After an insufferable amount of time, we’ve finally touched down. Atlanta (FX) is back! We’ve all been on tenterhooks and this opener slaps. It slaps thrice, which makes sense as the title is “Three Slaps”.
We open on a gorgeous shot of two people in a boat. At night. A singular, solitary light fares the two gentlemen. There’s only one problem. Gentility isn’t on the table, as the white man waxes philosophically on how the lake, the very buoyant surface they are drifting on was built on a town. A town comprised of Black men.
There are those that are born lucky and there are those that harbor guilt in spite of that and the monologue, amid the black water lapping along the sides of the boat just channels the mood for what is to be on fucked up ride.
It was all a dream.
For Black history month, Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar) is just overtly enthusiastic. His parents are called to the principal’s office because he was acting out in class. Well, not so much acting out as making his aggressions and sadness corporeal in the form of dancing on a desk.
Though the guidance counselor was trying to be his better angel, his parents saw through it.
His mother (Nicole Lockley) is more than livid for having to make an appearance. His grandfather gives him three slaps as an exclamation point so as not to pull that shit again.
This is in front of Counselor Grier (Lauren Halperin)—a legally employed witness to childhood trauma. Although their tactics may seem militant if not downright abusive, it’s his harsh reality of life. His parents weren’t handed anything easily, and the savings was passed down to him.
Cut to their house. Welfare comes to a knocking at their door and though the kid swears he didn’t tell on his folks, his mother fucking wants him out and implores Child Services to take him away.
Is this supposed to be a teachable moment or just unmitigated assholery? Was he never wanted, or is this a simulacrum of life, and if so, when does the lesson end? It matters none, though, as the poor kid is taken into the custody of the State. In this case, a hippie lesbian couple.
This is his new domicile… along with a lot of other children. The thing is a house is not a home unless it’s lived in and this ain’t lived in for all parties involved. In fact, it’s downright upsetting, as the couple only has black kids as their adopted kinfolk. It’s almost as if they are collectors.
Speaking of collectors, these women haven’t been paying the bills. Never mind that supper time means raw chicken and a few measly vegetables. It’s enough to make anyone pine for a fat, juicy hamburger, which Loquareeous demands. This is part of a bigger picture though. He craves normalcy like he craves actual food. The poor kid is hungry and he’s starving for something. Maybe it’s purpose. Maybe it’s familial. Maybe it’s love. He wants something that was not given to him yet, but being born under punches makes his plight that much more tragic.
Every kid deserves a good childhood, but in his mind, the shambolic nature of the house only makes him lash out. Oh, hate is a strong word, but he deploys it with fervent intent. This is evident when it boils down to their household duties.
I mean, it wouldn’t be a hippie-dippy, lovey-dovey couple if they didn’t grow their own produce. Plus, they have free labor! Yes, they force the kids to work in their garden for no money. They inculcate them with a respect that hard labor bears results (i.e. when you pick for us, we can sell it at the market).
Oh, by the by, at the farmer’s market, they have the kids out with sandwich boards, trying to entice people to their table. Oh, and also, because they don’t want to pronounce Loquareeous, they call the poor boy “Larry”. That is but one step away from “Toby”.
It pains me to spell it out, but these are modern-day slave owners, only with a better alibi.
Yes, he may have a roof over his head, but is it keeping him safe?
Seeing a prime opportunity, Loquareeous races to the one person no black person wants to hug—a cop. He tries to get arrested because anything would be better than another minute with his cracked-up caretakers. He risks death for the sake of a hot meal and something more appetizing—peace of mind.
Literally, anything would be better than these kombucha-making psychopaths, though Amber (Laura Dreyfuss) and Gayle (Jamie Neumann) defuse the situation by offering the lawman some of their tea and, because he’s white and they are too, all is copacetic.
Their wellness check couldn’t come a moment too soon, however. Gayle calls the kid a snitch, but before this could go Midsommar level, Family and Child Services is at their door. Talk about good fortune literally knocking!
Though Gayle is none too pleased about a complaint from the neighbors, she welcomes in the caseworker and is greeted with some repulsive shit. One of the girls is sick and they have no salvo. They’re hippies, über alles, and their modus operandi is to just let nature take its course. I mean, the body course corrects without the need for big pharma, right?
The situation is repulsive and three slaps seem like a goddamn dream compared to what these kids are being put through. Including their ‘dinner’ of fried chicken, which is just basically salmonella.
In his bed, that night, Loquareeous has bad dreams and it makes sense. The house is a horror show.
From seeing his mother’s head in a pickle jar to seeing the head of their dog Popcorn, their dog that eats like a goddamned king on the body of his grandfather (Timothy Tinker Sr.), who administered the three slaps.
Waking up with hunger pangs and ultimately sick, Loquareeous is now on a new journey, with everybody. Call it a family trip to the Grand Canyon. The mere mention of it had my stomach in knots and it didn’t help that there’s nothing more disturbing than seeing a caseworker’s pen and pad next to a bunch of black garbage bags in the early morning hours.
As they all drive in the rain, the kids have an unspoken shorthand for how crazy their ‘parents’ are. They are all victims under the umbrella of ‘white saviors’. The silly thing is that though crazy knows no color or no scent, you can taste it in the air.
It’s night and the van has stopped. We stop because we’ve arrived. Cornpop is set free. So are the kids.. or so we are led to believe. This belies an evil masquerading as clemency. They see their children as lost causes, a novelty to society.
The only plan is sweet release. They can die as a ‘family’.
This is a suicide pact and though Amber isn’t on board with the final denouement, she’s making her peace with fate. They are conscripting souls to an afterlife before having lived one. At least the dog got a chance at another.
What ensues is one of the most beautiful and haunting moments before two people are choosing to go to their maker, backed by the mellifluous and gorgeously morose Jessica Pratt songs. They have one aim in mind, and it just so happens that it’s in that foreboding lake (Whoah. Be gone.).
Fortunately for Loquareeous, self-preservation kicked into high gear, when the getting was good. Unfortunately, the dog went with them, as Loquareeous is a clever kid and isn’t one for leaving a traumatic situation without one last parting gift.
Off the bank, they go and cash out, which funny enough they couldn’t. They just became fodder for the next night’s fishing trip, and for an impoverished couple, ain’t that rich.
Tired and hungry, Loquareeous hoofs it back home. Yes, all throughout the dusk and into the dawn.
He’s welcomed back with that patented cold reception that somehow feels warm. Her whole reason for him going through shit was to crawl before he could walk. The world can be frigid and dismissive, harsh and unforgiving. Though he’s a little iced out, his mom still loves him and that is something earned.
Speaking of which, this happened to be all from Ern’s (Donald Glover) brain, who just had one of the most vivid dreams in television history.
Hey, welcome to Europe, I guess. New surroundings make for new thought processes, and we’re only getting started.
The episode was intense. After four years of laborious patience, we are back. As season openers go, this is easily one of my top five of all time. Based on the story of Devonte Hart, this is a tough watch but required viewing, with the scattered moments of levity serving as a palliative salve on a larger, more sinister issue in the world today.