A review of the Atlanta season finale coming up just as soon as we find out Ja Rule is just a dog…
On the one hand, “The Jacket” feels oddly muted as finale to such an exceptional debut season. Surely, a show with as great an opening year as this should go out with fireworks and/or huge laughs as a way to underline all that it achieved across the previous nine episodes.
On the other, “The Jacket” feels like the perfect way to close out Atlanta season 1. This was nearly always an understated show — even the more explosive comic moments of an episode like “B.A.N.” tended to sneak up on you — and one whose dominant mode was to just hang out with Earn and the guys and observe what happened. Atlanta gonna Atlanta, and if that means wrapping up the season with one more shaggy dog story about the very thin line separating Earn from homeless poverty, the show has more than earned that right.
But “The Jacket” also works well as a finale because it suggests actual growth for Earn — emotionally more than financially at this stage, but still. There’s a desperation to Earn in the premiere, and the early episodes suggested he was as eager to stay in Van’s good graces because life would be simpler staying with her and their daughter as he was because of the affection he felt for mother and child. Here, Earn is still desperate, at one point even daring to walk up to cops immediately after they’ve shot and killed a man(*), just in the hopes of finding the key he thinks is in the guy’s stolen jacket. But when he turns up at Van’s apartment, he’s not putting on a show, but genuinely being part of the family for a little while — all while being willing to sleep in the storage unit(**) rather than push things further than they should probably go at this weird place in their relationship. And now that he’s starting to make a little money via managing his cousin (all while sticking with the day job at the airport), he may be using (or saving) it more wisely.
(*) There were moments this season where something violent happened, but presented in such a tall tale fashion where the series was all but daring you to question the reality of it. What’s remarkable about the shooting here is how the scene pivots from relaxed hang-out comedy — Darius wondering if 48 Hours works with an all-black cast, Paper Boi being invited to tour with a more famous rapper — to the stark reality of the shooting, and then back to deadpan as Earn starts asking about secret pockets, and Darius admits he swallowed two blunts when the cops turned up. (“Tonight’s gonna be weird.”) That kind of tonal back-and-forth should be whiplash inducing, but here it’s… not, in part because there’s a certain matter-of-factness to both the hanging out and the sudden burst of violence. This is the weird, sad world in which Earn lives. Get used to it.