I have a confession to make. I was watching the Cubs win Game 6 of the World Series last night when the concluding episode of ATLANTA‘s rookie season first aired on the East Coast and in the Midwest. When I was informed by another, more social media-attuned Cubs fan that #AtlantaFX was trending during the final few innings of what would become a dominant 9-3 victory (leveling the World Series record between Chicago and the Cleveland Indians to 3-3), I was pumped for the night ahead of me. Donald Glover’s up-and-down show, which is either a very stoic comedy or a social drama with jokes, has had its share of hits and flops, in this critic’s estimation at least — though the general critical and niche audience consensus has been unqualified rave notices. The fact that it was blowing up on social media over the Cubs (before the game ended, at least) certainly suggested that this was one of the good — or at least freshly weird and experimental — episodes.
My optimism evaporated pretty quickly. “The Jacket” is not a keeper. The entire episode revolves around Glover’s Earn Marks, manager for rapper-on-the-rise Al “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), who’s also his cousin, looking for a jacket he misplaced during a wild night of cavorting with said cousin and their buddy, inexplicable fan favorite Darius (Keith Stanfield), a character so inconsistent that he is essentially at the whims of the plot — sometimes he’s an eccentric sage, sometimes he plays the fool. And… that’s it. That’s the whole episode. What’s in the jacket, you ask? What about that jacket could possibly compel our Earn to navigate through seedy strip clubs, a trashed house, and an (erroneous) arrest? Glover holds out from his reveal until the episode’s closing moments, which is also a weakness of the show’s writing — nobody, not once, asks him why he cares so much about the jacket. The other characters he runs into just accept that he really, really wants that jacket back, at face value. Was it a cool jacket? Sure, yeah. Is it worth possibly getting shot over (during said arrest)?
So what’s in the jacket? Well, generally I am loathe to spoil an episode during an immediate, next-day post mortem. But this episode was so bad that I really don’t mind. It’s a key to a storage locker, where Earn is squatting. Eventually, of course, Earn’s friend just finds the key to the jacket, in an anticlimactic and underwhelming scene typical of some of the show’s worst anti-dramatic tendencies. He has just rejected Paper Boi’s offer to crash with Paper Boi and Darius, presumably to hang with his daughter and his gorgeous baby mama Vanessa (Zazie Beetz), with whom he’s finally on amicable terms after an at-times tempestuous go of it this season. Then, he turns down a sleepover with her, too, mainly to draw out the reveal of what exactly that key leads to. And, again, it’s a night on a sound blanket in a storage locker. Is this important to him because he has, at long last, found a place to call his own, after battling low-key homelessness this whole season? Well, okay, fine, I can maybe buy that — except, you know, he’s still illegally squatting! This time it’s in a storage locker that he does fund, sure, but that’s not technically what storage lockers are for. So where’s the pride in that? Why would he turn down time with his cousin, who this whole season has been giving him guff about whether or not Earn deserves to be Paper Boi’s manager? Paper Boi has, finally, given Earn his “cut.” But of what earnings, exactly, we are wholly unsure — album sales? Club appearances? Concerts? Throwing down on Paper Boi’s drug dealing side hustle? We never find out, and it’s treated by Earn and Al/Paper Boi as if we should know.
When Earn gives most of his cut to Vanessa, recently jobless, she asks him where exactly this roll of cash came from — and assumes it was drugs. After leading her on for a second, he chuckles, and denies it. But he doesn’t say that he got it from his burgeoning managerial career, either. So… is it drug dealing? Yes, we’ve seen Paper Boi make one paid club appearance a few episodes ago (in the similarly-bad “The Club”), but I kind of had figured Earn had already been compensated for that. Is Paper Boi’s payment now a cumulative reward for every cent Earn has helped him make since taking him on? The show cares about this kind of minutiae much less than I do. And when it gives us such a boring episode where nothing of consequence happens, with zero resolution on the big inciting incident that had been driving this whole inaugural season (the guy that either Earn or Paper Boi shot in a parking lot, who might be alive and might be looking for vengeance), that’s a problem. Atlanta has had many peaks and valleys this year, and unfortunately, it ends things in its deepest valley yet. I can’t believe this was trending on Twitter, even for a second. “The Jacket” is the worst episode of Atlanta yet. It doesn’t even pretend to have anything to say, and it takes absolutely forever to not say it.
Season 1, Episode 10 (S01E10)
Atlanta airs Tuesdays at 10PM on FX
Alex Kirschenbaum | Contributor