We’ve come a long way from shootouts at Mrs. Winners and yet we have gone nowhere at all. Season two of Atlanta starts off with guns being used to end lives and it ends with a gun being used to possibly end a career. Yet, the gun at the end of season two somehow brings two men closer together. To say that the season two finale of Atlanta is disorienting would be to say that it’s a regular episode of Atlanta, which it was. However, it was disorienting because it was a normal episode of television
The season two finale of Atlanta, “Crabs in a Barrel”, hits on two major points of tension that have persisted throughout the season. First, it touches on Earn’s relationship with his daughter and her mother, Van. The first five minutes of the episode are spent watching Earn doing what we never see him do; be a parent. He connects with his daughter in a way that almost makes your heart melt. Then, Van and Earn meet up with their daughter’s teacher, who in the most Atlanta way possible, lets them know that they should consider putting their daughter in private school because she is gifted. Just hours later, Van texts Earn that she’s considering taking their daughter to live with her Mom. While this isn’t something that you should text to someone, it’s even more uncomfortable to watch because Earn is leaving the same day to go on tour with Al in Europe. Second and most importantly, the finale touches on the main plotline of season two, Al and Earn’s relationship. Surprisingly, Earn passes all the tests he needs to on the day that Al is leaving to go on tour. Earn gets the movers to do their job and move Al’s stuff out of his apartment. Earn gets Darius to the place where he needs to get his passport renewed. Above all else, Earn finds a gun in his bag at a TSA checkpoint and manages to place it into rapper, Clark County’s bag without getting caught. Al eventually thanks Earn for working as hard as he has and caring as much as he does. It’s unclear whether Al is completely happy with Earn, but their relationship is definitely better than it was in episode nine.
In the end of season two, we’re left with closure. What the hell do you do with closure on a show like Atlanta? Why are you moving the plot along Mr. Glover? The whole point of the show is to wander aimlessly through the woods of life with Al. It’s infuriating that Atlanta tried to give us closure, but it didn’t. Ironically, the plot of season two closes some chapters, but it leaves open the biggest chapter of the book. The end of season two was so perfect that it very well could have been the series finale. Is “Crabs in a Barrel” the last episode of Atlanta forever? Al and Darius get more closure than the people that have been following along for eleven episodes and that’s the point.
The genius of “Crabs in a Barrel” is that everyone feels closure except the viewers. Looking in on the world of Atlanta is to have a visitors pass to existing as a black man in America. Being a black man in America is to never have closure. Throughout season two, viewers sit comfortably in their rollercoaster seats as black people shoot each other at a fast food restaurant, fight at a college concert, deal with being evicted from their storage closet, constantly being on probation and so much more. The last episode of season two takes you out of your seat and places you in the real world where closure doesn’t exist. Obviously, the stories of Atlanta aren’t the experience of all of black men in America, but it very well could be. Even if you’ve never grown up in Atlanta, been around a rapper struggling to make it out of his neighborhood or even been black before, you get to see and connect with Al, Earn and Darius on an oddly personal level. In the end, they feel like family members or best friends that you come to love.
Atlanta is a love letter to what black life and masculinity manifest into when it’s trying to survive and move forward. There’s a sense violence that is involved with being a black man in America that is represented in the Mrs. Winners failed robbery. There’s a constant interaction with the law that is often connected to being a black man in America that is embodied through Tracy and Al. There’s a sense of brotherly love that is connected to being a black man in America that is embodied through Earn, Al and Darius. Love is honest. Love is misguided. Love is loyalty. Love is Atlanta. Season two of Atlanta is about realizing what you love and what you’re willing to do for those you love even if it means trampling over others to do it like a crab in a barrel.