After last week’s form-breaking, politically urgent episode, it was always going to be difficult for Atlanta to reach the same heights this week. “The Club” is much more in line with the rest of the season, but even as it’s less ambitious, it’s still a pretty strong episode. And paired chronologically with “B.A.N,” it comes as a reality check for both Earn and Alfred after the last episode showed Paper Boi becoming a flashpoint of controversy. Rather than looking at the outside forces that have inflated Alfred’s presence, this episode is all about dragging him back down to Earth.
Even when they’re being paid to just sit there and drink, Earn and Alfred really don’t like the club. Or at least that’s what they’re telling everyone who will listen. The episode begins with a look at the relativity of fame, as Alfred, Earn, and Darius sit together in an empty VIP area sipping bad champagne. Alfred’s long imagined that women would just flock to him by this point, but he can’t even get random girls to wave back at him.
Any ideas of luxury have been thoroughly blunted by the recognition that Alfred’s still small fry. The only one who’s paying attention to him is an overly intense dude who’s reciting all of his lyrics to him like he’s on his way to re-enacting Tyler the Creator’s “Colossus.” And it only adds insult to injury when the DJ announces that NFL star Marcus Miles is in the club to the sounds of rapturous praise. Paper Boi is the afterthought, announced to a few pity claps.
Earn experiences his disappointments of his own as he tries to take control of his role as manager by going to get the $5,000 that was promised for this club appearance. After sliding and pushing his way through a lot of drunk people, he finally finds the club owner, Chris (Lucius Baston), who tells Earn to follow him to the back to get the money.
It’s only another minute before Earn realizes he’s going to have to pin down Chris, the smooth operator with an assortment of tricks to slip out of Earn’s grasp. This is Earn’s moment, though. He needs to take care of business, even if it means running after Chris, who easily cloaks himself in the crowd.
Eventually, Earn finds him again, but Chris pulls out a new distraction method, handing Earn two shots that he says need to go to two women on the other side of the room. It’s an easy ruse, but Earn falls for it. The two girls look at him with disgust as he tries to hand them drinks, left standing there in a moment of impotence. Nothing can ever be easy for him.
Darius is facing his own frustrations with the limits of “fame.” He’s happily riding on the coattails of Paper Boi, but even being in the inner circle only gets him so far, as we’re shown in an encounter with a bouncer (Roscoe Johnson). Being his dopey, deeply likable self, Darius tries to befriend the bouncer, fist bumping him and asking questions about his job. He thinks he’s made a new acquaintance, and he’s only too happy to hang out with his friends before going to watch people smoke.
When he comes back, it’s a different story. The same bouncer who he was just vibing with is stonewalling him, and bugging him about how he doesn’t have the right wristband. He’s saying that he doesn’t know him, and he’s not letting him back into VIP. In the short time he was gone, the VIP started heating up. Before, there were no stakes, but now, people actually care about being in there, and Darius is just another schmo. Kindness doesn’t mean anything.
After finally tracking Chris down again, Earn follows him into the bathroom so as not to lose him. Earn is pissed, and he just wants to go home, but he puts up a front of seriousness as he and Chris stop at the bar for a conciliatory drink. Earn hasn’t even finished his drink when Chris disappears into a revolving door straight out of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The bartender (Jessica A. Caesar) saw the whole thing, and she can’t help but laugh. She’s a keen observer of human behavior, and knows more about Earn and the people at the club than he could have imagined. She’s trying to be nice, pouring him shots, but Earn can’t stop complaining. “Leave, no one is keeping you here,” she says, before Earn tries to counter. “Wrong,” he says, with a sense of smug satisfaction. “I’m here for work,”
The bartender has her own philosophy about the club, though, picking out random people and describing their motive for being here. As she says, “If you at the club, you want to be here.” She’s not wrong. Everybody is trying to feel better about themselves, whether they’re on the prowl for a boyfriend or girlfriend or just want the ego boost of knowing they’re attractive.
It’s that same thought process that leads to Alfred feeling cheated by the club. While Earn was flagging down Chris and Darius is playing Zoo Tycoon at home, Alfred was playing his own posturing game, buying bottles for strangers at the club, and having a satisfying conversation with a girl (Antoinette Robertson). But those are all temporary pleasures, as he finds out that the girl has a boyfriend, and a bunch of random dudes are running up his tab.
It’s only after these failures that a deeply drunk Earn comes back from his night-long adventure with about ten percent of the cash. Earn was able to find Chris, thanks to that bartender who helpfully told him about using the fire alarm to get into the revolving door, but that’s not enough. Earn doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to Chris when he starts running through the reasons he’s docking their fee.
Alfred, on the other hand, has no qualms about getting his money by force. Bursting into the backroom, Alfred picks up Chris and slams him on the desk, asking for his full fee, before smacking Chris with that same wad of cash. He might not be the celebrity he thought he was, but he’ll gladly back up his reputation as someone dangerous, even if it means that he’s going to pay for it.
Future, “Real Sisters”
Young Dro, “We In Da City”
Crime Mob, “Knuck If You Buck”
Young Thug, “Digits”
Hard Times, “Baby Huey”
Little Beaver, “I Can Dig It Baby”
Michael Snydel is a Chicago-based film and tv critic who has somehow tricked other people into reading his thoughts on the things he loves for years. His interests include intimate psychological thrillers, teen soaps and Krautrock. He writes regularly for Paste Magazine, is a co-host of The Film Stage Show, and has had by-lines at The Film Stage, Ebert Voices, Movie Mezzanine, and Vague Visages. You can follow him on Twitter at @Snydel.