Another anthology style episode finds a bi-racial high school senior trying to prove his Blackness.
We’re back with another standalone episode, this one written and directed by Donald Glover. Kevin Samuels, the controversial YouTuber personality who recently passed away, makes a guest appearance as Robert S. Lee.
This episode, shot in monochrome, focuses on a white-presenting bi-racial high school senior named Aaron who really wants to go to the same college as his white girlfriend, Kate, and their friends but can’t get in because he can’t afford it and his dad refuses to take out loans. Aaron clearly has identity issues – going as far as to call the Black dudes he online games with “n-gger”.
Aaron (whose dad is Black) grapples with the reality of his financial situation but sees there may be light at the end of the tunnel when Robert S. Lee (not to be confused with “Robert E. Lee”) shows up at his school (named Stonewall Jackson High) and offers to give all the Black students a scholarship. All the white kid has to do is be Black enough and all of his problems will be solved, right!?
Anyway, the kid heads to the auditorium where he auditions for the scholarship, in which he’s required to prove his Blackness through a series of questions like: Name six things you can mix with Hennessy, and questions about classic Black TV shows like 227 and Amen. In the end, he’s rejected because he’s not Black enough. He heads home and is further deflated when his girlfriend breaks up with him because he won’t be going to college, and also has been flirting with a Black dude.
Enraged, he makes a homemade flamethrower and heads up to Robert S. Lee’s school to burn it down.
There, he runs into another student there to do the same thing. See, he’s Nigerian, and he’s also not Black enough. After Aaron insults him with colorist jokes, the other kid gives chase, only to be shot in the head by the police who’ve suddenly arrived at the school. Aaron, of course, is spared.
The other kid survives his headshot wound, and when Robert S. Lee rushes up to the school to see what’s going on, he’s so impressed that he was shot by the police (it’s a sign of Blackness, after all) that he gives him a scholarship on the spot, as Aaron watches from the back of the police car, where he’s resting (not arrested).
A year later, we see Aaron has gotten rid of his side swoop hair in favor of a fade that he constantly brushes with a wave brush and is working at a local electronics store where he’s flirting with a Black girl. His ex girlfriend, Kate, pops up and is clearly surprised by his changes.
It ends with Aaron smoothly telling her he’s never been more attracted to her in his life while Loose Ends “Hanging On a String” kicks on and Aaron breaks the fourth wall and smirks at the camera, like Michael Jackson in Thriller.
All in all, Atlanta has felt like two completely different shows this season. And while the episodes that focus on the main characters have been winners overall, the anthology episodes have been pretty hit or miss (mostly miss), largely because they’re so heavy-handed and uneven in tone.
At any rate, we have one more episode left, and the previews show that everyone is back (including Van.)
So hopefully, we’ll get some resolution to the personal journeys Earn, Van, and Al in particular seem to be on this season.