It’s a common moment on television to see a rocky relationship. Hell, it can be the source of several different plot developments depending on where you take things. Atlanta‘s relationship between Earn and Van somehow manages to feel seperate from everything else though, it feels real. There is no overdramatic moments that need to be accomplished to start the fighting, there is no unrealistic goals either of them set for each other. They feel like actual people you probably know going through this same issue in real life and I love Atlanta for exploring that this episode.
We’d already gotten a episode last season about Earn going out of his way to make Van happy even though they aren’t exactly in a real relationship, but in that case when Earn finally broke down and acknowledged that the Juneteenth party wasn’t his environment, Van was proud in a way about it. She was happy to see him give it to the people that appropriate their culture and realized that she didn’t need to sell herself to the wrong people for opportunity. This time it’s different as Earn isn’t happy about something Van really enjoys, she comes from a German background (Just as actress Zazie Beetz does) and genuinely wants to brings Earn along to see this side of her. Instead, he decides to be a grumpy bitch about everything and it comes to a very intense, but real head.
The only redemption I’ll give Earn in this episode is that maybe Van should’ve prepped him a little more about what to expect from Helen, a town in Georgia that is very German focused. Earn basically walks into his own version of Get Out, especially when a random white girl mistakes his actual black skin for blackface. Or when he has no idea what the rules of a German game is and gains much notoriety and praise when he bends the rules to win. Earn isn’t someone who likes to be out of his element, even though he doesn’t even truly know what his element is. And while he isn’t completely a selfish person as he has provided for his family thus far, he does enjoy to do things on his own terms.
So with Van dragging him to something he doesn’t want to do and him not really desiring anything more out of their relationship than what they currently have, there isn’t much to lose for him to just become an asshole about everything. He outright calls what Van wants to do stupid and decides he shouldn’t have to do things for her. When Van points out that she does things for him, Earn is shocked as he assumed she enjoyed going to the strip club and Al’s concerts. He takes things too far though when he tells Van that she shouldn’t talk shit about having to come to the concerts as they are the things paying her bills. But here, Earn just becomes insufferable for the duration of the episode.
Seeing a focus on Van from here is nice. She is tired of not being in the relationship she wants to be in. She’s also tired of people not accepting her by her actual identity and instead opting to tag her as “Lottie’s mom” or “Earn’s girlfriend”. It’s a road that baby mama fall down all too often and it’s refreshing to see Atlanta address it. Once you become one, it’s hard to become your own person and you always seem to be associated with that act in your life. It definitely doesn’t help that Van’s friend says being a baby mama suits her since she chose black in her romantic life, but her friend chose white so she’s alright in life.
Van’s conversation with the German bartender is also a further insight into her mind. Her and Earn can get along together and they could probably work out too, but he’s just not invested enough. Van has given him plenty of time to fix this within himself, but it really seems that he has no plans to. So Van begs the question: “Can love die?”. And the German bartender agrees that it can, but when it does, you have to learn to love yourself first before you try again. And even though Earn eventually asks Van to talk about their current relationship, I think it’s right here that she makes the ultimate decision that carries into the final part of the episode.
She approaches Earn and demands to know what he wants. Unable to answer, Van gives her reply first and it’s a doozy. She wants to be treated like a real person in a loving relationship and not like an accessory that Earn can also fuck time to time. He responds it’s a good answer and that’s because it is. There are so many guys today that don’t value the relationships they’re in and treat woman lesser than they deserve and Earn is very guilty of this. His final reply doesn’t help anything either as he acknowledges that unlike Van, he doesn’t really know what he wants, but the current phase of their relationship suits him and so he doesn’t care to change that. This cements to Van that Earn definitely doesn’t care about her as much as he should and things will probably never change if they continue like this. And the final nail in the coffin is Earn telling Van that he doesn’t want her to keep wasting her time when she pleads that she doesn’t want to keep doing this with him.
Even though we don’t see the ultimate conclusion of the table tennis match they play over whether Van will cut Earn out of her life in every aspect besides Lottie and money, we don’t need to see it. Earn had lost Van even if he did end up winning and it’s going to be a devastating blow to him eventually. He’ll soon realize what he’s missing and it may very well come in conjunction with Al casting him aside in manager duty if that truly comes to pass. In that case, Earn will have absolutely nothing left and it’s a dark place I could see this season going: Earn robbin’ himself of everything that was good in his life. I guess we’ll find out soon enough, but I can say that “Helen” has ended up being one of my favorite episodes of this series and I love that Atlanta isn’t afraid to approach real ass topics like this.
Helen – 5 out of 5
- Juneteenth was one of my favorite episodes of last season, so a spiritual successor to it was already going to hit well with me.
- Van’s real ass conversation with Earn about what she wants and deserves from him.
- Whatever the hell that German demon thing was. It annoying Earn throughout the night and then Van knocking it the fuck out and getting her phone back was great.
- Earn’s facial expressions (or lack thereof) during the ball game.
- Earn being a straight asshole.
- When Earn and Van were good, they were real good. So it makes me sad to see the potential end of that couple.
- Dave coming back. AKA the white dude from the first episode of the series who thought it was perfectly fine to say the n-word to Earn. Though now we know he has a white wife, so maybe he thinks he gets a pass or something?