BLACK VOICES
04/13/2018 04:36 pm ET

‘Atlanta’ Shows Us What Life Is Like When You're Not Always On That Phone

It makes a resounding statement that stuntin’ on social media is just an illusion that won’t solve anyone’s issues.
Guy DAlema/FX

Recently liberated from her broken relationship with Earn, Van is dressed to kill, ready to get fucked up and have a good New Year’s Eve with her girls Tami, Candi and Nadine. The crew begins their evening with a pre-game in which Candi pushes her lip gloss promo code on Instagram live, Tami rolls a blunt, Nadine throws back shots while Van has her face in her phone.

She’s watching Earn get his hair twisted by a new chick on an Instagram story before she laments that her IG feed is “weak as fuck.” She vows then and there to get a photo with Drake at the party tonight, the ultimate stunt on her ex. (Y’all listen to Drake. Y’all know what we mean.) The rest of “Champagne Papi,” the latest installment of “Atlanta,” is devoted to her quest to get a photo with the rap superstar.

But Van’s hunt for Drake is about more than just a photo: She’s searching for her way off the bench. Often reduced to a side character or, as she herself pointed out in the season’s fourth episode, “Lotte’s mom” or an “accessory [Earn] can fuck,” Van has remained vocal about her desire to be seen as an individual who is worth more than how she serves the people around her. Her character is fascinating in ways that the three male leads are not. She always finds herself pushing against the bounds laid out for her by the show despite often coming off as vapid and one-dimensional in her commentary. Van needs to make this power play in order to establish herself as more than a supernumerary who seemingly only makes thoughtless, less than ideal decisions about her life. But when she doesn’t get the photo, it makes a resounding statement that stuntin’ on social media is just an illusion that won’t solve anyone’s issues in real life — not even those of Van, the person who needs a win more than anyone.

On this week’s “Run That Back,” Taryn Finley and Julia Craven discuss Van’s (annoying) status as a secondary character, the use of horror as a recurring theme this season and the beauty of seeing black women talk about IUDs on network television.  

Guy DAlema/FX

After leaving the pre-game, the women ditch their car in a parking lot, recite a secret code so they can hop into a strange party shuttle and ride off to an undisclosed location in the Atlanta suburbs. Once they get past party security, they enter a mansion full of women in bikinis and bodycon dresses holding champagne glasses — an undeniable mockery of 99 percent of rap videos on YouTube right now.  

Taryn: I’m mad Van ain’t get her picture with Drake. I was rooting for her.

Julia: I have feelings about this episode.

Taryn: Do tell.

Julia: I want to know why Van always gets the vapid episodes, or those making a point about how nothing is what it seems. Sure, there’s an argument for those episodes being serious along with those about trauma, but Van ALWAYS gets these solo episodes about hanging out with her girls and realizing that everybody is fake. It makes Van seem stupid and superficial, which she isn’t. I’m annoyed.

Taryn: Yea, I noticed that too. I feel like they use her to overstate that point. And the fact that this is the first time we see her since cutting ties with Earn is kinda disappointing. I wanted to see her catch a damn break but I guess this is “Robbin’ Season.”

Julia: I appreciated the nuance in this episode and how it used a party with “Drake” to highlight how superficial everything on social media is though. So we start with this very typical IG live shot of ole girl promoting her promo codes, making kissy faces, getting them views up, finessing some nigga’s Netflix password. Then we flash to Van, who is really worried about what Earn’s homeless ass is doing.

Taryn: I hate that she misses his ashy ass, but I get it, I guess. I really enjoyed the engagement between her and her friends before the party. Four black girls casually talking about their IUDs and niggas. Like other simple, yet intentional, things in this show, that’s something we don’t hear from black women on TV. White women get stuff like that all the time. 

Julia: Yes! I loved how they talked about not wanting to talk about their kids and wanting to be more than that, to do more than that. One thing I do love about Van being a side character is how vocal she is about not wanting to be a side character. Have we ever seen a side character be this vocal about being more than that?

Taryn: That’s a really good point, and it makes me wonder if that’s purposeful, too. Black women always be off to the side, not only in TV but in real life, and be having the greatest impact. Van wasn’t playing when she said she was tired in the Helen episode. We see here that even though she’s no longer with ashy, she’s still tired of not getting a damn break, thus her desire to take a picture with Drake at his party and make niggas mad on IG.

Julia: I love how they openly wanted to make niggas mad on IG because SAME.

Taryn: Me, too, my fave modern pastime, tbh. But when they pulled up to the mansion, I hollered when security made them put on booties so their heels don’t scratch up the marble floors. I have this idea of the rules Drake would have to enter his house and that sounds like it would be on there.

Julia: Shit, it’d be on mine, too. I don’t let people wear shoes in my basic-ass apartment, MUCH LESS on my marble floors. (If I had marble anything.)

Also, poor sis who just wanted to get into the party and meet Drake but got snatched up by security outside. I feel for her. She just wanted her IG pic, I ain’t mad. But this moment shows us just how WILD people go for celebs, for the image, for the aesthetic. And I admit I love crafting what people see and what pieces of myself I present to the world. So few of us are authentic, which is why most of us ADORE QUEEN CARDI, but this episode shows that quest for authentic-looking bullshit.

And, you know, sometimes you just wanna stunt on these bitches, climb to the top floor so you can spit on niggas.

Taryn: Yup. I, too, like shitting on niggas. All of us do, but that image has cost folks time, energy and sometimes money. No shade to anyone who stunts on IG, but keeping up that appearance is taxing.

Julia: Absolutely. Like, I staged my meals for 2 days for one pic and I was incredibly over it. It took so much work that I finally just dumped my shit on a plate and here y’all go. Idc.

Taryn: Social media is so powerful. So much of our lives are on display so I get wanting to remind folks I’m a poppin-ass bitch (shoutout to Rico Nasty), but shit ain’t always a mirror image of the ugly, messy shit we’re dealing with. We fall in love with the dopamine effect that’s caused by posting pics and slaying shit for our circle to see.

Julia: Exactly, and it feels good to have a moment of slay when shit is falling apart. I loved that about this episode. Sure, Van’s life is in shambles, lowkey. And she just wanna stunt. I’m not mad.

Guy DAlema/FX

After getting indoors, the crew pops some edibles courtesy of Candi’s quasi-boyfriend. Nadine, who’s paranoid from the drugs, starts freaking out and even calls the police to ask for help. Van, annoyed that she has to deal with this, goes looking for some water to help her friend calm down. She bumps into Brandon, a random dude at the party. He hands Van a bottle of water and walks with her back to Nadine, who has vanished. Van starts to panic but eventually calms down and follows Brandon down to the home’s bottom floor — all because he promised her access to a power outlet so she could find her friend and a bathroom. Thankfully, Nadine is safe and is sitting beside the pool talking about the fallacies of life with Darius.

Julia: Another issue I have this season is how Van’s sound judgement is just gone, even though I get that it’s out the window because of her complete absorption with fixing her life. BUT DAMN SIS CAN’T DO BOTH?!

I was on edge the entire episode. When the dude driving the shuttle said, “I’m gonna take y’all home with me” to her going into the basement with Drake’s nutritionist’s cousin, my nerves was shot. This episode following “Teddy Perkins” had me ON THE EDGE. I was like, “I KNOW THEY NOT GONNA KILL VAN AND DARIUS LIVED” (even though I stan for Darius).

Taryn: Yea, that was really creepy. I was getting bad vibes when they pulled up to the lot looking for the shuttle in the first place, tbh. So did Van. I could tell. But when Patron and Drake lyrics get into your system, you don’t give one fuck about sound judgment.

Julia: And this episode mixes the season’s two major elements, horror and social media, which has been so fascinating! The show already does a good job of imitating real life but they’re grabbing onto our generation’s biggest vice and mixing it with the genre that best depicts the black American experience. So it’s like a morbid(ish) depiction of “this is what happens when you always on that phone.” That’s how Darius ending up at Teddy Perkins’ House of Horrors. He saw an ad for a free piano on a message board. But we first saw it in the last Van-centric episode, where she was wandering off alone during a search for her phone.

Taryn: Wow. Now look who’s the smartest bitch in the world.

Julia: Ma’am lmao. Also, I am mad at Nadine.

Taryn: I knew I was gonna be pissed with Nadine the moment she came on the screen. Like bitch, how you gon leave your friend. I was livid.

Julia: I know we’ve all been that friend but also come on bruh. I’m just glad she ended up with Darius (which I think it’s so funny that he was there but it also makes sense) instead of a rapist or something.

And meanwhile, Van is in the basement of a big-ass house with a man she doesn’t know and a dead phone.

Taryn: Oh THAT’S Nadine. I thought that was the girl who left to go to T-Pain’s party. But, yeah, I was mad at her high ass, too, but I guess I get it. I’m glad she ended up with Darius, too, because that could’ve went left.

Julia: LMAOOOOOOOO.

Taryn: Lmao I be so lost. You see I had to take God’s hand right there to get to the truth.

Julia: She could have ended up in harm’s way. But she just sat in a pool with Darius and dissected the simulation of importance and fame surrounding them, which is a great high conversation.

So, tbh, Nadine had the best night.

Taryn: I have definitely been the friend just off to the side under the influence of something talking to somebody’s brother about the damn universe and deep shit at a party. Whole time I’m MIA. Nadine definitely had the best night.

"Atlanta"/FX

Tami follows fictional actor Devyonne Johnson around all night before eventually cussing out his white girlfriend and explaining that black women aren’t being chosen by wealthy men of any race. Meanwhile, Van has safely split from Brandon and begins wandering the halls of the home. She finds a huge closet with a Mexican flag lying on the dressing table. She snags a pair of pants and a bomber jacket before continuing her prowl of “Drake’s” house. She then walks up on a Spanish-speaking man who’s seated in a recliner watching a static-filled television screen, which gives us Teddy Perkins vibes. Van doesn’t speak Spanish so she doesn’t know what the man is saying, but a calendar of a soccer player hanging on the wall with the last two weeks of December — including New Year’s Eve — annotated as “EURO TOUR” makes it clear that Drake is not at this party.

Julia: Then there was Tami, who followed that actor and his white girlfriend around the entire night to “talk some sense” into him. Her convo with the white girl was ... well, idk how to feel about it. I don’t think I liked how it was portrayed, though. But I’ll let you go first lol.

Taryn: The way she had this uninterrupted stare had me weak. And honestly they could’ve kept their conversation. I understand homegirl’s passion, though, because I mean, look at who a majority of black men in Hollywood are NOT dating/marrying. The thing that probably stuck out to me the most was when she said, “I love him too!” I think that was telling of how hard we go for black men and we just want to stop being overlooked and shitted on.

Julia: Yeah, that’s kinda how I feel, too. It felt out of place in this episode. I understood what they tried to do, but it seemed like this wasn’t the episode for that.

So let’s circle back around to Van. She’s wandering around in the bowels of this mansion and she steals somebody’s clothes. There’s a Mexican flag lying on the dressing table. Then she walks up on somebody’s abuelo and she thinks it’s Drake’s grandfather. And then she sees the calendar, which says “EURO TOUR,” and it clicks that Drake isn’t there. But the gag is that it didn’t click that this ain’t even Drake’s house, or at least not Drake the rapper. Drake is a half-black, half-Jewish Canadian.

I loved all the cues in the lead-up though. The Mexican flag. The abuelo. The soccer player on the calendar. Darius knowing Drake’s chef “Guillermo.” The cutouts of Drake in the parlor. Then Van’s exclamation at the end that Drake’s Mexican.

Drake has been seen dancing in a Mexican soccer jersey, though.

Taryn: When I realized it wasn’t Drake’s house, girl I hollered. But the fact that no one in the house knew that it wasn’t Drake the rapper’s house really got me, too. Niggas in the basement tryna get folks to pay for photos of them and a cardboard cutout of Drake in this soccer player’s home. It’s so funny because I can imagine this happening to me and my friends. 😂😂😂

Julia: I saw a tweet that said this was an Airbnb party and I SCREAMED!

Taryn: LMAO this was definitely a Airbnb party.

Julia: This episode that was pretty cut-and-dried, though. Nadine summed the point up perfectly: “It’s a simulation, Van. It’s all fake.”

Taryn: Yea, it was. We’re so tied to public perception and our image that we can’t tell what’s real. I get it, Donald! I’m a fake bitch. Now lower your voice lol.

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