In the series finale of Donald Glover's Atlanta, it's hinted the whole show could've been just a dream.
Donald Glover’s FX series, Atlanta, aired its final episode Thursday night, and in true Atlanta fashion, subverted the very idea of what a series finale episode should even be. The episode, cleverly titled “It Was All A Dream,” calls into question how much of the finale, if not the entire series itself, actually happened. The episode features Lakeith Stanfield’s Darius trying out a sensory deprivation tank, experiencing several outlandish encounters that turn out to be dreams.
As the episode comes to a close, the core characters — Darius, Earn (Donald Glover), Al (Brian Tyree Henry) and Van (Zazie Beetz) — share the screen together for a final time, discussing the events of their day, but viewers are left without a clear answer as to whether or not any of it actually happened.
Executive Producer and writer Stephen Glover told Deadline that they opted to go with the ending because, in his words, “everything has felt so dream-like in Atlanta anyway.”
Donald Glover is the creator and star of Atlanta and the series first debuted on FX all the way back in 2016. It received near-universal critical praise for the first season, scoring 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. The follow-up season 2 saw similar accolades, hitting 98% on the review aggregator, and neither season 3 or 4 has scored lower than 96%.
And it wasn’t just critics who loved the series. The show’s first two seasons landed it definitively in the awards discussion as well. It was nominated for Emmys in Outstanding Comedy Series as well as Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (Glover), and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.
Donald Glover won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for the first season as well.
Donald Glover originally had intended to end Atlanta after the second season, but the actor continued with a third season set largely in Europe, before returning to the titular city for the fourth and final season.
In Atlanta, Donald Glover starred as Ernest “Earn” Marks, who along with his cousin Alfred “Paper Boi” Mills (Brian Tyree Henry) worked to navigate the rap music scene in the southern city. The show follows Glover’s Earn as he deals with erratic life choices that have left him struggling both financially and emotionally. The series has explored all manner of social themes along the way including racism, existentialism, family, and the struggle for success in modern America.
Executive Producer Stephen Glover said that the goal for the show’s fourth season was to have a fun feeling — to put something out there that people will talk about and hopefully influence the next generation. The spirit of the show was to make something non-mainstream and, in his words, “be willing to take those swings.”
In the finale, the audience is left wondering if Darius is still in the deprivation tank at the end of the episode, denying the audience the expected closure of a series finale. Which, in the end, is true to the series’ style — it went against TV’s formulaic grain, and delivered something unexpected.