The wonderful, weird, and wild second season of Atlanta has officially come to an end. The optics of the last moments of the finale, “Crabs In A Barrel,” are fairly innocuous, with Earn Marks (Donald Glover), Al “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) on a flight heading to Europe for an international tour. But, if you look beyond the run-of-the-mill plane set, the entire scene takes on a much graver tone. Because, after 11 episodes of Earn stumbling in nearly every facet of his life, we finally see the oftentimes-inadequate manager claim his power and a permanent seat at the table next to his on-the-rise rapper cousin.
The only problem is, Earn had to go darker-than-dark to get that chair.
One of the most important details of “Crabs” is the Chekhov's gun — Katt Williams’ gun? — that reappears towards the beginning of the episode. While packing up for the upcoming Eurotrip, Al asks Earn to dispose of the golden gun the manager was given at the very beginning of the season. The weapon already carries a lot of narrative weight as it was gifted to Earn by Willy (the aforementioned Katt Williams), Al’s estranged father and Earn's uncle. If a gun is introduced in the season premiere, disappears for 10 episodes, and then comes back for the finale, you know it’s going to go off either literally or metaphorically.
Thankfully the gun only factors in metaphorically, as it leads to Earn and Al’s ultimate reconciliation after episodes of tension. Earn spends most of “Crabs” putting out fires and attempting to fulfil his duties as a manager, father, and man. He seems to succeed… until he gets to the airport and realises Willy’s gun, and all of its fatherly baggage, is still in his backpack, which he’s about to put through the metal detectors. Instead of panicking, Earn distracts Clark County (RJ Walker), who is behind him in line and headlining Al’s tour, and slips the gun in Clark’s bag while he’s not looking. Then, Earn strides through the metal detector without looking back, even as an unseen TSA agent begins yelling, “Whose bag is this?!” After all, the bag in question isn’t Earn’s.
We find out by the end of the episode Lucas (Matthew Barnes), Clark's manager, was arrested for the gun.
This simple, cut-throat move is what officially changes how Al views his cousin and manager once and for all. While safely ensconced on the plane, Al reveals he saw what Earn did at security and respects him for it. “Just know that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” the rapper explains, adding that everyone around them is going to be ruthless, so they have to be as well — there is no choice. He continues, “We’re family man. You’re the only one who knows what I’m about. You give a fuck. I need that.”
This is a far cry from the cousins' “North Of The Border” conversation, where Al reveals he is considering dropping his cousin in favour of Lucas, who is white. The admission follows a “bullshit” night, which Al blames on Earn’s incompetency and failure to, well, manage. While Al isn’t wrong, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like a gut punch when All tells Earn, “I need shit, Lottie needs shit, you need shit … I don’t think you’re cut out for it.”
This conversation continues to haunt Earn into “Crabs In A Barrel,” as he asks Darius if he believes Al will really fire him. The spectre of Lucas hovers over the question, as a passport clerk (Daniel Annone) had told Earn seconds earlier that a white lawyer will always have more connections and clout than a black one, simply “for systemic reasons.” The underlying idea is, this same theory applies to music managers. While Darius does try to assuage Earn’s fears by promising him a good guy like Al wouldn't fire his cousin before Europe, he does remind him Al doesn’t feel like he, as a Black man trying to make it, can afford having the people around him make mistakes.
By “handling” the gun, in the immortal words of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Earn signals he’s not the kind of man who is vulnerable to failure. He’ll happily ruin someone else’s life if it protects his own, and therefore his client Al’s as well. Because, it’s vital to remember, while Lucas is the one who gets handcuffed for the gun, Earn actually put the pistol in Clark’s bag. If Clark’s manager hadn’t taken the fall for his client, Al’s only competition for headlining the tour would have been eliminated. With one move, Earn could have made Al a star, if only Clark hadn’t outsmarted him.
Although we should all be happy the Atlanta family isn’t fracturing thanks to Earn’s quick thinking, this also means we’ll likely be met with a much darker version of the character if the series comes back for season 3. After a season of seeing Earn attempt to pummel Tracey (Khris Davis), low-key shame on-again, off-again girlfriend Van (Zazie Beetz) for embracing her German heritage, and possibly even blame himself for a classmate’s suicide during a flashback episode, it’s hard to say viewers will be emotionally prepared for that kind of bleak transformation.
But, that doesn't mean we all won't be praying for FX to renew Donald Glover's brilliant brainchild.
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