‘Atlanta’ Recap: Season 2, Episode 3, ‘Money Bag Shawty’
Vanessa is back! I might have more than a teensy-tiny little crush on Zazie Beetz’ character, so it’s dope to see her again and even better that she’s behind this episode’s two biggest belly laughs.
White Tears = Gold
We kick off with an Instagram Story from “Lilysmom,” a nondescript white woman who complains about her children being exposed to the lyrics of Paper Boi’s (Brian Tyree Henry) single. She repeats the risqué lyrics before descending into tears, which is some shit that would feed Tomi Lahren’s core audience.
We find out during the post-opening-credits sequence that the video went viral and contributed to Paper Boi going gold, as Earn, Al and Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) celebrate the win at a bar before being sneakily accosted by an overzealous waiter. This is more of Al having to put up with the trappings of success. I’m waiting for him to blow at some point.
We are later reintroduced to rapper Clark County (RJ Walker) when Al and Darius visit his studio. County comes off as a very hospitable dude, but it clearly throws Al off when he and Darius offer to smoke and drink with him, only to find out that he lives a clean lifestyle – making the lyrics he spits in the booth just a few moments earlier a damn lie.
It seems to be the show’s tongue-in-cheek way of reminding us that most of these rapper dudes are full of shit. That County says he was “freestyling off the top and went in a different world” even though he was spitting some Fisher Price My First Trap Album trash seems also to be commentary on the, well…rank state of hip-hop today.
However, County does seem to harbor a dark streak: dude stays on the back of his engineer when the software acts up, delivering spider web-thin threats of bodily harm to the white boy. When the software fails one too many times, County takes a walk and his goons ask Al and Darius to leave. The fate of the engineer, which we don’t see, keeps in line with that dark humor that Atlanta seems to maintain: there’s always something ominous brewing underneath a hilarious surface.
The primary goal of “Money Bag Shawty” is to show that even when Earn wins, he’s losing (and that he’s constantly at the receiving end of casual disrespect, as with the waiter at the beginning who profanely shushes him). While lying in bed with Van, Earn opens a big check – presumably his Paper Boi management earnings – and vows to show Van a good time with it this weekend, declaring “the stunters become the stunted.”
That stunting immediately goes pear-shaped immediately. Earn tries to pay for VIP tickets to Fast and Furious but finds that the movie theater won’t break a $100 bill (for him), and he has a problem paying with his credit card. Van offers to pay, but Earn simply isn’t having it. Pride is pride, and he came to stunt.
They then visit a hookah bar where, as with many clubs in America and elsewhere, Van gets in free, but Earn does not. He pays for his $20 entry fee with that pesky $100. Before he can think about a drag from the hookah, Earn is snatched up by cops in the club who tell him that the bill is fake. The club owner is being obstinate as hell in his insistence that it’s fake, so even though the cops later admit that they know it’s real, Earn still has to pay for setting foot in the club even when he says he’ll just leave.
On to Plan C: Earn rents a limo and picks up Al, Darius and Tracy (Khris Davis) to hit up the strip club Onyx. The unseen strip club announcer delivers some of the episode’s biggest laughs, especially for calling Van “the white girl” when he announces the entrance of Paper Boi and his crew: “Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Annie Hall!”
The announcer also jumps in Earn’s pockets by chastising him for changing hundreds into small bills and not randomly tipping a dancer he passes. The finessing continues when a dancer tries to get him for money for a four-second “dance” with Van, and when he is apparently unaware that he had to pay for the VIP bottle services (which is totally his fault). Earn questions why he’s even in a place designed to suck his every dollar and bounces.
It’s Michael Vick
The most ridiculous, and most Atlanta, sequence comes when Van and Earn leave the club to find Michael Vick foot-racing drunk people for money. Yes, that Michael Vick. Earn, clearly not done with stunting attempts in front of his baby mama, decides to race one of the NFL’s fastest quarterbacks ever after he found out that Vick ran six races in 10 minutes.
The cut to the final scene has Earn and Van in the back of the limo – the look on both their faces indicating what we all knew before the race started: that Earn was gonna lose that damn race. Van delivers the final, hilarious line before the credits: “It’s Michael Vick.”
The showrunners have said that this season will be more linear in its storytelling than season 1, which stayed all over the place and was full of non-sequitur episodes. That approach threatens to affect what we know and love about Atlanta, but the first three episodes have been dope, so I expect good things going forward.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.
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