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ATLANTA actors (L-R) JAMIE NEUMANN, CHRISTOPHER FARRAR and LAURA DREYFUSS in Season Three, Episode One
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'Atlanta' S3E1 "Three Slaps" Recap

'Atlanta' S3E1 "Three Slaps" Recap

If you were super thrown off by the opening episode of season 3 of Atlanta, it’s probably because you were supposed to be.

Spoilers ahead.

The series is known for its quirky,  sometimes eerie takes on Atlanta culture (and Black life in general), and tonight’s episode, “Three Slaps” was exactly that.  

Written by Donald and Stephen Glover and directed by Hiro Murai, the episode boldly features none of the main characters, save for a snapshot appearance from Donald Glover’s Earn at the end. But it’s a standout, Emmy-worthy entry that’ll probably be talked about for years to come, with fantastic performances from its guest stars, particularly Christopher Farrar and Jamie Neumann. 

It opens with a Black man and white man in a boat, fishing at night, and within seconds it’s pretty obvious the water, which is giving off seriously creepy vibes, is meant to be the infamous Lake Lanier (though it’s not ever explicitly stated). Over the years, Lake Lanier, located about an hour outside of Atlanta, has notably been the site of freak accidents, many of them deadly. The lake is supposedly haunted because it was literally built on top of a Black town, Oscarville. The Black fisherman shares that he almost drowned there when he was eight, and the white fisherman isn’t surprised, explaining the lake was built on top of a Black town, so it’s haunted.

As the men sit in their boat waiting for a bite, the white fisherman offers a TaNehisi Coates-eque explanation on the illusion of “whiteness,” and who calls themselves that, and why. He specifically mentions Armenians, and then says “with enough money anyone can be white,” which is possibly a reference to the famous Kardashians. 

The thing about being white is it blinds you,” he shares. “It’s easy to see the Black man as cursed because you’ve separated yourself from him. But you don’t know, you’re enslaved just like him.” 

The scene gets spookier, as he eerily explains the horrors of believing you’re white, and the scene ends abruptly when the white fisherman’s features begin to melt, as he hisses, “We’re cursed too,” revealing a horrifying faceless monster as the Black fisherman is dragged by Black hands off the boat, into the murky water.

There are three tropes “Atlanta” generally sticks to — blunt and smart, surreal and smart, creepy and smart.

Clearly this episode is the latter. The screen flashes from the white faceless monster to a boy who’s jolted awake by the eerie dream sequence. We see he’s fallen asleep in class. His chipper teacher informs the class that thanks to the generosity of the Atlanta Falcons and Domino's Pizza, they’ll be going on a field trip to watch the new Black Panther 2 in effort to promote Black history.  The kid is obviously used to playing class entertainer because not a second passes before he jumps onto his desk and starts dancing, hitting basically the same moves as that kid in the viral video from Atlanta’s Ron Clark Academy. 

The teacher isn’t pleased with the disruption and later we see the kid, Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar), sitting in the principal’s office with his annoyed mother and grandpa. The white guidance counselor skips in, gently suggesting the reason young Loquareeous is disruptive in class is because the “material is too challenging” and he needs to take remedial courses, which his mom immediately shuts down. Out in the hallway, she chastises Loquareeous for being off task, and believing he needs to entertain people who aren’t looking out for his best interests. “If you don’t start using your common sense and acting right, these white people are gonna kill you!” she snaps. She makes him repeat his dance moves, driving home her point that maybe dancing on the table for the entertainment of his white classmates isn’t the smartest move. His grandfather doesn’t have much to say; he just slaps him three times across the face in admonishment, as the very concerned counselor looks on, horrified. As she shuffles him to class a few minutes later, she loudly whispers that she’s gonna get him “out of there”— and so begins the real horror. 

We next see Loquareeous at home, eating spaghetti and watching TV in the dining room. His mom shouts he better not be watching the TV. He rolls his eyes and shuts it off just as there’s a knock at the door. It’s children services there to conduct a welfare check (thanks, Very Concerned Counselor!). But they don’t get far because Loquareeous’ mom, assuming he’s called them to the house, tells the social workers to take him. She packs his things (but not the good clothes that spent her hard earned money on) and pushes him out the door as Grandpa stands by. 

Loquareeous drags his back up to house #495 in what looks like a recently gentrified Atlanta neighborhood (could be the Lakewood area or Capital View), and is greeted by a white hippie woman named Amber (Lauren Dreyfuss) who immediately suggests he call her “mom.” She introduces him to his new “brothers and sisters,” who are standing the steps looking disheveled and robotic, and Loquareeous quickly declares the house stinks. Amber brushes him off and explains it's because they’re making “African doo-doo soap.” As Loquareeous wanders through the cluttered house, Amber shares they also make kombucha and pickle their own veggies using their organic garden. Gayle, Amber’s wife, wanders in holding an unkept toy dog named Corn Puff, and Loquareeous wonders if he should call them both mom. Ambers says “yes” at the same time Gayle (Jamie Neumann) tells him to call her by her first name. Amber laughs off the confusion before asking him if he wants “capers or sprouts” for dinner. Loquareeous face wrinkles and it’s obvious he rightly thinks he’s entered the Twilight zone, especially when Amber puts raw chicken in the microwave for dinner.

Upstairs in a bedroom that all of the kids, boys and girls alike, share, Amber wants to make sure Loquareeous is settled in, and hands him a beige towel that says “Larry.” When Loquareeous asks who the heck that is, she gently explains,  “I didn’t  know how to spell Lo-qua-ree-ous,” she says, barely sounding out his name, “so I figured we’d call you Larry.” When Loquareeous asks where’s his washcloth, she smiles again, amused by his confusion, and tells him they just use their hands. “Even on my butt?” he asks, face scrunched.

Later, Loquareeous comes to dinner where he’s served a raw, microwaved chicken leg and an old sliced up avocado with capers sprinkled on top. He smartly says if he eats it he’ll throw up, and Gayle chastises him for saying “throw up” as Amber explains there’s “too much salt in oil in the foods that you’re used to” and that’s why pink raw chicken is better for him. We get the first flash of Gayle’s temper in what should be an award-worthy performance from Nuemann, when after commenting about Rihanna’s use of the phrase “spirit animal” on Instagram (“Please tell me she’s Indigenous ...We gotta comment on that, right?”), the phone rings and she snaps that the family is eating dinner before slamming it down. She snatches it out of the wall completely when it rings again. Uh-oh. Loquareeous screams the food is nasty and he hates the house before he’s sent to bed hungry, and wondering what the hell he’s walked into. 

Out in the backyard, the kids are in the hot sun working in the organic garden, as Amber and Gayle sit at a nearby table and whisper about finances. Gayle tells a distraught Amber that they “have to make more adjustments.” One of the young adoptive girls begins to cough, and Loquareeous says he’s hungry. Amber reminds him he had carrots and celery for lunch, and that he’s supposed to be hungry, “if you’re not it means you ate too much.” Loquareeous asks how long they have to work out in the garden and Amber tells him to sing a song to help him feel better. Loquareeous starts rapping but Amber says no, sing something else that’s silly, before busting out with “I don’t want to work no more” old Negro spiritual-style. She laughs at her antics, and watches as the kids continue working on the plantatat… er, organic garden.

At the farmer’s market, the kids are all lined up in front of Amber and Gayle’s organic veggie stand, holding signs. Loquareeous’ sign says,”Free Hugs,” to which a white man walks up and hilariously asks,“Is ‘Hugs’ your father?”

At the farmer’s market, the kids are all lined up in front of Amber and Gayle’s organic veggie stand, holding signs. Loquareeous’ sign says,”Free Hugs,” to which a white man walks up and hilariously asks, “Is ‘Hugs’ your father?”  Loquareeous spots a cop and makes a break for it, running to the officer and throwing his hands around his waist as he yells about how he wants to go home and his new family makes him sleep in a storage closet. “Please take me home! I’m tired of these white ladies,” he pleads. It’s here that it completely clicks that this episode is inspired by the tragic, true life story of the white lesbian couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart, who drove their six Black adoptive kids off a 100-foot California cliff in 2018. Years of abuse by the couple was uncovered in the aftermath. And a few years before the horrific murder-suicide, one of their adoptive kids, Devonte, went viral for hugging a police officer during the Ferguson protests. Devonte’s body was never found, though he was declared dead in 2019. 

The officer listens to Loquareeous until Amber and Gayle hustle up, explaining that they “adopt impoverished children” and does he want some Kombucha? The cop laughs off Loquareeous’ claims then smiles and tells Amber and Gayle that Loquareeous looks like Aloe Blacc in his gardening plantation hat. 

Back at home, Gayle softly tells Loquareeous  he’s a “snitch” as he stands on a ladder spackling the wall. He’s saved from her eerie calm by a knock at the door. This time, it’s a Black social worker doing a welfare check, which is out of the norm because Amber points out it’s usually Kate who stops by. The little Black girl is sick on the couch coughing, and the social worker attends to her, and asks for a wash cloth. Of course, there are none. The social worker asks Loquareeous how he likes living there and he tells the truth — he hates it and he’s always hungry. Gayle asks to speak to the social worker privately and later, during another dinner of microwaved chicken leg, swishes in, nervously declaring that everything is fine. 

Loquareeous has nightmares that night after eating the pale chicken, and hears his mother’s voice reminding him “these white people are gonna kill you” if he doesn’t act right. After getting sick in the bathroom, he heads downstairs where Amber tells him they're going to the Grand Canyon. “The Grand Canyon?” he repeats, pressing her to find out where they’re really going. 

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As the kids climb into the minivan, Loquareeous looks over and sees the Black social worker’s ID badge and clipboard tossed among a pile of garbage bags. Yikes. Inside the van, the kids silently communicate they know the white ladies are about to kill them, which is confirmed when, believing the kids are asleep, Gayle and Amber stop the van during the night, and let Corn Puff go. “Why didn’t anyone stop us?” Amber cries, echoing literally everyone’s thoughts.

The women get in the van, prepared to drive it and the sleeping kids off the cliff. Gayle looks back one last time to discover Corn Puff has actually returned to the van, and Loquareeous is poised to hop out of the back . She tries to stop Amber but they’re already plummeting off the cliff into what looks like the same lake from Loquareeous’ earlier fisherman dream. In the Atlanta version of this story, all of the kids make it out of the van, and we later see in a news brief that they’ve been rescued from the side of the road. Loquareeous, shoeless and weary, walks back to his house. He uses his key from under the mat, goes inside, and starts washing dishes without being told. His mom comes in and finds him, rightly suggesting he was finally ready to come home, and tells him yes, there’s spaghetti in the fridge, which he eats in front of the TV, watching American Dad

As Loquareeous turns around and looks directly into the camera, Earn inhales himself awake. He’s in a hotel bed, next to a sleeping woman, and he looks around in slight confusion. 

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