Atlanta Season 1 Ep. 9 Recap: 'Juneteenth'

Courtesy: Guy D'Alema/FX

"Can we for once, just pretend we aren't who we are?" Van says, or more accurately, snaps to Earn during a short but tense exchange while attending a party baring the episode's title. If last week's "The Club" firmly grounded Earn, Alfred and Darius in a familiar environment, "Juneteenth" places he and Van in a fish-out-of-water territory, with biting, hilarious results.

When we last spent time with Van, she'd had a run-in with her former bestie/future WAG/Basketball Wife/Real Housewife Jayde, smoked a little weed, and lost her job after confessing to her boss. We don't get an update on her job status, but clearly she and Earn haven't moved on up in the interim. Why else would she bite her tongue (to a point) at having to pick him up at another woman's apartment and the fact he smells like a dime sack, without even having the foresight to bring a change of close, a mini-bottle of Febreeze and some Clear Eyes along to hide the high? I mean that's just common courtesy.

Their forced coupledom is all in service of a Juneteenth celebration being hosted by Monique, a casual friend of Van's. If Jayde was a portrayal of profession girlfriend on the come up, Monique is the preening belle of the bougie ball, her queenly court including a group of men singing Negro spirituals, slave ship-shaped hors d'oeuvres and a drink list that includes such spirits as Emancipation Eggnog and Plantation Master Poison. In order to present herself as the perfect southern belle-in-waiting, Van has omitted and added a few details about the state of she and Earn's relationship; one being that he's either still in or graduated from Princeton, and that they're married. However, Monique has connections to the cream of ATL's black upper-middle class crop, and if Mama has to endure an afternoon trapped in what Earn calls "a Spike Lee-directed Eyes Wide Shut" then so be it.

Earn, true to form, can barely stomach the whole scene, and has to fight the urge to go off on Craig, Monique's husband. You see, Craig, like Dr. Holt from "B.A.N.," fancies himself a woke white person who nonetheless spends every interaction with Earn making his entire identity about his race. Come to think of it, he reminds me more of a male version of Everybody Hates Chris' Ms. Morello. Could you imagine if those two ever hooked up? Infants and children of Africa, watch out! And guard your hair! But movin' on.

At first glance, Monique seems to her head as far up her own ass as much as her diluted hubby (did I mention Monique says things like hubby with no irony?), but in a woman-to-woman talk with Van, proves herself to be clear eyed about what checks she had to cash to pay for the cushy life she desires. She knows how insane her husband's fetish for the melanin, or as she calls it "black people as a hobby"comes off--an addiction to privilege so fiendish he had the ball-faced nerve to criticize her 95-year-old grandma's collard greens! A cardinal sin punishable by death, or at the very least a lifetime ban from eating soul food. However, Monique puts up with the Martin reruns and terrible spoken word poetry comparing living under Jim Crow to Poltergeist because she loves the coin.

"Only way to stay fed in this world is to keep the right company," she tells Van at one point, and again, it's hard not to think Jayde's speech about value isn't ringing in Van's ears at that moment. From Monique to Jayde to the mum pastor's wife, she's constantly being confronted with women who have chosen to build their lives around satisfying men's egos or fulfilling their fantasies, at the expense of cultivating a real relationship. Earn doesn't help matters when later, her showers with compliments in front a group of ladies, then sticks the knife in by saying he could never look at another woman. It sends her sprinting to the bathroom mirror, tearing up as she asks her reflection what the hell is she doing.

The final straw for Earn comes when two young guys recognize him as Paperboi's manager and ask for autographs (one guy even brought his sister's panties, cause ya' never know) and Monique throws salt on Alfred, dismissing him as a trifling thug. With that gloves proceed to come off, as Earn calls the shindig wack, Monique stupid and for the good of all long-suffering black folk reams out Craig for being too-likable, tone-deaf tool. On the ride home, Van asks Earn to pull over, then begins making out with him as cars pass by.

For all their drama and the uncertainty of their current situation, Earn and Van clearly have an honest connection with one another. Earn may be an aimless, often prickly dude, but one thing he'll likely never be is one who desires a puppet instead of a partner.

Other Thoughts:

--One episode left in Atlanta's inaugural season, and your guess is as good as mine as to what the finale will be, given the show's nature. But hopefully we'll see all the major players in action when things wrap up next week.

--Earn on the staircase singers: "Are they up for auction after the party?"

--Am I the only one semi-interested in seeing a production of With Tail Between Legs?