So Far, the Third Season of ‘Atlanta’ Is Its Deepest Yet

With the new Atlanta episode “Cancer Attack” at the midway point of the season, Earn, Paper Boi, Darius and Van are facing ego death and a disconnect with each other.

“We all have to die sometime. You know that? Maybe my end should come at the hands of Paper Boi,” says character Wiley in the new Atlanta episode “Cancer Attack.” The episode, which comes at the midpoint of season three, was written by Jamal Olori. 

The statement strikes a chord with Paper Boi/Al, who claims he’s simply looking for his phone. Later in the episode, the rapper admits that while performing, he rediscovered his voice and recorded the performance on his phone, not wanting to lose it. But is it that he doesn’t want to lose the recording or doesn’t want to lose himself?

It isn’t the first time that Paper Boi has been faced with his own morality. In season two episode “Woods,” the rapper falls within the depths of depression in a metaphorical sense, only to be threatened by a deranged homeless man.

In season three of Atlanta, the surrealism goes even further. Earn, Paper Boi, Darius and Van are on a European tour, but each character seems to be wandering aimlessly in search of themselves. In the second episode, “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town,” Van questions her purpose to a death doula who assures her that she’s right where she needs to be. In each episode, there’s a foreboding mention of ghosts although each character seems to be real – or is there more to it?

While Earn is holding down the fort for Paper Boi in Europe, his tether Earnest is back in Atlanta cryptically telling people about the “curse” of whiteness. In “The Old Man and the Tree,” during a poker game, Paper Boi is questioned about his belief in a higher being by English billionaire Fernando. “If you believe in God, you have to believe in the Devil. There’s good and bad spirits everywhere, Alfred,” Fernando says, while Paper Boi tries to laugh off the awkwardness.

While the European tour continues, an the series follows an anthology back home, first starting with Loquareeous in opening episode “Three Slaps” and Marshall Johnson being slapped with a restitution lawsuit in “The Big Payback.” Both episodes are outliers in the world of Atlanta, but viewers may later find that it all makes sense.

Darius picks up on a paranormal sense throughout the season, claiming that at a live funeral in “Sinterklaas,” the dying person is actually Tupac. In “Cancer Attack,” Paper Boi jokingly dismisses Darius as “Conspiracy Jones,” but later finds that there’s truth to his morbid perception.

Wiley seems to know a lot about Paper Boi, even down to him knowing the rapper’s phone number by heart and the two having the same birthday. It could be that Wiley is a figment of Paper Boi’s imagination, or that Wiley is enmeshed with his favorite rapper, but as the third season of Atlanta nears its end, things will only get deeper.

Jaelani Turner-Williams

Jaelani Turner-Williams is a contributing news writer for Okayplayer with bylines at Billboard, MTV News, NYLON, Recording Academy and more. Read her mind on Twitter at @hernameisjae.

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Jaelani Turner-Williams

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