“The Streisand Effect” is Atlanta’s tightest episode yet
For a writer, I sure do hate Twitter. Well, not all of it. I just hate tweeting. I love reading Twitter. It’s become an indispensable part of my news diet. Feeds of curated content from the brightest minds of our era? Great. The chance to interact with and receive feedback from one’s role models? Even better. Maintaining a slate of original, compelling, and concise thoughts most hours of every day? Horrible. I mention my aversion to the Twitter because this week’s episode of Atlanta explores the differences between individuals’ relationships with social media.
In my last piece on the show, I discussed the inventive, hilarious nature of its first hour and my hope for its future. Fresh off its renewal for a second season, the series debuted its best episode to date.
“The Streisand Effect”, named after the tendency of attempts at online censorship to further publicize targeted material, contrasts the lives of two hustlers and the peers who attempt to understand them. When I say hustler, I don’t mean a con man. I mean someone who hustles; a person who works towards a goal with an intense drive. The first of the two, an internet personality named Zan (Freddie Kuguru), makes hustling his philosophy. After meeting Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Earn (Donald Glover), and Darius (Keith Stanfield) outside of a bar, Zan begins torching the show’s central rapper on all social media fronts. He tweets about Paper Boi’s rapping prowess (or lack thereof), records vines with his kid sidekick, and posts a video decrying the originality of Paper Boi’s name.
Paper Boi, on the other hand, cannot seem to understand why Zan has it out for him. After all, the racially-ambiguous reviewer first approached him as a fan. Their eventual confrontation serves as a platform for the two to discuss their livelihoods and the ways they exploit the circumstances they cannot control. Fuguru takes the episode’s sharp writing and turns Zan into a man any internet-versed person can recognize; the crazed social media hustler. Like Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) from Nightcrawler but for the Instagram generation, he will record whatever and wherever he can to generate page views and likes. In a similar manner to that film, Fuguru’s performance is crucial to selling the part. His commitment to the role could not waiver, and boy does it show.
The other hustler, to borrow a term from The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, is Paper Boi’s stoned consigliere Darius. Though he lacks the usual trappings of a go-getter (He’s not high energy, he’s just high), his self-effacing demeanor betrays an oddball genius of sorts. In the episode’s B-plot, Earn and Darius follow a circuitous path to maximize the profit from the former’s cell phone trade-in. I can’t divulge the steps of their journey without spoiling its end, but I’ll say he takes Earn to places he would have never expected. It all started when Darius asked Earn if he wanted more money for his and that’s exactly what he delivered. What makes Darius and Zan hustlers is the only quality they share: an unquestioning dedication to their respective goals.
The crucial detail here is unquestioning. Zan considers his incessant self-promotion to be just one form of the work that everyone engages in to survive. “It’s all the game. We’re all just hustlin”, he says to Paper Boi. Zan uses this philosophy to rationalize his behavior. Yet, Paper Boi’s inability to refute his claims speaks to the exploitation inherent in a capitalist economy. Someone is always benefiting off of someone else’s labor. Similarly, Darius doesn’t care why he’s helping Earn bring in more dough. He hears a yes and takes it as given. I can’t reveal how, but this disconnect comes into play at the end of the episode. Both characters serve as a reminder to question your motivations on a regular basis. We all fall into patterns of behavior. It takes careful attention not to lose sight of the purpose behind your efforts.
The strength of the episode is not just in thematic structure. The two plots operate in glorious harmony. Each is filled with layers of comedy and commentary that emphasize the chemistry the two duos share. While Zan was a great guest for a half-hour, I’m unsure how he would fare a recurring character. His shtick would wear on many viewers, myself included, though I wouldn’t put it past such an innovative show to prove me wrong. In contrast, the Earn-Darius story establishes a relationship for the two that is not predicated on their mutual friend. After a couple episodes that treat him as comedic relief, this one is the first dive into Darius’s depth as a character. For another perspective on what he brings to the series, check out this article from Micah Peters at The Ringer. And don’t forget, this show is hysterical. If this episode is any indication, the best is yet to come.
Atlanta airs Tuesdays at 10:00pm on FX.
Related Topics: Music