Bad dreams aren’t always nightmares. They psychologically hold a mirror to us and what we harbor—our loves, our hates, our desires, and our fears. However, the truth is many a time stranger than fiction, especially when you’re a stranger in a strange land. The reality of the situation one may find themselves in may feel closer to a fever dream; a discernable difference between slumber and waking life isn’t so crystal clear. Welcome to the second episode of Atlanta (FX) titled “Sinterklaas Is Coming to Town”.
As Earn (Donald Glover) wakes up next to a different woman in a luxury suite he couldn’t afford in the States. Europe may be causing the kid to be more in line with adulting, right?
With his phone blowing up, from Swiss Air reminding him of Van’s arrival to Al needing 20K to Darius bragging about consuming a persimmon tasting like avocado, the crew is all waiting on their boy. In a mad scramble, he asks his one-night stand where his underwear and belt are.
Though the romantic notion that a change of scenery can inspire growth may be true for some, it’s not a flip o’ the switch for others.
Fela Kuti’s “Shakara” sets the stage perfectly, as Earn’s a hot mess. He’s still in Copenhagen with Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) in Amersterdam and Al in the clink. Van’s touched down in Amsterdam, so Earn implores Darius to pick her up just before the cell quits on him. The dude should count his lucky stars at least his friends haven’t yet.
At the airport, just before Earn can make it through security check, he suffers one last indignity, as lifting his hands will only drop trou, but he’s already cutting it too close anyway. Without a choice, up they go and down they fall. Hey, in Europe, it’s nothing they haven’t seen before. In fact, in some parts, if you’ve dressed a hair too much, you’re overdressed. “Maiysha” by Miles Davis sets the tone for a more lighthearted plot to follow.
Van (Zazie Beetz) worriedly waits around at the airport terminal, but lo—a playful and most likely very high Darius jumps out from a white van as if to present her with a chariot. Since Earn hooked them up with a driver for the day, the first thing on Darius’ agenda is to find Van some new digs since the airline lost hers.
Slicing a swath through the silence, Darius catches up with Van with some small talk. It turns out her daughter Lottie is good, but she doesn’t plan to have another with Earn as she now has a boyfriend. We also learn Darius can’t procreate, as his balls were crushed as a kid. He takes it in stride.
With Molly Lewis’ jazz-drenched “Oceanic Feeling” among a beautiful top-down view of Earn’s cab ride through the streets of Amsterdam, Earn arrives at the club and approaches event promotor Dirk (Matteo Simoni), who is smiling ear-to-ear. With the concert sold out, Dirk lobs out one suggestion. It includes Paper Boi dressing up in a ridiculous get-up that the Bard himself would don. Since Paper Boi is a lyricist, the ‘writer’ angle would make sense, but Oh! I can hazard a guess.
After he demands the taxi driver be paid by Dirk, all seems good for the moment. The only thing not accounted for from Helsinki is the laptop containing all the music. Earn assures the laptop will be taken care of, but he also requests an advance for the concert to the tune of 20K, to which Dirk without question gives him. Look at Earn, making money moves with confidence!
Before Earn leaves, Dirk assures him that Amsterdam is great and that they tolerate people, “not like in America.” Hmm. If you have to state it…
At one of the boutiques, Darius apologizes to Van for bringing up Earn. Van changes her tune by inviting Darius to ask her something of substance. After querying why she came to Europe, she confesses after not getting a job she was up for, a trip abroad may help her find a path.
Speaking of, in finding a coat that suits her, Van discovers an address in the pocket. Darius feels a frisson of excitement, instructing them to follow it, ensuring that’s it’s her destiny. She’s down, so off on their journey they go!
Though locked up, Al (Brian Tyree Henry) is put up somewhere nice. He gets a goddamn menu for food, including the real Coca-Cola. He even has his own audience before the concert, with a throng of cheering fans outside chanting “Free Paper Boi”.
Before he can get comfortable in his “cell” which is about as close to comfort as you can get, including a desk, two windows, and a pretty sweet bathroom setup, the bail’s been paid. Shit, I’ve resided in college dorms more prison-adjacent than that!
He’s treated like a fucking king in there, so he’s going to make Earn wait, wanting his lunch and nap, which includes an ambient noise lamp, for Chrissake.
Van and Darius roll up to the address, where Feena (Anniek Pheifer) is only too happy they are on time. Van introduces Darius as the photographer and before either can surmise what will come of it, out spills a group encased in white robes. Hey, when on an adventure, if there’s no time to call into question what’s happening, there’s no sense in tapping out either!
At the police station, Earn waits. After blowing his nose, he’s met with a garbage receptacle in the form of a human hand, attached to a human arm, attached to a burly police officer. That, combined earlier with Earn sneezing at the venue and everybody saying ‘gezondheid’ in unison, and Al’s holding cell, the Dutch seem like hospitality was infused in their bloodstream since birth.
Al exits, and Earn sneezes once again to the chorus of ‘gesundheit’. Maybe the guy’s just fucking allergic to kindness.
Paper Boi, not Al emerges, asking for that 20K. Bail was super cheap, but before Earn could take action, his cousin takes a fistful and makes it rain on his adoring fans before continuing on down the road. They pass a white dude with a red cape and miter, a big pillowy beard, white as snow, and spectacles pushed down along the bridge of his nose walking with his bike. The true surprise comes in the form of a baby in blackface in a seat on his bicycle, waving to Paper Boi and Earn. That is the true spectacle.
Approaching their driver (Ruben van der Meer), they are informed of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) or as he puts it something “for the children,” being a long tradition passed down for generations. His explanation for the offensive sight was ‘coal from falling down the chimney, helping St. Nicholas’. Yeah, I wouldn’t buy it either. I’d much rather call it a reskin on something very racist/plain ignorance.
In the van, Darius and Van sit quietly, trapped amid nothing but white and white, clothed in white. They approach their destination. As the rest continue on, Van, and Dar are adorned with white scarves. Upon heading up, they are greeted with calming music and crying onlookers. They’ve stumbled on a funeral.
With Darius convinced the deceased on the bed is Tupac, he’s asked by what I would assume is the funeral director to take pictures of the living with the deceased while Van sits and stares out of the window until she makes conversation with his Death Doula (Elisa van Riessen). She’s there to help the bereaved let the person go. Think of them, as an intermediary between life and ultimate release.
It turns out this gentleman isn’t dead but dying. Death Doulas work with, not against hospice or funeral directors and complement all involved, especially the mourning. They facilitate the transition from one world to the next, as an on-hand therapist.
This might be the medicine Vanessa needs right now. She opens up more calmly than she had in a long time to this perfect stranger who actually isn’t a stranger at all in the optics of it.
Before fully opening up about her increased panic attacks, she chooses to toe the line. The Death Doula does see Darius but more than see, she feels him. She’s glad she’s with “someone that could comfort” her and though Van asserts Darius is not her boyfriend and she’s not even supposed to be there, being aimless and all, the Death Doula assures her that she’s exactly where she needs to be.
Al brings Earn to his hotel, complete with black-faced bellhops, but comes across women Al knows from the night prior. A few moments later, we find out what transpired while Earn was away. This includes the beginnings of a threesome, one white girl Hedy (Amalie Gissel), one black Ida (Rachel Coutinho). The white woman cites it’s a ‘Happy Sinterklaas’ to her, but after Ida gets offended by the saying, a brawl ensues between both, leaving Al suspended in awkwardness, ultimately spending the night in jail with the girls enjoying breakfast together.
Taking a seat among the wreckage, Earn phones air ambulance transportation to deliver his laptop from Helsinki.
As the congregation gathers ’round, the Death Doula leads them in a round of telling the man that it’s okay to go onto greener pastures, leaving this blue spinning marble onto that great white unknown.
Van volunteers. Holding his hand, she tells him it’s okay, repeating the line as if seeing herself in that bed. Serenity washes over her, only to be interrupted by a loud buzzing. The Death Doula has set the process in motion and what ensues is a countdown to silently loud suffering. It is violently spasmodic but mesmeric. Sometimes letting go isn’t all Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbow Bridges.
With Earn getting delivered the laptop in a vessel most reserved for organs, the life of the party is saved—only Paper Boi refuses to go on. One look at the crowd and it’s pretty ostensible. Earn assures Al he’ll handle it so long as he with Darius (clad in clogs) make a discreet exit. Earn’s stepped it up in a big way, going to Dirk, man to man, breaking the news. Maybe he has garnered unforeseen maturity.
What he hasn’t done is take it literally on the chin. Dirk races after him but loses sight in the sea of the painted visages. To bro though, one black face is as good as another and pummels the shit out of the nearest attendee to take out his anger, cryingly asking why he’s making him resort to violence. Hearing that, Earn’s fine with the Ouroboros in the lobby as Auld Lang Syne blasts. Maybe the New Year’s resolution ought to be to gain some cultural perspective for the guy.
After one of the longest days of his life, Earn trundles to the hotel room before coming across Van in a towel getting some ice after having one of the longest days in her life. She’s glowing and bids him good night.
Collapsing on the bed isn’t an option for him though. Al wants some food.
Van may have found her center through Darius and what they’ve experienced, but Earn is SPENT. He deserves a good night’s rest. But hey, I guess a good manager’s work is never done.