In one of the wildest episodes of Atlanta yet, we finally (mostly) find out what’s going on with Van.
In what turned out to be one of the wildest, best episodes of Atlanta yet (written by producer Stefanie Robinson who also gave us the gem “Woods” in season 2), we finally get a hint at what the heck has been up with Van this entire season. The episode is entirely hers, and in true Atlanta fashion, it’s experimental, horrifying in parts, bizarre in others, but altogether intriguing and heartfelt.
The episode opens with three American friends—Shanice (Shanice Castro), Candice (Adriyan Rae), and Xosha (Xosha Roquemore)— hanging out at bistro, discussing the absurdity that Candice has apparently flown across the pond to pee on some French dude. Only the French dude is paying her nicely, and even hooked up Shanice and Xosha to tag along, so what harm is a little pee, right? No kink-shaming around these parts.
A few minutes into their conversation Candice’s face lights up in surprise when she spots her old Atlanta homie, Van, shopping across the way. Yay, Van! Candice hustles up to Van, who coincidentally is wearing that wig she probably stole a few episodes back. Candice is happy to see her, but Van, who’s been conversing with the merchant in French, gives her a stunned, confused look, as if she doesn’t recognize her (or really, really wishes she weren’t there) before finally dropping the weird act, and greeting her. Only it’s actually still quite weird because Van, who is most definitely from Atlanta, is now speaking in a French accent, wearing a striped shirt, and carrying a gigantic baguette.
And that is only the beginning of the bat-shit crazy that is this episode.
Van invites Candice, Shanice, and Xosha to her nice crib, where Candice notices Van’s on the cover of a magazine because she’s a model now? She also notes that Van’s phone has been blowing up with people from her old life, and Van has obviously been ignoring them. But before she can further prod, French Accent Van says she needs to run some errands, and invites the Atlanta homies to tag along. They hop on super cute mopeds and off they go, with French Accent Van still carrying her large baguette.
From there, the episode spirals into the absurdly surreal as the four get a quick tour of French Accent Van’s new, relatively insane French life. She beats a man to bloody pulp with the baguette she’s been carrying around in a museum over a mysterious package, she’s involved in a strange sex-power game with an Ashanti-loving Alexander Skarsgard (who plays a creepy version of himself), she gets called “Tarrare” by some shoddy characters they have a run in at an apartment complex that looks like “Candy man lives there,” and she works in a restaurant where they batter, fry, and serve literal hands. That last bit, along with her new street name and to a lesser degree, the entire episode, is a reference to Tarrare, an 18th century gluttonous French showman who sometimes had an affinity for cannibalism and cats.
By the end of the episode, Candice has finally cornered Van in the kitchen where she works with her partner, asking her a string of questions, including one about her daughter Lotti. When she asks about her it finally causes French Accent Van to break her act, and several plates in the process, when she completely melts down.
One of the strongest moments comes when Van discloses she’s been struggling with depression, so much so she nearly killed herself and decided to flee Atlanta to escape herself and her thoughts. “I don’t even know who I am,” she says, after admitting she headed to Paris in an attempt to live like the character Amelie. Candice is sympathetic, tells her she’s going to be okay, and takes her home, leaving the homie Shanice to collect the pee money in a poetic, hilarious parting shot of the Eiffel Tower (kudos to Donald Glover who directed this episode). During the credits, we finally get a glimpse of Earn, who gets delivered a bag that actually belongs to Earn Marks, the white version of our Earn who appeared throughout the season. It seemed like he was a ghost the whole time, but maybe he wasn’t? Maybe this season connects the anthology-style stories to our main crew’s realities? Still not quite sure what was actually happening with that whole thread, but it was interesting?
All in all, Atlanta still has one of the most talented casts on television, hands down. Its bizarre, surrealist, yet vulnerable storytelling just wouldn’t work with less skilled actors, and Zazie Beetz is absolutely fantastic in this episode, which in a fair world, would earn her an Emmy nomination.
Naturally, there’s a lot of chatter about what worked well this season and what didn’t. Atlanta’s storytelling has never been linear, but with the addition of the anthology-style episodes, it was even less so, and as mentioned previously, felt like two separate TV shows. You have to wonder what the season would have been if it’d focused completely on its dynamic four—Earn, Al, Darius, and Van—who all are compelling, complex characters with rich stories to explore, played by super talented actors.
No matter what you think about the season, Atlanta is still entirely its own thing, and there’s still nothing else like it on TV. It’s wholly brilliant in spots, head scratching in others, but always interesting. We didn't get much in the way of what will happen next season, except that the gang will likely be back home in Atlanta.
But chances are, whatever Glover decides to do will be worth the watch.