This weeks episode of Atlanta took a much needed detour away from Earn, Al and Darius and veered over into the underdeveloped world of Van, Earn’s ex-girlfriend, mother of his child and most prominent female character in the show. The first episode to be fully directed by Donald Glover as opposed to Hiro Murai, this latest installment plays with pacing in a way we’ve not seen so far, oh and it includes squeezing diapers to collect remnants of baby urine, a sinister black student in white face and the very definition of a ‘frenemy.’
With the opening scene lasting a ballsy nine minutes, just under a third of the entire show, Glover and new writer Stefani Robinson who makes her screenwriting debut with this episode, brilliantly weave us into Van’s story and reveal that she is more vulnerable than we first thought. With the narrative focusing on themes of success, failure and bad life decisions all of which hinge upon the introduction of Jayde, Van’s old friend, it’s worth unpacking just how Jayde embodies the definition of a 'frenemy' in that epic opening scene and how she becomes the undoing of Van.
"Frenemy," A Definition
First, let’s define our terms. If you’re not already familiar with the word "frenemy," it is essentially a combination of "friend’ and ‘enemy." A "frenemy" is therefore someone who presents as your friend, but deep down, is actually your enemy. Think Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, Beyonce and Rhianna or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Usually fueled by jealousy, die-hard grudges or the burning resentment that accompanies discovering a new love-rival, most people will at some point make or become a frenemy at least once in their lives and Van, is no exception.
How Jayde And Van's Dinner Date Is A Frenemy Masterclass
1. The Backhanded Compliment
As any good frenemy knows, the easiest way to crawl under your opponents skin is to give them what appears to be a compliment, but is actually a thinly veiled insult. Getting things off to a dazzling start, upon greeting each other Jayde immediately compliments Van's hair, telling her that it looks cute — but then swiftly introduces a deft backhand, following it up with 'yeah, it looks better than last time.' Point to team Jayde.
From here, Jayde's true frenemy expertise comes into its own. Building upon this backhanded compliment, she then goes on to suggest that Van should consider getting her hair done at a place called "Fernando's" as he's "the best." Well aware of what she's insinuating, Van indulges Jayde and asks just how much Fernando costs to which she retorts "not cheap."
At this point, it looks like Jayde has won round one, until Van retorts:
"Mmm ok well who’s paying for yours [haircut], coz I actually have to pay for mine. I don’t know if you remember what that’s actually like.
2. The Fight For Dominance
Irritated that Van managed to claw back a point in the first frenemy heavyweight round, Jayde decides to pull out her secret weapon: alpha female dominance. Exploiting Van's weakness of being significantly less well-off than Jayde, when the waiter comes over to take their order, Jayde waits like a snake in the grass for Van to order a glass of chardonnay and then completely overrides her order.
Making out as though Van's order was somewhat non-existent, Jayde wields her alpha female prowess and orders a bottle of riesling for the table instead. Not only is this most probably pushing the limits of Van's budget, it's also absolutely not the type of wine that Van wanted to drink, which is something we can read all over Van's dejected, resentful face.
3. Subtle Criticisms Of Opponents' Lifestyle Choices
After feigning a deluge of self-deprecatory comments in relation to her current high flying lifestyle (that she only flew by a rented private jet, not the real deal, and that trips to London aren't that great because the rain makes her hair frizzy), Jayde decides to go straight for the jugular and attempt a calculated attack on Van's lifestyle decisions.
Insinuating that Van should join her on her next trip to London, Van reminds Jayde of the fact that she can't because she has a daughter, something that anyone, friend or foe, would most probably fail to forget. Going in for the kill Jayde responds with:
"Oh, that's cute. You know sometimes I wish I had a kid. And then I’m like, ew, God no."
This not so hidden criticism of Van quite clearly incenses her. Not wanting Jayde to absolutely wipe the floor with her however she assures Jayde that she'll have a child once she "finds the right guy," in a distinctly mocking tone.
4. Blatant Criticisms Of Opponents' Lifestyle Choices
With the frenemy battle reaching a dramatic crescendo before their food even arrives, Jayde decides to take her opportunity to destroy Van once and for all. Realizing that she's already milked the fact that she's struggling for money and that she's tied down with a child, Jayde decides to use Van's decision to keep Earn in her life as a means to comment on her overall low self worth.
Starting off by insinuating that she occasionally looks at Earn's Snapchat and think's he's playing the field, Jayde tells Van that her decision to keep him in her life, even though they have a child together, is a joke. Wasting no time, she gets immediately to her crushing punchline:
"Van, you used to make fun of girls like you...You need to think about your value."
In one sweeping statement, Jayde manages to diminish Van's entire life into a purposeless, listless existence that her previous self would have been horrified of. Essentially, everyone's worst nightmare. Two points to Team Jayde. Deeply insulted, Van again attacks Jayde's decision to gather all of her value from how wealthy the NBA stars that she manages to escort are:
"That kind of black and white mentality might work for you but for those of us who don’t work on whether a line backer swipes left or right on my ass, there's a grey area."
5. Total Disregard For Your Frenemy's Feelings
Following this absolute thrashing match, it is little surprise that the food arrives amid an almost deadly frenemy tension. Not afraid of adding fuel to the fire, Jayde opts to take a photo of her dinner for Instagram while Van stares at her in hurt, angry disbelief. This insult is then multiplied two fold when it emerges that Jayde has also invited her current NBA lover to the dinner, along with a "friend" for Van, neither of whom Van has any interest in.
However, the worst is yet to come. No sooner have the NBA player and his friend arrived at the table than they suggest they all leave, meaning that Jayde and Van do not even get to touch their food. If there's one thing worse than destroying your frenemy before the food on your dinner date even arrives, it's immediately taking that food away from them and leaving them mad, sad and hangry.