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 ‘Atlanta’ recap: season 2, episode 1: The family scars that bind

Beware of ‘Florida Man’ — it’s not as crazy as it sounds

Season 2, episode 1 | “Alligator Man” | March 1

“Robbin’ season. Christmas approaches and everybody gotta eat.”

— Darius

It didn’t take long for Atlanta’s season two to live up to its theme: robbin’ season. Off the rip, you just knew the two young boys were ’bout to hit a lick. The way they were talking in the apartment, from the special order they gave at the drive-thru. But really, the most dead giveaway is Tay-K’s “The Race” lyrics, Pop a n—– then I go out my way, being played as they completed their order.

Darius is right, though. Everybody gotta eat. Hence the guy in the fast-food spot running a holiday hustle and the two young men sticking up the place. The distraught young lady in the back seat is presumably a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only unbelievable thing from the opening scene is that no one got hit with a bullet (that we know of).

Elsewhere, even Earn gets robbed: An employee at the storage unit he sleeps in — remember he’s homeless — tells him he has to vacate and then proceeds to take a handful of Earn’s personal belongings. That isn’t much of a shock to Earn. Sleeping in a storage unit doesn’t lend itself to a long shelf life. But what is a shock is seeing that his cousin Paper Boi (who is on house arrest) and Darius aren’t on speaking terms. Never mind that he has the most awkward exchange of the entire episode when he calls Paper Boi’s girl “Regina” when her name is Tara. Earn is more concerned about why the two friends “don’t wanna talk” than about why they’re, in fact, not talking.

“What I’m scared of is being you. Someone everybody knew was smart. But ended up being a knew-it-all, f— up that just let s— happen to him.”

Nevertheless, leave it to Earn and Darius to produce a classic car scene. Darius is taking Earn to meet with his parole officer; this stems from when he was caught with marijuana after Paper Boi shot the guy at the end of last season’s first episode (“The Big Bang”) and him spending all of episode two in jail (“Streets On Lock”). Their first classic conversation occurred in last season’s “The Streisand Effect” when Darius told Earn how AIDS was invented to keep Wilt Chamberlain from breaking the all-time sex record. And that black people didn’t know who (the white) Steve McQueen is. This time around, however, Darius ignores Earn, saying his parents are going to visit his dying uncle in Florida. Instead, the exchange about “Florida Man” being the “alt-right Johnny Appleseed” who shoots unarmed black teens, kills flamingos, eats people’s faces and beats up people in hospitals is an instant classic exchange in a series with plenty. “Florida Man” is, in Darius’ world, a ploy by the government to keep black people from moving to Florida and/or registering to vote in the state. But “Florida Man” is a representation of outrageous yet very real stories that have arisen out of the Sunshine State this decade. It’s such an Atlanta conversation that you’re forced to say, “Well, you know, he might be on to something.”

The episode takes a dark turn, but at the same time becomes more illuminating, when Earn promises Alfred he’s going to visit Willie, played by Katt Williams. Judging from context clues, Willie is Paper Boi’s dad and Earn’s uncle. His girlfriend/live-in-rival, Yvonne, claims to have been kidnapped by Willie and is actually locked in a bedroom. Willie claims Yvonne stole $50 from him while he was asleep. She claims she didn’t, saying that Willie must have drunk it (he’s later seen sniffing coke in the kitchen). It’s also here we learn why the episode is titled “Alligator Man” — because Willie keeps a pet alligator, Coach, in his house. Yes, you read that right.

The cops eventually arrive. Both Yvonne and Willie try to downplay the situation, although Willie (as we can already tell) takes it too far. Earn’s attempts to make peace are unsuccessful. Willie says Earn’ll soon learn that “family is business.” Earn’s clap back is the most sobering revelation of the entire episode. But Earn and his uncle’s eventual heart-to-heart reveals two men struggling to get a grasp on life. Pride weighs down both men. “What I’m scared of is being you,” Earn says. “Someone everybody knew was smart. But ended up being a know-it-all, f— up that just let s— happen to him.”

A subplot to this episode is the reality of the unknown. We don’t know (yet) why Darius and Paper Boi aren’t talking. We know Paper Boi’s mother died — but we don’t know how Willie may have played a role in that. And we don’t fully know why Earn is holding an emotional grudge toward his Uncle Willie with regard to his mother. It’s part of the larger arc of this season. We know these characters. We know their hopes and dreams. We know their fears. We even know Darius’ deep-rooted conspiracy theories. But we still don’t know their entire story.

Maybe those answers will arise over the course of season two, but Willie gives Earn a gold-plated handgun (is it Chekhov’s?) that looks straight out of Nintendo 64’s Goldeneye and a piece of advice: “If you don’t wanna end up like me, get rid of that ‘chip on your shoulder’ s—. It’s not worth the time.” It’s an OG comedian/actor who had the world in his palms, but self-inflicted mistakes ruptured the potential he had in his hands — giving a current comedian/actor with nothing but green pastures ahead of him game he needs to survive not just the game but his own pitfalls. Earn also takes a framed picture of his Uncle Willie and mother before he leaves. Williams absolutely shines in this episode, adding to a very impressive 2018 for the controversial comedian that also includes a standout comedy special in Great America.

The episode ends on three separate notes: hilarious, comforting and similar. Hilarious because eventually Coach the Alligator makes his appearance. This allows Uncle Willie to peel out the back door with the fastest speed known to man. Not Usain-Bolt-in-the-Olympics speed, but run-from-the-police speed. Comforting because Paper Boi and Darius move toward peace. And similar because Earn leaves Paper Boi’s house still homeless. It’s darker in Atlanta, just as many predicted.

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.