“Go For Broke” is a really unusual half-hour of television. It’s expositional, but not clumsy. It’s weird, but in a really plausible way. And somehow it manages to marry two stories that are so radically different, they shouldn’t work together nearly as well as they do. It also shows how much thought Donald Glover and his team have spent talking about and trying to flesh out the world they’ve created. It sort of acts like a surreal explainer for how an up-and-coming trap-hop star and his aspiring manager might live while they’re trying to get their ducats in a row.
Van, who I’ll get to in detail later, is right about Earn’s dream of hip hop riches is an Atlanta cliche. In fact, it’s one I’ve spent years mocking. It’s so, so common to meet dudes in Atlanta, or any other chocolate city, who when asked what they’re doing with their lives reply “Man, I’m just trying to work on this music thing with my cousin.” And it’s always, always a cousin. People don’t work on rap music with uncles or nephews or stepsisters. If you want to embark on a journey to trap superstardom, you call your cousin. But that response never establishes what the person is currently doing. You know, the stuff that pays the rent, buys the food, and ensures there’s something to put inside the cigarillo after the tobacco is scraped out.
For Alfred, the main hustle is selling drugs. And on one level that doesn’t feel quite right because in the first two episodes, Alfred comes across as the guy who seems like he would sell drugs, but would actually be deeply offended if you accused him of doing so. But trap hop is the nexus of the music business and the drug business, with most if not all of its luminaries having well-documented histories with drug-related crime. As Young Jeezy once said, “It’s kinda hard to be drug-free, when Georgia Power won’t give a nigga lights free.” (And it’s true, they totally won’t give a nigga lights free. I’ve asked.) The rap game is all about credibility anyway, so a career in rapping about selling drugs has drug sales as its logical prerequisite. Alfred sells drugs because it fits with his lifestyle and beats real work, but also because to a certain degree he has to sell drugs to burnish the street cred he now relies on.
If that makes sense for Alfred, it also makes sense for the hip hop group that makes a cameo appearance in “Go For Broke.” Alfred and Darius tell Earn they’re going to do a deal with some Mexicans, but as it turns out, the connects are not amigos, they’re the Migos, the trap-hop trio well-known for their tendency to knock the pussy out like fight night. That’s pretty funny in and of itself, but continues to get weirder as the story progresses. But as surreal as the drug deal sequence is, it’s still totally earthbound. One minute a guy is doing time for pushing weight, the next he’s headlining a music festival. These things happen, and so as weird as it feels to watch well-known rappers shoot guns and shoot the shit during a drug transaction, it’s also real life. That’s what’s so brilliant about Atlanta so far, the way it combines the real and the surreal so seamlessly. No one has ever offered me a Nutella sandwich on MARTA, but if someone told me that story I’d believe it and find it hilarious.
The other great thing about the Alfred and Darius story is how it fleshes out Darius as more than a spacey dude who hangs around pontificating. He’s also Alfred’s partner in crime, the one who can be trusted with the requisite steel briefcase full of cash. “Go For Broke” also goes a long way towards fleshing out Vanessa, who, like Darius, existed on the fringes of the story in the first two episodes. Earn and Van’s date, which she very reluctantly agrees to, is as much a sales presentation as Alfred and Darius’ meeting with Migos. But Earn is selling Van on the idea of him as an active, financially stable father for their child. Taking Van out to dinner is a charming, simple gesture of good faith, but it takes money to demonstrate that you’re trying to get your money up, and Earn has none.
Earn and Van’s relationship is one of the most interesting and complex intimate relationships I’ve seen on television in some time. They’re co-habitating in a mostly platonic capacity while they raise their child together, a set of circumstances that resonates for a ton of people I’d imagine. It’s too soon to fret about Van after three episodes, but I really like the character and I’m concerned about her getting painted into a long-suffering baby-mama corner. But that was probably my only complaint about that story, which fleshes out the world of Atlanta just as much as “Streets On Lock” did. From Earn’s humiliating trip to Zesto to his interaction with the homeless dude on his parking hustle, every moment felt authentic. It feels odd to be so surprised by authenticity in a television show, especially one about a world in which authenticity is job one. But Atlanta, just by getting the details right, is a pleasant surprise week after week.
- Y’all really thought I was going to be a week behind all season? C’mon, son. (Seriously, sorry for the delay. We’re on track now.)
- That server in the restaurant was on my last nerve too. I wish a server would take the liberty to add an appetizer to my tab.
- The gag where the homeless parking attendant came in to grab one of his people was basically amazing.
- Still not sure how I feel about someone naming their gun Daddy, but I guess naming your gun is such an odd ritual that the actual name chosen doesn’t make much of a difference.
- For more Migos madness, check out their controversial Noisey Atlanta episode.
- For even more Migos madness, check out their Talent Show segment from earlier this year.