Atlanta Season 3 Episode 3 Review: The Old Man and the Tree

 ***Spoilers Ahead***

Brian Tyree Henry (left), Donald Glover (right). Photo Credit: FX

The Old Man and the Tree

Aptly titled "Robbin' Season", the 2018 batch of Atlanta episodes featured Alfred, Earn, and the rest losing possessions of value and being taken advantage of. Season 2's 'Woods' saw Paperboi being mugged by thieves posing as fans while Earn was nearly robbed of his job as manager due to his own incompetence and insecurities. Season three has seemingly toned down that aspect of the series now that the gang is in a better place financially, but 'The Old Man and the Tree' makes it clear that they are still being taken advantage of, just by a new set of people. Though they may have made massive strides in their careers, the characters are still struggling to deal with the challenges that come with their new environment

The episode begins with Earn, Alfred, Van, and Darius going to the playhouse of billionaire investor Will for a lavish party full of wealthy people. As the four split apart, Alfred meets an old man named Fernando who he initially befriends and ends up playing poker with. After a bizarre conversation about Fernando's encounter with a pale, black ghost, Alfred wins the poker game with ease. Unfortunately for Al, Fernando locks himself in his room and refuses to pay up. This situation is as frustrating for Paperboi as it is for viewers but ultimately reveals how those in higher positions are every bit as manipulative as the ones they dealt with in their home city. Furthermore, a talk that Alfred and Earn have emphasizes the whiplash Al is dealing with in his new, uptight surroundings. He can't use physical force to take the money he is owed like he could in Atlanta, even though the white woman at the party can playfully steal his hat and Fernando can cheat him out of thousands without repercussions. The double standard between races is as glaring as ever in this affluent setting and is a concept that Atlanta tackles brilliantly here. 

In another section of the episode, Earn feels that UK rapper TJ is taking advantage of billionaire Will and robbing him of his money despite not having the talent to back it up. Though Earn warms up to TJ after his talk with Alfred ("White kids be scamming all the...time. Hell you think TikTok is?" - Al), it's easy to feel put off by his disdain for TJ. No one can get far in this industry without exploitation and TJ supposedly scamming a billionaire is hardly worth much criticism. As Glover's character deals with the Will and TJ situation, he also has to come to terms with Van's disoriented and somewhat reckless behavior. It is apparent that Zazie Beatz's character is becoming incredibly distant and living in the moment to a startling degree. From pushing waiters into swimming pools to ignoring Earn's urgent call, the Atlanta writers are clearly preparing for an ominous reveal that will give proper insight into Van's mental state. 

Darius deals with his own strange encounter as an Asian woman named MK mistakenly assumes he's hitting on her and details how black men often pursue her. Though the two maintain friendly relations, a white man named Socks overhears the exchange and is outraged on Darius's behalf. This escalates to an absurd degree when a mob of white virtue-signalers gang up on MK for her racially-charged remark. The humor here emerges from how calm and nonchalant Lakeith Stanfield's character remains as the white people get worked up over MK's comment about him. The juxtaposition between the chill Darius and angry partygoers serves as a flawless commentary on how performative activists will blow something minor out of proportion whilst ignoring their own shortcomings. The parallels to Loquareeous's encounter with the lesbian couple in 'Three Slaps' are evident and confirms that the premiere was more than just a standalone piece.

'The Old Man and the Tree' is an intriguing ride through the toxic atmosphere of the upper echelons of society. The themes and elements of "Robbin' Season" continue to live on in season three as the core characters deal with deception and manipulation at a higher level. The episode ends with a cathartic moment as Alfred attempts to chop down Fernando's tree after he refuses to pay him. Though the gang escapes in a getaway car with Socks at the wheel, it's not hard to imagine that Al's actions will catch up with him in a future installment. This frantic closer works as the perfect ending to a chaotic episode that highlights how Atlanta's third season is just as captivating and thrilling as the first two.

Stray Thoughts

  • Jai Paul's cameo was definitely a highlight, he previously worked with Glover on his 2020 track 'Time'.
  • Earn's mention of how Doja Cat's camp was doing something "similar to them" was probably a shot at FX's Dave, a show that has been accused of ripping off Atlanta and featured a guest appearance from Doja herself. 
  • The fifth episode of the season is titled 'Cancer Attack'. Could Van's sporadic behavior and panic attacks be related to a cancer diagnosis? 

GRADE: 9.2/10

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