Review: Atlanta Episode Six, "Value"
Episode six of Donald Glover’s groundbreaking show Atlanta asks both the audience and the characters how they define value. “Value” is the first episode of the season to focus entirely on a character other than Earn (Donald Glover), centering instead around Vanessa (Zazie Beetz). Beetz shines in her role as the woman who just can’t seem to win in a system that is set up to make sure that she fails.
The show begins with a song that Glover sampled on a rap project, The Ebonys' “It’s Forever.” The tune is about claiming your significant other as yours forever for you to love and cherish. The irony of the song is revealed throughout the episode, as the episode shows how Vanessa and Earn no longer care for each other the way they used to, despite their lives struggling in unison.
Aubin Wise, who now appears in the Chicago iteration of the musical Hamilton, plays Vanessa’s rich and stuck-up friend Jayde, who comes to town to visit one of her many celebrity boy toys. Jayde puts value in the appearance she keeps up online, the amount of plane trips she takes and the amount of NFL players she sleeps with. It’s clear that Vanessa does not. After guilting Vanessa into going to a party with her, Jayde smokes Vanessa up, allowing her to more easily let loose. Vanessa has been largely uptight and not supportive of Earn’s attempts to make money, making her unlikable to a certain extent. By letting her hair down and getting high, we are able to see a different side of the character, one that is prone to mistakes and ultimately carefree.
Value is also demonstrated through the love that Earn and Vanessa’s child receives. After Earn goes out of his way to help out their daughter, Vanessa instinctively becomes more interested in Earn’s whereabouts, looking at his phone and discovering the double life that he’s been living as a rapper’s assistant. What is both smart and painful about this episode is how Vanessa knows that Earn is unable to support the family, but she still puts value on having a wild night with her friend, causing her to forget about a drug test she is set to take the next day.
After a makeshift attempt to sneak urine into the bathroom to swap with her own, Vanessa’s bubble quite literally bursts. The condom containing the liquid bursts all over her while the timeless Funkadelic song “Hit It and Quit It” jams on. Realizing that her job as a teacher is over, Vanessa confesses to her administrator (Milli M.), who tells her that the school system does not see value in the students or keeping the teachers sober. Those familiar with the Atlanta school system will know that there are not enough resources to go around, and the drug tests that the schools give out act as deterrents instead of being sent off to the lab. Unfortunately, because Vanessa confessed to smoking, she is fired despite the fact that, as her superior pointed out, “everyone smokes.” While this moment is funny and the dialogue is snappy, the underlying sentiment is a sad one, especially after Vanessa has regained some favorability among viewers during the episode.
The episode may be the lightest on the laughs yet—and that’s ok. The episode succeeds in shading in the character of Vanessa while advancing the plot and telling a story about how different people perceive value. This show is not a heavy drama by any means, but it conveys elements of the black experience that most shows can only dream of doing. Though Earn and Vanessa's bank accounts may be empty, they both see value in raising a daughter to the best of their abilities, even if they don’t know how.
Atlanta is on Tuesdays this Fall at 10pm (ET) on FX and available to stream at FXNOW.
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