Music plays a crucial role in Donald Glover’s FX dark comedy Atlanta. Sometimes it’s the star of the given episode, such as season one’s opener featuring hit records from the likes of the Delfonics and . Other times, it’s subtler, diegetic, blasting from passing car stereos or over restaurant PA’s. Thursday night’s episode, “Helen”, was one of those where the music came from within the show’s surroundings, but highlighted the episode’s theme, even as the events of the plot undercut the songs being played.
The song of the night was Kendrick Lamar’s “Love,” from his Grammy Award-winning 2017 album, DAMN. Playing over the speakers of the restaurant where Earn’s girl Van has dragged him to celebrate an obscure German festival, the song underscores the theme of commitment that hangs like a threat over Earn and Van’s night as his foul attitude and her broken optimism collide, finally culminating in that four-word text no one ever wants to receive: “We need to talk.”
Of course, the two have been circling the drain for some time now, and have never actually been what you’d consider a couple. They’re partners in raising a daughter, and Van is as much Earn’s supportive friend as he is her occasional arm candy, but they’ve never been together, as Van’s friend callously points out. “Love” is a song about taking the next step, making a promise of commitment, and in the end, it seems neither Earn or Van is actually ready to take that step.