This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Atlanta Season 3 on FX, “Three Slaps” and “Sinterklaas Is Coming to Town.”The first episode of Atlanta season 3 opens with an episode demonstrating how confident the series has become in its voice. By running nearly an entire episode without any overtly evident connection between the way the characters or story of “Three Slaps” connects to our familiar cast, it shows director Hiro Murai and writers Donald and Stephen Glover know Atlanta fans aren’t following the series for its star power but for its themes. There are, however, obvious thematic connections between the narrative of two lesbian white ladies who “foster” four Black children (before a murder/suicide)—based on the true story of Jen and Sarah Hart—and the ideas that have been explored over the course of the first two seasons of Atlanta.
Previously, the second season of Atlanta, which was subtitled “Robbin’ Season,” featured a season premiere cold open centering on unfamiliar characters involved in a robbery at a fried chicken restaurant. However, the remainder of that episode after the cold open featured a story starring main cast Earn (Donald Glover), Darius (LaKeith Stanfield), and Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry).
The third season opener also featured a cold open starring unfamiliar characters, but instead of switching back to the series’ stars like in the second season, the episode continues with unfamiliar characters until it’s eventually revealed to be a dream-within-a-dream at the conclusion of “Three Slaps,” when Earn wakes up in a European hotel room beside an unfamiliar woman. While the narrative making up the bulk of the third season opener does indeed seem like something out of a nightmare, it actually bears much more than a passing resemblance to the nonfiction story of Jen and Sarah Hart, right down to the “Free Hugs” sign and putting one of their adopted children, Devonte Hart, in a fedora (although thanks to the power of fiction and dream, Atlanta is able to give all the kids a happy ending).
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The second episode, “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town,” opens on the same scene that concluded “Three Slaps.” The story is a spin on the classic “get to the venue with all the instruments on time” trope, with Earn playing the role of a manager against unreasonable odds. We’ve seen him become increasingly comfortable with this position since Atlanta began, and at this point, he almost comes across like an old pro, handling one improbable problem after another with cunning and the unflappable attitude of a man who is becoming increasingly comfortable having his mettle tested.
With the arrival of Vanessa “Van” Keefer (Zazie Beets), the second episode in some ways played like a sequel to last year’s “Helen,” in which Earn and Van visit the eponymous town for a Fastnact celebration, which included uncomfortable racist traditions . In “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town,” another racist holiday tradition rears its ugly head, but this time, thanks to the fact that they’re on tour in Amsterdam, Atlanta is much further than a day’s drive away.
Just like “Three Slaps” is structured with a narrative loop that saw the episode bookended by people waking out of a dream based on real-world tragedy, “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town” featured a narrative circle, with the episode bookended by scenes that saw Earn waking up to urgent requests from Paper Boi based on real-world events, including Sinterklaas and Sweden’s solitary confinement of A$AP Rocky after he was involved in a barroom brawl. In the first two episodes of its third season, Atlanta continues to be an incredibly literary series, rich with themes and too dense to fully unpack without several viewings and many repeated viewings.
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