After dipping into Earn, Paper Boi and Van’s efforts to improve their lives and their families’ status over the past few episodes, Atlanta viewers finally got a look into Earn and Van’s strained relationship in the ninth episode of the series as the on-and-off couple tried to set a blueprint of healthy co-parenting by any means necessary.
Since being fired from her teaching job over a drug test gone awry, Van has been on a mission to outsource income through networking, which brings her and Earn to a Juneteenth-themed party (a celebration of the anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States) at a well-off interracial couple’s luxury home. There, things get quite awkward and their bond is tested. From trying to impress the attendees by pretending they’re a married couple to abruptly leaving the event and making out in the car, Earn and Van’s relationship has seen sunnier days, but still feels unbreakable regardless of the drama they endure.
Here are the most awkward yet relatable moments from Atlanta’s ninth episode.
White Man Craig
Earn and Van meet Monique’s husband, Craig, a Malcolm X-quoting white man with deep interest in black culture and equal parts spirited and annoying banter. After Craig asked what he does for a living, Earn offered that he worked in music management, but kept details about Paper Boi hush. “A brother on the business side of music,” Craig said intrigued, later waxing poetic about how music is an integral part of black expression, yet has been stripped by the community. “Black music artists are products for white American consumption and appropriation,” he said.
Earn was visibly confused about Craig’s motives: Is this a joke or real-life? The conversation grew even weirder when Craig found out that Earn had never been to Africa. “You gotta go!,” he said, offering Earn a glass of Hennessy. After citing pilgrimage and forgiveness as the reasons for his trip, the awkward conversation with Craig got weirder when he asked Earn about which part of “the motherland” he’s from. “I don’t know. This spooky thing called slavery happened and my entire ethnic identity was erased,” Earn quipped as Craig laughed and put his hand on his leg. Too close for comfort.
Alliteration Gone Wrong
The fixed cocktail menu at the Juneteenth party was all bad and we mean not good. Upon entering Craig and Monique’s luxury home, Van asked Earn to grab her a vodka cranberry. Simple, right? Earn repeated her order at the bar as the well-dressed bartender barked back, “We aren’t equipped to make that,” pointing to the cocktail: Juneteenth Juice, Frozen Freedom Margarita, Emancipation Eggnog, Plantation Master Poison, Abolition & Absinthe, Underground Railroad, and Forty Acres and a Moscow Mule. Earn went with the Plantation Master Poison.
The Unbreakable Bond of Co-Parenting
Tied together by their daughter, Lonnie, Van and Earn’s relationship is hanging by a thread. The episode began with Van picking up Earn from an apartment where he had a half-naked girl at his side. En route to the Juneteenth celebration, Van and Earn get into a fight about the party, but not really. “Monique is really good for me,” Van said of the hostess. “She knows people and they’re all going to be there. It’s also good for Lonnie.” Earn quickly fired back, asking, “Why else do you think I’d be here?”
With guests automatically assuming they’re married, Earn as the Ivy League graduate and Van his loving wife, they saved face for the sake of potential connections at the lavish event. The charade brought forward some strong solidarity between the two that viewers haven’t seen before, hinting that their deeper connection is still there, somewhere.
“Do you think I’m happy having to prostitute myself for an opportunity?,” Van asked Earn during the event. “Do you think that I am happy that I need you here in order to do that? Can we for once just pretend that we aren’t who we are?” But as much as Van wanted to pretend for the sake of Monique’s approval, the bourgeois lady revealed that her own life isn’t all glitz and glamour either. “You don’t think I know how crazy my husband is? This whole black people as a hobby. I get this big ass house and he gets the black wife he always wanted,” she scoffed to Van on her private balcony. “That’s marriage — I love Craig, but I love my money.” As much as providing for her daughter is heavy on her mind, the convo was a wakeup call to Van.
“Van does everything. She works, she raises our child, she’s smarter than me, better than me. I mean, that’s why I married her … Gun to my head, I don’t think I could even look at another woman,” Earn told a group of guests at the party. As sweet as the gesture seemed, Van didn’t take too kindly to it, running off to cry in the bathroom. “You’re mean,” she told him as Earn tried to apologize. On the way home anger turned to love again, proving once again that their relationship is a work in progress.