Atlanta (Season 4), Episode 5, Recap & Ending, Explained: The F.X. television series – Atlanta, streaming on Hulu, is a masterful creation by Donald Glover. Since it loves to delve deeper into particular characters once in a while, it was no surprise to see an entire episode dedicated to Zazie Beetz’s character – Van. The character of this unmarried, single, black mother has always been so intricately written that such one-off episodes elevate the show’s appeal while exploring more of the character itself. A thoroughly wonderful episode talks about the godly status given to many artists besides the child actor exploitation rampant in the celebrity-churning industry.
Atlanta (Season 4), Episode 5 Recap
Episode 5: Work Ethic!
The 5th episode, titled ‘Work Ethic!’ written by Janine Nabers along with Donald Glover, is an amusing and terrifying episode at the same time. The episode begins with Van (Zazie Beetz) driving along an empty road with her daughter, Lottie (Austin Elle Fisher). On her way, she sees a billboard that shows a woman’s face along with a request to Mr. Chocolate to hire her as the next funny mama. She finds it strange but wakes up Lottie when they reach the Chocolate Studios. The security guard outside the studio checks her bag and purse and inspects the items even in Lottie’s tiny backpack. Van finds it unnecessary and, thus, objects. He mentions that people have taken all kinds of things in the past and that he has to be stringent about security.
After parking her car, Van walks towards a touring group, shown around by a studio guide. It is early in the morning when this guide professes introduces the studio meant by the culture (African American) for culture. She shows a building of his old studios that he has converted into his personal office. She mentions him being private, which is why entry to this place is not allowed. Van goes past them and enters the new studio, and speaks with the First P.A. – Mikey (Ja’ness Tate), who tells her to sign a document and to sit and wait for the hair and makeup for some time. When they walk to their seats, we see a mother helping her young girl with her audition.
Once they sit down, a man walks back and forth, speaking loudly on his phone with someone. He stops speaking midway, apologizes to Van for the loudness, and asks for her name. Van probably doesn’t want to share it, so she lies about it. The next moment, she is called in by her actual name, and the lie becomes clear to him. While walking towards the makeup room, she glances at the posters of several older shows created by the studio and gets spooked by them. In the makeup room, she chatted with the makeup person named Phaedra (Madeleine Wood), who learned that it was Van’s first job as an actor in the show that she got because of a friend. Van also mentions that she is not a fan of it but doing so for some quick money. Phaedra shares her views that match Van’s.
Over there, she meets Shamik – one of the crew members who gets smitten by Van. Right after their flirtatious interaction, she is called upon the stage. The next thing we see is a show recording that features Van. Along with another woman, her character tries to convince someone to get over her relationship with her husband. That’s when the husband’s character walks in, which is when a deep voice of Mr. Chocolate coming from a speaker tells Mikey to make her hair looks messy. While the husband says something means, the dialogue does not showcase him that way, which irritates Lottie. She speaks her heart out and tells him to ‘shut up.’ That interrupts the shoot, which is why Van apologizes to the crew. But Mr. Chocolate speaks with Lottie about her point of view and, impressed by it, decides to give her a role in the scene.
Since Lottie is not in any other scenes, Mikey asks Mr. Chocolate to think of a way for it to make sense. He says that it will be fixed in the post, but Mikey insists on not working that way due to the requests from the crew. He decides to add her to the scenes, and Mikey rushes to find costumes in her size. In the wardrobe room, she speaks with an old, black woman who tries to convince the saneness of the Chocolate studio and its projects while gaslighting her for not letting her daughter experience the joy while bringing religion into the discussion. It happens without Van’s consent, whereas Lottie seems to enjoy her acting gig.
Meanwhile, Lottie runs back to Van wearing a costume and mentions that she feels like Doja Cat. While not letting her elated daughter feel down, she requests her to show a thumbs-down sign if she doesn’t like something on the set. We see a caring side of Van as a mother.
In a recording after that, Lottie acts so well that a black person (perhaps a crew member, maybe an actor, possibly just a representation of how the audience receives such shows) starts clapping and praising her. The second P.A. (Chloe James) shares praise for Lottie’s acting skills with Van. She even goes on to say that a children’s show is currently being written just because of her phenomenal performance. Van is slightly amused but more concerned. She mentions that it was only one day of Lottie acting and that she won’t continue it. That upsets this P.A., who shares a wish to see her daughter in a similar show, implying that Van is making Lottie miss out on a golden chance.
After this recording, Lottie is taken from one stage to another while Van is left wandering around, trying to locate her. Between that, Van interacts with Shamik, who charms her and leaves her with his personal card. She inquires a P.A. about Lottie and gets extremely angry after not getting a clear answer. So, Van is taken to another show’s recording and told not to worry since being in these shows will help Lottie win many BET & NAACP awards. That frustrates her even more since she fundamentally disagrees with these shows or their ideas being good in any way. The van driver accuses her of only caring about awards given by white people. At the same time, she only implies the irrelevance of the BET & NAACP awards won by Dr. Chocolate – for he may have won them just by influence rather than quality.
In this show, Lottie’s character confronts her mother for being unreliable while this mother eats unashamedly crack-filled sandwiches. After this tirade by the studio crew members, Van finally finds Lottie and catches a live recording featuring her. Yet, when she goes from the back of the cameras to the stage, she does not find Lottie anywhere on the set. Her boiled-up anger reaches the brim, and she takes it out on the P.A. After this, she confronts Dr. Chocolate directly to send Lottie back, and to her surprise, he denies it right away. That makes her want to look for Mr. Chocolate and enter his personal office. While the security guards try to stop her, the old lady from the wardrobe room decides to help bewildered Van by shooting one of the guards in his foot. While he starts crying out in pain, the other guard mentions that their guns are fake and lets Van in.
Atlanta (Season 4) Episode 5 Ending Explained
Van enters this strange studio-come-personal office and reaches the place where Mr. Chocolate is sitting. This is the first time that she (and even we, the audience) see him in person in his dishevelled room. Van asks where Lottie is and keeps up with her attempts to get her back. He shows her a different show altogether that Lottie is currently starring in and shares a plan to make her a big star. She even throws piping hot food onto him, which doesn’t affect him in any way. That’s when Mikey enters the room with Lottie and seems pleased by seeing him in person. While this P.A. professes her love for this charitable artist, Van tells him not to use Lottie in any of his works without her consent. Unlike her wish, the kid wants to be a part of this glamorous world which makes Mr. Chocolate’s side of the argument stronger. However, Van takes Lottie out of the studio despite her struggle not to leave the place. Later, when they reach home, she apologizes to Lottie since things didn’t work out the way she wanted. After their hug, Van sees the card Shamik gave that showed him being just sexually interested in her – which turns him into every other man who led a soft side to reveal the same douchey perspective. She educates her to take such decisions about what she believes in when she becomes an adult.
There’s a creepy way in which most of the crew tells Van that they (the black community) need to stick together. It is a forceful attempt to make everyone agree to work on destructive projects to get a sense of community. The character of Mr. Chocolate is pretty much a dig at Tyler Perry and his universe of unapologetically bad works that try to pass off as excellent black art. Everyone who works for this godlike artist in Atlanta has an allegiance because of getting some work than for getting genuinely good work. The artist at the helm only takes advantage of the people who worship him. The episode not only criticizes the senselessness of such blind allegiance to a sane cause but also slams the godliness assigned to such ‘artists’ by the very allegiance. Meanwhile, it also shows the scariness of the rabbit hole of greed, because of which many parents let their kids follow this never-ending, toxic path. We also see a good arc of Vanessa, aka Van, who portrays a sane adult not swayed by momentary jolts of belief.
P.S. The role of Mr. Chocolate is credited to the character name itself. But any Atlanta fan would realize it to be the mind of Donald Glover, who played this character just like he played incredibly creepy Teddy Perkins.