A review of tonight’s Atlanta coming up just as soon as I fly a rent-a-PJ…
Atlanta so far has been flexible enough to become whatever it wants from week to week, so it’s not surprising that we would get an episode like “Value,” in which Earn and Alfred barely appear (and Darius is absent altogether) while the focus is on a misadventure of Van’s. Still, it’s impressive how satisfying the episode turned out to be, what a good job it did changing our impression of Van, and feeling very much of a piece with previous outings even though the guys were barely in it.
Though the series has made it clear that Earn is an unreliable clown whom Van (Zazie Beetz) is wise to keep at arm’s length (though he has one of his rare responsible/paternal moments when she needs it most tonight), his POV is still the one that dominates, which means that she can’t help but come across as yet another TV buzzkill girlfriend who may be right about the male lead, but is no fun to be around. “Value” makes it clear that she’s more complicated than that, that she’s capable of screwing up just as hugely as Earn — if anything, her drug test mishap is worse than anything he’s done so far because she’s the sole breadwinner in her household, and Earn’s in no position to fully provide for their daughter anytime soon — but also that she really wishes she could throw caution to the wind like Earn or her globe-trotting friend Jayde, only to get a harsh reminder of why she can’t.
And not that this has been a fast-paced, adrenaline-fused show, but it’s still remarkable how long Donald Glover let that opening scene with Van and Jayde at the restaurant play out, and in such careful fashion. There’s always a degree to which the Atlanta filmmaking style creates the illusion that we’re eavesdropping on the characters, but that was particularly the case here as the two women feel each other out after some time apart, push each other’s buttons (sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes accidentally), and then occasionally land back on the reason they liked each other in the first place. A scene just overflowing with lovely little details, like the slow and sheepish way Jayde goes to Instagram her food after Van has given her a hard time about it.