Season 3, episode 6, “White Fashion”

Brian Tyree Henry in Atlanta

Brian Tyree Henry in Atlanta
Photo: Rob Youngson/FX

Atlanta is within the midst of a European rap tour, to not point out an prolonged existential query about whether or not the occasions depicted within the present are literally participating in its characters’ beforehand established actuality. In different phrases, it’s not even inside glancing distance of your normal sitcom. But even in case you’ve by no means seen the present or don’t take into account the 30-minute-drama-with-laughs your factor, “White Fashion” is a superb piece of standalone tv about trendy popular culture, a pointy and sometimes savage takedown of cultural co-opters and what you may name the social-justice-industrial complicated. It’s a deep and thorough excoriation of empty signifiers and the way huge cash tends to finish up fixing issues for about the identical share of people that don’t actually need it.

Atlanta has taken on the co-opting of Black tradition earlier than, however not so comprehensively as on this episode, 33 minutes filled with concepts and melancholy-but-precise comedian moments. The foremost premise: The crew is in London, and Esco Esco, an LVMH-style luxurious model that includes streetwear, is embroiled in a race-related controversy and desires Paper Boi to assist bail them out with some good PR. (Their humorous/horrifying signature merchandise is a Central Park Five shirt styled like a sports activities jersey, with a 5 within the applicable numerical spot.) He’s been requested to serve on their “range advisory committee,” which will likely be launched to the press that afternoon. (Bryan Tyree Henry will get one other good showcase on this episode, beginning with the scene of him ordering lunch, then negotiating three years of free garments—he’s fearsomely humorous.)

In a scene that’s heavy however deftly directed, Al is being fitted for a customized go well with, and Earn is worried that is an “Uncle Tom photograph op.” He urges Al to recommend the corporate do one thing sustainable, to reinvest in Black communities and thoughts “the streets,” whereas Al tells him to get off the excessive horse: “Fuck the streets,” he says. “I’ve shot folks.” We work laborious; take all of the free samples doable, he suggests.

Atlanta has launched its share of memorable visitor stars this season, and it’s right here that the present unveils a personality as particular in sort as Socks and Wiley were amorphous—Khalil, an “activist/author/foodie” who has refined himself into form of knowledgeable model cleaner for racially associated missteps. At the press occasion, the satire edges shut going overly broad. (“Is this your first time apologizing for white folks?” Khalil asks Al. “The dinners are superb. I haven’t paid for a meal in 73 police shootings.” Then, a reporter asks Paper Boi if this marketing campaign will finish racism.) But the heavy strokes paint a transparent image: There isn’t something refined about systemic racism or clumsy company makes an attempt to revenue from it. Fisayo Akinade is spot-on because the obnoxious influencer. And the way in which this episode wraps, the tone matches.

The precise “range advisory committee” assembly nearly takes us to Dr. Strangelove satirical heights: Every member is primarily wanting to line their very own pockets and closets, suggesting the style model purchase hundreds of copies of a e book they’ve written (a probable nod to the previous Baltimore mayor’s scandal), hook up their self-serving group, or simply purchase them sneakers. Al, in fact, needs to really assist Black folks and proposes Earn’s concept a few marketing campaign to reinvest within the hood, which is tepidly acquired however in the end authorised. But they warn him to not be too earnest: “We’ve been doing this social-justice factor a very long time,” says one.

Ultimately, Paper Boi’s concept is diluted right into a meaninglessly “inclusive” moody black-and-white business, a dead-on, heavy-handed montage of varied minorities, together with a Native American and gender-fluid cowboy making out. In a humorous confrontation scene, an infuriated Al claims,”You All Lives Mattered my shit!” earlier than probably the most superficial character provides him the final word dose of reality about enterprise vs. charity.

Lakeith Stanfield in Atlanta

Lakeith Stanfield in Atlanta
Photo: Rob Youngson/FX

The second plot observe permits us to spend extra time with Darius (Lakeith Stanfield)—at all times a superb time—as he revisits his Nigerian heritage (however his testicles go unmentioned), taking a white Esco Esco staffer to search out joloff, the normal West African rice dish. (In maybe the road of the episode, Darius describes it as “like your style buds are being scammed by a Nigerian prince.”) Darius takes her to the spot, the place she’s wide-eyed and reverential. By the top of the episode, she’s purchased the constructing from the owner and arrange a meals truck outdoors with a dish named after Darius. (This can also be perilously near over-broad—as Darius trudges away, a depressed conduit for this appropriation, a jogger urges him to recycle his trashed meal—however the pacing and performances make it work.)

The third storyline lastly reunites Earn and Van, and it has qualities which can be each jarring and dreamy. After months aside, the pair reunite accidentally in a lodge, the place Van is placid, an nearly Stepford Wives stage of chill, urging Earn to calm down (once more) as she appears distinctly tired of seeing him. A girl marches into the foyer and accuses Van of shoplifting and makes an attempt to restrain her in a citizen’s arrest, a nod to the Arlo Hotel incident. It’s jarring and well-directed (by Ibra Ake, who additionally offered the script). But the lodge supervisor seems to be Black and turns the agitator away, and Earn, suggesting that he and Van are newly arrived friends whose reservations have been misplaced, will get them a free night time in a luxurious suite. This parallels the sooner scene at Esco Esco, through which Paper Boi cannily negotiates his value in garments to assuage the model’s racial guilt; right here, Earn received a fringe profit based mostly on spectacle. Neither sit effectively with him. The twist: Van could have shoplifted in any case.

Once once more, this isn’t the Van we’ve come to know. Ultimately, the episode closes with Earn waking up in a lodge room—simply as he did after “Three Slaps” and before the events of “Sinterklaas Is Coming To Town”—and she or he’s gone once more. Exactly how most of the earlier occasions, if any, had been a dream? We’ve been getting hints that this season’s happenings are participating principally in Earn’s head, and Van notes that Darius thinks they’re residing in a simulation.

One situation with not understanding the complete extent of this season’s framing is that the creators’ intent is unclear. It’s doable that in actual life, Earn—as soon as homeless, now a supervisor of an internationally profitable recording act—is feeling responsible about being profitable in an business that will perpetuate issues which urgently want fixing. “The Big Payback” additionally addressed this: In the grand scheme of issues, who needs to be compensated for what? “White Fashion” asks, Who deserves to chop corners to recoup in a basically corrupt and shameful system? The season will play otherwise as soon as it’s bingeable and also you don’t have a lot time to surprise about how a lot is going on surely. In the meantime, this episode of Atlanta forces you to ask: Where are we, actually, proper now? And that appears to be exactly the purpose.

Stray observations

  • The episode has many nice throwaway strains, just like the Esco Esco designer appraising a shivering mannequin: “Get this woman a cigarette—she’s freezing” and Khalil demanding tickets to see Julia Roberts performing in Raisin in the Sun (“and it higher not be her understudy this time”).
  • Another informal change packs a critical wallop: as Van and Earn are chilling of their lodge room, he randomly reminiscences concerning the Nickelodeon cable community’s annual Halloween marketing campaign Nick or Treat. “I by no means heard ‘Nick or Treat,’” he says.
  • Darius has some nice moments for his character. When he’s describing joloff: “I really feel like boneless fish is an abomination.”
  • The Nigerian film Sharon Stone taking part in within the restaurant is actually a real thing (and Sharon occurs to be the identify of the Esco Esco flunky.)
  • Also suggesting what we’re seeing is a dream: Time warps a bit. Earn and firm are in London lengthy sufficient for a TV business be written, forged and produced, and a restaurant be bought and transformed to a meals truck. How lengthy is that this tour precisely?
  • Those Darius moments, and albeit how good Zazie Beetz is each time she seems on display, make me really feel like we haven’t spent sufficient time with both one this season, “Sinterklaas” apart. There hasn’t been a Beetz-focused episode on the extent of “Helen” or a Stanfield showcase like “Teddy Perkins” this season. Will that change earlier than the season is over, with 4 extra episodes to go?

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