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‘Atlanta’ season finale comes down to the man with the golden gun

Hard, ugly lessons about how to make it in America

Atlanta Season 2, Episode 11 |
‘Crabs in a Barrel’

If I were to describe this episode in one word, it would be savagery.

All season, Earn has struggled with being a successful manager for Al — especially in episode nine, “North of the Border,” when Earn books Al to perform for free at a college in Statesboro, Georgia. This ended in a disaster still seen in Earn’s black eye. Once Al strongly hinted that he wanted to fire Earn, Earn is worried all of this episode that Al will kick him to the curb once and for all. Earn has taken losses all season, and with the thought of getting fired top of mind, Earn brings out his inner savage to survive.

The episode begins with Earn and Al on the hunt for an entertainment lawyer. At the meeting, it becomes apparent that the lawyer is incompetent, having only represented a one-hit wonder rapper and four clients on Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta.

I knew Earn had taken another two losses and given Al even more leverage to boot him when Earn not only showed up late but also brought his daughter Lottie to the meeting. Al is angry but not surprised. Al also wants a Jewish man to be his entertainment lawyer.

In the parking lot, Al says, “It’s time to start leveling up on n—-s … gotta kick off this European tour … s— about to be different.” As if Al didn’t rub enough salt in Earn’s wound, he then says that Luke really came through with booking the European tour they’re about to go on. This is yet another signal for Earn that Al is moving on to a new manager.

Earn then moves on to his biggest challenge for the day: getting Al, Darius and Earn to the airport on time to make their flight for the aforementioned European tour with Clark County for the next two months. As Earn rushes to make sure everyone is packed and ready to move (which they clearly are not), Al notices that Earn tried to sneakily get rid of the golden gun, given to him by Uncle Willy in the season premiere, by putting it into one of Al’s moving boxes.

Wow … to no one’s surprise, Earn catches another loss. Caught, Earn puts the gun in his backpack. This will be important later. And of course, this wouldn’t be Atlanta without something going wrong …

Darius tells Earn, hours from when they are scheduled to leave, that his passport is expired. Earn also gets a text that he has to come to Lottie’s school with Van for a parent-teacher conference. As Earn makes his exit, he reiterates to Al that they have to leave on time. “I know you sell weed, so you don’t care about time … but it’s important.”

When the parents arrive, the teacher tells Earn and Van that Lottie is advanced and that she should transfer to a private school. The two are relieved, as the worst had run through their minds of Lottie pulling her hair out and eating it, sniffing white-out or fighting children.

This transfer is an obvious no for Earn — as he just recovered from being homeless not too long ago. “We’ll definitely do that. … That sounds like something we would do for first grade,” he says.

When Van and Earn ask about alternatives or cheaper options, the teacher bluntly tells them that the school is awful and to keep her in a “happy two-parent household” as an alternative.


Van then wonders if she would have said that if Lottie were not advanced.

“If I see a steer smart enough to get out of the pen, I leave the gate open,” replied the teacher.

Although I was rooting for Van and Earn, it looks like Van wants Earn to stop being a deadbeat and subtly calls him out on it. Maybe next season, folks.

After the couple’s anticlimactic goodbye, Earn and Darius head to get Darius a same-day passport and the passport guy offers to put them in touch with his cousin who is an entertainment lawyer. The room erupts in utter silence when Earn asks if there is a black lawyer who is as good as his cousin.

He responds with, “There definitely is. But part of being good at your job is your connections, and black people just don’t have the connections my cousin has … for systemic reasons.”

Earn is still learning the business and realizes that the black lawyer just won’t cut it if Al is going to climb this ladder to success … and unfortunately, that’s just how it is. Earn begins to talk to Darius to confirm what he’s been feeling all day.

Will Al fire him?

Darius reveals that Earn might get fired and doesn’t ease his mind when he gives it to him straight. Darius tells Earn that Al will always provide for Earn no matter what.

“I don’t want a handout; I gotta provide too. I’m getting better at this. You know that,” Earn says passionately.

Darius responds with, “I see you learning. Learning requires failure. Al’s just tryin’ to make sure you’re not failing in his life. Y’all both black, so that means y’all both can’t afford to fail.”

After Colored People’s Time gets the best of them, they finally make it to airport security.

“We are still late, actually. She printed our tickets but made sure to say, ‘Ya’ll ain’t gonna make it’ five times while she was doing it, so we should probably hurry,” says Earn.

And then the episode’s title, “Crabs in a Bucket,” really comes to fruition in the last scene.

As Earn goes through security he realizes Uncle Willy’s gun is still in his backpack. Earn has to make a split-second decision to sink or swim.

“You’re gonna need this in the music business,” Willy told Earn when he handed him the golden gun in the season premiere.

Earn decides to pull the crab down — Luke — and plants the golden gun in his bin so that Earn can get on the plane. This doesn’t come as a complete shock, as we know that Earn will let others take the fall for him.

Once on the plane, Al tells Earn he saw what he did at airport security. “Just know that’s exactly what I’m talking about. … N—–s do not care about us, man. N—–s gonna do whatever they gotta do to survive, cause they ain’t got no choice. You ain’t got no choice neither. … You my family, Earn. … You the only one that knows what I’m about. You give a f—. I need that,” says Al.

Al begins to view Earn’s potential in a new light because he finally understands the cutthroat mentality and what it takes to be successful in the music business. For this reason, Al decides not to fire Earn (yet). These 11 episodes definitely lived up to the “robbin’ season” theme, from Al getting robbed and escaping death by running into the woods to Earn getting hustled and played out of his money at the strip club.

Will Earn and Van ever be together again? Will Earn ever stop being a deadbeat dad to Lottie? Will Luke find out who planted the gun in his bin and seek revenge? Will Earn ever be able to stand on his own two feet? Will Paper Boi ever reach the pinnacle of fame? Hope all these questions and more will be answered in the next season of Atlanta.

Miniya Shabazz is a Rhoden Fellow and a junior mass communication major from Laurel, MD. She attends Grambling State University and is a staff writer for The Gramblinite.