A Breakdown of "Atlanta"'s Chaotic Season 3
After 10 head-scratching episodes of "Atlanta," the dark comedy's third season has come to an end. Season three concluded with a Van-focused episode, titled "Tarrare," on May 19, finally catching viewers up on what Zazie Beetz's character has been up to in her European misadventures sans Earn (Donald Glover), Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), and Darius (LaKeith Stanfield).
"I feel like the fun of a show like 'Atlanta' is that you can fill in what it means to you."
Unlike past seasons, "Atlanta" season three adopted somewhat of an anthology approach for its 10-episode order, including four detour chapters without its main cast that explore race in America. According to executive producer and writer Stefani Robinson, the charm of "Atlanta" lies in enjoying the unknown and the show's ambiguous way of making sophisticated points about Black culture.
"I feel like the fun of a show like 'Atlanta' is that you can fill in what it means to you," she tells POPSUGAR. Robinson also shares that straying away from the show's familiar format in season three wasn't an intentional decision by design but a natural progression of the show's creative process. "I feel like our mandate from Donald has always been, 'How can we be as creative as possible?' He's been so good about encouraging us and encouraging the show to not be beholden to typical television-show structure."
With three seasons under its belt, "Atlanta" has proved that it's in a league of its own, successfully carving out its own space in the TV world of comedy. As confusing as this season has been, the Emmy-winning series offers a culturally sound message that's not as complicated as you may think. The final episode of season three is a departure from episode nine, but it features just as many surprising twists on account of Van's story that may or may not set up "Atlanta"'s final season.
Season three's finale left us with many questions about what happens next. But Robinson answers some of our biggest queries, so keep reading to learn more about "Atlanta" season three, its final episode, and what's to come in the show's fourth and final season.
On the "Atlanta" Season 3 Finale
As expected, "Atlanta"'s season three finale throws plenty of curveballs our way. The main question on our minds: what the hell is going on with Van? For the past three seasons, the single mom and former teacher has been struggling to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Her weeks-long escape to Europe was meant to help her avoid her problems back home in Atlanta, but season three's final episode finally forces Van to face those issues head-on — with a little help from her old friend Candice (played by Adriyan Rae).
"Tarrare" quite literally takes us on a wild goose chase as Van drags Candice, with her two friends in tow, around Paris sporting a fake French accent while she gets into all sorts of trouble — including violently beating a man with a stale french baguette and crashing a dinner party where fried hands are served. Wild, we know. But the episode's conclusion eventually makes sense of Van's confusing situation.
"I don't even know who I am," Van says. "Earn knows who he is. Lottie knows who she is. But who the f*ck am I?" Season three's finale doesn't give Van a straight answer, but it sure does help her realize she needs to go home to figure out what's next for her — which is pretty much one of this season's themes in a nutshell.
Everyone is trying to figure out their purpose and where they're going, all while navigating a world where they often feel "other." Though season three ends with its focus on Van, Robinson notes that her predicament can apply to any of the main characters' circumstances.
"I feel like her experience is just so singular in a way that sums up how everyone's feeling, at least, emotionally," she explains. "I think it's such a strong ending that it feels like a good way to wrap up that experience of Europe, the chaos of it, and what it means to go away from home . . . ending with Van and having her give more voice to the experience that they're all having feels like a good way to sum it all up."
Season three's finale brings Van a sense of closure, but not before leaving one last breadcrumb to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. In that final close-up shot of the framed family photo from Earn's mysterious delivered bag, Robinson confirms that's the same man who recalls the haunting story of Lake Lanier in season three's first episode, "Three Slaps."
"I think it's just one of those things that reintroduces that dreamlike quality, that all of these things have been connected," she explains. "It's almost like the final episodes that you're seeing that don't involve our main cast are part of the same universe, and it's that confirmation of the beginning that it's like a dream. When you do see that guy, it's something that Earn has dreamt before. And it's connected abstractly, but I think this brings it all together. It's our way of saying, 'Hey, this thing is real a little bit. This isn't just something that exists theoretically out there. This is something that is very much a part of the fabric of real life' — specifically, their real world as well."
On "Atlanta" Season 3
"Atlanta" surprised viewers in season three by exploring uncharted territory without its main cast in a series of stand-alone episodes. "Three Slaps," "The Big Payback," "Trini 2 De Bone," and "Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga" all introduced new characters in place of Earn, Paper Boi, Darius, and Van, and by design, Robinson informs us that these episodes all revolve around similar themes. "A lot of those follow-up episodes are dealing with the relationship of being Black and being white in America, what that can look like, and picking up the layers of what that is," she says.
Season three of "Atlanta" was shocking in every sense of the word. But despite viewers' claims of it being "'Black Mirror' for Black people," Robinson reveals that the show's writers didn't intentionally split up the season. "I don't necessarily remember it being a conscious choice of, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do. It's going to be half and half, and this is how we're going to do it.' I think it was just what happened organically in the creative process . . . We can tap into these little stories, like little short films almost. I feel like that's always been in the DNA of the show, and I think what everyone's seeing in season three — us just taking that to a logical conclusion."
Another big part of "Atlanta"'s third season is the deep analysis of identity. It's the overall foundation on which every season of the show sits. "I think Van, in season two, is obviously dealing with a little bit of, 'Who am I, and what am I?,' and maybe doesn't quite know yet what she's going through. But the progression that we're seeing at the end of season three, it's that she's actually giving voice to that thing, finally . . . I guess, yes, to your point about identity, it's absolutely valid."
On the "Atlanta" Writers' Room
"Atlanta" is unlike any series we've ever seen on TV, and the show's writers are fully aware that some of the ideas they conjure up are incredibly outrageous. Robinson struggles to sum up her time in "Atlanta"'s eccentric writers' room but finally settles on one phrase: "It's an experience." "It's unlike any writers' room I think I've ever been in, and probably will be in," she adds. "It's very much like a family . . . There's lots of arguments, laughter, discussing, talking, and meeting together. It's really therapeutic, I feel like in some ways, too. It's a very vulnerable writers' room where we do talk a lot about what's going on in our heads and our experiences, and we're not afraid to disagree with one another."
Additionally, Robinson shares that, oftentimes, "Atlanta"'s team of writers spend their time "sharing funny videos we see on the internet and trying to crack each other up" — a noticeable trademark in many of the show's episodes. "It's a very specific experience that I feel like has probably felt more like family than any other job I've had," she remarks.
On "Atlanta" Season 4
"Atlanta" filmed seasons three and four back to back, with the latter expected to premiere this fall. Formal details around the show's final season have yet to be shared, and Robinson remains tight-lipped on them as well. However, she does tease that season four won't necessarily be a continuation of season three's ending.
"I won't say too much about season four, but it's really good and fun and familiar," she says. "[Glover] talks about each season feeling like an album. Yes, all seasons touch upon one another and they're obviously interconnected for the obvious reasons. But I also feel like the way we approach each season, they can be their own stand-alone thing, too. You don't necessarily have to rely on what you know from the previous season."
In regard to season three's finale, Robinson notes that the episode only acts as a conclusion for this single season — not so much a setup for season four. "Obviously, the emotional stuff and the relationships carry over into the next season. But in terms of this thematic exploration, just thinking about [each season] like an album is helpful," she adds.