Culture

‘Atlanta’ Series Finale Recap: Were We Just Traveling Through Darius’ Mind All Along?

In Atlanta season finale, “It Was All a Dream,” Darius experiences sensory deprivation overload, taking viewers for one last surreal ride.

Reddit user “Litboy35” might’ve been right about the Atlanta universe – and Darius. In the fan theory, which was posted to Reddit several months ago, it’s predicted that the entire show has been nothing but a dream of Darius’ (LaKeith Stanfield), dating back to premiere episode “The Big Bang” where the character experiences sudden déjà vu. Throughout the series, Darius has referenced his dreams, whether saying that life is merely a simulation or meeting a woman named MK in season three (a possible nod to illegal mind control experiment MKUltra).

Now in series finale “It Was All a Dream,” written by Donald Glover, Darius’ storyline comes full circle. The Atlanta Twitter account account even teased that the last episode would focus on our beloved weirdo.

The Hiro Murai-directed finale begins with an episode of Judge Judy playing while Darius is in a complete daze. Earn and Al are heading out to a Black-owned sushi restaurant at Van’s request, but Darius has a sensory deprivation tank appointment. At the restaurant, which Al says “used to be a Blockbuster,” the rapper spots a Popeyes and begins to have cravings for the Cajun-styled chicken.

En route to his “dep date,” Darius stops to pick up a prescription for a friend and winds up having a conversation with a woman (Cree Summer) who’s also spent time submerged in floatation therapy. “You know I had to stop going because I got too deep into it? The visions in the tank can be so intense, I started to lose track of what was real,” the woman says.

Darius agrees but reveals his trick to “anchor” himself – by looking at a TV and seeing a “thicc Judge Judy” as a reminder that he’s in the tank. As he continues to make his way to the deprivation tank spa, he runs into an old friend named London (Naté Jones), who’s visibly intoxicated and has been “microdosing all day.” Sharing a blunt with Darius and drinking vodka out of a water bottle, London gets pulled over to take a sobriety test. The test starts out normal but veers off, with the officer randomly asking London a question about Homeboys in Outer Space. London successfully passes but pulls a gun out the officer’s holster, and tries to speed off only to hit a bicyclist. She then blames Darius, who wakes up from the tank.

His consciousness goes into overdrive when people at the spa keep talking about “tea in the tea room” and excessively laugh. He grabs another customer by the shoulders and urges her to “wake up” School Daze style. The move gets Darius kicked out, although he protests: “I thought it was a dream!” He then proceeds to take the prescription to his sick brother, Chi (Kevin Iso), who offers him jollof (although Darius doesn’t plan to stay for long).

“I don’t want you in here, I want you out there,” his brother says before fixing him a bowl of jollof. It all seems real as Darius asks about their mom and dad, but then his brother (presumably deceased) suddenly disappears, and Darius sees a curvier-than-usual Judge Judy. When Darius wakes up to a spa employee saying his been in the tank for “30 minutes,” he’s triggered to wake up over and over again, marking an endless loop.

Back at the restaurant, Al is given the celebrity treatment complete with hot white Hennessy and the chef making sushi with his bare hands. Fed up with the dining experience after going to the restroom at a nearby Rainbow’s, he’s ready to go and get Popeyes. The server then proceeds to offer the trio poisonous blowfish cheek as they try to leave, leading the restaurant’s militant Black owner, Demarcus (Calvin Dutton) to stop them and give a monologue about distrust in the Black community. Just as the owner tells the staff to lock the doors to force Al to eat the blowfish, Darius runs in, punches the owner, and drives his friends off in a pink Maserati. Marvin Gaye’s “Dream of a Lifetime” plays while the crew takes a scenic ride home and finally get their Popeyes (which Darius has surprised them with).

Back at Al’s place, Darius shares that he stole the Maserati from a valet, but he’s not worried about getting arrested because he’s “still in the tank.” Earn says otherwise but Darius still isn’t convinced, responding with: “Maybe it’s just my dream. We’re just in it, always have been.” Rather than argue with Darius they instead retreat outside to smoke while Darius remains inside. On the TV is Judge Judy, who ascends from her seat. However, we don’t see if she’s “thicc” or not. Darius just watches her and smiles before the show ends, Sopranos-style.

While the finale leaves the ending up to interpretation, series co-writer and executive producer Stephen Glover recently told Deadline that the show always had a “dream-like” quality.

“[Whether it’s] real or fake, it all feels real to you anyway,” Glover said. “I think that’s just the idea that we walked away with — this idea of having your friends together and having a good time and eating Popeyes and laughing. It’s kind of like, is that a dream or are you manifesting these things that you wanted anyway? It can feel like a dream.”

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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