WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
Dave Chappelle had a segment called “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong” on Chappelle’s Show. It looks like Paper Boi is catching a serious case of the issue on this week’s episode of Atlanta.
Paper Boi has been desperately trying to maintain his “realness” for all of Robbin Season. When Paper Boi went to the office of the startup, in “Sportin’ Waves,” he refused to give a minstrel performance for a clearly unenthused audience. He regularly goes out with his homies at general bars and restaurants. He tried to get weed from his usual connect, and got robbed at gunpoint. And instead of finding a new barber for his magazine photoshoot, he went to his usual barber, who strung him along on a dangerous, neglectful day that could have landed him in jail.
The realness wars continued this week, when Paper Boi is hanging out with his love interest, a stripper-turned-IG model named Sierra. The two have some sort of chemistry, as she gets him to crack a rare smile while they’re clowning around. She also wants better for him; she encourages him to find a manager who will work for him and get him the opportunities he deserves. But the two butt heads when she takes a photo of him without his permission while they’re getting pedicures, and suggests the two have a fake relationship to keep people interested on social media. Al scoffs at the idea, and leaves her behind at the salon. “I don’t need to change who I am,” Paper Boi said. He then leaves to go for a walk, which is where he gets robbed at gunpoint by a trio of teenagers who scoff at him for “keeping it real.”
Retreating from the armed teenagers, Al runs into the woods, getting lost in the seemingly endless path of trees, darkness and dead animals. He tries to avoid a delirious old man who’s following him. The man is seemingly a figment of Paper Boi’s imagination. The man keeps badgering him, and Al is fed up.
“Nigga, you’re so useless,” Al said. Then, the man puts a blade to his throat, telling him to “make the decision” about how he’s going to get out of the woods. Before threatening to hurt Al if he doesn’t leave by the count of 30, he gives him a bit of advice. “Keep standing still, you’re gone boy. You’re wasting time,” the old man tells him. “And the only people who got time are dead.”
It’s another bit of elderly advice offered to the Atlanta crew this season. In “Alligator Man,” Earn’s uncle, played by Katt Williams, advises him to lose the chip on his shoulder. And, in episode 6, Teddy Perkins tells Darius that all positive things come from pain. The old man gives Paper Boi guidance that, hopefully, will help steer him to make the right decisions.
Ironically, Sierra may have provided a template for Al to find his own path to realness. She’s all about her money, but as a former stripper, that’s her idea of realness. Providing for herself and making her fans happy — that is what’s important to her, and she makes no qualms about it. Her approach may not be the same as his, but she’s doing what’s most authentic to herself in a way that doesn’t put her in danger.
It looks like it’s time for Al to stop “standing still” (as his imaginary father says) and upgrade his ideas of realness. That means either getting a bodyguard or being more mindful of where he goes alone. And that also may mean that he doesn’t get Earn that paperwork that he asked for at the beginning of the episode.
Every week Atlanta is less interested in making us laugh. It’s clear from the offset that Robbin’ Season would be much darker than the first, but there are episodes where I barely laugh at all. Donald Glover told the New Yorker that he was Trojan Horse-ing FX last year, to get in the door and make the show that he really wants to make. Thankfully, both of those shows, Atlanta Season 1, and Robbin Season, are phenomenal.
The Soundtrack For “Woods”
EarthGang & J.I.D. “Meditate”
2 Chainz & Travis Scott, “4 A.M.”
Amindi K. Fro$t, “Cocoa Butter Shawty”
Jacqueline Taïeb, “Petite fille Amour”
Alice Coltrane, “Turiya And Ramakrishna”