(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on unless you’ve seen Thursday’s episode of “Atlanta.”)
There are bad haircuts, and then there is what Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) suffered at the hands of his stylist Bibby in tonight’s episode of “Atlanta,” the misdirectionally-titled “Barbershop.”
The name is misleading, as the latest installment of Donald Glover’s FX series spent maybe 5 minutes total in a hair cuttery. Because what should have been a quick snip before a magazine shoot turns into “The Misadventures of Paper Boi and Bibby,” as Alfred (Paper Boi’s real name) is forced to follow his barber to the ends of the earth in a desperate attempt to get him to finish what he started.
No, seriously, the dude buzzes off some of his hair at the beginning and doesn’t even it out until, among other things, Alfred helps him move lumber and they pull a hit-and-run car crash.
So where did the idea for “Atlanta”s latest surreal plot come from? Reality, of course.
“I think we were sort of leaning into the trope of Black hairstylists and Black barbers,” Stefani Robinson, a producer on “Atlanta” and the writer who penned Thursday’s script, told TheWrap. “I think we’ve all had very similar experiences of getting our hair done or getting our hair cut, where our barber has either been late or just straight up left the barbershop while you are getting your hair done. Or starts eating.”
“I think these are all pretty stereotypical tropes and experiences that we had growing up. I think within the Black community it’s pretty accurate,” Robinson continued. “So we just sort of had that idea or that sentiment of how you are at the mercy of this person, because they are doing your hair and you did come to pay and you’re a hostage. And we took that idea and ran with it and pushed it farther than maybe what happens in reality.”
At the episode’s close, Alfred returns to the barbershop on another visit to get “the usual,” but heads to a different guy to do the cutting. Bibby is clearly hurt, and Alfred gets what’s coming to him when he can’t seem to find the words to express how he wants his hair done.
“I think it’s pretty accurate too that Black men do value their barbers and have a very intimate relationship [with them] and when that relationship is betrayed it’s like, ‘Do I keep going back to this person? They are the only one who knows how to do handle my hair. The only person who knows how to do it and what I like. And a lot of time is spent building up that type of relationship. Do I start over again?'” Robinson said. “So I think we were just touching on that. How these relationships with barbers are a lot deeper than what people might think. And it’s a big undertaking to find one you connect with.”
While the writer says the Black community might identify with this very real struggle on another level, it’s a universal story.
“A specific audience will understand it in a very A to B way, direct way,” Robinson said. “But I think it’s more a global feeling of feeling like you’re trapped and feeling like you are held hostage by someone or something because of something so trivial. Whether it’s getting your hair done or getting your nails done or whatever. I think we all have sort of been placed in moments where it’s like, ‘I do wanna leave and I do wanna get out of here. But this is something I have to do to take care of and I’m sort of at the mercy of the specialist that can do that.'”
And if you thought tonight’s episode was hilarious and were looking for the already depressing season two to get a little lighter from here — well, sorry.
“It’s gonna get pretty dark and heavy as we go forward, for sure,” Robinson added.
“Atlanta” airs Thursdays at 10/9c on FX.