It has been over four years since the last episode of Atlanta aired and since then, the cast has gone on to even further success, leaving audiences to wonder ‘is Atlanta ever coming back?’ Not only is the critically acclaimed show coming back for two more seasons, but its first two episodes from season 3 are a stark reminder why audiences fell in love with the series almost six years ago.
Without missing a beat, this season dives headfirst into the exploration of Blackness and privilege; asking audiences how those with privilege will take dangerous steps towards redefining the meaning of Blackness; whether it’s through adoption or the celebration of blackface as season 3’s themes of the darkness of whiteness courses through its first two episodes.
It’s not uncommon for Atlanta to draw inspiration from real life events, but the season 3 opener “Three Slaps” shakes you to your core as the Atlanta cast of Donald Glover, Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, and Brian Tyree Henry are absent. Instead, it focuses on the brilliantly talented Christopher Farrar in the reimagined tragic story of Devonte Hart who was killed in a murder-suicide orchestrated by his White adoptive mother who drove the whole family off a 100-foot cliff in California. Allegations of years of abuse by his adoptive parents only came to light after the investigation, which left the world stunned, wondering if Devonte Hart’s death could have been avoided.
Atlanta season 3 episode 1 is enraging, heartbreaking and emotional as it tackles White parents adopting Black children, all starting with a well-meaning act of kindness as the school’s White social worker calls Child Protective Services on a Black student she believes is being abused. What is supposed to be a placement in a better environment quickly escalates when Loquareeous is placed in a home where Blackness is both fetishized and censored, as the White parents now call him “Larry,” determined to erase his previous existence.
As the standalone horror (think Teddy Perkins) unfolds, these parents see themselves as White saviors collecting Black kids as trophies to make themselves feel special. Through this method, it is their desire to recreate Blackness in a form that’s fitting and palpable for White society. Yes, their children are Black but they’re NOT THAT kind of Black because our Whiteness erased that part away as we taught them how they should be Black.
It is privilege and colonization at its highest and most destructive form, as those in the community praise them for their thoughtfulness and willingness to go out of their way to flaunt “I can’t be racist; I have Black kids! And just like the microwavable fried chicken the White parents serve “Larry” (because Black people LOVE fried chicken), Black youths like him are expected to swallow all the bullshit in the world.
Even though the Hiro Murai-directed “Three Slaps” gives the parents the opportunity to tell their story, which they bafflingly fail at as they grasp at trying to explain their actions. It is suffocating, illogical and uncomfortable to watch as they try to place blame on anyone and anything aside from their inner evilness. And this is the point of the story.
When things are so horrific in life, it is easier to blame a force greater than self and this action alone is the privilege bestowed upon these parents; it allows them to not take responsibility for their actions. “Why didn’t anyone stop us?” as they blame an imaginary other for their descent into madness and lack of basic humanity.
The theme of Black erasure is continued in episode 2’s “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town,” which sees the original cast return as a direct follow up to where season 2 left off with Earn (Donald Glover), his cousin Alfred aka Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) and Alfred’s close friend Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) jetting off to Paper Boi’s international tour through London, Paris, and Amsterdam.
Earn is still managing Alfred as Paper Boi is headlining shows. The massive difference is Earn is sleeping with women in fancy hotel rooms. Overall, the group is living the dream even if the world around them is falling apart. On a brighter note, Van now feels like a solid member of the cast as she is given a larger storyline in Amsterdam when she and Darius go on an adventure with surprising twists and a shocking conclusion.
Due to COVID filming restrictions, Atlanta season 3 brings the Atlanta, Georgia spirit to Europe, as a majority of Paper Boi’s tour in season 3 encapsulates the out-of-body experience of traveling through the world as foreigners. The inescapable surreal nature of being Black in a society that refuses to learn how to behave around Black people has always been a theme in Atlanta but bringing the characters to Europe further highlights and focuses this theme.
While taking a break from racism in America, they come face-to-face with White Europeans in blackface, as part of a Christmas celebration called Sinterklaas. This clearly brings an overwhelming sense of awkwardness as they watch the Dutch Christmas tradition of Sinterklaas and his unfortunate helper Zwarte Piet/Black Pete disintegrate into mocking Blackness. As chaos unfolds around them, a baffled Earn barely gasps when the celebration of Sinterklaas isn’t called out for being reprehensible, but is used as another tool for others to interpret Blackness.
Season 3 is a continuation of the show’s success and creative genius. While only two episodes is not enough to judge an entire season, previous seasons of Atlanta have proven the show is in good hands. So far, it continues to be brilliant, heartbreaking and wonderfully baffling as the writers navigate new territory with familiar themes and the same refreshing cast.
Atlanta has always been a show that makes people feel seen, bringing their daily struggles or their own situational comedic moments to life (season 2, episode 5 “Barbershop”), and this season continues that tradition. The return of Atlanta is a family reunion topped with a hug from your favorite aunty who just wants to see you smile.
The first two episodes of Atlanta season 3 will air Thursday, March 24th at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX and will stream the next day on Hulu.