As Atlanta returns tonight with its long-awaited third season, you may be asking yourself, “Wait, what happened in the last episode?” The finale of Robbin’ Season aired almost four years ago, and even then, the last scene featuring our main characters was a subtle and cryptic exchange necessitating extensive analysis. The plot of Atlanta isn’t hard to follow: Earn’s cousin Alfred is starting to make waves as the rapper Paper Boi, and Ivy League dropout Earn wants to be his manager. Earn’s commitment to this role often tangles with his relationship with Van, his ex and the mother of his daughter Lottie, as well as Darius, Alfred’s lone entourage member. The cloud forever hanging over Earn’s head is money: He’s broke, and by becoming Paper Boi’s manager, he might finally have a shot at a better life for himself, Van, and Lottie.
If relationships define Atlanta, objects are the trigger points that force them into new directions. Heading into season three, these are the key symbols to remember.
The entire series kicks off with a parking-lot shootout: A passerby jacks Alfred’s rearview mirror, and as Al jumps out of the car to confront the transgressor, Earn grabs a handgun from the glove box. It’s our first glimpse at Earn taking steps outside of his comfort zone to back up his cousin by any means necessary. It’s also Earn’s first screwup: When Alfred sees the gun held awkwardly in Earn’s hands, the confrontation escalates.
In the first episode, we get the core of each character’s interaction with each other: Van and Earn have a dysfunctional relationship, Alfred isn’t sure Earn can pull off being his manager, and Darius has a closeness to Alfred that Earn wishes he had. Earn reaching for the gun shows his immediate commitment to Al, but his arrest after the shooting strains his standing with Van, whose house he crashes at almost every night.
We see brief glimpses of Alfred’s rising notoriety: He receives lemon pepper wings with the sauce on them; a man shows up at …….