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'Atlanta' recap: Season 2, Episode 5: "Barbershop"

Rob Hansen

 // Mar 31, 2018

Guy D’Alema // FX

We have our good days and we have had our bad ones. And Alfred certainly had a bad day in Thursday's (March 28) episode of Atlanta, "Barbershop." Back in Atlanta, following Earn and Van's Oktoberfest trip in "Helen," Alfred attempts to get his haircut for a magazine photoshoot. Under the care of Bibby, a jack of several trades, Alfred finds his day a complete mess when he accompanies the barber to his girlfriend's house which is "five minutes around the corner."

Al's already heated. He'd been waiting in the shop prior to Bibby's arrival and was neglected in favor of a Bluetooth earpiece. With some of his hair flying into the forbidden, still donning his cape, Alfred completely succumbs to the personal life of his barber. His presence at the girlfriend's house is weaved into fabrication by Bibby, saying that he's assisting a down-on-his-luck Al - even saying he's a magician, irrationally explaining the cape, rather than admit Alfred is a customer. To further the grievances the episode has barely begun to throw at you, Al must wait for the woman's child to have his haircut first, since Bibby hardly seems to maintain his appointments.

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We've all been there, caught in the clutches of our barber's time. It's actually why I've taken to cutting my own hair. But Atlanta amplifies that annoyance. Al isn't exactly waiting in line, he's literally riding shotgun through the city with his barber waiting to be cleaned up. Further chores of Al include stealing lumber from a construction site, only after being lured by the promise of a great meal, and mentoring the youth. Bibby also coerces Al into "mentoring" Bibby's own son. Ditching school, likely with dreams of being a rapper, the kid rags on Paper Boi's crazy appearance. Al, sick of Bibby's antics, explains to the kid that he's been waiting for his father to cut it and that he's a regular person. The kid brushes off the words of the towering and grizzled Paper Boi, suggesting that he should be "put on" while comparing his skills to that of Lonzo Ball.

Trooping the trail, Alfred continues to ride in the passenger seat of Bibby's truck, now including his son tucked in the cab. Again, Bibby is distracted by the businesses that occupy his right ear and doesn't keep his eyes on the road ahead, literally. In one of the series' most grip-tightening moments, Bibby's truck collides with another vehicle. Fortune protects Bibby and his son, but Alfred has reached his boiling point. Still on probation, we learn that Al has weed in his pockets. Bibby, with warrants of his own, drives away from the accident when the other car's driver steps out, clearly in physical discomfort, shrieks to the sky.

Al finally gets his hair cut, clean and ready for his photoshoot. He begins to leave after the cut, skipping out on paying Bibby, a move I doubt viewers disagree with. After everything he'd put Al through, he expects his pay - not aggressively, just business as usual. Al reluctantly pays the man.

Sometime later, Al returns to shop, just as Bibby finishes up another customer. Welcoming, Bibby is visibly upset to find Al choosing another barber. When asked what he wants, Al chokes, not knowing which number guard he wants. Unable to say "the usual" as he repeated to Bibby multiple times in the episode's opening moments, he realizes that Bibby knows him best, in spite of everything he endured with the man.

"Barbershop" is a standout episode for sure, offering up plenty of hilarity even if it is at the expense of Alfred. Robbin' Season has made great use of their smaller characters. Dynamite performances from Katt Williams in "Alligator Man," and Khris Davis in "Sportin' Waves," are respectfully followed by comedian Robert S. Powell. As Bibby, Powell owns every moment he's on the screen. The entrepreneurial trait of Bibby allows every act to feel fresh, and absurd in every way, since Al can't believe he's on this pointless run. Although he nonchalantly lies his way through every interaction in the episode, Bibby grows on you, through a subjective lens.

Playing second fiddle to Powell's Bibby, Brian Tyree Henry has long proven that he is a pivotal member of the Atlanta cast and it's not only because Alfred/Paper Boi are essential to the show's narrative. His ability to display a range of emotions without uttering a single word, in addition to setting a scene's tone, no matter how calm or chaotic, is one of the many reasons that he's a joy to watch in any situation. With that being said, his silent performance as Alfred and/or Paper Boi gives much weight to when he decides to speak. Therefore, when an episode does not feature the actor, both he and the character is missed. In some ways, I'd argue he's Atlanta's moral center.

Under the direction of Donald Glover and written by Stefani Robinson, "Barbershop" lives as its own entity, outside of any prior narratives, slightly touching on Alfred's growing celebrity persona. Between Glover's sensibility and Robinson's tight storyline, the end result of the episode will leave you in stitches. I've been made aware that I repeatedly say each installment of Atlanta is better than the last, so I promise, you shall not be disappointed. Every bad day is a good day, surely with some time removed.

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