A review by the Atlanta Series finale, It Was All a Dream, is coming just as soon as I tell you how many seasons of Homeboys in Space there were…
The thing with Atlanta is that the series is so fluid and so unpredictable in theme and tone that it could have ended almost any way and probably felt appropriate on some level. Could have been something dark, something silly, something thoughtful. Could have focused on one of the regular characters or even revisited the Justin Bartha character from last season’s Redemption episode. Heck, “The Goof Who Sat By the Door” would have been an incredible mic drop. No matter what Donald Glover and Co. do
we couldn’t have said we hadn’t been warned.
For the last time (and only time this season), Glover wrote the screenplay and Hiro Murai directed. I spoke to Murai about the finale and the overall experience of creating the series. Look for that interview here tomorrow morning. But after seeing It Was All a Dream, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting conclusion to this incredible show.After two of the previous three episodes brought Earn and Van and then Al to an emotional close, the finale largely focuses its attention on Darius. But how on earth do you close the loop on a character as eccentric and inscrutable as Darius? Closing for Earn and Van is easy; They want to be together, even though it’s hard to admit that after all their beginnings and breaks. Al discovering he loves life on the farm may come as a surprise, other than we know how uncomfortable he is around almost everyone. But Darius? Darius is an enigma shrouded in mystery buried under a heap of
. We know who he is, but not necessarily what he wants, what drives him, or what lurks beneath his cool, empathetic exterior.
Start celebration funeral But if Earn was our introduction to that world, and Al eventually became the show’s central character, the finale shows that Darius is the creative touchstone for the entire show. Among the elements that has made
so special is the way the series allows dream logic to coexist with farce and a certain degree of gritty realism. And none of the three male leads move from one room to the next more comfortably than Darius. Of course, the show has to end with him slipping back and forth between all those tones as he struggles to figure out what’s real and what’s a hallucination brought on by his latest experience in a sensory deprivation tank — or how he calls it , dep sesh . Not to be confused with a Dork Sesh, which Earn assumes is an underground Johnny Depp film cut from all of his other films.On the way, Darius first stops at a pharmacy, where he and a woman named Cree (played by Cree Summer, best known for
and a returning player
better things) discuss their respective experiences of deprivation and hallucination. Cree has abandoned the practice because she has fallen too deeply into one fantasy or another. However, Darius claims to have a cheat code: “Thicc Judge Judy”. With Judy Sheindlin’s TV shows on all the time wherever he goes, Darius has forced his subconscious to visualize them in a more exuberant way to separate fact from fiction. After discussing anxiety and antidepressants — one of the more implicitly insightful conversations Darius has ever had on the show — he tells Cree, “You have a wonderful mind. Thanks for sharing your time with me.” For all his stupidity, eccentricity, and uncompromising mumbo-jumbo, Darius can also be lovable and charming in a way that Al and Earn are each too grumpy and goal-oriented. On the way to his appointment, he bumps into an old friend named London (Nate Jones). She remembers him as a perpetual party animal, but the Darius of recent seasons has been a lot gentler and, if not a teetotaler, then at least someone who picks his points with what he eats and when. He doesn’t want to relapse, but lets brisk London drive him into the car, where she drinks and smokes. Things take a quick turn: a white cop pulls her over for a busted taillight, and even after London has unlikely passed his off-brand sobriety test, she decides to snag the cop’s gun, accidentally hitting a kid on a bike with her her car and then runs away, leaving the gun in Darius’ hands. It seems a terrible final fate for Darius… …except waking up seconds later in the deprivation tank. That judge Judy didn’t save him, but the sheer horror of the incident did — or so it seems. The rest of the episode is a Russian nesting doll of hallucinations, each beginning relatively subtly before spiraling out of control. Even when it seems like he misjudged the situation — like freaking out about how many times the other rehab clients keep saying the phrase “tea room,” then being kicked to the curb because it’s not a hallucination after all – We finally see that he just swims in the tank and has dreams after dreams.In one he visits his brother Chi (
. It’s a sad little reminder that Darius is more than just the jester of Al and Earn’s world, but a person with his own life and traumas. (At the beginning of Season 3, he mentioned having his balls crushed growing up in Nigeria, then abruptly changed the subject to the film
food fight because of course he did.) He’s more complicated than he often tells his best friends, and sometimes he just needs to turn everything off and get in the tank.
This is something of a throwback to Al imagining his mother cleaning his apartment on the anniversary of her death in Woods season two.
Guy D’Alema/FX All of this plays out between an amusing subplot in which Al, Earn and Van try to have lunch at a Black-owned sushi restaurant that one of Van’s friends has invested in. The sight of a Popeye’s across the parking lot from the sushi shop is a cruel taunt for Al, especially when the sushi proves unusual and sometimes borders on inedible. With Van and Earn appearing primarily as straight men, it’s one final time for the show to unleash Brian Tyree Henry’s brilliant comic gift of playing quiet disgust and longing.But what begins as a light-hearted but relatively realistic story takes a very strange turn
It’s their turn as the three friends attempt to leave the restaurant early to stave off the afternoon rush of high school kids to Popeye’s. The restaurant’s mysterious owner, Demarcus (Calvin Dutton), shows up dressed in the same type of suit and bow tie that the creepy Ahmad White wore in a few episodes of the first season . Demarcus is fed up with his culinary methods being questioned, with the black community not supporting any of their own, and with distrust running high in that community. His oratory apparently gets through to Al, but Demarcus follows him with an order for his staff to lock the doors so these three wayward guests are forced to eat the potentially poisonous puffer fish his chef prepared for them.
Ahmad is the guy on the bus in the series premiere who offers Earn a Nutella sandwich, then gets off and happens to be standing on the side of the road, silently staring at the forest in front of him — perhaps the first indication that this show wasn’t going to be what we expected. Ahmad later appears in season one’s “BAN” where his commercial promised answers to anyone calling his hotline. and then just when things seem to be escalating in the real world just as, and as quickly, as Darius’ hallucinations show, Darius himself bursts in, yelling for the others to hop into his pink Maserati while he’s making donuts in the parking lot bring her to safety.It’s so hilarious, so random, that it seems like the episode explains that most of what we’ve seen so far was part of Darius’ dep sesh experience, and that for some reason he dreamed of events where he it is not present…
…which turns out to be more or less Darius’ interpretation. When the gang get back to Al, he explains that it’s no big deal that he stole the Maserati because it’s just a hallucination, similar to when London stole the cop’s gun. None of this is real, so no one can get hurt. It’s not an unreasonable assumption after the day he’s had, and if you follow Darius’ logic, it becomes possible that as much – or even all – of it Atlanta played out in his head. It would certainly explain the weirdness of things like Black Justin Bieber, the invisible car, or even Teddy Perkins. It would explain how the seemingly mismatched parts of this show almost always fit together perfectly.
But what is this fun? Atlanta Makes sense, not because it’s a long dream that Darius has in a sensory deprivation tank, but because it just is – because it’s written with such imagination and staged and performed with such precision that it inevitably feels like a single piece. You can read the end of the episode,
Onset-esque moments – where Darius looks at Judge Judy, who walks away from the bench and smiles without us seeing if she’s fat or regular – as a sign that he understands this is all real, or maybe this Opposite. He might smile because Darius is a cat weird enough to embrace the idea of experiencing an eternal fantasy world. But I prefer the former interpretation — that the smile on his face means he appreciates the life he has, the friends he’s with, and the regular opportunities he gets to spend his time with beautiful spirits like Cree share, hugs. Is this all fake? Well, it’s in the sense that this is a scripted show about fictional characters, even if they draw on elements from the lives of the people making the show. If you interpret the ending as Darius realizing that the entire series only exists in his head, then maybe it’s sad. Or maybe, like the famous (or infamous) final scene of St. Elsewhere – in which we learn that the entire show is set in the mind of a boy with autism who stares at a snow globe all day and then sees him place that globe on a TV – it’s simply a confirmation that these Show springs from the minds of Donald Glover, Stephen Glover, Hiro Murai and everyone else, and that it’s okay to let go of our emotional involvement with Al, Earn, Darius and Van. But is it all supposed to be “real”? Then life is pretty great for Darius for this moment. And it’s been great for those of us who were lucky enough to see this special, special show and this all-time classic final season. Now let’s all start a new episode of Judy Justice, and see what our favorite personality looks like in the courtroom.