Atlanta Season 2 Episode 1 Recap

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Atlanta Season 2 Episode 1 Recap

It’s been three weeks since there’s been an Atlanta episode starring Donald Glover’s Earn. Since then we’ve had an episode each about Van, Darius, and Paper Boi. And Episode Eight brings another Paper Boi story, which has the aspiring rapper going on a violent spiritual journey into his own stalling musical career.

Deviating from Earn’s story has been an overall benefit for Atlanta, giving Glover the freedom to explore other narratives and types of storytelling. More importantly, though, after taking home the Emmy and Golden Globes for his acting, Glover is moving the spotlight to the rest of this phenomenally talented cast. Among these is Brian Tyree Henry who plays Alfred Miles (aka Paper Boi), whose rap career is the cornerstone of Atlanta.

When Glover sold the show to audiences and FX in 2016, it was framed as a comedy about a college dropout who is helping his cousin navigate his breaking rap career. That was basically the first episode. Since then, in what Glover calls a Trojan Horse, Atlanta has gone in completely unexpected and wonderful directions. In graceful pivots, it has switched genres, lead stars, tones, themes, and even its own reality.

This week, Atlanta explores the trappings of fame as Paper Boi attempts to navigate his own life, which is stuck somewhere between local celebrity and as another struggling man in the city. It opens with the rapper asleep on the couch getting nagged by his mother. When he finally leaves the house, he hangs out with a woman bothering him about his public image. This has long been something Paper Boi has been struggling with: his public persona as a successful rapper, and his private persona as a regular guy. He grapples with depression, anxiety, and money problems—all topics that hip-hop music rarely addresses.

He walks out on his not-girlfriend when she tries to take a photo of him during a fake-ass pedicure and ends up shuffling home on foot. On a lonely stretch of road, Paper Boi comes across a group of kids arguing about Star Wars. In an instant—like it did in this season’s opening scene—Atlanta flips from the innocent to hostile. When Paper Boi’s interaction with the young fans grows uncomfortable, they try to rob him at gunpoint. He fights back, taking one of them down after they get off a few punches. With one kid on the ground, he takes off into the woods.

As this show also often does, it juxtaposes the hyper-realistic with the surreal, and Paper Boi is suddenly lost in the trees and comes across a homeless man who speaks in riddles and prophecies—or maybe he’s just high. As day turns to night, the homeless man continues to follow Paper Boi. The rapper sits on a tree stump ready to give up.

“You better stand up and make a decision about how you getting out of here,” the man says before pulling out a box cutter and putting it to Paper Boi’s throat. “Keep standing still you’re gone boy. You’re wasting time. And the only people who got time are dead. And if you’re dead I’m gonna take your shoes, and your wallet, and that shirt.”

A tear goes down Paper Boi’s cheek as he makes a decision: “Okay,” he says.

For the majority of this series, Paper Boi has pretty much just gone along with wherever his career has taken him. In this moment, with a stunning performance by Henry, the character becomes a man of action.

He chooses to go for it. And in the final scene, when a kid in the gas station asks Paper Boi for a photo, the rapper agrees. Covered in blood, he finally leans into the fame thing—an indication that he’s going to take an active role in advancing his career.

In two solo episodes, Henry has officially defined himself as one of the next breakout stars of Atlanta. With Glover gracefully handing the lead role to his co-stars, he’s given them a chance to prove that they’re much more than supporting actors. And maybe during the next awards season we’ll see Henry’s (or Lakeith Stanfield’s, or Zazie Beetz’s) name among the nominations.

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