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'Atlanta' recap: Season 2, Episode 4: "Helen"

Rob Hansen

 // Mar 23, 2018

FX Networks

Love wasn't in the air for this season's fourth episode of 'Atlanta.' Leaving behind the A for Helen, a small town in Georgia, in hope of a romantic getaway, Van and Earn find their relationship tested by Fastnacht, a German celebration. And despite the progress we've seen between the show's loving couple, the pair surely don't have everything worked out.

"Helen" bares resemblance to Jordan Peele's breakout hit Get Out, as Earn deals with being the sole black face in a sea of happy-go-lucky white partygoers - however, the episode dedicates a good portion of its time on Van's identity. For the first time in the series, we see Van's multi linguistic tongue skills displayed effortlessly to Earn's chagrin, who won't allow himself to succumb to Van's in-the-moment needs, selfishly, or adapt to an environment that she thrives within. Rather than fake it to please Van, he shuts down.

Atlanta | Season 2 Ep. 4: Van and Earn Scene | FX
FX Networks

Described by Van as "complicated," the relationship between herself and Earn hasn't always been sunshine. It is a repertoire established as early as the series' beginning, which showed then-homeless Earn taking on daddy duties so Van can go on a date with "some corny dude" to Van picking up Earn after a one night stand in "Juneteenth." While she's always wanted more for Earn, and for him to aspire for more than rap music, we know that Earn tends to get in his own way.

The increase of money coming in has slowly begun to change the characters of the show. As seen in "Money Bag Shawty," Earn is definitely feeling himself. After quipping early on that she's championed as Serena Williams at the festival, Earn asks Van to a game of ping pong when she wants to dance. The game turns into a debate. Van, trying to find logic in Earn's misery, admits that she doesn't always want to go to the strip club or attend a Paper Boi show, wanting Earn to do something she holds interest in. "I wouldn't shit on that," he tells her. "It's paying your fucking bills." The statement isn't so much a comeuppance for Earn, instead he's just way out of pocket.

Distancing herself from him, Van turns to a childhood acquaintance for comfort, insecure that she isn't anything more than "Lotte's mom" or "Earn's girl." As viewers, we know that this is far from true since Van is pretty intelligent, and importantly, she's resilient. Unfortunately, despite her smarts and charm, she's sidelined because she "chose black," as told by the same friend, and accepted being a baby mama. She denounces the claim explaining that she didn't choose black for the sake of her identity, and in that moment it's clear there's a line that Van walks, being biracial. She's able to dip her toe into multiple worlds. Earn may recognize this and it challenges his ego, having been judged prior for trying to build a career in rap, and just being Earn.

An arrangement that simply doesn't work for Van, the two split by "Helen"'s end. Earn definitely realizes how awkward his situation may be going forward, given his treatment and resistance toward her, with there also being a sense that Van has been liberated from his ways. How their relationship pays off is to be seen, yet we must not forget that they have been consistently on and off, and this is the first time an episode has catered to the outcome of that volatile nature. Perhaps Earn and Van are better off co-parenting.

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