[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Atlanta” Season 3, Episode 10, “Tarrare,” including the ending and post-credits scene.]
As if any other ending was possible, the “Atlanta” Season 3 finale provided quite the exclamation point to Donald Glover’s European tour. Fake French accents. Stale, bloody baguettes. Literal finger food. “Tarrare” had it all, including an Ashanti-dancing, bikini-bottomed, masturbating-in-shame Alexander Skarsgard.
Most significantly, Episode 10 offered valuable insight into what Van (Zazie Beetz) has been going through during her impromptu trip to Europe. She’s drifted in and out of earlier episodes, offering little explanation for her whereabouts or state of mind, but “Tarrare” finds her with a whole new identity. Van has a French fiancé. She’s working as his sous-chef and server. She’s planning to move her daughter to Paris and stay there for good. But an unexpected visit from Candice (Adriyan Rae), a friend and fellow Atlantan, forces Van to confront not only her present reality, but the frightening moment that caused her to flee her home in the first place.
Written by “Atlanta” executive producer Stefani Robinson, “Tarrare” brings clarity to many Season 3 arcs — or as much clarity as the regularly surreal, ambiguous, and playful series wants to give. IndieWire spoke with the award-winning writer about Van’s arc, the episode’s inspirations, where things stand heading into Season 4, and yes, Skarsgard’s commitment to the role of a lifetime: himself.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision and clarity.
IndieWire: So, Tarrare. Was he someone you discovered after writing this episode or did he inspire it somehow?
Stefani Robinson: I found a Wikipedia page on this guy posted on Facebook. There’s this Facebook group, the Cool Freaks’ Wikipedia group, which is just a collection of people posting interesting and weird and freaky Wikipedia articles, and he was one of them. This was a while ago, when I still had Facebook, and I read it and I was just [like,] “This is the most insane [thing.]” I can’t even really go into the detail of who this guy is, it’s probably better to just look him up. He was a real person but felt very mythical and strange. He was just this guy who ate a ton, but was never satisfied, and stank and had odor vapor rising off of him. And I think at some point there were actual accusations that he was eating people. He’s a French guy.
That was one of the weird things that I had read when we were writing Season 3, which obviously takes place in Europe, and it felt like the right thing to bring up in the writers’ room. I remember [Tarrare] coming up earlier on [in the writing process] and it just sort of became this person that we all became fascinated by. We had different ways in which we were thinking about trying to incorporate him, but I felt it obviously makes sense for the cannibalism elements in this episode to make that leap, so we got it in there. But if anything, I feel it was more of an inside joke and less anything philosophically related to what was going on.
Similar question regarding Alexander Skarsgard: Was he always who you had in mind for the role? And, obviously, he does a lot of crazy shit in this episode. Was there any pushback or questions about what he was willing to do?
No, I think everything that you see in that episode was written on the page. So he did exactly what he needed to do, which was incredible and so great. I’m such a big fan, but I will give him his flowers for this episode: He jumped in, he was willing to kind of make fun of himself — completely make fun of himself, actually — he played along with the comedy brilliantly, and he completely understood the assignment. We wrote this season back in 2019, I feel, so my memory’s a little fuzzy, but I always remember it being him or someone like him — of that ilk, sort of A-list, talented, blonde. So someone you wouldn’t necessarily think would be cool with eating hands and being emasculated, playing against type just a little bit.
I feel like Alexander Skarsgard was born to do all those things and he does them so well. But from what I understand, Donald [Glover] called him and he was interested, available, understood the humor of it, and did it. Obviously, Donald can speak more to what the actual content of that conversation was, but I do remember hearing, and I don’t think I’m making this part up, I do remember hearing that Alex’s only note was that he wear leopard print underwear while he danced. And as you can see in the episode, that request was honored — and I think made it even better, so hats off to him.
©Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection
The timing is kind of amazing, since we’ve been reading all these stories about the crazy things Alexander Skarsgard does in “The Northman.” You guys must’ve been sitting there like, “Just wait until you see him in ‘Atlanta.'”
I know! I was thinking about this the other day, and I can’t even think of [more] perfect timing in terms of Alexander Skarsgard. “The Northman’s” amazing and to have this come out around the same time, it’s just kind of bizarre and pretty hilarious, but you see these different shades of this guy.
Right, it’s hard to imagine Amleth dancing the way that Alex dances here.
Van was a bit of a mystery throughout Season 3. What made her arc an ideal fit to anchor the finale?
There’s been a story within a story happening with Van. She’s playing in the background in a way that’s interesting and intriguing and has all these question marks, and then [this episode] so boldly explains everything and sort of takes it to its logical conclusion. It sort of subverts expectations a little bit in that way, too. You don’t even start the episode with any of the characters that we’re familiar with. It’s this idea that you’re being interrupted and jostled around by seeing Van as a very different person and then going on this journey with her. That just subverts expectations a little bit.
Another thread woven through Season 3 is the other Earnest, who appeared in the first episode, fourth episode, and then again in the finale’s post-credits scene. He’s like a guidepost in a lot of ways, but could you talk about how he was developed, and how that character was meant to be implemented throughout Season 3?
I think that’s more of a Donald question, [but] Donald was so good about shaping [that arc] and what that is, and sort of threading that story throughout in such a specific way — in a way that I don’t even remember really talking about in the writers’ room. I think that was just one of those brilliant Donald things that carried through the season as we were writing.
But my own interpretation is that there’s a question right at the beginning: “Is this a dream? Is this really happening? How does this tie in?” Obviously, we’re a little bit nebulous about it in the beginning. My own interpretation, again, of the point at the end is that everything you’ve been watching this season exists in the same universe. They’re not so disparate in that we’re just showing you things to show you them. They are very much a part of the world that we’re living in or the world that the characters are living in — it’s sort of confirmation that maybe it’s not just a dream. Maybe it’s here and it’s real.
Some of the conversations I know that we were having in the writers’ room [were about] this idea that race is a curse, but not just for minorities. Everyone is touched by how insidious racism is, and because of that, we’re all interconnected. Unfortunately, we’re all, in America, sort of viewed together because of this horrible thing. And it’s not so disparate, even though sometimes it feels disparate, right? Our experiences feel so different that we can’t relate, we don’t understand, and then that’s what we claim to do. At the end, what I appreciate about it is that it’s a reminder: You can be in Europe and you still carry this experience with you. It’ll always come back to you, and we’re all kind of tied together in that experience, as well.
Oliver Upton / FX
One thing that struck me about Season 3, especially in the standalone episodes like “The Big Payback” and “Trini 2 De Bone,” was the focus on recognizing whiteness as an identity unto itself. That it’s not the default perspective, but one identity within a series of identities. Was that an idea you wanted the audience to think about?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. That’s a hard yes. To be white has its own host of problems within the framework of this country as it relates to racism. It’s not the default perspective and we’re sort of poking at the absurdity of that perspective.
And I think absurdity is a great word — the absurdity of racism, too. A lot of the times, it’s just horrible and horrifying, and as gross and as insidious as it is, it’s also just very absurd. With those bottle episodes, I think that’s what we’re trying to reveal as well. We’re all touched by this thing that feels kind of funny and strange and weird. But yeah, to be white in America isn’t to live in a bubble and to just sort of ignore what’s going on. We’re all touched by the curse of this thing, and I think that was interesting to us as well.
Going back to the end of Episode 8, it felt like Earn and Alfred are finally on really solid ground. As a manager, Earn is taking care of him, and Alfred sees that. Is that a fair assessment of where they’re at heading into Season 4?
I think that’s up for interpretation, really. My own feeling is that they’re probably on very solid ground professionally. I think Earn has gotten better at his job, versus the first two seasons. What we’re seeing now is a little bit more professionalism coming from Earn, and you can see that just in how he carries himself when dealing with the club promoters and backstage staff. You really get a sense he’s able to handle that. So I think professionally, absolutely, they’re more on solid ground.
It’s interesting too, though. The other question [from that episode] becomes that familial side of things, right? I still think that there’s a little element of distrust in the fact that Alfred even had to ask Earn [if he owned his own masters.] I don’t think [“New Jazz”] is so dissimilar from the “Woods” episode, where there still seems to be this existential and subconscious question that is playing in the back of Alfred’s mind like, “Do I really want to be here? What am I doing? Can I trust these people who are around me? Who I’m paying for everything?” He’s interrogating what it means to be famous and who he’s surrounding himself with.
So yes, they’re probably on solid ground professionally, but with all that other stuff that’s more existential and family-related — and even friendship-related — are they on solid ground?
You’re the co-showrunner on “What We Do in the Shadows,” which returns July 12. Is there a one-word tease you can give for Season 4?
Oh, yes, of course. Nightclub — that’s what I’ll give you guys.
Michael Buckner / Variety
“Atlanta” Season 3 is available to stream on Hulu. Season 4 is slated to premiere later this year on FX.