WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
In the last scene of “Crabs in a Barrel,” the season finale of Atlanta: Robbin Season, Earn is sitting back on an airplane with a scar under his eye and a menacing mug not dissimilar to the face that Clark County’s manager, Luke, had while staring down a studio engineer. Many viewers (including me) thought that the “Teddy Perkins” episode would ruin Darius’ innocence. But it turns out that this should have been more of a concern for Earn. Robbin Season has hardened him, and he’s made it clear that he won’t be eaten. But it’s cost him a lot in the process.
It’s clear early on in the episode that Earn is becoming a better manager. He’s also taking on a manager’s persona. When the crew has to move out of their house, while simultaneously preparing to leave for Paper Boi’s European tour with Clark County, Earn is the only person moving with any urgency. He’s doing this while also handling his parental duties. He takes Lottie with him to a meeting with a potential lawyer and to Paper Boi’s house while the movers prepare to pack up their belongings. He even attends a parent-teacher conference with Van where the two learn that Lottie is performing well enough to be considered for admission at a private school. He looks tired and worn down. But it’s one of the first times in two seasons where Earn appears to progressing into manhood.
But midway through the episode it feels like all of his hard work won’t be enough to save what he’s fighting for. Van is considering moving back home to have their daughter live with her grandmother. Because, even if Earn can pay the tuition for the private school, he needs to be a more present father. Plus, the threat of Paper Boi firing him to enlist Luke as his manager continues to loom. (Luke did, after all, book the European tour for him.) When Earn asks Darius if Paper Boi is going to fire him, Darius says that he likely wouldn’t do so until after the tour, allowing him to “see the world” first; Alfred all but confirms it later on, telling Earn “we’ll talk when we land.”
When the crew arrives at the airport, Earn finds the golden gun his uncle gave him in the season premiere in his bookbag. “You’re going to need this in the music business,”Earn’s uncle, played by Kat Williams, told him in “Alligator Man.” “And if you don’t want to be like me, get rid of that chip on your shoulder shit. It’s not worth the time.” Thinking on his toes, Earn slips the gun in Clark County’s bag. Earlier in the episode, he said that Paper Boi should be headlining the tour instead of Clark County, and this quick slip of the gun into the luggage could have allowed that to happen. The gun later ended up being pinned on Luke instead. But the move secured Earn’s role as Paper Boi’s manager.
When the two had their discussion in the frat house about him possibly leaving Earn behind, in “North of the Border,” Paper Boi said: “It’s getting colder, it’s getting harder to eat. I need shit, Lottie needs shit, you need shit … I don’t think you’re cut out for it.” Alfred reiterated such sentiment here, but now he has faith that his cousin has the ruthlessness to advance his career — the same ruthlessness that Luke showed in the studio earlier this season. The sentiment expressed in the season premiere was eat or be eaten; Earn worried aloud, when speaking to his uncle, that he would end up as “someone who everyone knows is smart, but he let shit just happen to him.” “Niggas gonna do whatever they got to do to survive cuz they ain’t got no choice,” Paper Boi told Earn on the plane. “We ain’t got no choice either. You’re my family, Earn. You’re the only one that knows what I’m about. You give a fuck. I need that.” Earn responds with an emotionless, stone-faced nod, while Paper Boi speaks with a look of letdown on his face. He’s glad that he has Earn, but he looks traumatized at how much the world had to beat Earn down for him to get there.
Atlanta: Robbin Season took a darker approach this season. So many of the things that made the first season so well-received were abandoned for a different, bigger mission. But the show continued to tell the stories of black America, while dragging all of its main characters through the ringer to get the best out of them. Maybe Teddy Perkins was right when he said that pain was necessary to create gems.
The Soundtrack For “Crabs in a Barrel”
Ray Barnette, “Walk in the Way”
Gunna, “Helluva Price”
OJ Da Juiceman, “Mathematics”
Nina Simone, “I Shall Be Released”