SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE SERIES FINALE OF ATLANTA
One of the things that separates great shows from true classics is how they stick the landing. Breaking Bad doesn’t hit GOAT status without “Felina”. The Sopranos famous cut to black may be controversial but it’s still genius nonetheless. Veep’s final callback to a joke from the first episode perfectly wrapped up the show’s darkly comedic genius. But for some shows it can completely ruin it’s legacy, look no further than Game of Thrones.
This is why I was psyched to see Atlanta completely nail their fourth and final season finale with “It Was All a Dream”. Not only did it fit the show’s surrealist and high concept nature, it was fucking hilarious. The two main storylines split up Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) from Earn (Donald Glover), Val (Zazie Beetz), and Al (Brian Tyree Henry). The latter trio went to Atlanta’s first black-owned sushi restaurant inconveniently located directly across the street from a Popeye’s. Darius however went on a quest to a sensory depravation chamber.
The sushi restaurant storyline saw the three increasingly become more and more disgusted with the restaurant while they longed for that sweet sweet chicken that was staring at them from across the street. This led to them being presented with sushi from a poisonous fish at which point Al decides to bail. Before they can make it out they are confronted by the restaurant’s owner, Demarcus (Calvin Dutton), who delivers an unsettling monologue about how black people can’t trust each other and would rather support a business like Popeye’s that is owned by an Italian family. Dutton’s appearance was memorable in that it perfectly encapsulated the kind of supporting roles we’ve come to see from Atlanta over the last four years. It was creepy yet silly and what he was saying ridiculous yet insightful. Moments and characters like this are what has made the show so powerful.
With Darius we see him make a journey to a sensory depravation chamber in an attempt to meditate. Along the way he makes a stop at a pharmacy to pick up a prescription for someone named Eze. Here he meets a woman (Cree Summer) who he bonds with over their love of these chambers. She expresses how she can experience hallucinations when she’s in the tank but Darius explains to her that the way he is able to ground himself is to watch Judge Judy but if she stands up and she’s three c’s thiccc then he knows he’s still in the tank. After leaving the pharmacy he runs into London (Nate’ Jones) who gives him a ride. We quickly realize that she’s been drinking and taking drugs all day. Soon after Darius gets in the car they are pulled over for an illegal tint on the car’s window. Knowing Atlanta, it’s safe to feel uneasy about what was about to happen next. London is taking out of the car to do a field sobriety test but miraculously passes, much to Darius’ surprise. However, after the test she steals the cop’s gun and drives off, hitting a little girl on a bicycle in the meantime. After she fleas, Darius is left holding the gun but before we watch the rest of the scene play out we cut to Darius waking up inside the chamber in a panic, implying that it was all a dream.
From here Darius experiences multiple trips within trips. Including one featuring his brother Chi (Kevin Iso) who Darius gives the prescription to. We learn that his brother is not only sick, but estranged from his family and by the end of the scene it’s implied that he’s passed. Darius sees Judge Judy on TV and realizes that she’s still thic, implying that he’s still in the tank. This kicks off a series of Darius finding himself in bizarre situations only to again wake up in the tank. Which leads us to him showing up at the sushi restaurant to save his friends just as thing’s start to go south. “Quick, hop in my pink Maserati!” instantly became one of my favorite moments of the series.
After escaping and grabbing some Popeye’s the four main characters are back at Al’s place reminiscing on their experience. After asking Darius where he got the car he tells them he stole it from the parking lot but says that it’s okay because he thinks he’s still in the tank. His friends try to convince him that this is the real world and that Darius really stole a car and could get in a lot of trouble but he’s not buying it. After his friends go outside to smoke, Darius hangs back and watches Judge Judy on TV. In what will likely become one of the most infamous endings of all time, the camera zooms in on a smiling Darius though we never see whether or not Judge Judy is thic.
Was the whole episode a dream? Was the whole series a dream? Did Darius really just steal a car? Did anything we see in the last four seasons really happen? These are questions we’ll likely never receive an answer to as we’ll all be left to wonder whether Judge Judy was thic. It’s so on brand for the show to be so introspective about culture and framing it in such a silly way.
Atlanta should go down as one of the great shows of our time. From it’s early days as a comedic look at the four main characters grinding their way through the streets of Atlanta to a surrealist masterclass in comedy and cultural commentary. Through the series’ run it left no topic untouched and pulled no punches along the way all while making us laugh. Donald Glover and the entire cast deserve all the praise they’ll get for this. I’m really going to miss Atlanta but leaving us wanting more is the only way a show like this could really end.
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