Culture

So Far, Ghosts are the Common Through-line in ‘Atlanta’ Season 3

Season three of Atlanta subtly follows a haunting ghost theme, with new episode “The Old Man and the Tree” retelling a paranormal encounter.

If you’ve been paying attention to season three of Atlanta – aptly coined ‘Visitors’ – you might have noticed that ghosts are hidden in plain sight. In the premiere season three episode “Three Slaps”, the series opens with a nightmare about how former Black Georgia town Oscarville was submerged in water to become Lake Lanier.

In the second episode, “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town”, Earn (Donald Glover) and Alfred/Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) are trailed by Dutch Christmas icon Sinterklaas – along with natives replicating his trusted Blackface servant Zwarte Piet (or “Black Pete”) – but on the other side of Amsterdam, Van (Zazie Beetz) and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) get the fright of a lifetime. While attending a living funeral, Darius assumes that the dying person is Tupac, who is then euthanized when a tarp falls on his face, smothering him to death.

Now, the third episode “The Old Man and the Tree” is throwing another ghost reference in the mix. Written by Taofik Kolade, the episode follows the crew as they each make detours while attending a house party in Hackney. With the ‘decoy’ luxe penthouse owned by billionaire investor Fernando, Paper Boi mingles with him as the two bond over Nando’s and “trees”. Fernando literally owns an ancient tree in his courtyard, while Paper Boi is just looking for the bud. Once Paper Boi lights up, he and Fernando join a group of fellow partygoers for a game of poker where Fernando gives a bizarre retelling of encountering a Black ghost.

In the story, Fernando says that a Black male ghost entered his house while naked and soaking wet, cleansing the billionaire with a spiritual “connection” before expelling “layer of ectoplasm” on him. Paper Boi laughs it off as a sexual fantasy, but the conversation takes a sinister turn. Fernando asks if Paper Boi believes in God, adding, “If you believe in God, you have to believe in the Devil. There’s good and bad spirits everywhere, Alfred.” Fernando equates the Devil and God with being the nature of balance, and his friendliness ends as he eventually ghosts Paper Boi, who wins the poker game.

During the Television Critics Association winter press tour, series writer Stephen Glover teased that viewers would see “curses and the curse of whiteness,” per The Ringer. “White people have blind spots, obviously to race and things that are going on,” Glover said. “They’re affected by this, too. It’s not just Black people who are going through this and having a hard time. You’re actually affected by it, too.”

Earn, Paper Boi, Darius and Van are a long way from home, but with just three episodes under their belt, the third season of Atlanta is destined to get much more haunting.

The next episode of Atlanta airs on Thursday, April 7th at 10 PM on FX, streaming on Hulu next-day.

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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