by Bryan Washington | via Vulture
The episode is called “Champagne Papi,” but that really isn’t who we’re talking about at all. Van, in her second solo-ish episode this season, is spending the night out with her girls, one of whom has the plug to get into a party with Drake. In the midst of getting ready for the night, she catches a blip of Earn on one of her feeds, and decides that she’s ready to “replace Earn with Drake.” So, once again, we’re given a quest! Get a photo with Drake. And we’re subjected to the ways in which people position themselves for a chance at fame — if not to have it, then at least to touch it, or even just to breathe the air around it — and the illusory nature of an ephermerally IG-able lifestyle whose means often outweigh the ends.
In virtually every episode, Atlanta has shown us how perception is often far from reality (if not in an entirely different galaxy altogether), and as with the Spotify episode and the Juneteenth episode and Teddy Perkins, no good comes from our protagonists’ exposure to vast, uncapped amounts of wealth. En route to the van that’ll take the women to their venue, after giving a secret code, with a number of other women who don’t really have any idea where they’re going, we’re led from a random parking lot to the foot of another sprawling mansion. A gentleman at the entrance to the venue says, “Welcome to paradise — IDs out.” A woman presents a sheet of paper, claiming that not only does it have Drake’s signature, but that she was personally invited. As she’s physically escorted away, we have the episode’s thesis in a metaphor: In an effort to get “put on” for a literal minute, folk are willing to give up just about everything else.
But the party goes on. After accepting gummy bear edibles, Van and her friends find themselves in varying degrees of intoxication almost immediately. It provides a nice segue each of their narrative threads: One friend is in pursuit of an actor named Devyonne Johnson (or, more specifically, to give his white partner a thorough read for being “cliché”); another friend, deemed a “nun” during their pregame, is just trying to negotiate her newfound god-high; the third friend is looking to solidify her relationship with DJ the Barber (who is, apparently, also a DJAnd who, when the women ask to meet Drake, notes that, “He’s floating around somewhere.” (As we discover later, literally, “en al avión.”) It’s our first clue that something’s amiss. ); and then there’s Van, who says she’s looking for Drake. But, really, Drake is a stand-in for something she can’t put a name to, a thing that isn’t defined for the audience. It’s an intangible thing, and there’s no telling where she’ll find it, so we may as well be searching for the 6-God because, honestly, what could be more elusive than the idea of him?
But Van runs into trouble along the way. In an attempt to calm down her super-high friend, she runs into a guy who immediately and overzealously decides that he’s going to help her. There are few series on television as adept as cultivating doom onscreen as Atlanta, and there is a rising dread as we realize, right along with Van, that Brandon is not a good guy, that he could in fact be a bad one. He arrived a little too early. He knows the entirety of the mansion’s layout. He’s standing very, very, very close to Van, whom he immediately describes as his “friend,” and so our hero decides to make her escape into the bathroom, and then another floor of the house entirely. It’s worth noting that we haven’t really, not once in this entire series, seen what another television show might attempt to convince us is a good dude. Maybe that’s the point, that it’s less about our being told who they are via easy answers than our looking at them and deciding for ourselves. (Or, alternatively, men generally and specifically aren’t shit.)
Elsewhere, the structure of the party allows for other storylines resurface: Darius (who knows everyone“I know Drake’s chef, Guillermo, from the glorious days of pick-up soccer” is my favorite line of television I’ve heard this year. ) has made his way to the party like he’s teleported in from some whole other plane of existence, and in his own way is comforting the high friend who still hasn’t come down. He asks if she’s familiar with Bostrom’s simulation argument. They decide that nothing is real. And that conversation almost makes up for the confrontation between Van’s other friend and the white woman she’s made it her mission to read: It’s not that it isn’t a funny scene (it is), or an appropriately uncomfortable one (it’s that, too), but it is also one that we’ve seen many times before. Which makes it feel out of place. Atlanta has made itself a hallmark for subverting and innovating these kinds of tropes, and reiterating a theme that’s so well-trodden makes what would be a standout moment in any other series a weak one here. No lies came from either woman’s mouth, but the trope of a dark-skinned woman berating a white woman for having a black partner is almost as cliché as the “story” being called out. We’re not left with anything new to take away; you’re telling us what we already know.
Click HERE to read the rest of the recap, “Champagne Papi.”