Atlanta’s fourth episode, 'The Streisand Effect' is notable as it is the first episode to split the narrative completely into two separate, parallel parts. While Alfred is busying himself attempting to combat a particularly nasty internet troll, Earn is out on a mission to try and make some quick cash in exchange for trading-in his phone.
However, with lovable stoner-turned-sage Darius in tow, things do not go totally as planned. As Earn blindly follows Darius down a rabbit hole of ’trade-up’s, the two encounter a sobbing middle-aged Chinese man speaking in Mandarin in a warehouse parking lot who — as it turns out — actually says something very important. But before we get to that, let me give you a little bit of context.
The Sword Trade
Entering the 'Ca$h For Gold' pawn shop, Earn goes straight to the counter to try and barter with his phone, but no sooner does he start talking to the cashier than Darius calls him over to the other side of the store. Begrudgingly, Earn approaches him and, mirroring the stranger on the bus in episode one who demands that Earn should "eat my sandwich," Darius defiantly states:
The Sobbing Phone Conversation
Throwing caution to the wind, Earn decides to trust Darius and so instead of getting cold hard cash for his phone, he trades it in for the sword. This then sets in motion a series of strange events which begins with Darius leading Earn to a huge warehouse where he trades in the sword in for a cane corso dog. During this transaction, Earn witnesses a middle aged Chinese man sitting on the floor next to a herd of goats sobbing and yelling the following in Mandarin on his mobile:
Why This Conversation Is So Important
This conversation is so important because the sobbing altercation completely embodies the many different relationships Earn has with other characters within the show. These lines could quite easily have come from:
- Earn’s ex-wife Van, at her wits end with him as he tries and fails to provide for his young family.
- Earn's cousin Alfred, angry that Earn who notoriously refuses to do things in any way other than his own, has let him down as his manager.
- These lines could quite easily have also come from his parents, his daughter and even from deep within him, giving a voice to his own self-doubt.
Why This Conversation Resonates So Deeply With Earn
Essentially, even though he cannot understand it, this phone call echoes all of Earn’s biggest anxieties. A lot of people are depending on him in one way or another, and the sobbing Chinese man on the floor of the parking lot is a stark reminder of the consequence of his responsibilities. Given the bemused, slightly concerned look Earn gives the man, my guess is that on some level this conversation reverberated with him.
This is confirmed in Earn's next scene when he realizes that trading his phone in for a sword, which was then swapped for a dog who was then given away to a breeder in return for a cane cross puppy at some unspecified future date, is not going to give him the cash he needs then and there. Turning to Darius he cries:
And in this moment, Earn too becomes a sobbing Chinese man sitting on the floor next to the herd of goats wondering "why this is happening."
Do you think that what the sobbing man said was truly important to the show?