Flourishes like the specter of Amsterdam locals in blackface elicit a mixture of disgust and confusion, prompting a breaking point for Al after he finds himself on stage facing a sea of Golliwog-esque fans. This season stands out for its skewering of the phenomenon of performative white allyship, with various episodes honing in on their obsessive desire to affirm their goodness on race matters. Episode three, “The Old Man and The Tree,” follows the foursome into a lavish party at a billionaire’s home, hidden behind a shabby facade. There they become as much a dish as the plated food as Atlanta uses this setting to examine the global nature of anti-Blackness. A Darius subplot is born out of an awkward exchange with an Asian woman, which culminates in a circle of incensed, performative white allyship parading as protection, ironically leaving Darius defenseless as he watches the circle devour a person they’ve diagnosed as racist on his behalf. Meanwhile, the season’s midpoint, “Cancer Attack” features another one-night setting that forces Al, Earn, and Darius to untangle white lies and half truths as they try to recover Al’s missing cell phone. After a series of frustrating exchanges, the episode ends with a scene that demonstrates the nefarious potential of white allyship.
As often as Europe is popularly framed as more enlightened and tolerant of Black expats, there are moments in these episodes—like the disagreement between Earn and a local concert manager, which turns violent; or Earn’s connection with a young Black influencer/scammer via an oblivious white investor—that make it clear that such views are too generous (something that the cast has attested to in real life as well). Whether at home or abroad, Atlanta believes danger awaits Black people around every corner.
With its violent beginnings, it seems clear that this season of Atlanta could eventually careen towards a similar end. In speaking about the show with The Hollywood Reporter, Glover has said that Atlanta’s peer is not its network cousin Dave, but rather the bygone HBO series The Sopranos. This makes sense; the lifestyles of both rappers and mafiosos have long been romanticized in popular culture, while also conveniently ignoring the tragedy and exploitation that those worlds sometimes inhabit. In both shows, the sub-economy revolves around bodies; an invisible ecosystem of above- and below-the-board business fuels relationships, dependencies, social and financial capital. The grayness of their worlds and the sometimes unnerving, principled amorality is easily dismissed as emotionally foreign, yet both shows underscore something undeniably true: this is America.