"Atlanta" Season Finale: Earn's Redemption Arc

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After the absurdist journey that Atlanta has taken us on during “Robbin’ Season,” it’s apt that the season finale wraps everything up so neatly. The season started with a barrage gunfire; a tone that set the precedence for even more danger and violence. Rumours and theories a shoot-out in the final episode ran rampant through the internet, and while the episode still ended with a bang, it maintained relative normalcy throughout. Deft character development written by Stephen Glover and directed by Hiro Murai showed everyone that Earn (Donald Glover) is committed to being both a good father and manager.

Al is heading f on a European tour arranged by Lucas, the manager Clark County (RJ Walker). He’s not headlining but it’s an opportunity to see the world. After Al’s semi-firing Earn, Earn has to work double-time to show his value. And with a large to-do list for the day, Earn is trying to prove just that.

The episode opens with Earn and Lottie in a car, meeting Al so they can interview a prospective entertainment lawyer. Afterwards, he has to help Al and Darius move out their apartment by driving the truck over to their house, ensuring the movers are working while also getting his crew to their international flight on time.

All the while, Lottie is with Earn. It’s the first time in “Robbin’ Season” she’s had so much screen time. It’s also the first signs Earn’s redemption arc, him being re-born and wresting back control his life. He’s tender with Lottie, he’s attentive and manages to juggle a hundred different things while keeping her at the forefront his mind: something most fathers deal with every day.

Earn heads to Lottie’s school where he meets Van (Zazie Beetz). The two have been called into a parent-teacher conference and learn that Lottie is an advanced student. They breathe a sigh relief, but only momentarily when the teacher suggests Lottie be transferred to a private school. Stammering, stuttering, sputtering incomplete sentences, you can see their brains making calculations on how they could afford the tuition.

It’s another hurdle thrown Earn’s way. After a season where he’s taken nothing but L’s, most would expect him to crumble, the odds constantly against him, but this is his redemption arc. It’s the point where we stop feeling sad for Earn and start rooting for him. Though it takes the safety and well-being his daughter to truly kick him into gear, this much-needed storyline addition helps Earn see the light day.

Earn starts asking the tough questions and seeing things in the grey zone that they are; rather than how they “should be.” He starts delegating tasks with a never-before-seen confidence, he makes split-second decisions, throws money at problems that arise seemingly from nowhere. When Darius forgets to renew his passport, Earn accompanies him to a Jewish neighbourhood where they can apply for an expedited one.

There, the guy behind the counter somehow manages to conclude that Earn is the manager a rapper, and that they’re headed on tour. Taken aback, Earn asks how he figured that out. “Rappers procrastinate,” is the answer and that this specific store has a specific clientele. While Darius fills out the form, Earn, intrigued, tells the unnamed clerk that it’s Paper Boi’s tour with Clark County. Excited, Earn is fered the services an entertainment lawyer, the clerk’s cousin — it’s a dream match-up, especially after Al’s proclamation for a “Jewish lawyer” earlier in the episode. 

Earn, emboldened, asks whether there’s a black lawyer as good as the clerk’s cousin. He’s trying, one last time, to prove to himself and the world that his worldview is right. But reality, the one Earn is (finally) slowly getting around to is thrown back in his face: “There definitely is. But part being good at your job is your connections and black people just don’t have the connections my cousin has … for systemic reasons.”

This follows the meeting with Lottie’s school teacher, the teacher proclaiming that when she sees “a steer smart enough to get out the pen, I leave the gate open,” in reference to Earn and Van’s daughter exceptional skillset. Even Darius is clear-eyed, cutthroat and honest with Earn in this week’s episode, saying, “I see you learning. Learning requires failure. Al’s just tryin’ to make sure you’re not failing in his life. Y’all both black, so that means y’all both can’t afford to fail.”

Everyone is on Earn’s side. They want him to win, but he has to come around and see the world how everyone else does, rather than viewing the world through a prism what it “can be” and never how it truly is — as a result his naïveté, he’s suffered a constant string failures. That is, until now. Even Paper Boi came to a similar realization after his episode in the woods. But what “Crabs in a Barrel” teaches Earn is that he has to accept who he is and how the world sees him in order to truly prosper– or have a chance at it. This realization is what sets in motion the final act Earn’s redemption arc.

At the airport, as Earn, Al and Darius are ahead Clark County and Lucas in the security line, Earn opens his backpack to find a gold-plated gun, the very one Willy (Kat Williams) gave him in the season premiere. Al had commented he didn’t want it sitting around the house in an open box and Earn had thrown it in his backpack in a hurry, seemingly forgetting about it until this moment.

In a cold, calculated moment where Earn had any number options, he uses the very option that Al has been talking about since the pilot: it’s every person for themselves. The entire season has been leading to his moment. Once on the plane, Al acknowledges Earn’s actions by saying, “I saw what you did at TSA.” He goes on, “They ain’t got no choice. You ain’t got no choice neither.” He ends the conversation by stating, “You my family, Earn. You the only one that knows what I’m about. I need that.”

And thus, Earn’s redemption arc is complete. A last-minute decision coupled with all the things he did that day saves Earn from being fired; something that seemed imminent until that moment.

Clark County drags others down for him to succeed– we saw it with the sound engineer from an earlier episode. It’s not until we see Clark County on the plane without Lucas that we really understand how apt the episode’s title is. Earn had stashed the piece in Clark’s backpack, but Clark let Lucas take the fall for him, revealing how he, just like Earn and Al, is only looking out for himself.

One the clearest episodes the series, it not only advanced plot but also provided a concise enough ending that if Atlanta were to never come back to TV, we would be satisfied enough. Forthcoming moments between the main characters is the episode’s crux. Atlanta lets go all its absurdist themes, its take on race, gender or inequality and lets the interaction and dialogue between the characters be the focal point.

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  • Darius, as usual, provided the comic relief throughout the episode. Whether it was playing chess against himself and having the dialogue to match (“You think you sneaky”) or forgetting that his passport was expired, he was a gem. 
  • If you were watching closely, even before the gun incident, you know Earn had come full circle when he breezed past the credit card salesman. It was the same way the white dude told him to fuck f in the pilot. The way the camera lingered for half a second too long confirmed this. 
  • Blood is thicker than water, no doubt. Tracy at the episode’s end is locked out the house, unaware that Al has moved, while Earn is sitting next to him on the way to Europe. 
  • Bringing it back to the couch, where Earn even passed up the joint, showed us how goal-oriented he is now. He’s on a mission.
  • This was the kind episode where it was hard to choose which Darius line was best, but: “Probably had a screwdriver or something. can’t have those.”