Atlanta Season 4 Episode 5 Recap: Work Ethic!

Dreams are funny. They can turn on a dime into nightmares, but they’re still yours to own.

They can surprise you when least expected, perhaps even presenting a side you didn’t even know you had… or perhaps knew all along, but refused to check at the front gate.

Season 4 Episode 5 Recap

We open with Van (Zazie Beetz) driving with Lottie up to Chocolate Studios.

Before security, both her purse and Lottie’s backpack are checked for firearms. I’m sure they’ve had incidents…

Both she and Lottie (Austin Elle Fisher) join Chocolateland (a studio for the culture and by the culture). The tour guide informs everyone that Kirkwood’s old film stages and studios are now used as his personal office. No one gets in… or out.

Entering the main lobby, Van proceeds to sign in for filming and awaits hair and makeup.

Lottie’s hungry, but sadly, food will have to wait. Ring familiar? After minorly dodging a dodgy drug dealing dad, Van is called.

They pass a few of Chocolateland’s movie posters ranging from Tyler Perry-esque to Jordan Peele-esque. This is a factory, not an art house.

In hair and makeup, Phaedra (Madeleine Wood) seems impressed with Lottie’s behavior. It’s both their first time on a set.

Phaedra asks Van if she’s a Chocolate fan. She admits to not having watched his work in a while and admits to the gig just being a quick avenue for decent pay that supports the black arts. Her friend convinced her to do something for herself and audition. Phaedra is all the same. Damn day-players.

With that bonding moment before the handyman on set, Shamik (Xaveria Baird) arrives. Vanessa ain’t too slow in introducing herself by the name proper along with a smile.

Opening up with an establishing shot of a traditional white suburban house to audience applause, fading to the interior, both Van and Woman 1 (Candy McLellan) attempt to convince Woman 2 (Brenda Howard) to leave her husband.

Woman 2, clearly taking the Tammy Wynette approach to things, is confronted by her hubby (Joseph Benjamin) heated that she has friends over.

Before the scene can breathe, an ominous, disembodied voice is heard over a loudspeaker, putting an abrupt hold on filming.

He instructs the actor playing hubby to grab the actress playing Sondra by the shoulders and tells PA Mikey (Ja’Ness Tate) to muss up the actress’s hair.

The scene continues, with the guy demanding Van and her co-star leave before a very confident voice off-screen tells him to shut up. This is Lottie.

Mortified, Van explains to her that it’s all quiet on set when filming. The speaker, however, requests to see her.

Lottie inquires into where he is to which he responds ‘everywhere, like God.’ He’s Mr. Chocolate. Doesn’t it feel right?

He inquires why she told the ‘mean man’ to be quiet, to which Lottie responds that he was in fact being mean and with that, he’s made up his mind. He wants her in the scene and on the staircase with the only proviso that she repeats the line exactly the way she said it.

Though Van makes it a point that her daughter doesn’t act, he counteracts that everyone does.

When Lottie’s big line comes up, the entire production cracks a giggle and a smile. Mr. Chocolate is thoroughly impressed, though his monotone demeanor sounds a bit like if Werner Herzog combined with the late, great Alan Rickman, so who knows if he was happy with it?

Mr. Chocolate calls cut to move it in the can and move on to the next scene.

Lottie wasn’t in previous scenes, and though Mr. Chocolate assures her that they’ll fix it in-post, the Post Department had been begging them to fix all roadblocks in pre-production.

Mr. Chocolate will need Lottie in the next scene, which will require a little more time, including a wardrobe fitting. Van doesn’t seem the happiest.

Lottie is smitten with dressing up. She asks the wardrobe lady, Marcie (Nicole Samuel Washington) if she could wear it, to which she is met with an ‘up to you, Mother-Darlin’’ as Mr. Chocolate says whatever she wants to wear is fine.

Van confides in Marcie that she’s kind of nervous for her daughter, but is assured that because she seems excited, will adapt just fine. Van’s just worried that Lottie doesn’t understand the bigger picture of what she’s about to participate in and how it can be a siren call.

Marcie’s the second behind-the-scenes to ask about the movies she’s seen. Van can only conjure up a movie where a woman marries an angel titled “Do Not Be Afraid”. Van’s not a Christian. She’s spiritual, which seems the most even-keeled, prompting Marcie to reflect with a verse: “Whoever doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child won’t enter it.” Think about that.

Radiant, Lottie shows mom her new digs. Van tells her that if she feels uncomfortable for any reason to give her the thumbs down signal and that they’re ghosts, zero fucks given, and have her solidify that promise with their own personal handshake.

In the rewrite, Lottie is playing Van’s former scene friend’s daughter. Lottie’s the one to say she doesn’t like the way her husband treats her. A new actress, Lottie’s on-screen friend, tells her that her momma’s crazy. Lottie gets a nice little comeback before cracking up one of the production hands.

Mr. Chocolate is pleased. Van checks on Lottie, who is all smiles and thumbs up!

The other stage mom (Jacinte Blankenship) tells Van they need to stick together. She believes that Mr. Chocolate loves Lottie so much, maybe her own daughter can go on this showbiz journey with her i.e. swimming in her slipstream. All about the money. Ring familiar?

Van writes off the day as just a little adventure, but the mother thinks Lottie’s not only a knack for the stage but also a love for it. Van thinks her daughter should take the show instead, and though she agrees, she knows she’s not the right ‘type’, hence wanting an alliance.

Before Van could even think to get out of the situation, Lottie’s already been moved to the next scene. She’s in 14 more.

Van, becoming uneasy, requests to see Mr. Chocolate himself, to which she is denied. Van at least wants to get to the Tommy Lister Memorial Stage, where Lottie will be filming and Shamik’s more than eager to escort.

She’s from here, the ATL. He’s from New Orleans. She denies being an actress. He thinks they are naturals, which elicits a smile.

He got into maintenance due to being incarcerated when he was younger, but Mr. Chocolate’s program helped him gain employment. Van doesn’t mind the flirtation.

Before he departs, he leaves her with his card before smoothly slinking away. Methinks new opportunities present themselves for both mother and daughter today.

With an establishing shot of a plantation with the sound of cannon fire in the distance, we fade into a weeping Lincoln with a slave simply calling him a “white piece of shit”, telling him she hopes he gets shot in the theatre.

Mr. Chocolate deems ‘Cut’ and a set flip, though it was blocking, not filming. He’ll have them fix it in Post.

Van asks the director about the whereabouts of her daughter. She’s been moved to the John Witherspoon stage. The director claims that she’s directing two pilots and starring in another, so only Mr. Chocolate truly knows what’s going on at any moment.

Van deploys the word ‘unacceptable’ just as Earn did when offered bottled water in his holding room, waiting for D’Angelo. Just like him, Van demands answers. The director sees that the red light on the speaker is off, so this “tiny” window of time allows her to comply.

Van accuses Kirkwood of kidnapping. This will just be a blip once Lottie wins a BET award. Van bristles because Lottie’s scene partner is resigned to eating a literal crack sandwich. They both laugh making His Highness out to be some rebel auteur. So much fun!

Everybody under his employ seems to eat his shit up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as if they were brainwashed.

Van questions herself, knowing that she wouldn’t even let Lottie watch the crap produced on the very same lot she’s on. She knows the output is pure brain-rot, but I guess look at the myriad NAACP and BET awards he’s won.

He’s done a lot for the community. Ring familiar?

Seeing an enraptured production staff, Van can only see her daughter through the monitors, viewing her ‘mother’ eating a crack sandwich.


This is what it’s come down to.

Before Van can get to Lottie, she’s out of sight.

Mr. Chocolate has big plans for Lottie. This place is seeming more and more like a Boxed-In-Building than a sand fort.

Even Security cannot help Van out, as he’s also an intern. Oh, great. Free labor. Ring familiar?

Van’s now alone and confused, perhaps even scared; things that she fears her daughter is feeling at this very moment.

Staring up at the speaker, the red light off, she demands the box on the carpeted wall return to her that which she came with. It simply responds “No.”

Van ain’t having that, and immediately busts through the Exit. Red sign, carpeted walls, tight spot? Did the first episode foreshadow the rest of the season?

Random as the universe is, when you create one, the power is in your hands. Just ask Mr. Chocolate.

That is until someone decides to wrestle the universe and its chaos.

Storming the lot with a fire in her eyes and Little Simz’ “Point and Kill” as her bugle call, Van is loaded for bear.

Marcie tries to get her attention. Not today. She’s a lioness after her cub.

She gets up to the office, sentineled by two armed guards.

Demanding entry, insisting he has her daughter, Van breaks down. The tank has fallen before it even-

Wait. Marcie offers a calming word along with a true bullet in one of their feet.

She ain’t playing and yep, and yes, their guns are fugazi. Let’s see if this Wizard is as well.

After a hallway and climb, Van opens the door to a discordant piano is heard. Could it fucking be the rainbow one?

Inside is a goddamn mess with seemingly endless rolls of paper scattered about with the pecking of a typewriter pealing.

Continuing further in, she sees someone in a robe pounding away at the piano.

His playing stops, as does the typing. This is Mr. Chocolate (Donald Glover), just writing on his “Key-ano”, which turns words into notes. It’s the sound of the universe. Messy, ugly, unfunny, and sad. Steve Jobs crafted up the contraption for him, so par for the course.

Van just wants her daughter back.

He points her out on screen, on the Mario Van Peebles Stage. Van goes to exit, but he promises Lottie will have already moved on to the next scene and the next stage. He just doesn’t know where that next stage is.

Admitting to not understanding the ‘whole operation’ i.e. universe with its wants and needs, and not being able to control it, Chocolateland is a child out of his control. That hits very hard as a screenwriter when it comes to actual studios.

Ironically, he spouts for a line of dialogue that isn’t germane to the subject matter of the scene, willing it anyway. Fucking charlatan.

She threatens to call the police, but he claims to own them.

Cornering her, he claims Lottie as his before she slings hot grits to the face.

Screaming in agony before claiming to be fine, impervious to them, composes. Is it an allusion to Al Green?

She sees the forest for the trees. The dude’s a con-man, making unrelatable pablum for monetary gain and fame, but before she twists the knife, Mikey and Lottie enter.

Running back footage of her day, he with insouciance recreates a narrative out of spying. A single mother (Van) who could barely afford to feed her child (Lottie), a hip best friend (Phaedra), an incarcerated light-skinned love interest (Shamik), and a Christian, pistol-packing grandmother (Marcie).

With this knowledge, he claims her as one of his own.

Van admits to being a living cliche, but also rebuttals by telling him he’s no artist.

Viewing himself as higher, and much like his chum, Mr. Jobs, he fancies himself a philanthropist and wants to offer Lottie 6 seasons of a series that would set her into her 20s. Ring familiar?

Vanessa wants none of that, much to her daughter’s protestations.

She digs her foot and is met with the type of pushback you would get from a little girl who’s tasted fame.

To be fair, that’s all Mr. Chocolate is- a crack sandwich. Feels good at the moment, but is ultimately toxic.

After a heart-to-heart at home, Van realizes that her dreams are just a bubble to be popped as well. All Shamik wanted was a quick hookup.

Season 4 Episode 5 Takeaway

The Herzog reference with a God of Wrath thing I didn’t miss.

This had a very big Teddy Perkins vibe, with Donald Glover playing the enigmatic Kirkwood. The dude sure knows how to direct the hell out of himself.

Like Earn, Vanessa is driven. This is a stand-alone episode of hers and I adore it.

We all want to be liked, applauded, and praised for a good job, but at what cost?

This is the middle of the final season. Wisdom is gained, whereas worries are for those that haven’t been achieved.

This is also reprobation of Shonda Rhymes and Tyler Perry. In employing POC, they kowtow to the lowest common denominator all the while masquerading as inspirational success stories.

Is it a zero-sum game with others trying to elevate black excellence? Or is it just digging the hole deeper?

Stars 5/5.

Robert Kijowski
Robert Kijowski
Robert Kijowski is a script writer who enjoys a good chuckle and an even better weep when indulging in art both good and even better bad. He's written for pop culture and film websites alike. You can hear him on Spotify (After the Credits) and reach out on Instagram, X or by English Carrier Pigeon.

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Dreams are funny. They can turn on a dime into nightmares, but they're still yours to own. They can surprise you when least expected, perhaps even presenting a side you didn't even know you had... or perhaps knew all along, but refused to check at...Atlanta Season 4 Episode 5 Recap: Work Ethic!