The Season 3 finale of “Atlanta” delivered a fitting conclusion to Donald Glover’s European tour, as if any other conclusion was imaginable. Accents that sound like they’re from France. Baguettes that are stale and bloody Food that can be eaten with your fingers. “Tarrare” featured an Ashanti-dancing, bikini-bottomed, masturbating-in-shame Alexander Skarsgard.
Most importantly, Episode 10 shed light on Van’s (Zazie Beetz) experiences on her sudden journey to Europe. She’d popped in and out of previous episodes with little explanation for her whereabouts or mental state, but in “Tarrare,” she takes on a completely new persona. Van is engaged to be married to a Frenchman. She is his sous-chef as well as his server. She intends to relocate her daughter to Paris permanently. However, an unannounced visit from Candice (Adriyan Rae), a friend and fellow Atlantan, compels Van to confront not only her current situation, but also the terrifying event that drove her to escape her home in the first place.
“Tarrare,” written by “Atlanta” executive producer Stefani Robinson, gives resolution to numerous Season 3 arcs — or as much clarity as the series’ bizarre, ambiguous, and mischievous nature allows. Van’s arc, the episode’s influences, where things stand heading into Season 4, and yes, Skarsgard’s commitment to the role of a lifetime: himself, were all discussed with the award-winning writer by IndieWire.
The interview below has been gently modified for clarity and concision.
Stefani Robinson: On Facebook, I came across a Wikipedia page on this guy. He was one of the members of the Cool Freaks’ Wikipedia group on Facebook, which is simply a gathering of people who share intriguing, weird, and creepy Wikipedia articles. When I still had Facebook, I read that and thought to myself, “This is the most ridiculous [thing.]” I’m not sure I can even describe who this person is; it’s probably best if you just Google him. He was a real person who had a mythical and odd aura about him. He was merely some person who ate a lot but was never satiated, stank, and had stench vapour rising from his body. And I believe he was accused of devouring people at some time. He comes from France.
That was one of the strange things I read while writing Season 3, which is set in Europe, and it seemed appropriate to bring up in the writers’ room. [Tarrare] came up early [in the writing process], and it just became this person that we were all attracted with. We had a few ideas about how to include him, but I thought it made sense for the cannibalism themes in this episode to make that leap, so we did. However, I believe it was more of an inside joke than anything conceptually related to what was happening.
Alexander Skarsgard is the subject of a similar question: Was he the first choice for the part? And in this episode, he obviously does a bunch of insane stuff. Was there any opposition or doubt about what he was willing to do?
No, I believe everything in that episode was scripted. So he did exactly what he needed to do, which was fantastic. I’m a huge admirer, however for this episode, I’ll give him his flowers: He plunged right in, eager to make fun of himself — entirely make fun of himself, in fact — he played along brilliantly with the comedy, and he knew exactly what he was doing. I believe we wrote this season in 2019, so my recollection is hazy, but I always recall him or someone similar to him – A-list, skilled, blonde. So here’s someone you wouldn’t expect to be cool with eating hands and getting emasculated.
Alexander Skarsgard seems to have been born to perform all of these things, and he excels at them. But, from what I gather, Donald [Glover] contacted him, and he was interested, accessible, and amused by the situation, so he agreed to do it. Obviously, Donald can speak more to the nature of that chat, but I do recall hearing that Alex’s only request was that he dance in leopard print underpants, and I don’t believe I’m making this up. And, as you can see in the episode, he complied — and, in my opinion, improved it, so kudos to him.
We’ve been reading all these stories about Alexander Skarsgard doing insane stuff in “The Northman,” so the timing is kind of wonderful. “Just wait until you see him in ‘Atlanta,'” you must’ve been thinking as you sat there.
I know! I was thinking about it the other day, and I can’t imagine Alexander Skarsgard’s timing being any better. “The Northman” is incredible, and having this film come out at the same time is odd and hilarious, because you get to see all of these different sides of this character.
It’s difficult to envision Amleth dancing like Alex here.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,
Throughout Season 3, Van remained a mystery. What made her story so well-suited to the conclusion?
Van is involved in a narrative within a story. She’s playing in the background in an exciting and intriguing way that raises all kinds of questions, and then [this episode] boldly reveals everything and sort of brings it all to a logical end. In that sense, it also subverts expectations. You don’t even introduce any of the people we’re familiar with in the first few minutes of the show. It’s the sense that seeing Van as a completely different person and then embarking on this adventure with her is interrupting and jostling you around. That simply skews expectations.
The other Earnest, who appears in the first episode, the fourth episode, and the finale’s post-credits scene, is another thread that runs through Season 3. In many respects, he serves as a guidepost, but could you explain about how he was created and how that character was supposed to be used throughout Season 3?
I think that’s more of a Donald question, but Donald was so brilliant at structuring [that arc] and what it is, and sort of threading that tale throughout in such a specific manner — in a way that I don’t recall really discussing in the writers’ room. That was just another of Donald’s wonderful ideas that persisted throughout the season as we wrote.
But, in my opinion, there is an early question: “Is this a dream?” Is it true? What’s the connection here?” We’re obviously hazy about it at first. The idea in the end, in my opinion, is that everything you’ve seen this season exists in the same universe. We’re not showing you things just to show you them. They’re very much a part of the environment we’re in, or the world the characters are in — it’s a kind of validation that it’s not just a dream. Perhaps it has arrived and is genuine.
Some of the conversations I know we had in the writers’ room [were] about the idea that race is a scourge that affects all people, not just minorities. We’re all related because of how pervasive racism is. Unfortunately, due of this horrific thing, we’re all being considered as one in America. And it’s not all that dissimilar, even though it appears to be at times, right? We can’t relate, we don’t understand, and then we claim to be able to. Finally, what I like about it is that it serves as a reminder that you may be anywhere in Europe and still remember this event. It’ll always come back to you, because we’re all connected in that sense.
Season 3’s concentration on identifying whiteness as an identity unto itself impressed me, particularly in standalone episodes like “The Big Payback” and “Trini 2 De Bone.” It’s one identity among many. Is that anything you’d like the audience to consider?
Sure. Yes, definitely. Being white brings with it its own set of issues in terms of racism in this country. We’re poking fun at the absurdity of that perspective since it’s not the default one.
And I think the word absurdity is a terrific one for describing racism. It’s often terrible and terrifying, and as disgusting and evil as it is, it’s also silly. I believe that’s also what we’re attempting to demonstrate with those bottle episodes. This bizarre and strange occurrence has impacted us all. However, being white in America does not imply living in a bubble and ignoring what is going on. We’ve all been affected by this thing’s curse, and I believe that was also intriguing to us.
Returning at the end of Episode 8, Earn and Alfred seemed to have finally found their footing. Earn is looking after him as a manager, which Alfred notices. Is that a fair appraisal of their current situation as Season 4 approaches?
That, I believe, is a matter of interpretation. Personally, I believe they’re on firm professional foundation. Compared to the first two seasons, I believe Earn has improved at his profession. Earn is now displaying a greater level of professionalism, which can be seen in the way he interacts with club promoters and backstage personnel. You get the impression that he’ll be fine. So I believe they are on firmer ground professionally.
However, it’s also fascinating. The other question [from that episode] is about the family, right? The fact that Alfred had to ask Earn [whether he owned his own masters] still strikes me as suspicious. I don’t believe [“New Jazz”] is all that distinct from the “Woods” episode, where Alfred seems to be asking himself, “Do I really want to be here?” I’m not sure what I’m doing. Can I put my trust in the individuals I’m with? “Who am I supposed to be paying?” He’s questioning what it means to be famous and who he hangs out with.
So, while they’re certainly on firm ground professionally, are they also on solid ground in terms of existential, family, and even friendship matters?
“What We Do in the Shadows” returns on July 12 with you as a co-showrunner. Is there anything you can say about Season 4 in a single word?
Naturally. I’m going to give you guys a nightclub.
Hulu is streaming Season 3 of “Atlanta.” On FX later this year, Season 4 will premiere.