‘Atlanta’: A French exit

OPINION: In season 3's final episode, we find Van taking an absurdist journey through Paris.

Zazie Beetz as Van in "Atlanta." (Roger Do Minh/FX)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Finally, the episode about Van. This season has focused on the guys in the crew, with Van always off in the corner of the plot, never central, so I knew eventually there would be an episode about Van. And you can’t have a show travel all through Europe and not go to Paris, so here we are, the final episode, titled “Tarrare,” a name that’s a reference to one of the strangest Parisians in history—a man who lived in the 18th century and was known for eating gigantic amounts of food every single day without gaining weight. Scientists never figured out what allowed him to eat so much. 

The episode named for France’s most famous eater features a bizarre scene of cannibalism as a delicacy as well as other strange things that some would find gross and some would find tantalizing. The episode builds toward an epic feast where diners are fed “les mains”—fried human hands. The guests eat with their heads covered by a napkin, which makes all of this seem like Succession’s fetish of eating Ortolans, tiny songbirds that are illegal to eat in France, which people eat whole while a napkin covers their heads. But that’s just one of the strange things happening in this wild circus—we also have women peeing on men. and a game of ritual humiliation played by Van and Alexander Skarsgård, who’s playing a strange version of Alexander Skarsgård. Van spits in his face after nearly ruining his career, and all he can do is run off and masturbate. Damn, this episode is bizarre.

It’s another journey episode—like the “Barbershop” or “New Jazz”—where the characters flow through a city on a quixotic quest. But more than that, it’s Van—but is it? Who is she? She’s acting like she’s French, even pretending to forget English words. She looks totally different, and she’s all mixed up in this strange semi-underworld market for severed hands. This episode is like a parody of a gangster film the way “Cancer Attack” was a parody of a detective buddy flight. The highlight of the gangster parody is when Van confronts Emilio in the museum. As in any classic gangster flick, as soon as she walks in, he starts apologizing and backtracking while she’s frighteningly calm. She unsheathes her weapon and then tells him about it—a stale baguette is the most French and most hilarious weapon ever. She bludgeons him with it, beating him half to death in what may be Van’s best scene in the history of the show.

Adriyan Rae as Candice, Zazie Beetz as Van in “Atlanta.” (Roger Do Minh/FX)

But who is this new Van with this little haircut, this accent, this chef boyfriend and a gangsterish mien? She sure doesn’t know. When Candice (Adriyan Rae, who was with Van in the Drake episode in season 2) finally confronts Van about who she is and what she’s doing, Van can answer every question but one—what about Lottie? How does she fit into this world you’ve built here? Van doesn’t know, and the dissonance of her two worlds colliding sends her into an angry vertigo. She loses it because her daughter doesn’t fit into her Parisian world, and yet she needs her. 

A moment later, real Van returns to talk it out with Candice and explain how she got there, like, these are the steps she took, but she can’t really explain it. “I don’t even know who I am,” she says. It sounds like a classic mother’s struggle to find her identity. Or a classic existential crisis in the middle of Paris, the city of philosophers.

And thus, the trip through Europe concludes with no real conclusion. Nothing is learned. Nothing is decided. At the end of season 2, we saw Earn graduate to the serious, seasoned manager as Al boarded a plane, representing his ascending career. But this time, as the curtain falls—as a woman pees and pees and pees on a man—they’re all just being. The last time we see Van, she’s saying, who am I? The last time we see Al, he’s in bed recovering. They’re all the same people they were at the beginning of the season, but I’m exhausted from watching their journey. This season was a rollercoaster with so many episodes that kept us in a state of uncertainty for so long that it was mentally challenging to keep up. But it’s nice to see Black people in an absurdist space onstage. 

This was one of the greatest seasons of TV in history. I’ll watch the “Big Payback,” “White Fashion” and “Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga” again and again. The show gave us white people saying things we’d love to hear them say and Black people searching for themselves and statements on racism and epic moments. I want to hear “One Shining Moment” under a montage of moments from this amazing season—the boy in episode one waving as he leaps out from the back of the car…Van pushing people into the rich man’s pool…Al trying to make it happen in the boardroom of the fashion house…Princess taking over the Trini funeral…Kevin Samuels presiding over the trial of Aaron…a Black woman peeing on a man…and on and on. I’m sad that there’s only one more season of Atlanta, but I’m thrilled that there’s one more season. 

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré hosts the podcast “Touré Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.

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