Atlanta (Season 4), Episode 10 (Series Finale): Donald Glover had pitched ‘Atlanta’ as – if David Lynch or Coen brothers made a show about hip-hop culture. While the FX series has reached its series finale, his claim seems more than valid. He has also shared his wish for his show’s episodes, streaming on Hulu, to be considered as great as the ones from The Sopranos. Within its four seasons, it has certainly reached that level of absurd comedy, that irreverent surrealism with a deeper understanding of the world it is depicting. The Sopranos showcases the Italian mafia beyond the stereotypes. It showed them as flawed human beings with family life and mental health issues. Atlanta does the same with hip-hop and black culture, with a similar blend of naturalism and surrealism.
Like Coen Brothers, Atlanta’s characters also have this peculiar quality – where they become memorable even if their presence throughout the show’s duration is about a minute or so. They stand out for the perspective they bring to the table apart from the strange flavor they bring to the narration with their outrageously different way of acting and reacting. While Atlanta is often termed as a comedy, it is essentially a keenly realized drama with moments that feel humorous at the moment due to the spontaneity among other factors, while making the characters and us understand a deeply rooted truth.
Atlanta (Season 4) Episode 10 (Series Finale) Recap:
Episode 10: It Was All a Dream
Directed by Hiro Murai, It Was All a Dream gives a chilled-out tribute to the show’s legacy with all its characters going on their share of trippy adventures. The episode begins with an episode from Judge Judy being played on television, with no voices and a piece of trippy music. Earn (Donald Glover) walks past it and we realize that we were seeing it through the perspective of Darius (LaKeith Stanfield). He is lying down on the sofa from their Atlanta home and looks around the house to see Earn and Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) having a conversation. The music is a part of the song Darius was listening to.
When Earn invites him to tag along with them for an outing, Darius mentions a plan for a ‘dep date’. Being fully aware of his strange definitions, they both come up with their version of what that might mean. Darius then notes it being one hour inside a sensory deprivation tank. It is just a way of therapy to replenish his mind and soul by sleeping inside a water tank for an hour. Earn and Alfred do not pay much attention to it and go along with their casual conversation.
The following title cards show a magazine with every Atlanta rapper’s name written on it besides a pack of swisher sweets – everything that is considered to be quintessentially black – which is what the episode delves into. When they reach the spot, they planned to go to, they speak about their distrust of the whole valet system i.e., trusting a stranger with your car keys. When he sees a Popeyes store nearby, he instantly makes a plan to go there right after their visit to the new place.
They head toward a new Sushi place owned by black people. Earn is doing it out of courtesy to Van’s friend and behaving as a responsible adult and manager to create a good impression of Paper Boi. While every other Sushi place has Japanese (if not just any East Asian) staff, this one is staffed with everyone black. While entering, Al recalls it being a blockbuster shop. They still decide to enter. Meanwhile, Darius goes to the pharmacy and asks for his prescription for Eze. Over there, he strikes up a conversation with a black woman who also had experienced a sensory deprivation session.
While she started going there the last year with a group of her girlfriends, she talks about her past struggles with anxiety and other mental health issues. Now she is more content with herself, has a family, and is also almost a vegan. Her path to recovery amuses Darius and they speak about the intense visions in the tank. He shares his trick to anchor himself – where he imagines thick Judge Judy i.e., her with big breasts and thighs. If he sees her like that, he understands that he is in the tank. After this illuminating conversation, he heads for his work. While walking, an old girlfriend of his – London (Nate’ Jones) drives by and convinces him to let her drop him at wherever he is going.
On the way, she offers him to smoke some weed and has micro-doses of alcohol herself while driving. They get stopped by a police car, after which, they both hide everything from the white cop. When the cop takes her sobriety test, she somehow aces it despite being drunk. And while that means a clean way out for them, she takes out the cop’s gun and rushes back to her driver’s seat. She tries to run away from the cop, and while driving, runs over a person. While Darius gets frightened by all of this, he wakes up in the tank the very next moment. He gets invited by their employee to have a cup of tea in their room outside.
Over there, three white women accompany him, unhurriedly sipping their teas. They think Darius is going through the experience for the first time (maybe because he is a young, black man and not white like them) and he notes being a regular at doing it. The ladies then call the room, a tearoom, which Darius finds weird. But they do not, and they start manically laughing. He finds their joined laughs surreal and tries shaking a woman to bring her back to her senses – assuming he is in a tank. Right after, the employee throws him outside and tells him never to return.
Meanwhile, Earn, Alfred and Vanessa (Zazie Beetz) enter the sushi place and begin with their main course. Al feels disgusted seeing it being made with bare hands and seeing that the raw fish is warm. None of them like the taste, but Al is the only one who mentions it. However, Earn urges him to continue with it, while Al keeps thinking about going to Popeye’s store.
What happens between Darius & his brother?
On the other side, Darius knocks on his brother’s door and gets inside even if the brother is unwell. He brings him some food and asks him to take it out also for him. While the brother goes inside, he has a conversation with his brother, while looking at their photo together from when they were teens. However, there is no response from his brother, and it seems like Darius is having a conversation with himself. Maybe it is because he is missing his brother, who is not present in his life anymore. Maybe it is his way of trying to relive a memory that he could never live in reality.
Right at that moment, he sees thick Judge Judy on the television and realizes he is in the Sensory Deprivation Tank and wakes up. The employee mentions Darius being inside for 35 ‘minoots’ and Darius finds that word strange. The guy starts shrinking – and once again, Darius wakes up from the water.
Does Al, Earn & Van manage to leave the sushi store?
Meanwhile, at the sushi restaurant, Alfred reaches the limit of self-control and plans to walk out. Within 5 minutes, Popeye’s will be filled with kids and teenagers, and he would not get a meal in peace, which is why he wants to leave right then. However, their chef stops them and urges them to have the eel fish which is difficult to prepare. He then guilts them for not helping a black-owned innovative enterprise and heading to Popeye’s, which is considered a stereotype for black people. Instead of the bland, tasteless sushi, for which you need a developed palate, he makes them feel bad for wanting their usual hot sauce.
The chef shares a story about when he turned the old blockbuster store (as Alfred rightly guessed before) into this sushi restaurant, around the time ‘Queen and Slim‘ was released. People flocked in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, to help a black-owned business, but turned their heads away seeing a poisonous fish (eel) being served. He believes that these people did not trust a black person with safety related to sushi, while they trusted a Japanese person doing it the same way with his bare hands and serving at room temperature. The issue was bigotry and prejudices within the race, of which, he points out a few more examples.
His monologue makes Al, Earn & Van feel guilty and they start walking back to their seats. The chef tells his employees to lock the doors, which spooks them the very next moment. And somehow, Darius storms in right then with a pink car, and escorts them outside. He drives them back home and gives them parcels from Popeye’s, which feels them with joy. They eat it in the way that people belonging to other races assume they eat. However, they are overjoyed by their escape that they do not register it.
Atlanta (Season 4) Episode 10 (Series Finale) Ending Explained:
Was it all a dream?
Back home, they have a conversation about the food and mention how great it was. Earn notes that food tastes better when you think you are about to die. Then Darius mentions that he stole the pink car outside from a valet (a reference to Earn and Alfred’s earlier conversation about trusting a valet and flipping it over its head!). They get worried and tell him that he should not have done that. He is carefree since he believes he is still in the Sensory Deprivation Tank, dreaming all of it. Earn tells him that that isn’t true and that all of them are real.
When they walk out of the room, Darius sees Judge Judy being shown on the television. While we see the initial footage of that reality show, the series ends with a static camera on Darius’ face, where he smiles – as a sign of recognition. It is most likely a sign of him seeing thick Judge Judy, understanding that he is true about his claim, and seeing the absurdity throughout his life as a part of his hallucinatory daydream.
However, I would consider the end to be like that of Inception with a rotating top. The episode is Donald’s take on Inception i.e., a dream within a dream within a dream and so forth. The question is whether what they witnessed was all a dream or not. While as an objective theorist, one might come up with a probable & logically deduced answer, the fun is more in revelling in the fascination and relishing the show’s surrealism, irrespective of knowing an answer.