A review of this week’s Atlanta, “Trini 2 De Bone,” coming up just as soon as I try to climb into the coffin with you…
“Trini 2 De Bone” offers another anthological break from Paper Boi’s European tour. Our locale this time is New York, where Miles (Justin Hagan) and Bronwyn (Christina Bennett Lind) live in a fancy penthouse apartment with their son Sebastian (Indy Sullivan Groudis). At first, the episode seems to have the trappings of yet another horror story like the season premiere: Sebastian seems a bit distant and too eerily composed, the family’s nanny Sylvia dies under mysterious circumstances, and a package for Sylvia keeps being left at their doorstep by an unknown person.
But Sebastian instead turns out to be incredibly sweet and thoughtful beyond his years, and “Trini 2 De Bone” turns out to be a gentle and smartly satirical look about the unexpected complications of parents hiring other other people to raise their children.
Miles and Bronwyn come across as well-intentioned but largely absent figures in their son’s life. Sylvia takes him to school (and knows, unlike Bronwyn, that she should walk him all the way to the classroom). Sylvia knows how to soothe him at bedtime if he’s upset, where Bronwyn needs prompting. Bronwyn somewhat ghoulishly looks at Sylvia’s death as an opportunity for a nanny upgrade, to someone both younger and fluent in Mandarin. But it doesn’t occur to her or Miles that Sylvia was already teaching their son much more than a foreign language. She shaped his moral compass, his view of the world, even his tastebuds. (Miles wants his food covered in spicy curry mango, where Miles nearly collapses when he samples the stuff.) Miles convinces Bronwyn that they should take their son to Sylvia’s funeral as a teachable moment, but they’re the ones who come away from it learning things about their own family.
At the homegoing service, they wind up sitting next to one of Sylvia’s now grown-up charges, Curtis, a while guy from TriBeCa who nonetheless speaks with a Trinidadian patois. (And is played by Chet Hanks, who has gotten into trouble in real life a time or three for affecting a Caribbean patois.) Between Curtis’ accent and the way Sebastian enthusiastically throws himself into the service’s call and response(*), it finally begins to dawn on Miles and Bronwyn that their late nanny had a more outsized influence on their son than they had realized.
(*) Getting performances from kids that young is a roll of the dice at best, but Donald Glover (directing Jordan Temple’s script) gets exactly what the episode needs out of Indy Sullivan Groudis. He’s really funny and endearing.
And at the same time, the service reveals just how little they knew about this woman they let into their home to shape their son’s mind. Sylvia, it turns out, led a very rich and full life that included a stint dancing with the Alvin Ailey company, helping bring more members of her family to America (including a nephew who plays wide receiver for the Patriots), starting a long-running dance program at a local school, and more. To Miles and Bronwyn, Sylvia was the help — invaluable and always available, but not exactly a person to get to know in her own right. And yet Sebastian is so obviously a product of her nurturing, far more than he seems to have been influenced by anything about the two of them.
By the time the kids from the school dance program are performing to the David Rudder song that gives the episode its title, it seems like an absolutely lovely service for an absolutely lovely woman. But then things get complicated. Throughout the minister’s eulogy, we have seen the growing exasperation of one of Sylvia’s daughters, Princess Lee (Alia Raquel). Finally, she hijacks the service to offer her perspective: as great as Sylvia was to so many children, she wasn’t around as much for her own, and Princess resented that for most of her life. It is the human cost of all this. The money Sylvia made caring for Curtis, Sebastian, etc., provided for her family, but it kept her away from them. It’s not that she was more of a mother to someone like Sebastian than she was to her biological children — Princess Lee’s sister Khadija (Khadija Speer) is delighted to realize that her mom taught Sebastian the same songs and sayings that Khadija herself grew up with — but she wasn’t as available for them as she could or should have been.
And Princess Lee’s anger is like the spark to a flame, as suddenly two of the male guests are brawling, Sylvia’s sister is pleading to join her in the ground, and all other manner of inspired comic lunacy. Friend-of-the-family Devon (Brian Richardson) tries calming down the clearly frightened Sebastian by explaining that this is just how people from their culture act when they are sad, but the words do not have the intended effect.
It is, at least briefly, a wake-up call for the two people who chose to outsource the rearing of their own son. Bronwyn fears that Sebastian will one day feel about her the way Princess Lee did about Sylvia, while Miles finally opens the mysterious package when it is delivered a third time, discovering inside a set of portraits of Sylvia and Sebastian from the family picture day at school that both the parents skipped — surprised by the very expectation that they would have to show up for such a thing. Despite the big age gap and difference in skin color, Sylvia looks every bit like Sebastian’s doting mother in that photo. And as Miles kneels in the hallway studying it, “Trini 2 De Bone” playing softly in the background, he looks incredibly guilty to finally recognize what a non-presence he and Bronwyn have been for their kid.
It’s hard not to miss Al, Earn, Darius, and Van — especially when the European episodes have been so on-point and varied — but this was a really good one, feeling thematically linked to the season’s other anthology episodes without being a stylistic rehash of them.