A quick review of tonight’s Atlanta coming up just as soon as I feel like I’m in a Spike Lee-directed Eyes Wide Shut…
“Juneteenth” is another remarkable half-hour of TV in a debut season full of them. It’s one of the purely funniest episodes of Atlanta so far, as the Juneteenth party thrown by Van’s friend turns into a parade of ridiculous people behaving ridiculously, and Earn and an increasingly drunk Van doing their best to hide their natural reactions to them. But it also works as an achingly poignant look at where things stand between the two of them now that Van is no longer the obvious breadwinner.
Alfred and Darius were absent, but they weren’t really needed, thanks to how well Donald Glover and Zazie Beetz played Earn and Van’s response to Craig the honorary black man, to the aging playwright boasting of her play about a hostage situation at a strip club during Hurricane Katrina (Earn: “That’s a real situation!”), to the gigantic mega-church reverend, to the valets who carry their sister’s panties around with them at all times because “You never know, man,” and everyone else. Some of the most effective comedy can come from reacting rather than dialogue, slapstick, or other more active choices, and it was hilarious watching Earn in particular try to contain himself around Craig.
But the relationship material was surprisingly powerful given the episode’s mostly silly context. We see early on, as they fight over the car window controls while Van stews over having to pick Earn up from the home of a one-night stand, that whatever attempts at couplehood they may have been making earlier in the season have gone by the wayside; now they are just co-parents, and Earn pretending to be Van’s Ivy League graduate (an earlier episode noted that he dropped out of Princeton) husband is just about helping her get a new job so she can better care for their daughter. Yet in the midst of all their role-playing, Earn is able to genuinely hurt Van with his monologue about how she does everything for their family and he does nothing — essentially true, but not the kind of thing he would ever say to her under more genuine circumstances — and her question in a later scene about wishing she had someone to confide in suggests that Earn once was that person, and she’s frustrated that his screw-ups have pulled them apart.
Does she ask him to pull the car over for some roadside sex because she’s drunk? Because, after his defense of Alfred and mockery of the party offends their host, her career prospects are again so terrible that she feels she has nothing to lose by falling back into bed with him? Because spending a day as a fake couple made her ache for when they really were one? Or all of the above? And is this prelude to a reconciliation, or something she’ll ignore in the sober light of June 20th?
Whatever her motivation, and whatever happens next, I am not nearly ready for this season to be over after next week’s finale. This has been an incredible debut year for Glover and company, setting a really high bar for what comes next.
What did everybody else think?