‘Atlanta’ review, episode 6: Active shooter

OPINION: Paper Boi dodges bullets in a mall while Darius and Earn consider doing an uncomfortable act to get a pair of sneakers. 

Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in "Atlanta." (Guy D’Alema/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.

The world of a famous rapper is filled with danger. This week, in the sixth episode of “Atlanta’s” final season, we get Paper Boi, who is scared about a strange serial killer, so he hides at the mall where he runs into someone he knew in high school who’s still holding a grudge about something, so the man opens fire on Paper Boi right there inside the mall. If it’s not one killer that’ll get him, it’s another. 

But adding to the fun, Georgia is an open-carry state where you can legally possess a handgun in most public places. So suddenly, half of the people in the mall pull out handguns and start running around in tactical positions, firing back at the shooter. The tense, fearful scene of Paper Boi crouching down, trying to avoid the bullets, turns into a moment that’s absurd and, to me, funny as a visualization of the ubiquity of guns in America. I wondered why Paper Boi didn’t have his own gun on him, especially if he was running away from a serial killer, but it’s funnier to see him scared and needing to be rescued by others.

Paper Boi escapes the chaos thanks to a wack rapper called Some Guy Named Doug, who’s magically in the right place at the right time. I thought we were going to learn that Some Guy Named Doug was the serial killer, but no, he just wants Paper Boi to rap on his song. Trapped into doing Doug this favor, Paper Boi looks world-weary, as if he’s saying, damn, everyone I encounter is trying to get something from me whether it’s the killers, who want to take my life, or Doug, who wants to borrow my fame. It never ends. 

Meanwhile, as Paper Boi has an epic time inside the mall and outside in the parking lot, Earn and Darius are in a bizarre predicament: Will they kiss for free Nikes? It’s a question none of us have ever pondered, but now we must. Would you be willing to kiss a close friend as someone watches in order to get a product that means a lot to you for free? The question is ridiculous in real life, but in a drama like “Atlanta,” it sets us on a crazy course. There’s an old saying—if you put a gun onstage, it has to go off. It means you can’t introduce some major dramatic element and then do nothing with it. In the other storyline, once Paper Boi starts running from a killer, it’s inevitable that he’ll run into one. In this storyline, once someone challenges them to kiss, then the audience knows eventually they’re going to kiss, which creates crazy tension as Earn tries to talk Darius out of it, saying this is beneath them, this is against his principles, this makes no sense. But the free-spirited Darius doesn’t care. He’s down for whatever.  

(L-R) Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, Donald Glover as Earn Marks, Miles LaKeith Stanfield as Darius in “Atlanta.” (Guy D’Alema/FX)

When Earn asks, “Is it really worth our dignity?” he’s posing a question to the entire culture. Are there consumer goods whose importance is so inflated that you would risk humiliation to acquire them? This isn’t just about Black men and sneakers. Almost every social group has items that can enhance someone’s status so much that people would risk debasing themselves to acquire them. For some people, it’s an expensive handbag. For others, it’s a certain car. In the world of “Atlanta” and in hip-hop culture, most of us would endure a lot to cop some hard-to-get sneakers that would make everyone respond with awe. But if you debase yourself in order to get an item that boosts your social stature, are you giving up status in one moment in order to get it in another? 

It’s hysterical to me that the Shoe Man ends up getting accidentally murdered by the brother trying to shoot Paper Boi—the antagonist of one plotline kills the antagonist of the other plotline. This also makes Earn and Darius’ kiss meaningless. They kissed for an audience of one, and before it was even over, he was dead. But in their world, there are predators lurking everywhere—serial killers, old haters, weird parking lot salesmen. It all makes having a safe farm look really smart. 

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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