The Police Shooting In The 'Atlanta' Season Finale Was Unexpected & Incredibly Realistic
In the final episode of its debut season, Atlanta reminded viewers that it is the most unabashedly odd show on television. Donald Glover and the rest of the cast and crew have created a world that often feels surreal, but can be abruptly pulled back to reality with a sudden burst of violence. This was brilliantly done in the Atlanta season finale, when a police shooting both served as the episode's climax and reminded viewers of the series' chilling, yet honest, worldview.
All across Atlanta, from corner store parking lots to police holding rooms, no one is safe from the threat of gunfire or a sudden beating. In the show's version of Atlanta, even cereal commercials aren't safe. The Season 1 finale was no different, as a stop to pick up a bomber jacket was suddenly revealed to be a massive police operation to take down a man who is supposed to be a major criminal. You might think that a police shootout would feel out of place on a "comedy" like Atlanta, but the violence here isn't treated as a particularly comedic or dramatic moment. It just is, and that's all the more terrifying.
Glover constantly skirts expectations, so it's no surprise that a police violence scene on Atlanta would be anything but typical. Although the main trio of Earn, Darius, and Alfred have found themselves on either side of a gun previously this season, none of those moments compare to the sense of danger felt in the finale when the three are pulled over after trying to leave a suspicious situation. The trio simply hoped to pick up a jacket from an Uber driver, not knowing that they were dealing with a suspected criminal.
The moment the police revealed themselves, the trio was not scared or shocked, but simply annoyed. They explained that they were only there to pick up a jacket, and methodically followed police orders. It's abundantly clear that this was not the first time any of these characters have dealt with aggressive police officers. Then as the suspected drug dealer made a run for it (clad in the jacket they came to pick up), the trio watched from afar as he was gunned down in a mist of blood piercing Earn's jacket.
The feat that Glover and the Atlanta writers pull off here is that it's a scene that in other circumstances, could have been almost funny. A group on a quest to retrieve an important item only to see that item get ruined feels like a plot out of any traditional sitcom. But on Atlanta, it's anything but funny, because this trope is used to demonstrate a common act of violence. Atlanta's balance of comedy and harsh reality created this unique moment, which sends the message that for many people in America, witnessing or being on the receiving side of police violence is just part of a routine. Though the scene may be structured like a joke, the payoff is anything but.
From there, Atlanta doubled down on the absurdity that can surround violence. Instead of being shaken by watching someone die, Earn approaches the officer inspecting the corpse and asks him to check the pockets — specifically the secret pocket on the front. There's nothing there, but the sequence of Earn sincerely asking the officer to inspect the jacket on a fresh body is the kind of darkly comic moment that Atlanta specializes in. Glover has spent years training as a comedian and is adept at using his skills to confuse and challenge an audience and force people to question the difference between "ha-ha" funny and "that's messed up" funny.
After the Atlanta shootout, the day simply went on. Earn, Alfred, and Darius were all fine. Getting stopped by the police didn't make for a story. Seeing someone die didn't throw off their day. Atlanta takes a snapshot of a few people's experience of being black in America and broadcasts it to audiences who may have thought they understood what it was like, but never truly knew. Prior to the series' premiere, Glover told Vulture "I wanted to show white people, you don’t know everything about black culture." He succeeded with in doing so with the first season of Atlanta, and hopefully, made viewers far more sympathetic to and informed about the plight of those like Earn, Alfred, and Darius who are just trying to get by in the face of violence, conflict, and life's general absurdities.
Images: Quantrell Colbert/FX, Giphy (2)