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‘Atlanta’ Recap and Review: ‘Teddy Perkins’ Is Both ‘Ebony and Ivory’

Season Two, Episode Six

Atlanta S2E6
Donald Glover in whiteface as Teddy Perkins in "Atlanta" on FX.
Some horror movies, like Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” hinges on a character’s gradual spiral into madness in order to terrify. Some, like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and Bryan Forbes’ “The Stepford Wives,” make a psychological thriller out of a social satire. And some, like Andy Muschietti’s “It,” lean on an antagonist whose physical appearance alone paralyzes viewers with fear. “Atlanta’s” sixth episode, “Teddy Perkins,” is a Frankenstein monster that combines these three approaches, a masterpiece that will likely become known as “Atlanta”’s best episode. The episode opens innocuously enough: Darius goes to a convenience store looking for “dehydrated mango, ginger… Jicama, perhaps,” and leaves with a red, Confederate-flag adorned hat that he proceeds to color in to spell “U MAD.” It’s the Darius episode we—and Theodore Perkins—have all been waiting for.

In “Teddy Perkins,” as in “Helen,” the show makes clear references to “Get Out.” It is not without its usual celebrity shade—”You know, we got Jay-Z. He’s, like 65,”—or its endless allusions of Alfred’s growing fame—”Paper Boi!” a fast-food server exclaims, wanting a photo of the rising star—but its cinematic nature evokes the film it so clearly takes inspiration from. In both the episode and the film, Lakeith Stanfield plays a black man soon to be held hostage in a mansion, and the mansion’s owner is a wealthy white man who is obsessed with black people. Stanfield even gets photographed with flash, though in this case, he doesn’t wake up to realize the situation he’s been forced into. When he drives to Theodore “Teddy” Perkins’ home in response to an ad for a free, multicolored key piano, Darius finds himself stuck in a mind-game of checkers, the loser of which might end up dead.

“Is Teddy the white dude or the black dude?” Alfred asks over the phone, the Rod to Darius’ Chris. Trick question: Teddy is both. Despite what the credits may say, Donald Glover goes all out in whiteface to play Teddy, a ghastly anomaly of a man. Even without the physical performance Glover gives, Teddy is eerily unnatural: “Darius would like a glass of water when you have a moment,” he speaks in what Darius assumes is a call to a butler but is actually a recorder Teddy uses to “remember things.” He cracks open a soft-boiled ostrich egg, before swirling his fingers through the oozing mess. And most crucially, he has a brother Benny who is too allergic to sunlight to live independently, a struggle Teddy insists Darius can never understand.

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Glover’s dedication to the role makes the performance and, by extension, the episode. In an exercise in method acting, Glover never broke character on set, staying in whiteface the entire time while filming the episode. His eyes pierce through the prosthetics of his appearance, as uncannily unmoving as the rest of his waxy, post-’80s-Michael-Jackson-esque face. His body, at once too small for his head and disproportionately large for his hands, moves with a slow smoothness that belies his ominous intentions. His voice, as uncomfortably high-pitched as a creaking door, chills in its near-monotony. “I don’t think Teddy even exists, bro,” Darius tells Alfred, and he’s not entirely wrong.

The episode plays close attention to detail, and it wants its audience to do the same. The nearly 40-minute long, commercial-free episode opens and closes with a Stevie Wonder song—“Sweet Little Girl” and “Evil,” respectively—mirroring the episode’s trajectory. Wonder is referenced during the episode’s emotionally fraught climax. “Stevie had his own sacrifices. He was blind,” Teddy whitesplains to Darius. “Yeah, but he wasn’t blinded. He saw through his music,” Darius counters. The exchange reminds us of Darius’ past wisdoms, but its tone gets more at what “Atlanta: Robbin’ Season” is really about more than anything else has so far: A struggle to see the familiar through fresh eyes.

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Intact Ostrich Eggs:

    Where does one even find an ostrich egg?“Sammy Sosa hat” is the required Google search of the episode. Look it up to find out why.How many life regrets should you allot yourself? Darius’ two seems a bit too few.Let’s be real. Darius’ Wakanda salute is really what saved him.Life lesson learned: Mansions are danger zones never to be entered.

—Staff writer Mila Gauvin II can be reached at mila.gauvin@thecrimson.com.

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