With 'Teddy Perkins,' 'Atlanta' Delivers The Most Unsettling, WTF Television Episode of 2018
Read this for a blow-by-blow recap of this week’s episode of Atlanta, but for the purposes of this post, we’re just going to cut to the chase: Every week when I sit down to watch Atlanta, I prepare myself for not knowing what to expect when it comes to the events that will unfold on the television screen. And the vague and unconventional episode synopses sure as shit don’t help. (The summary for this episode: “Darius is trippin’ in this one. Y’all know I woulda been left.”) But it’s safe to say that this was my reaction to everything in this episode the moment that Darius arrives at Teddy and Benny’s mansion:
And I mean that in the best way possible. Even though my stomach tied itself into every imaginable knot during ‘Teddy Perkins,’ even though I was both amused and terrified at this situation that Darius found himself in, this episode was so masterfully directed in every way possible that I couldn’t stop watching. And by the time it was over, I went from scoffing and laughing dismissively at Teddy Perkins to genuinely being both scared of him and sorry about everything that drove both him and Benny to this point. Teddy is someone who truly seems to believe that every bad thing that was inflicted on both him and his brother by their father was necessary in order for them to achieve greatness, and nothing that Darius or anyone else says to him will make him believe otherwise. And if he can sacrifice his own happiness and peace of mind in order to make his father happy, to make the world happy, then Darius can do the same thing and sacrifice himself on Teddy’s behalf. Even if it means doing so at gunpoint.
It doesn’t take much to see that Teddy and Benny and what their childhoods were like because of their father is partly inspired by the life of Michael Jackson and what his father put him and his siblings through so that they too could achieve the greatness he wanted for them. As well as the lives of Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena Williams, Beyonce Knowles, and many other children (particularly Black children) who have spent their entire lives having to train and be trained in order to be twice as good to get half of what the world is willing to give them. And it also doesn’t take much to see that Teddy and Benny’s father isn’t the only person to believe that great things come from great pain. Stanley Kubrick and his mistreatment of Shelley Duvall on the set of The Shining, David O. Russell and his mistreatment of Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees (and also his behavior on the set of Three Kings that resulted in him getting into a fistfight with George Clooney, among many other incidents on many other movies), James Cameron and his mistreatment of Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio on the set of The Abyss that allegedly led to Harris punching Cameron in the face, and so many more examples then and so many more examples now leading to the necessary creation of hashtags like #MeToo and #TimesUp…just a few examples, just the tip of the iceberg of people believing that their talent, their artistry, their power, their very existence as men truly mattered more than anyone or anything else, and who believed that all of those things were far more important than showing kindness and compassion and simply not being a heartless and misogynistic asshole to others. We’ve spent the past year or so seeing the effect that this behavior can have on the lives and careers of so many other people who also wanted to share their talent and artistry with the world, only to end up losing their ability to do so and in some cases, having it taken away from them. And seeing Teddy and Benny, what their lives ended up becoming, and how they nearly destroyed themselves before finally destroying each other, is just one more example of that. Yes, it’s a fictional example of that. But that doesn’t make it any less painful or powerful.
Especially thanks to Lakeith Stanfield’s performance as Darius, who expressed layers and depths to this character we’ve never seen before as he gave us additional reasons to want to learn and care more about him and who he is, as well as hope for his escape and survival by episode’s end. And also thanks to the equal parts disturbing/haunting/heartbreaking performance by Teddy Perkins, who according to the closing credits, played himself in this episode, despite the numerous articles being published which state that Perkins was actually played by Donald Glover in whiteface makeup (as well as the fact that if you look at Teddy and listen to his voice closely enough in certain scenes, Glover and Perkins kinda sorta do look and sound alike), something that Glover himself refuses to confirm. Any and all research I’ve done on Teddy Perkins this past weekend has only revealed that his origins, career, and background are every bit as mysterious as Tommy Wiseau’s, so…there just may be some truth to those rumors.
By the time this episode finished airing and the closing credits rolled, there was a lot of discussion and many theories about it that followed. Here are just some of the tweets about ‘Teddy Perkins:’
#AtlantaFX - Teddy Perkins: a thread— Niko (@NikoYeganian) April 6, 2018
Teddy and Benny (played by Donald Glover [btw]) are not brothers, they are the same person. Teddy was a persona Benny created to try and get away from his painful life in which he sacrificed a lot, but ultimately ended up with no recognition.
Y'ALL! Y'all I really can't stop thinking about "Teddy Perkins" #AtlantaFX. I am equally disturbed and awestruck (and the creator in me is inspired). It was so brilliant, so unnerving, bleakly comic and ultimately horrifying. I need to re-watch but yo, I'm scared. pic.twitter.com/EpRuxodury— Robin Shanea (@rshanea722) April 6, 2018
Woke up this morning still thinking about Teddy Perkins. So haunting. If you’re not watching #AtlantaFX you’re missing a master class.— James Gobert 👨🏾💻 (@MrGobert) April 6, 2018
Every week Glover makes you throw out all your preconceived notions of what a TV show should be. The show has no genre or equal.
Tonight’s episode of ATLANTA is the most beautifully photographed half hour of TV I’ve ever seen. In addition to being COMPLETELY BANANAS.— Bitchuation (@Bitchuation) April 6, 2018
That last tweet came from none other than director Steven Soderbergh, and its nice to know that he was willing to bestow such high praise on the episode after watching it.
If people weren’t sitting up, taking notice, and paying attention to Atlanta (and the people in front of and behind the cameras who help create every episode) before, they most definitely are doing so now after this episode. It was and is a brilliant, disturbing, and darkly hilarious work of television, and here’s hoping that it gets some attention from the Emmys in September.
See also: A full recap of ‘Teddy Perkins’