WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
Starting with a sigh, Darius stepped off of an elevator into a creepy house, into the eeriest episode of Atlanta yet.
This week’s episode, titled “Teddy Perkins,” finds Darius in a gated mansion, looking to buy a beautiful piano from a pasty-faced musician. There are obvious references to Michael Jackson and Prince: the bleached skin, the creepy disposition, the high-pitched voice, the usage of an elevator — Prince died in the elevator in his home — and more. But most notable is Teddy’s perspective that sacrifice is necessary for greatness: he said that his father physically punished him and his brother for not performing well in their musical studies, and he namedrops the fathers of Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Serena and Venus Williams, and more who abused, severely punished, and even killed their children while trying to push them to greatness. But his philosophy goes too far: he felt that the consequences of his brother’s dire skin condition could lead to “a masterpiece,” and that Darius’ death — at his hands — could do the same.
Along with the references to the iconic black musicians that we’ve lost, there are serious Get Out vibes here. Darius’ unexpectedly getting flashed by a camera is similar to the portal out of the sunken place; Teddy peering out of the window to Darius outside was similar to how Georgina stared at Chris the night of his hypnotism; and Teddy’s affirmation that Darius should be grateful to be a sacrifice was similar to the Coagula video in which the Armitage father tells victims they’re being “part of something greater.” And the same way that Get Out had the friend who was telling Chris to leave the house, Atlanta had Al warning Darius to leave (even though Al wasn’t going there to save him.)
The episode is difficult to completely understand, with Twitter, YouTube and Reddit full of various theories about the ultimate message of the episode. Whose blood is on the piano? If Teddy represents Michael Jackson, who or what does the “brother” Benny represent? In an issue full of symbols, metaphors, and abstractions, everyone has a perspective — even if that opinion is simply “what the fuck did I just watch?” (The latter was admittedly this writer’s perspective until the third viewing, some time in the same message boards, and conversations with friends.)
Regardless, this episode is another example of just how unpredictable Atlanta is — and how dark Donald Glover’s mind is. His recent New Yorker feature seemed to hint at depression, and “Teddy Perkins” does the same. Last season was a quirky, surreal look into Atlanta. This season, with episodes like this and “Helen,” digs even deeper. You’re on your seat the whole time, as the possibility of Darius dying feels palpable for the entire 35 minutes.
My takeaway from the episode: it’s about the pain that so many black entertainers go through in the entertainment industry juxtaposed with the relative painlessness and selfishness that many outsiders have. Many of these parents, scarred by a world of racism, feel like pain is the only way to help their children reach prosperity; but they often end up perpetuating the same pain they had themselves. Meanwhile, Darius sees an obviously troubled man, and another wheelchair-bound man who believes he’s going to be killed, and a piano with blood on it — but he’s still content to essentially ignore what he saw and leave with the piano he came for. While he was willing to give a brief statement about Teddy’s father being wrong, It’s only when he’s handcuffed and with a gun pointed at him that he truly realizes the pain that he went through.
“Teddy Perkins” is an ominous warning for the crew, who are going after their own success in the music industry. Al has earned a gold plaque already, but what kind of madness will they all have to withstand if they want to continue ascending? And how many fans will trip out on them as crazy when they inevitably flip out?
When Al, Earn and Tracy see the photo of a bleach-faced, hat-wearing Sammy Sosa, they all clown the hell out of him before going on with their day. It’s up to Darius to make sure that his squad has a little more empathy next time.
For empathy’s sake and so they don’t end up that way themselves.