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Atlanta Season 3 Ending Explained: Vanessa's Behavior, That Post-Credits Scene And What They Could Mean For Season 4

Zazie Beetz on Atlanta
(Image credit: FX)

Before Atlanta Season 3 premiered, I wrote a series of questions regarding the hit dramedy’s return, followed by a prediction that we would likely receive few answers and have even more questions by the end of the season. Well, I turned out to be right, with the latest season finale of creator and star Donald Glover’s astonishingly surreal and morbidly funny FX original extremely titillated, especially by the post-credits scene. I will see what closure I can help to provide in our following breakdown of the Atlanta Season 3 ending, starting with a basic summary of la folie

Atlanta Season 3 finale cast

(Image credit: FX)

Vanessa Adopts A Bizarre New Persona In Paris

The Atlanta Season 3 finale begins with Candice (Adriyan Rae) - first seen in Season 2’s “Champagne Papi” - with her friend, Xosha (Xosha Roquemore), and Xosha’s cousin, Shanice (Shanice Castro), in Paris to pee on a dude she met online. She spots Vanessa “Van” Kiefer (Zazie Beetz), curiously boasting a bob haircut and French accent, who takes the ladies on a tour of her wild new life in France. They start with a visit to Alexander Skarsgård’s hotel room, where Van leaves large amounts of illicit drugs which, as she claims, is part of a game they play weekly.

The next stop is some “Candyman-looking” apartment complex where a package that Van was expecting to pick up is missing, and an ambush of armed men who call her “Tarrere” (also the name of the episode and a real, 18th Century French cannibal) are waiting for her. After narrowly escaping, they go to a museum to find the man who was supposed to hook Van up with the package, Emilio (Yoli Fuller), whom she violently beats with a stale baguette until he reveals it was in a nearby vase. We later find out the package is a pair of human hands, which Van’s chef boyfriend, Marcel (Maël Besnard), is preparing as the main course for a party attended by wealthy aristocrats - including Skarsgård.

Candice finally gets through to Van by asking about Lottie, causing her to suffer a manic episode that brings her back to normal. She reveals that she had been going through an existential crisis, which led her to buy a ticket to Europe, where she caught an airing of the 2001 French film Amélie and decided she wanted to try living like Audrey Tautou’s title character. Candice accompanies Van after she decides to go home to Atlanta, leaving Shanice to be the one to pee on the Frenchman who hired Candice.

Zazie Beetz in Atlanta

(Image credit: FX)

How Vanessa's Arc Led To This And What It Could Mean For Atlanta Season 4

To provide a more detailed account of Van’s confession at the end of the Atlanta Season 3 finale, she tells Candice she was driving one day when a “dark feeling” came over her and she closed her eyes, only to find herself in the wrong lane when she opened them. When she picked up Lottie from school that day, she felt as if her daughter knew what she had done and resented her for it. 

I believe these insecurities have been brewing since Season 1, which sees her struggle as a single mother only worsened by her turbulent relationship with Lottie’s father, Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald Glover), and her bout with unemployment after losing her teaching job. There was also a key moment in one of the best Atlanta episodes from Season 2, “Helen,” when Van confronts her friend about introducing her to people as “Lottie’s Mom” - which she says was not the only thing she would be for the rest of her life. It makes her strange behavior throughout Season 3 (the surprise Europe trip, shoving strangers into a swimming pool at a party, possibly shoplifting in London, etc.) not necessarily justified, but far more understandable and sympathetic in retrospect. 

In an interview with The A.V. Club, executive producer and “Terrare” scribe Stefani Robinson spoke about the episode’s commentary on depression among young mothers and how it was important to see that represented in the show, as it is rarely seen much in television. I imagine - or, at least, hope - that what Van has gone through will be more thoroughly explored in the upcoming fourth, and final, season in 2023. In fact, I have a lot of questions about Season 4, especially after the post-credits scene.

Donald Glover on Atlanta

(Image credit: FX)

Earn Receives A Mysterious Delivery In A Post-Credits Scene

After the credits, we see Earn at a hotel where a delivery man gives him a travel bag with his name on the tag, but he does not recognize it. After reluctantly accepting it, he curiously rifles through the bag to find various items, including a black leather fanny pack, a ziplock baggy of prescription pill bottles, a cool Deftones T-shirt that he decides to keep, and a picture frame that Earn sets off to the side without much of a thought.

However, as he walks away with the Deftones shirt slung over his shoulder, the camera begins to zoom in closer to the picture frame and the music playing in the background begins to slow down to an eerie pace. The photo in the frame depicts a white, bearded, and slightly balding man posing with his wife and two children and he happens to be the only one not smiling. If you were not one of the eagle-eyed Atlanta fans who instantly recognized this person when the camera dissolved into a startling close-up of his face, read on.

Tobias Segal on Atlanta

(Image credit: FX)

How The Post-Credit Scene Connects To Previous Episodes And What It Could Mean For Atlanta Season 4

The man in the photo (Tobias Segal) first appeared in the Atlanta Season 3 premiere, “Three Slaps” - also the first of the season’s four episodes that diverts from the main narrative - in a creepy cold open that is revealed to be a dream of the story’s young main character. Of course, this story was also revealed to be just a dream Earn was having from his Amsterdam hotel room, suggesting these anthological chapters all exist in his subconscious. However, that does not seem to be the case for the fourth episode, “The Big Payback,” upon further review.

The story of that one-shot depicts a world in which slave reparations become a normal part of life, as seen through the eyes of one disgraced white man named Marshall, (Justin Bartha) who, after losing his apartment to the Black woman he owes money, takes refuge at a hotel where he meets a white, bearded and slightly balding man going through the same thing. After giving a surprisingly honest and thought-provoking testimony that almost seems to favor the situation, he goes outside and shoots himself in the head and his body falls into the pool outside. Earlier, however, he had mentioned to Marshall that the hotel could not find his bag after he introduced himself as “Earnest.”

What this means, at face value, is that the storyline of “The Big Payback” is, indeed, canon to the world within Atlanta and that, supposedly, the post-credits scene of the finale is actually a prequel to the season premiere, because Earn would have needed to see Earnest’s face before, and the picture found in the bag, if he appeared in his dream. Stefani Robinson, in a different interview with IndieWire, said she interpreted the Earnest reveal as a symbol of how people, no matter how culturally estranged or disparate from one another, are all interconnected by the life’s most unfortunate truths, especially in America. On that note, unfortunate truths and cultural differences in America were a recurring theme throughout the entire season, especially in the anthology episodes.

The discovery of Earnest’s bag in the post-credits scene was also the first time we saw a solid connection between the main narrative and the one-shots, making Season 3 truly feel complete. It is hard to say if we can expect to see any other appearances or references to Earnest in the next season and, in fact, I would be willing to bet that his arc in the series has officially ended, along with the themes he symbolized. However, I only see that as more of a reason to be excited for Atlanta Season 4, because what keeps me interested in coming back to this show is its dedication to constantly reinventing itself at every turn. As Donald Glover himself has said, “It’s high quality shit.” 

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.