If we know anything about Atlanta so far, it’s to always expect the unexpected. Even though the audience is promised a TV show about a budding rapper, it’s usually used as the vehicle to carry out social commentary through genre-bending.
Nothing could have prepared me for this week’s episode “Teddy Perkins”. So set the stage, Darius finds a sweet multi-colored key piano through a message board. The piano is free, all he has to do is pick it up. Darius doesn’t even know how to play piano, he just thinks it’s cool, so this is already the most Darius thing ever.
As soon as Darius arrives at what seems like the remains of a once beautiful mansion, he instantly senses something is wrong. Darius being Darius, he decides to ignore that feeling in favor of getting the piano. Darius arrives to find Teddy, whose face looks to be disfigured through surgery and other treatment. He tells Darius tales of his brother’s glory days, back when he played piano with some of music’s biggest stars. He also consumes an ostrich egg, which is by far the most disgusting thing I’ve seen on TV in ages.
As Darius wanders through the house, he again bumps into Teddy who seems interested in everything but giving the piano away. He tells Darius a story about his childhood. How his father pushed him as a kid and through that sacrifice, he was able to become something much greater. “Great things come from great pain”.
Actually…let’s fast forward through the traditional recap of this episode. You already know what happened, you watched it yourself. You know why you’re here. Let’s talk about how freaking crazy this episode was.
First, this episode only works with Darius. I’ve never realized it until now, but Darius is the perfect buffer for Donald Glover’s dialogue. Thinking back all the way back to Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, Donald was in search of his Darius. His script for Because the Internet also seems like Darius. Those things weren’t easily digested because when watching and reading, we didn’t see a “Darius” we could only see Donald. So in a show such as this, Darius is the only character who could set down this path and make it believable. Darius looks at a tree and wants to know how big it is, so of course, he’s inquisitive enough to continue down a path most of us would have abandoned.
Second, this episode was constructed perfectly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the full experience because I had to DVR it, but a 41-minute no-commercial episode featuring this type of journey turned this into a short film. While going down this path, I never knew what to expect. I didn’t think there was a Benny, it seemed like Teddy was being a recluse. The cutaway to Al, Earn, and Tracy served as the mouthpiece for the audience a la Rod in Get Out. WE all know Darius should have left yet he chose to stay. All this tension lead to a pretty shocking conclusion once Darius is handcuffed to a chair and escape’s death grasp when the real Benny shows up to save him.
Third, this episode is a horror short film because it shows how stars we worship are driven into solitude and madness. Teddy is obviously meant to represent Michael Jackson. He can’t bring himself to understand why Darius can’t see his father wasn’t a bad man. Teddy (and Benny) was obviously stripped of something when his life became all about his father’s dreams. That’s the sacrifice that was made but was the sacrifice worth it? The set up of Benny’s character makes me think of Prince. Darius is about to make it out with the piano but when he presses ‘1’ on the elevator it takes him down to the basement. Here, he discovers Benny. Prince, who is by far the coolest man to ever walk the Earth, hated elevators. He was also, allegedly, found dead in his elevator. So, the most horrific part of this episode isn’t Darius handcuffed to a chair with death imminent, it’s seeing great-men reduced to the mere mortals they were all alone. The mortals they weren’t allowed to be because they were revered for their talents.
Although I respect this show for giving Darius his own beautifully constructed, one-off horror short film, I must admit, I didn’t like this episode. I respect it tremendously, but I didn’t like it. If I had to guess, there’s one episode each TV writer wishes they could get away with. I think this is Donald’s episode. I’m also lead to believe this episode isn’t for us but it’s for himself. I can’t begin to imagine the burden of being a creative who has to give, give, give and ultimately, won’t have anything left when people no longer want what he has to give. So, I don’t hate this episode but it makes me respect Donald Glover even more. He swings for the fences and even when he (rarely) misses, you know he did things his way, which is admirable. This episode will receive a massive amount of praise for erasing the borders of conventional TV, which it should, but I didn’t like it. I was left rattled, which means this episode was effective. I am even intrigued by the larger, more important conversation this episode is interested in having. I am even a huge proponent of “good art doesn’t have to be enjoyable in order to be good” but I simply didn’t enjoy this episode. I know this reasoning seems vapid but it’s really as simple as that.
Before I go, I will say I do love the overarching theme of Robbin Season. So far, “robbing” has been expressed through the robbery of a Mrs. Winner, shoplifting shoes, the predatory nature of strip clubs, stealing a cell phone, stealing lumber, and a staged home invasion. Each episode so far can standalone but together, they’re all pieces of a larger story.
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