SXSW Episodic Review: Atlanta Season Three Premiere

First look at "Three Slaps" and "Sinterklaas is Coming to Town"

Atlanta (Photo by Oliver Upton/FX)

As he walked onto the stage of the Paramount Theater to introduce the world premiere of season three of Atlanta, Donald Glover cut through the uproarious applause with a joke. “Hi, I’m Daniel Kaluuya,” he said, “And thank you all for coming out to see Get Out 2: Come Back.”

Facetious as this joke was, it may have unwittingly foreshadowed the two episodes about to preview. While FX's Atlanta (which just won the South by Southwest Audience Award for best headliner) often enjoys the dance of keeping one foot in comedy while letting the other tip-toe into horror, the first episode of season three certainly seems to come very close to crossing that boundary altogether.

The first episode departs from where we last saw the gang, following a disparate story that is sure to set the tone for the rest of the season. The episode is loosely based on a true-life story that broke in 2018 about two women who had used their six adoptive children as pawns in their self-serving activism. Years of abuse and exploitation eventually led to a tragic murder-suicide of the entire family.

Atlanta’s version tells the story from the perspective of one of the adopted children, and is just as disturbing as the real-life story. Throughout the episode, instead of jump-scares and gore, the viewer becomes overtaken by a creeping horror of the insidious blindness that whiteness can use as a weapon.

Although connected only by a vague thread, the second episode echoes that theme of clueless exploitation. We watch as Earn (Donald Glover) stumbles through Amsterdam, facilitating Al’s (Bryan Tyree Henry) European tour while confronting disarming cultural differences in a foreign land. Van (Zazie Beetz) and Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) share a rare B-story plotline together, navigating each other’s vagueness beautifully. Each character seems to feel a hollowness that they can’t seem to fill, made more pointed by their constant ‘othering’.

After four years of waiting for a new season, audiences will not be disappointed in either the quality or quantity of what they will receive this year, if these first two episodes are any indication. It will be a bit of a monkey’s paw to receive two new seasons of the transformative show almost at once, only for it to come to an end. This should serve as your reminder to soak it all up while it’s here. As Glover said, speaking of his own experiences ending the show: “Everything has to end. That’s what makes it beautiful.”


Headliners, World Premiere

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