tears pouring down his face.
  • While getting Darius’ passport updates, Earn gets a text from Van, who tells him she’s been thinking about moving back to her mom’s house with Lottie. On top of the looming dismissal as Paper Boi’s manager, this shatters Earn. “My whole world’s falling apart.”
  • Earn’s iPhone screensaver is a picture of his mom with Al’s parents (Katt back!).
  • Paper Boi smokes weed on the unattractive couch in the picturesque empty field. Maybe for the last time.
  • Once they reach the airport, Earn totally brushes off the credit card salesmen—a position Earn once held when Atlanta first started. Earn has moved on.
  • Clark County is a fraud, but did deliver this great line: “Poppin’ bottles in Paris speaking sign language to hoes.”
  • When the TSA agent asks, “Whose bag is this?” Clark County motions to Luke and says, “Hey, yo, Luke come here” confirming that Clark County initiated Luke taking the hit versus Luke offering to take the blame himself for Clark.
  • This is the second time Earn created a potential career-ending problem for Paper Boi but solved it before the crisis hit (the first time was Earn saving the college girl from a near-death fall down the stairs after Tracy pushed her).
  • The European Tour will be Paper Boi’s first time leaving Georgia.
  • The “FUBU” flashback episode gives more meaning to this line from Al to Earn: “You’re the only one that knows what I’m about.” Earn has been down with Al since even before his days of rocking ROTC gear to school.
  • Speaking of Tracy, he has no clue his homies left on a two-month tour and is pounding on Al’s door to let him in. “I got Chinese food with a side of chocolate.” His side of chocolate is a good-looking girl who has accompanied him home.
  • Directed by Hiro Murai and written by Stephen Glover, the episode, and season 2 of Atlanta, ends with Nina Simone’s cover of The Band’s classic, “I Shall Be Released,” penned by Bob Dylan.

What did Darius do?

  • Doesn’t like to say that something is expired. Instead says, “It could be that’s the dates just a little late.”
  • Plays chess by himself, but actually creates two different personalities that interact with each other while playing. “You think you’re slick.”
  • “Other” Darius doesn’t understand why Earn would give him Darius’ passport and throws it over the chess board to Darius.
  • Says, “God flabbit” when he thinks he packed the cars keys in a moving box. “The old switcheroo. Sometimes things just jump from pocket to pocket.”
  • Very seriously asks Earn: “When you piss, do you go straight through the zipper or do you go over the boxers?” Earn goes over the boxers.  
  • Darius goes over the boxers as well, but wonders if it’s the right way.
  • He does switch up his pissing style when wearing a suit.
  • Reveals that his last name is “X” when the passport clerk calls out his name.
  • Is rocking some new gold fronts for the European Tour.
  • Pays $350 using RushCard for his expedited passport fee. Of course, Rush Card is a prepaid debit card company founded by Russell Simmons that is known to charges poor people higher fees for instant access to money despite having bad credit.
  • One of the most playful adults in TV history, Darius enjoys ringing the bell at the passport counter.
  • A Nigerian himself, Darius claims that Nigerians don’t fail.
  • Says that Al giving Earn a chance to see the world before firing him “seems like an Al thing to do.”
  • Pretends to be an airplane before getting ready to fly.
  • Only brings one tiny bag with him for a two-month trip to Europe, because he follows Rule #1, which is to pack like a Navy Seal. “Only take what you need.”
  • When Earn turns down his offer to take a hit from his weed, Darius speaks as the weed in a rhythmic high-pitched voice, which Al enjoys bobbing his hands to and causes Earn to finally laugh.
  • Yells “Opt out!” to let TSA agents know he won’t be walking through the metal detector. “Opt for the pat down man. This thing here, bad business. That’s why security stays so close to the food. They don’t want you to smell your brain frying in this thing.”
  • Says the airport is not efficient.
  • When Clark County tells Al that TSA found a tool in Luke’s bag Darius assumes it’s a screwdriver. “You can’t have those on a plane.”

Up Tonight:

No more new episodes of Atlanta for a while. It’s been a pleasure writing about the best show on TV. I appreciate everyone who read these recaps. Until next time. But of course, like Darius says, time is an illusion and something not to be believed in as a concept. So until “we always met” again.

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