It seems that this season of Atlanta has branched off from simply being a comedy, as I’ve said before. To my surprise, however, I never expected an episode quite like this. I’d say this ended up being more disturbing and depressing to me than “Teddy Perkins” and it also connected to me in a positive way as well. It is arguably the most character development any character has received on the show thus far and it’s looking to impact the plot moving forward in a big way, especially for Earn and Al’s relationship.
It is the anniversary of the death of Al’s mother and he’s in a dark place. People are checking in to make sure he’s alright, but he’s not interested in their condolences and would rather just be isolated from everything. He does decide to go out on a date with his potential girlfriend Sierra, but things take a turn for the worst when she crosses the line on telling Alfred what to do with his life and career. Al is insistent on never becoming fake and always being the real him that he was before Paper Boi. It’s something he’s said to different people multiple times this season and Sierra is the latest, except she isn’t buying that shit. She offers that Al can’t be real in the line of work he’s in and that he’s also partly fake because he’s already on the radio with songs that aren’t entirely accurate to his life. She also tries to give him a crash course on upgrading to a new manager that will actually get more shit done for him and while Al brushes this off, the amount of times he’s heard this opinion definitely don’t go unnoticed.
After the argument with Sierra, Al decides to storm off on foot and just hang around town by himself on his way home. This turns out to not be the best plan as he’s a rich rapper and it’s still Robbin’ Season. So when three teens approach him under the guise of being fans, Al can also tell something is off about the encounter and they quickly attempt to jump and rob him. They make off with his watch and some chains, but Al manages to keep his life by knocking down the teen who is armed, before quickly booking it into the woods to evade the gunfire. It is here where Al becomes lost in trying to find his way out and enter a spiritual moment with a homeless man named Willy.
I don’t believe Willy to be real and it seems that the woods Al found himself in are more of a purgatory for him. He has a lesson to learn about himself before he’s allowed to leave and Willy is the guide that is meant to get him there. After attempts of talking to Al fail, a mention of Al being stubborn and black like his mother gets him to listen and is also the first clue that Willy isn’t what he seems to be. Al eventually decides he still wants to be left alone and just needs a minute to collect himself and think about the day’s events, but Willy grows tired of Al’s hesitance and skips straight to the point. With a box cutter at Al’s neck, Willy informs him that if he keeps standing still, he’ll be gone. His indecision on what he wants to do with his life and career will lead him down the wrong path. His insistence on staying real and to the streets will get him killed. Willy then gives Al some time to stop standing still and make his decision before Willy kills him right now. Al takes the decision of not sharing the same death anniversary as his mother and finally rushes out and escapes the woods, taking a moment to exhale a sigh mixed with tears of sorrow and relief.
To show that Al has made the decision to cast aside his desire to stay real, he has another encounter with a teen who recognizes him in the gas station he winds up in. This time it turns out to be a genuine fan luckily, so Al chooses to do something he previously hated: acknowledging his celebrity status and taking pictures with the teen. He even advices the teen on how to look in the pictures and to put on his hard face. Before departing, he also reminds the teen to “stay safe out there” as the streets of Atlanta are nothing to mess with based off Al’s day.
“Woods” was a transformation experience for Al and his Paper Boi persona. As of this season, it’s starting to seem like we should be treating Al as more of the protagonist of Atlanta than Earn, who has been absent or minimal in the past few episodes. There’s also the question of what Al will do about Earn as his manager now that he’s had this awakening within himself. It seems that with the repeated talks about how Earn may be unfit for the job of Al’s manager, it’s past the point of a red herring and is straight up foreshadowing. I guess we’ll see within the remaining three episodes of the season.
Woods – 5 out of 5