Atlanta season three finale “Tarrare” finds Van in Paris, where she reveals that depression and a near-death experience led her to Europe.
We haven’t seen much of Van this season – with her wandering throughout Europe during Paper Boi’s tour. Up until Atlanta’s season finale, Van’s aimlessness didn’t make much sense. During SXSW in March, series creator Donald Glover told VIBE that season three of Atlanta “is more about Van than Earn.”
“I don’t want to give anything away. I think it’s a very honest season,” added Zazie Beetz, who plays Van. “I think all of the characters are sort of out of their element, which allows things to rise to the surface that you would otherwise be able to, in [both] habits and in comfort, suppress. Here, you can’t because you have nothing to catch you. I think it’s a lot of truth, and I think reflections of where we’re all at as ourselves and as people.”
Written by Stefani Robinson, the season three finale “Tarrare” finds Van facing her depression and encountering a near-death experience. The episode provides an explanation for Van’s strange, dissociative behavior throughout this season of Atlanta, in which she’s pulled disappearing acts on a concerned Earn. “Tarrare” opens with three Black women on a Parisian girl’s trip, one of which is Candace, who was introduced in season two episode “Champagne Papi.” Inviting her friends Xosha and Shanice, Candace boasts that she’s been “flewed out” by a suitor who’s paid top dollar for her to fulfill his urine kink. In the middle of their conversation, Candace spots her long-lost friend, Van. As Candace approaches, a (stolen?) wig-wearing Van – who’s taken a French accent and identity – first denies knowing Candace, before ultimately giving in.
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Van invites the trio back to her apartment, but Candace, like Earn, grows concerned for Van, as she avoids calls from Earn and her mother. Xosha and Shanice barely know Van, but are interested in hanging with “locals,” and Van takes them to a luxe hotel where Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård is staying. While Skarsgård is entranced with dancing to the 2003 Ashanti song “Rock Wit U (Awww Baby),” the actor tries coaxing Xosha and Shanice into stripping while Van plants crystal meth in his room, claiming that he has a humiliation fetish. The four women begin to leave the hotel, with Van pretending to be distraught and alerting the front desk clerk that Skarsgård is on drugs again.
Although Candace has repeatedly attempted to pull Van into a sidebar conversation about her antics, the group keeps moving, ending up in the parking lot of a shady apartment complex where Van looks for a package in a cooler. Being approached by a trio of men who call her ‘Tarrare,” “the man who ate the baby.” Van is on the run again after the group’s motorcycle tires have been punctured, so focused on the mission that she almost gets hit by a car, to hunt down a man named Emilio for the package.
Finding Emilio at a nearby museum, Van bludgeons him with a stale, hardened baguette that she’s kept on her the entire episode. Emilio gives in, revealing that the package is hidden in a vase, with Van confiscating it and whisking the women away to a dinner party. Xosha and Shanice are enjoying the ride, but Candace asserts that “there is something seriously wrong with Van.”
Upon arrival, Van is greeted by an angered Skarsgård, who claims that Van’s hotel stunt cost him a role in an upcoming Baby Shark film. In response, Van spits in Skarsgård’s face before the actor intensely pleasures himself in a bathroom. Van retreats to a kitchen in the house, where she meets her boyfriend Marcel, delivering him the package before the two prepare a cannibalistic meal of human hands. Xosha and Shanice – who are unaware of what they’ll be served – sit at the dining table with napkins over their heads.
Candace doesn’t leave her friend’s side, finally getting Van’s attention about her volatile behavior. “You’re so in control? You almost beat a man to death with a fucking baguette,” Candace yells. “If you wanna live your life doing this crazy shit, OK, but what about your old life? Lottie? Where does she fit into all this?”
The question seems to trigger Van, who goes into a violent rampage over her daughter, tossing cookware and food around the kitchen and distraughtly asking “where’s Lottie?” While Xosha and Shanice leave the dinner after seeing that they’ve dug into fried hands, Van and Candace have a sit-down by the Seine River, where Van divulges on acting unlike herself.
“I closed my eyes while I was driving and then I got scared so I opened my eyes and I was in the opposite lane,” Van says. “Once I realized what I was doing, I just cried on the way home. It’s just I thought about, I’m a terrible mom. When I picked Lottie up from school, I just felt like she was looking at me like she knew what happened and that she hated me for it – that I would do that to her.”
Van continues to explain that after bringing Lottie to her mother’s house, she booked a flight to Europe without knowing her purpose of being there. While in her hotel, Van stumbled upon the 2001 French romantic-comedy Amélie, declaring that she wanted to be the film’s protagonist by coming to Paris.
“I don’t even know who I am,” Van says. “Do you know who you are? Earn knows who he is. Lottie knows who she is. Who the fuck am I? I don’t even know.”
“You’re somebody,” Candace responds, attempting to reaffirm Van.
The episode ends with Paper Boi and Darius amiss, but Van finds what she was looking for all along: herself. “Tarrare” humanizes Van, but the series has a running theme of handing her one-off episodes each season, first with “Value” in season one and “Champagne Papi” last season. With “Tarrare” peeling back another layer to Van’s identity, many fans of the show have felt like season three could have dug deeper into the main characters instead of vignettes about racialism. The episode works in confirming our worries about Van, who at the beginning of the season questioned her purpose to a white death doula, assures Van that she’s right where she needs to be.
With Van having her sights on returning to Atlanta, “Tarrare” not only concludes with Shanice peeing on a client while staring at the Eiffel Tower through the window, but an appearance from both Earn’s. The manager is back in Atlanta when a delivery driver hands him a piece of luggage belonging to “Earnest Marks,”although Earn claims that the bag isn’t his. Returning to his room, Earn scours through the bag, discovering prescription medicine, a Deftones t-shirt and a picture of the other Earn with his family.
Could it be that the two men are each other’s tether? It’s unclear, but while Van has discovered herself, Earn might be in for a surprise during the fourth and final season of Atlanta, which is speculated to premiere on Halloween.