The only thing as loyal as a black woman to a black man is a black man to his barber. And in the last two episodes of Atlanta, both have been pushed to their limits.
After seeing Earn and Vanessa’s relationship dwindle last week, this week’s episode of Atlanta, called “Barbershop,” opens with Paper Boi needing a haircut before a photoshoot with a magazine. Instead of getting a celebrity stylist for the occasion, he goes to the same barber who he’s presumably gone to for years. He requests “the usual,” and Bibby knows what he’s referring to.
READ: Will Van Learn to Love Herself as Much as She Loves Earn? Atlanta Season Two Episode Four [Recap]
While Paper Boi went to Bibby with the hopes of a drama-free haircut, he received everything but. Bibby hilariously spends the entire episode putting Paper Boi through the ringer: he stops his haircut midway through to drive to his girlfriend’s house; cuts her son’s hair when he gets there; promises dinner and offers leftovers instead; commits multiple crimes; hits a U-turn in his pickup; and even puts his and Paper Boi’s life in danger by crashing the car.
The episode follows Paper Boi and Bibby’s hijinx like a classic buddy movie.
READ: Stefani Robinson Talks Atlanta, The Power Of Being The Only Black Woman In A Writers Room, And Making Spaces For Creatives Of Color
The episode is a much-needed break after last week’s “Helen,” an episode that was defined by awkwardness and ostracization. But in many ways, Earn isn’t very different from Bibby. Bibby has his talents, but instead of handling his business, he constantly gets in his own way, and he drags his customer along in the process. Earn is the same. Whether through bad financial management, procrastination or by refusing to give Vanessa the commitment she needs, Earn gets in his own way of being a competent partner, father, and person. And both of them undervalue their partners.
As a result, both Paper Boi and Vanessa are pushed to the brink of what they’re willing to put up with as they wait for their respective partners to get themselves together. Alfred walks out of the barbershop with a perfect cut, the same way Vanessa may have been satisfied after Earn ate the box in the beginning of the last episode. But they both know that such satisfaction is only temporary, with disappointment soon to follow.
“Barbershop” also shows another example of women being caught in the crossfire. A woman cries outside of the car Bibby crashed into this episode, similarly to how a woman cried outside of the car in the season premiere after the shootout at the fast food restaurant.
The relationship woes are embodied perfectly at the end of the episode. Paper Boi, in an attempt to show up Bibby, goes into the same shop and sits in another barber’s chair. It’s an act of psychological warfare. Bibby gasps, but when the new barber asks Alfred which haircut he needs, he can’t explain it: only his old barber knows exactly what he needs.
Flying Lotus and Thundercat created an all original soundtrack for this week’s episode.
William E. Ketchum III covers entertainment, pop culture, race and politics for the likes of NPR, Billboard, Complex, The Guardian and more. Follow him (and us!) on Twitter at @WEKetchum.
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