Why Woods Is My Favorite Episode of Atlanta

Atlanta is definitely one of my favorite shows up there with Arrested Development. Some of the reason behind its ranking is of course Donald Glover & Hiro Murai’s direction and because in the way I relate and sympathize with the events of the characters in the show. I also feel like the way the show is shot is amazing. I’m stealing the super grainy, low third’s horizon look from this show. Donald on how the is structured: ‘I’m not making a TV show, I am making an experience.’ And it shows, erm. Despite my high praise for the show, (shows people like can be critiqued) there is lack of exposition for some of the major characters and is no major catharsis or explanation for characters in all episodes. But, that’s the point. Donald did state the show was about showing white people that they don’t know everything about black culture and should be considered more of an experience. The show relishes in the day-to-day lives of these characters and doesn’t often explain everything, and this is why I love Woods in season 2. Now, I would love more commentary on subject matter and thematic elements in the show, but being aware of show’s structure allows me to love Woods for what it is: an exploration of trauma and the conflict of fame and authenticity, it was trying to be honest. The episode allows us to better understand the person behind Paperboi. Now, without set-up and some development from prior episode’s, this technically wouldn’t be my favorite; the show has seriously great episodes across the board, but what this episode focuses on what could be considered the core of the show: Paperboi or ‘Alfred’. Without Paperboi rapping about his life, which according to him ‘rap is chickens coming to roost,’ Atlanta could be similar, but with rap being the most popular genre in America right now, the exploration of trauma and celebrity seems timely. Season 2 of Atlanta builds on the great first season with a little more development with Darius, Van, and Alfred. Earn is what the show sort of focuses on, or more specifically: Earn has to make money to support Van and Lottie, he sees opportunity in his cousin Paperboi who is friends with Darius (I think) who live in the same house (I think). The show at times focuses on Earn’s journey to make a stable living. Imagine that: A whole show dedicated to getting a stable source of income. Alfred gets moments in the show and we get a glimpse into his life. Funny enough the plot in Woods is just: Paperboi meets up with in old friend or partner and after a conflict on whether they should pretend to be in a relationship for the clout, Alfred decides to walk home and then gets jumped just before sprinting into the Woods to avoid getting shot. He then gets lost for a while and finally makes it out of the woods. The plot is simple but executed in a way that leaves a huge impression.

The way that the episode starts is Alfred laying on his couch and his late mom appears in the kitchen. For those know, Alfred’s mom had passed prior to the first episode [Since my mom passed]. Details around her death and how it affected him aren’t elaborated on but the fact that she appears, might speak to his closeness or attachment to his mom. (Additionally, the lights in the back of the house dim as she leaves). Alfred at most reacts to his mom in this moment by groaning and looking back to judge if she was still there. She of course wasn’t and the moment feels like him coping with her gone, much like in The Haunting of Hill House (an excellent show). Instead of fighting with the fact that she isn’t there anymore maybe he inserts her in his life. A child-like moment with Alfred’s mother reminding him to stop being lazy and get up. In the moment we get to learn a little more about him and why in the first episode his remark to Earn feels a bit loaded [Mom comment]. Not exactly sure what means to cope Alfred uses when thinking about his mother as it isn’t established in the show. For the actor who plays Alfred, Brian Tyree Henry, he said he used the whole episode as a means to cope with the passing of his mom after the first season [clip]. Trauma response is real even in drug dealing rappers and it’s’ hard not to want to comfort Alfred in the moment. Also in the episode we might see a stare off in the clothing store partially informed by paranoia, but also there are many instances in the show of Paperboi’s paranoia. Later in the episode, instead of exploring trauma response, we see Alfred get traumatized. Alfred encounters a man in the woods who antagonizes him. I initially thought that the man wasn’t real. Sidenote: Alfred also sees a dead deer, shout out to Get Out. I don’t know if they are related, but it feels very similar and I wanted to put that out there. The show doesn’t explain why the man was in the woods or how he saw the boys who jumped Alfred. I thought none of the things he says is specific to Alfred in a personal way. Contrary to my thought the show has other moments like this with characters. Regardless of real or not, Alfred is scared and feels fear, flight or fight kicking in. He just got mugged and almost killed because he was famous, got lost in the woods to survive, then is antagonized and almost killed AGAIN by a random man. The events have to have left an impression on him. Trauma is what I consider to be the core of this show. Donald Glover has said that all black people have PTSD and that the show is an experience. It validates others experiences by saying your experience is real, showing the pain of that moment and shows others what people go through and can go through. Not in the episode, but later in the season, you learn that Alfred may have enabled some bullies to bother another kid so they would leave Earn alone, but then the kid commits suicide. Alfred and Earn seemed to be in middle school and the show hasn’t even explored potential grief fallout from that. Rapper’s are hurting (yg, earl) despite the flashiness of fame. Non-famous people are hurting. Sharing in our pain and trauma can be the first step in recovery and in active healthy coping when life seems so bleak at times. Like I mentioned in another video, history informs our future and understanding that allows us to get closer to finding a way to do better collectively.

Fame is this nebulous thing that popular society collectively admires and completely bashes in other moments. It’s no secret that the attention that fame brings can be destructive, especially due to people craving proximity, however it pays well though. Though Alfred rejects constructed reality he uses his rap image to get rich or rather survive. In the first episode of the Series, he even details he might not even be a fan of his most popular song [I kinda of hate this song] which seems to be a norm around musicians [Radiohead, Paramore, etc.] I love the little exploration of this in the episode because it focuses on the conflict that can exist within celebrity. Alfred has a partner/friend/situationship/something with another famous person who seems to enjoy fame despite both of them having the same end goal: survival. However, the means are different. It seems like Sierra ‘performs’ her fame because it gets her paid well and competition is stiff [black women]. She also might enjoy the public narrative of Paperboi and Sierra in a relationship. Alfred rejects that false narrative in order to keep it real [Dave chappelle], this idea of keeping it real as a way to keep one’s self. This can be confusing because Alfred at times leans into the Paperboi image for his benefit. When Alfred decides to walk home it’s because he doesn’t like the idea of a brand linking because it’s not real, despite I thought being in a partner/friend/situationship/something with Sierra. I was confused by this and it also might be commitment issues. Additionally, he has tried to attract many people using his image, not even for immediate financial reasons, but potential emotional or hedonistic reasons. Maybe he wants a relationship, who knows. At times Alfred ‘uses’ his image as a drug dealing rapper for his benefit before rejecting it. This deepens the conversation about fame. I think we need more responsible celebrities. The idea of realness isn’t bad one. It’s obvious people enjoy beef and relationships a lot. However, rumors and beef in the wrong hands could be used to exploit people not aware of what’s actually happening. Celebs critiquing healthy facets of their image could lead fans to making better. For example: In the second episode of Atlanta, Season 1. After being home for a bit after getting out of jail, Alfred walks outside to clear his head. While walking he sees kids pretending to be Paperboi, one being shot the other Paperboi. He sees that and tries to take responsibility for his image by trying to tell the kids [what said], but then is countered by the need for a photo. Although the message wasn’t communicated properly, the means are what’s important.  On the other hand and potentially more importantly fans need a more responsible way to treat celebrities. They aren’t gods, they are people. With trauma. Walking trauma boxes. For example: I don’t think photos with celebrities is bad, I think assuming celebrities always want photos and not asking is an issue. Some celebrities fear being blasted on the internet because a fan didn’t get a picture. It diminishes their image which it isn’t completely held up by the celebrity themselves. This assumed access to celebrity is dehumanizing and at times painful to watch. I feel like some of the conflict within Alfred about fame comes from the way he gets treated, this object to be mishandled by press, fans and peeps, including Earn at times [clips]. Side note, despite what I think the Zan episode was trying to do I don’t think Zan’s and Alfred’s exploits are the same. Sure, they exist in the same market, rap fans, but I think using your own trauma and situation is different than commenting on someone else’s for a living. Zan could easily rap too, but instead he choose to troll and mock Alfred just existing, living. Also, Montague was trying to rev up and get a reaction from Alfred during his stay on the episode. I can’t imagine my life being newsworthy let alone my tweets. This is a strange pattern I see for popular artists which affirms the disdain for fame. I think Alfred truly just wants to be treated better, be happy, and have stability, but his unique intersection of fame and money isn’t allowing that.

Atlanta is my favorite show right now that isn’t really a show. Instead of hand-holding a stringing together a tight plot and narrative for a character, it becomes a platform or window in the experiences of many people who happen to live in Atlanta. Through their experiences and trails we get moments and commentary that can be at times liberating or damning, a wake up call some. Within Atlanta we get a portrait of people trying to do the best with their situation and the complexity within that. Woods paints a nuisanced picture of celebrity that can’t get across in a couple Ariana Grande tweets unfortunately. Alfred is not okay and maybe neither are we, but in a way it’s okay. Atlanta doesn’t pretend to be okay and happily enough that is a good starting point.

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