All of this has happened before and all of it will happen again.
It’s hard to gauge the shape and ultimate narrative of Atlanta's second season based off of just the three episodes made available to critics before the season began—beyond the implication behind its subtitle, Robbin' Season. There's an ominosity that hangs in the air of these new episodes that didn’t exist in season one. The threat of extreme violence at worst, and at best, a polite, apologetic stick-up, looms even in scenes and episodes that ultimately reveal themselves as having nothing of the sort in mind.
But if there’s one theme that seems to be taking effect, it’s how little change changes.
There’s a stigma that plot is like, fifth, among Atlanta and the Glover Brothers' concerns, even moreso that the idea of Earn trying to be E to Paper Boi’s Vince but for rap was just a Trojan horse to lure dubious viewers and basic executives into a show with grander representation goals at hand. And it was—but as we’ve seen across three episodes of Robbin' Season now, the plot actually has advanced. We began the season with Earn and Al still feeling the after-effects of the shooting incident that bookends the pilot. Paper Boi’s career is actually advancing, scoring the gang prime meetings at streaming companies and studio face time with mainstream, pop-leaning rappers. Last week, the dividends from season one’s “The Streisand Effect” finally paid off, landing the typically teetering-on-broke Earn with several stacks in his pocket. And now in “Money Bag Shawty,” he’s, uh, earned even more.
Earn having racks to comfortably take Van on a date that doesn’t involve him doing menu math and contemplating leaving their car with a DIY parking attendant is a huge deal. On a different show, we might be forced to analyze if it’s too radical a change, and too fast. But here, it ultimately doesn’t matter because fundamentally, Earn is in the same place he was in season one episode three: Vying for respect, at the mercy of people who don’t care to give him theirs, and struggling to woo Van without worry because of it.
Watching Earn endure a series of humiliations alongside Van while trying to stunt with the Joneses, it struck me that “Money Bag Shawty” is essentially a sequel to “Go For Broke.” The mirror image extends beyond Earn and Van to the other half of the cast as well. Alfred may prefer trappin' to streaming service office visits and corporate commercials, but quite similar to episode three of season one, “Go For Broke,” he and Darius once again find themselves opposite a rap peer that shows them what menace truly is. Last time it was Quavo sharpshooting snitches in the woods. Now it’s Clark County, whose overalls and white manager mask a sociopathic intensity and goons ready to do his dirty (or wet? RIP, engineer) work at a moments’ notice.
What does all of this actually mean about the season and the show in general? I have no clue. It’s just interesting to note the ways in which Donald, Stephen and co. are approaching narrative and combating expectations. As audiences had a year plus to digest episodes like “B.A.N.” and every feature on the show highlights its surrealism and digressions, (while they themselves have said this season would function more as a series of interconnected short stories) it’s fun and intriguing to see that they’re peppering Robbin' Season with callbacks both plot-centric and thematic. When we met Earn, he lamented that money and opportunity were holding him back. But now instead of bouncing back from last year’s Ls, that momentum just has him careening into new ones. Time will tell if he can break the cycle.