A review of this week’s Atlanta, “Andrew Wyeth, Alfred’s World,” coming up just as soon as I blame DeSoto for this bullshit…
After a one-week detour into extremely goofy territory, Atlanta returns to the main cast — and, for that matter, to the woods — for “Andrew Wyeth, Alfred’s World.” The title is a riff on Wyeth’s famous painting “Christina’s World,” depicting a neighbor of Wyeth’s crawling towards the house in the stark landscape. Late in the episode, we even see director Hiro Murai stage his own version of the iconic image, with Al staring at a house across the river that feels much too far to get to on his belly.
The circumstances are otherwise wildly different. Christina had a degenerative muscular condition; Al has just injured his foot and ankle in a tractor accident. And, in fact, most of the episode is about him being punished for his overconfidence about rural life.
Back in “Crank Dat Killer,” Soulja Boy suggested that Al buy a “safe farm” to avoid the dangers of the city. But we know that less urban territory comes with its own dangers, as Al himself witnessed back in “Woods” from Season Two. He is much richer now, and in theory better equipped for survival, as we see in the opening scene, in which he takes target practice in the forest, first with a pistol, then with an automatic rifle that easily compensates for his limited marksmanship. He has quiet, his own little grow house where he can tend lovingly to his marijuana plants, and no one around to force him into his trademark scowl.
Al lives in the city, but he immediately takes to the country, finding joy in the task of repairing an abandoned tractor he finds on one of his walks. But he twice fails to heed the warning of the host of a YouTube channel called “These Backhoes Ain’t Loyal.” The first time is when he just barely slides out from under the rusty old machine before it would have fallen off a jack and crushed him to death. Eventually, though, Al gets the thing moving, and it is the happiest and most enthusiastic we have ever seen him, by a wide margin. We know he does not love rap. He does not enjoy being famous, though he finds some small pleasures in the swag he gets and some of the people he gets to meet as a result of Paper Boi’s success. He has only so much patience for Earn or Darius, has barely been glimpsed in relationships over the life of the show, and couldn’t even have a proper drug trip last season. There is a lot of money in Alfred Miles’ life, but a minimal amount of joy. It is a wonder to see Brian Tyree Henry get to play the flip side of this character after all this time, in the same way we got to appreciate Earn finally speaking from the heart in his own trip to the woods a couple of weeks ago.
But this leads us to the second instance of how this particular backhoe ain’t loyal, when Al’s triumphant ride ends in catastrophe, with the tractor rolling into a ditch and catching Al’s ankle in it along the way.
We’ve already seen him literally laugh at the threats posed by nature, cackling at the suggestion of Clyde, the local hardware store clerk, that the animals breaking into the grow house are feral hogs, and that said hogs could put Al into mortal danger. But when Al finally manages to crawl home, hours after surviving the tractor crash, he finds a couple of the nasty beasts wandering around on his property — and one of them zeroes in on him.
Like the open shooter incident from “Crank Dat Killer,” the hog charging at Al is at once scary and utterly ridiculous, as a desperate Al muscles the thing into a headlock, then beats it to death with the cast iron skillet that just arrived from Amazon(*).
(*) On the one hand, Amazon does not offer anything remotely like the customer service that Clyde gives Al, as we see when the delivery driver has her headphones on, and thus is unable to hear Al screaming for help at the top of his lungs. On the other hand, the package being on his front steps is the only thing that allows him to survive the attack, whereas if he had waited for Clyde to order one — and/or if he’d put one of Clyde’s inside in the kitchen — he would have been hog food in short order. So hooray for economy-wrecking super-conglomerates, I guess?
He has spent most of the episode basking in the wild country, ignoring Earn’s calls, watching nature documentaries when it’s too dark to be out walking. He has been desperate and alone, has called out for the delivery driver’s help, has barely defeated a feral hog in mortal combat. Yet in spite of all this, he still doesn’t tell Earn what has happened, ask him to come get him, or anything. When last we see him, his foot is bandaged and being iced, and he’s laughing as he and Earn discuss the notion of Black people getting sunburnt. But contrary to Earn’s speculation that his cousin doesn’t like it out there, Al seems to be enjoying country living just fine. Paper Boi has improbably found peace.
That final exchange includes a much weightier line than Earn intends, when he tells Al, “Atlanta’s not going anywhere, y’know?” The city is not, but the TV show named for it goes away one week from tonight. That’s it. No more. Finis. And just as “Snipe Hunt” felt like it was putting a button on Earn and Van’s story, this one plays as if it could easily be the conclusion to Al’s. The episode even concludes with “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” sung beautifully by Georgia’s own Ray Charles.
Given the way this show operates, anything could happen next week. It could be a Darius curtain call to match these other two episodes. It could be a pure ensemble piece, perhaps about the gang getting together one more time before Earn’s family heads to L.A. It could be one last anthology story, perhaps this time exploring the true origins of the “Counselor Budnick” episode of Salute Your Shorts. We have no way of knowing. All we can do, one last time, is enjoy whatever ride Donald Glover and company choose to take us on. These backhoes may not be loyal, but we have become very loyal to this unpredictable and marvelous show.