In music, a second or “sophomore” release allows an artist or group the chance to spread out stylistically, explore greater depth of character, and work with new ideas, colors, and sounds for a fuller representation of one’s artistic vision. Like The Low End Theory, Paul’s Boutique, Led Zeppelin II, Axis: Bold as Love, and good kid m.A.A.d city, there is the drive to push your fans without losing them, to add and build in new and different ways without abandoning the qualities that led to the initial success.
Shining in its sophomore season brilliance, Donald and Stephen Glover’s Atlanta rewards its audience with something more perhaps than they anticipated, taking opportunities to deepen characters and explore styles with a series of solo side-plots, such as the ‘Lost in Translation’-esque “Helen” (Ep 2.4), and a near-slapstick comedic adventure with Paper Boi and Bibby in Ep 2.5, ‘”Barbershop”. Last week’s “Teddy Perkins” episode left most wondering aloud and in tweets, “What did I just watch?”. While theories abound, what seems to be of universal opinion is that in Robbin’ Season Donald and Stephen Glover have taken Atlanta to a place where a) all storytelling options are open to them and b) because of their artistry, their odd storylines still exist organically within the show’s universe. No one but Darius could have been the subject of such a strange U-Haul trip and the disarming “U Mad?” pitstop and his arrival at the mansion opened us organically and unsuspectedly into something bizarre and deep.
Bizarre it was and masterfully-crafted, wrapping a Michael Jackson character study in surrealist horror. Stanfield, one of the best actors in the series, is nearly outshined by Glover well disguised as the transformed Teddy. Like a good thriller, the episode drops hints like puzzle pieces that form a creepy tale of lost identity, truly sad at its core and un(der)explored. The episode even manages to squeeze in a brief discussion on the extended adolescence of Hip Hop as an art-form and sprinkles humor in spots (“…the father that drops off Emilio Estevez in the ‘Breakfast Club’…”), before a twisted climax that leaves its audience wondering and discussing. Some of my remaining questions:
-There’s no butler. Does that also mean there’s no “Sam”, the “audio visual woman” (“we don’t use real names on the message board”) and from the beginning the scheme to give away the piano is a plot to frame Darius for home invasion?
-Are the keys multi-colored because it’s a child’s piano, the one that Benny once learned on and is thus using to torture his father? And if so, does Benny/Teddy really want to get rid of the piano that encapsulates his pain or is it a plot to frame the person who picks it up for the murder of his father (because both can’t happen)?
-And what’s up with the ostrich egg? Eccentricity? I mean, dinosaur eggs are the more baller thing you can eat…
I originally thought “Robbin’ Season” was going to be the name of Paper Boi’s album, using the events of Ep 2.2 as inspiration for the title. Like much in the show it runs deeper than that, with each character getting robbed in different ways, robbed of opportunity, childhood, a piano, their art, their happiness, shoes, and money at gunpoint. Though it will be difficult to out-weird “Teddy Perkins”, in the remaining five episodes the Glovers are certain to keep on challenging and even surprising their audience without insulting them, continuing their exploration of style, character, and story in Atlanta’s stellar sophomore season.