“Keepin’ it real’ll kill you if you end up lettin’ it.” – Black Thought, “Star/Pointro”

I submit to you that Atlanta: Robbin’ Season could just as easily have been called Atlanta: The Miseducation of Alfred MIles. All season has been a struggle between Alfred and Paper Boi for identity supremacy. This week one side might have gained an upper hand.

It’s a late morning for Alfred, still sleeping on his couch when his mom comes in cleaning, complaining and humming hymns. Yet another reminder that not even emerging rap stars are too grown to avoid being fussed at by their mothers. Celebrities … they’re just like us!

Finally up and about, Alfred’s going out with Sierra … again. Darius suggests that Alfred might be catching a case of Girlfriend. Alfred isn’t talking about it. Alfred has to go. Alfred will see you later.

If there was any thought of a budding romance, it certainly didn’t look that way in the car. The two rode in silence for a while before Sierra reminisced upon her past as a stripper and wondered if maybe she’d grinded on Paper Boi back when she just thought he was a nobody. Alfred wondered if maybe he didn’t think she was busted with stretch marks.

Touché.

Seems like maybe Paper Boi and Sierra are a match. It’s hard work being famous like they are. Him with his music and her with her modeling. She’s glad to find “someone who gets it.” And she didn’t say it ominously at all. Nope. Not one bit.

But it doesn’t seem to be all bad. She takes him shopping, hoping to convince him that he’s going to have to upgrade his image if he’s going to level up. Alfred isn’t into all that. He’s trying to keep it real. Sierra is just looking out for what’s best for Paper Boi. After all, people don’t want famous people to look regular.

Anyway, Paper Boi should be getting some of this stuff for free. Isn’t his manager hooking him up?

(Well, see … um … Earn isn’t really rocking like that.)

Off to the nail shop and Sierra’s impressed that Paper Boi would set foot in there, for fear that they’d be considered gay for wanting to groom themselves.

Marcas talking here. Guys, for real … mani-pedis are phenomenal. Get one now. Thank me later.

The conversation devolves from grooming to social media. But not before Sierra embarrasses Alfred by making a scene and berating the nail technicians when they began speaking to each other in another language. As a general rule, I try not to antagonize people working on my food or my feet.

Part of the reason for all of this beautificiation is Sierra’s stated paper chase as an Instagram model. Can’t be outchea looking bootleg. Especially when so many of these other girls are working with fake tits and spray tans and lip injections. She laments that so many other girls are trying to look black but the actual black girls get no love.

Is this true for Instagram models? I’m really asking. I have no idea how that actually works. I feel old now.

Anyway, it’s not that Sierra wants to date Paper Boi. She mostly wants to merge brands with him. Just enough to give people something to talk about. She doesn’t want to date Alfred. And Alfred certainly doesn’t want to date her. He’s not into that “fake shit”. He’s trying to keep it real.

But what’s realer — his “real” dope boy persona? Or her hustle to get money? After all, isn’t that part of why Alfred became Paper Boi? All of that can be figured out later. Right now, Alfred’s gotta get away from this woman. Doesn’t matter if she drove. He’ll walk home.

It’s not long before that proves to be a bad decision. Walking along a road, Alfred meets up with three teenagers who recognize him … and rob him at gunpoint. After a scuffle, Alfred runs off into the nearby woods with one of the boys following him.

The good news: Alfred was able to hide long enough to lose his pursuer. The bad news: he’s lost in the woods.

Things get creepy fast. Strange bugs, strange noises and even stranger voices float through the trees. Alfred passes a deer carcass when a shout behind him makes him jump. It’s a vagrant living in the woods. He asks Alfred if he’s looking for those bad boys but it’s apparent that the old man doesn’t have any information on Paper Boi’s attackers … or anything else for that matter.

Alfred can’t afford to loiter. It’s getting dark and he needs to get out of this forest. Which would be easier to do if it wasn’t getting darker. Or if he wasn’t walking in circles — a thing he found out after passing the same dead deer again. And the same nonsense-spouting hobo.

Or is it all nonsense? Anyone who has ever had a conversation with a person straddling the line between lucidity and the greater cosmos can tell you that the experience is often surreal. This was no different. Pointed, cutting comments followed by red herrings and non-sequiturs. How ever is a dope boy supposed to find his way home?

The old man has a suggestion. Keep moving forward. Make a decision how he’s going to get out of here and stop sitting around waiting. Otherwise, the box cutter being thrust underneath Alfred’s jaw could kill him and take his shoes, wallet, and shirt. An utterly terrified Alfred bolts from the spot and takes full advantage of the 30 second head start he’s given to escape. Never more sure of anything, Alfred bolts straight ahead and before long, stumbles into the parking lot of a gas station convenience store.

Never before has one man openly wept at the sight of moth-attracting fluorescent lights and the pale-blue glow of a mini-mart in the dark. Alfred was also emotional.

Inside the store, Alfred’s trying to find something to drink and take the edge off what would easily be the worst day of most people’s lives — Alfred is no exception — when a young white kid recognizes him. After a long pause …

Paper Boi mugs for the camera and poses for selfies before offering this warning.

“Be careful out there.”

  • No matter how much Alfred tries to fight Paper Boi, that is the persona that is currently winning out. This week, Alfred finally, reluctantly, is starting to lean into it. The choice has been made for him He’s trying to stay Alfred but the world only sees Paper Boi. Is it better to live as a fake or die keeping it real? 
  • The old man in the woods felt like a version of the Magical Negro. But only if he had severe mental health issues and had a malevolent streak. 
  • Alfred and Sierra aren’t going to be a thing but she did bring up some very real questions. Earn’s professional relationship with his cousin has been on thin ice for some time and multiple times this season, his shortcomings as a manager have been highlighted. It feels like that big talk is coming. 
  • This isn’t Paper Boi’s first go-round with an Instagram model. Remember the girl he met at the club in S1? You’d think that would have prepped him a little bit for Sierra. 
  • Glad to see the occasional slapstick in the show with Darius literally trying to “put his foot in it” while making pasta.