Lessons We Learned From 'Atlanta' Episode 3 About the Art of Finessing

Donald Glover as Earnest Marks in Atlanta.
Guy D'Alema/FX

Donald Glover as Earnest Marks in Atlanta.

Donald Glover's already-acclaimed FX series Atlanta is shaping up to be one of the best new television series we never knew we needed. The show's Sept. 6 debut reeled in 3 million viewers, the most-watched premiere for an original comedy since 2011, according to a press release.

For the third episode titled "Go for Broke," onscreen cousins Earn (played by Glover) and Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) represent two different views of hustling by any means necessary. While Earn has $92 to his name and gets frequent scoldings from his baby's mom Van, Paper Boi has an influx of dough from drug dealing with his buddy, Darius, but has to watch his every move.

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Here, Billboard breaks down the lessons we learned in the art of finessing from Earn and company. Note: Don't try these at home. 

Ask for water, pour in soda

"Only a kid can get a kid's meal," a McDonald’s manager barked at Earn when he tried to purchase the meal. In the opening for "Go for Broke," the Princeton dropout finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, trying to order a kid's meal in a hushed and embarrassed tone due to a lack of funds. He then asked for a water cup, filling it up with Orange Fanta without an ounce of shame. (It’s even crazier to think that filling up the freebie cup with soda instead of water like 18-year-old Cody Morris did in an Arkansas McDonald's could result in a potential felony robbery.) Nevertheless, when Earn locks eyes with a woman mopping the floor, he places one hand over his mouth, signaling her to keep quiet as he dashes out. 

Report a missing debit card after a pricey meal

"I’m in a bed and I’m technically homeless. It’s pretty great," Earn tells Van with a smile during pillow talk just before she blows up on him for failing to help her support their daughter. Making just $5.25 an hour plus commission at the airport by pitching vacations to travelers who could honestly care less, his financial contributions are little to none. With just $96 to his name ($62 after calculating expenses for the week and a MARTA card for transportation), he still has high hopes of treating Van to a romantic dinner date, even after his co-worker refers to him as "12 Years a Slave" for being broke on payday. Still, he manages to pay for dinner at a restaurant he couldn't afford despite desperate calls to his cousin for a money transfer then reports his debit card stolen.

Make ends meet -- in the streets

Even though his profile has risen thanks to a viral hit, Paper Boi still has one foot in the game and the other in the streets. When Earn questions him about his income, he’s straightforward about selling drugs. His right-hand man Darius chimes in, telling Earn, "You might as well sell drugs. It’s easy, it’s lucrative. People are addicted to it." Paper Boi explains he plans to sell it until he gets rich. For now, pushing drugs serves as a viable source of income that has given him a roof over his head, plenty of weed to smoke, fly clothes and studio time to get his rap career off the ground.

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Get rich or die trying

When Paper Boi and Darius take a journey to Buford Highway for a drug-related reup, they find themselves apprehensive and ready to abort mission. Rap trio Migos made a surprise cameo during the episode as the drug cartel. Quavo, taking the reins on speaking parts, portrayed a menacing dealer, fatally shooting a guy who seemingly didn’t come through on his end of the deal. As the lead dealer, he becomes suspicious of Paper Boi's request for a large drug order, especially after just being arrested. Earn’s call about his pricey date interrupts, and luckily, Paper Boi and Darius make it out alive.

Stick to your own terms

Just like his father warned in the season opener, "When [Earn] wants to do something, he does it -- on his own terms." This statement holds true for episode 3. When Earn and Van discuss security and stability, he voices his belief in failing in order to discover what actually works. Van is more traditional with her views, pushing aside his follow-your-dreams mantra to focus on the tools needed for their daughter to survive. After dinner, the same discussion swells as Earn says, "I know I have a daughter and I know she deserves the best, but I don't think I have to compromise what I want out of life to do that. Especially if I think it's gonna provide for her. You know me, Van. I can do this. I just gotta do it my way. And if you can't do this out of love for me, do this out of love for her." However, Van fired back, "That's some dumb shit. That’s some dumb-ass shit, Earn." Recall how Earn stuck to his DIY mentality last episode, befriended a radio station janitor and helped Paper Boi's record land on the air.