Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ sheds light on a heartbreaking true crime story in its Season 3 premiere

The Donald Glover creation returns with a chilling rendition of the Hart family murder-suicide – with a twist

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Oliver Upton / FX

By Michael Araujo, Collegian Staff

Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” returned to television on March 24 with its Season 3 premiere. After being off the air for nearly four years, the comedy-drama reinforces its standing amongst the most distinct and ambitious shows on the air.

For those unfamiliar with the Emmy-winning series, the show’s typical plot follows the life of Earnest “Earn” Marks (played by Donald Glover) who manages his cousin, Alfred Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) an up-and-coming rapper who goes by the stage name “Paper Boi.” The show was created by Glover, who stars in and co-writes the show, and occasionally directs the series alongside main director Hiro Murai.

The show’s four-year hiatus had fans eager to see their favorite characters on screen again as they traveled across the globe for Paper Boi’s European tour. However, the show returned by telling a shocking true crime story that took place nearly four years ago – seemingly straying from where we left off on Season 2.

The premiere episode, “Three Slaps,” does not feature the usual star-studded cast, but instead follows Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar), a class clown who finds himself in foster care after a series of misfortunate events go against his favor.

Loquareeous finds himself in a parent-teacher conference after his latest outburst of classroom dance moves. The school counselor — a white woman — suggests the recent string of misbehavior is reason to believe the young boy is not equipped to handle his schoolwork and should be sent to remedial teaching. Taken back by the claim to put her son in developmental learning classes, Loquareeous’ mother informs the counselor and the principal, “My son is not dumb — he’s an idiot,” and suggests that if he is acting up, he should be given detention rather than be diagnosed with a learning disorder.

The boy’s grandfather gives meaning to the title of the episode after he disciplines Loquareeous in front of the school’s counselor, with the respective number of smacks to the face. The scene is also a reference to a viral internet video of a man performing the same action as seen in the episode.

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The actions of the grandfather prompt the counselor to call child services on Loquareeous’ family, and he is placed in the hands of an abnormal lesbian couple, Gayle and Amber, who brew their own kombucha and make their own soap. The couple are the legal guardians of three other children, all of whom are Black, and their astonishment at Loquareeous’ request for a washcloth to properly clean himself during his shower are reasons to believe that this house is no home.

The audience quickly determines the environment Loquareeous is sent to live in is practically uninhabitable. The kids are dressed in outlandish clothes, served inedible food (or not fed at all), forced to work manual labor in the garden and then serve as accessories in the couple’s farmer’s market. With Loquareeous donning a sign that reads “Free Hugs,” he flees the stand and jumps into the arms of a police officer, pleading for help. The officer practically disregards the cry for help, chalking the embrace up to nothing but a misunderstanding.

The nightmare continues after the couple kill a woman from child services and take off with the children for the Grand Canyon – or so the children are told. The couple’s grim intentions become clear, yet as the women drive off the edge of a cliff, they realize too late that all the kids escaped their evil clutches by hopping out the trunk.

The frightening episode was a reference to the tragedy of the Hart family murder-suicide, where Jennifer and Sarah Hart killed themselves and their six adoptive children in a murder-suicide on March 26, 2018. The couple had been under investigation by child welfare officials and reported for child abuse numerous times. The couple purposefully drove off a cliff when they learned of the investigation against them.

Markis, 19; Hannah, 16; Jeremiah, 14; Abigail, 14; and Ciera, 12, were all killed. Devonte, 15, is still considered missing but is presumed dead. Jennifer had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.102 percent while she was driving – the legal limit in California, where the disaster took place, is 0.08 percent.

The couple were reported by neighbors several times, yet no real case had ever been created until it was too late. One neighbor said they saw the children eating out of the garbage cans of nearby houses. According to reports, Devonte would go to a neighbor’s house two or three times a day asking for food, begging them to not tell his parents. He claimed if they knew, they would abuse him and withhold food as punishment. Hannah also reportedly fled to a neighbor’s house, locking herself inside a room and refusing to come out. She was missing two teeth and said she had jumped out of a second-story window to escape.

The family became an international sensation when a photo of Devonte hugging a police officer at a rally in 2014 went viral.

Huu Nguyen / Associated Press

“Atlanta” is famously known for having an all-Black writing staff, a scarce affair in American television; it’s a rare occurrence when the cast of the show looks like the writers. This allows “Atlanta” to share Black experiences in new, innovative ways. Telling the tale of the Hart family with a different ending reflects the show’s ability to address heavy topics in a light-hearted manner, while also raising awareness to how white institutions tear apart households of color under false pretenses.

The comedy/drama doesn’t shy away from addressing serious themes such as racism, sexism, gang violence and other heavy topics, but oftentimes doesn’t reveal their hand and leave episodes up to the audience’s determination.

“Atlanta” will premiere new episodes every Thursday at 10 p.m. on FX, and can be streamed the next day on Hulu.

Michael Araujo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @araujo_michael_.