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Atlanta Season 2 Episode 9 Recap
Halfway through Atlanta’s ninth episode, Earn, Paper Boi and Co. run from an angry black crowd to find solace with two white men sitting outside a Georgian college frat house. The building number is 1863, prominently displayed in one camera shot.
That number—the year Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation—is a prologue to one of the most shocking scenes in Atlanta so far. Earn, Paper Boi, Darius, and Tracy go into the frat house, where they sit downstairs and smoke weed with one of the college bros in front of a Confederate flag. Lined up in front of them are two rows of naked pledges, who are tied up and have bags over their heads.
Earn and Paper Boi hardly acknowledge what’s going on around them, like the hazing and the collection of vintage guns. Instead, they listen to one of the white guys talk about his admiration of southern rap; he mentions the philosophy of Texas duo UGK.
The juxtaposition calls to mind a recent essay in The Atlantic that compared the public perception about fraternities to that of street gangs. As Ibram X. Kendi wrote:
Consider this series of contrasts: toughness toward savage gang boys versus softness toward immature frat men. Worries about destroying the lives of drunk 20-year-olds accused of violence versus hardly caring about destroying the lives of high 16-year-olds accused of violence. Attacking gangs wielding the faces of their victims versus attacking and defacing the victims of fraternities. Defending death sentences for violent gang boys versus defending the life of privileged denial for violent frat men.
This contrast is made clear in this week’s Atlanta, “North of the Border.” Earn, Paper Boi, Darius, and Tracy drive to play a show on a college campus. Earn has been talking to a woman on Instagram who’s going to let them crash in her dorm room. They make the trip, drop their stuff off in her place, and play the show. What’s not stated, but rather implied, is that the guys are getting a free place to stay in exchange for Paper Boi to have sex with the woman.
Everything’s going fine until after his set, when Paper Boi starts talking to a couple of other women who admire his music. The college student whose place he’s crashing in becomes jealous and dumps a beer on him. In response, the unstable Tracy, who thinks he’s acting as security, confronts her and smacks her in the face. Earn catches her before she can fall down the stairs, but the damage has already been done: She runs to a group of male friends who start chasing Paper Boi’s crew. That’s when they escape to the frat house. Interestingly, they seem less threatened by the gun-toting, Confederate-admiring frat boys than they do the angry crowd of black men chasing them.
Within the safety of the frat house, Paper Boi tells Earn he’s been talking with another manager, and blames the night’s disaster on his cousin. Meanwhile, Earn’s Instagram contact and her friends trash their car, destroy their stuff, and steal Earn’s laptop. That’s what finally puts Earn over the edge. This season, he’s lost his girlfriend, his job, and his laptop (something he can’t afford to replace). He pulls the fire alarm, and they get the hell out of there.
During the car ride home, he makes Paper Boi pull the car over so he can fight Tracy. It’s a painful scene to watch, as Earn gets his ass absolutely beaten by the bigger man. They get back in the car and it’s over.
The 30 minutes come in three distinct acts. First, at the concert, tension builds when a simple misunderstanding escalates into an all-out brawl. Second, at the frat house, Paper Boi’s crew takes refuge. And finally, in the car, Earn and Tracy fight.
It coalesces into Earn’s explosive frustration, which speaks to Glover’s continued goal to share what it’s like to be black in America. Taken as a whole, it’s an episode that’s both painful and frustrating, and shows the contrasting worlds—specifically around southern college life. It’s a credit to Glover that he’s willing to, and capable of, putting these powerful and necessary discussions into a half-hour comedy.