This article originally appeared on VICE Canada. Atlanta as a show is Atlanta-ish in its slant—real in the idea that it’s based on an actual place, but not that real thanks to its satire on “reality.” Episode by episode, the surreal plays footsies with the relatable—black Justin Biebers, polite rip and runs, and Teddy Perkins creepin people steady Jacko’ing. In the case of episode “Champaign Papi,” none of that felt different, except for my own perception of reality.
Fresh off of a recent breakup with Earn, our girl Van (Zazie Beetz) takes to Insta-tracking her ex who seems to have moved on—at least if his Instagram life can be taken as fact. And like anyone trying to dust off some old shit from their shoulders and move on, Van takes her phone and her girlfriends to a New Year's Eve party at Drake’s mansion with a mission—get a Drake selfie.
A lot of the events that follow push on with surface-level happenings that go with any shady night out; edibles, weird pickup boys, “thotty” happenings, and the whole “bad decision” extravaganza. But in the midst of this, I got a reminder that nothing is what it seems with this show, as explained by Darius during one of his "Master Darius" moments.
“Future civilizations must have immense computing power,” explains Darius to a very high friend of Van’s, Nadine (Gail Bean). “Even if a fraction of this were to run an ancestral simulation, there’s a high probability that it would be indistinguishable from reality to the simulation ancestor, being us.”
I can’t speak for the truth of the Matrix-inspired philosophy; I’m no Darius-level thinker. But the concept of the real being fake speaks to our everyday lives. Atlanta as a show is a simulation of truth because simulations are rarely perfect. The same can be said about our minds and how we interpret things. Take Van looking at Earn’s selfie for instance.
Her mind's eye reveals an ex whose moving onto greener pastures. She saw the smile and the woman over his shoulder. The moment is captured in a moment that doesn’t show much beyond his smile. Social media aids and abets our slanted perceptions much like this whole episode tries to reverse it. We see those vacation images on Instagram, those sculpted bodies, those living-it-up celebrities, never really knowing their day to day lives of mundane shit, work, and boredom.
Terry (Danielle Deadwyler), a girlfriend of Van, is a mind-shifting example. She zeroes in on a white girl who is dating celebrity Devyon Johnson (Brendon Hirsch). We’ve seen this picture before—an entire history’s worth of the pretty and white going after successful black men—all of which could be read on Terry’s face.
She goes in, “yeah, I’m staring at you, ho!” before labeling the poor girl as superficial, privileged, and trophie’d. There’s nothing completely inaccurate about what Terry says. The evidence of black athletes rocking white women around their arms is an internet search away. Also, the negative ways that black women have been portrayed as far as beauty, hair, attitude, and skin follow the same path. But her information, while true, tries to define this white girl, who turns out to just be a supportive girlfriend long before Johnson was even famous. What’s perceived as real to her changed once again.
Other stuff came into play in this episode, including a charming dude that ends up as a weirdo loner, a Drake-selfie racket, and the revelation that Toronto’s Drake may also be Mexican. And it's almost like Atlanta's saying that everything we perceive is liable to be fake from here on out. And everything you expect this show to be—because of all the other little shows you watched—won’t be anything like you expect it to be.
When I think back on Darius and his sage self, he pretty much summarizes the whole damn episode, actually, the whole damn series when he presents it as a reflection of many of us.
“Is she real?” Nadine asks when looking at a bikini-clad woman slowly dancing behind Darius.
“Real-fake” he replies.
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