After four years off the air, “Atlanta” returned to FX with a darkly comedic episode that reminded viewers to expect the unexpected.

As the show began to air on the east coast Thursday night, stars Donald Glover, Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield and Brian Tyree Henry posed together on the electric blue carpet at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Glover told Variety what thrilled him most about being reunited. “I think being away made me realize how much I missed hanging out and writing with them,” he said.

The Los Angeles screening followed the show’s SXSW premiere, but when the foursome linked arms and stood before the abstract images of their characters’ faces, a clearer picture of the show’s legacy came into focus. “Atlanta” itself is abstract art that paints with such broad strokes and bright colors that it’s impossible to characterize and leaves audiences slightly off-balance at every turn.

“We just wanted to have fun,” Glover said teasing the new season and noting that the most crucial element was that the execution feel “cinematic.”

That can certainly be said for the season’s kick-off episodes. Season 2 left off with the crew — Earn (Glover), Alfred a.k.a. “Paper Boi” (Henry) and Darius (Stanfield) — leaving Atlanta to tour Europe, with Van (Beetz) soon to join them. But, the introduction to Season 3, titled “Three Slaps,” follows a young boy named Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar) in a plot that reimagines the tragic death of Devonte Hart. In 2014, a photograph went viral of the crying then-12-year-old Black boy hugging a white police officer during a Portland, Ore. protest against police brutality. In 2018, his adopted mother, Jen Hart drove her wife Sarah — both of whom were white — as well as Devonte and his five siblings — all children of color —  off a cliff. It’s a jarring tale, full of allusions to other young Black kids who’ve become social media stars for one reason or another — and it’s not until the episode’s final minutes that Earn wakes up in Europe and we pick up the main cast’s story.

The debut episode was written by Stephen Glover and directed by Hiro Murai, who hoped audiences would be “pleasantly surprised” by the re-introduction to the show.

“I’m sure there are people who are angry also, but I don’t blame them,” Murai said. “I think people expect us to be surprising at this point, so I hope people enjoy the things they didn’t expect from that first episode.”

He also explained why they didn’t immediately pick up with the core four’s European adventure. “In our heart of hearts, we’re all contrarians and a little bit of a troll,” Murai offered with a chuckle. “We just knew that that’s what people wanted, and in some ways, that’s what we wanted to see too. But there’s something nice about having to wait just 35 minutes longer before you got to see it.”

Of taking the quartet overseas, Glover added: “Honestly, we just wanted to show how ‘Atlanta’ is a point of view. It’s a city, but it’s also just what made me and my brother [Stephen Glover]; the point of view is very specific. Also, that the world is kind of predictable, like, you’re gonna see the same things.”

While society at large might be “predictable,” fans of the five-time Emmy-winning series know that “Atlanta” is anything but.

“It keeps you on your toes, because it’s really in the moment,” Stanfield commented about the opening half-hour. “It mirrors real life in that way.”

Some would argue that fans waited long enough to see this cast reunited. But, it’s not as if these actors were sitting at home twiddling their thumbs between seasons; in fact, all four of their stars shot into the stratosphere in the meantime.

The last episodes of Atlanta aired before Glover debuted as Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars Story” or voiced Simba in “The Lion King” and picked up four Grammys (as Childish Gambino) for “This Is America.” Likewise, Stanfield went on a tear with “Uncut Gems,” “Knives Out” and “The Photograph,” plus his Oscar-nominated performance in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Beetz added “Deadpool 2,” “Joker” and “Nine Days” to her credits, while Henry hit superhero status with “Eternals,” “Widows” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The co-stars have teamed up at times too. Stanfield and Beetz faced off in the Western “The Harder They Fall,” while Beetz and Henry both appear in the upcoming “Bullet Train.”

But reuniting for “Atlanta” felt special — filmed abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Henry recalled Glover chartering a jumbo jet to fly the cast to location.

“You had me, Keith, Donald and Steve on a huge plane by ourselves,” Henry said. “And for some reason, we still sat next to each other. I was like, ‘We really missed each other.'”

Another memorable moment came while filming a scene with the main four cast members, walking down the street heading to a party. The show was filming in a neighborhood that was on lockdown due the pandemic, so they had a captive audience.

“When we were filming, these families were leaning out of the windows, [holding] glasses of wine,” Henry said. “There were white people in dashikis, so I was like, ‘What is going on?’ And every time we did a take, they would applaud. It was nice to feel that love from across the pond.”

As far as Alfred’s journey goes this season, Henry teased that the character is “elevated” as he begins to experience more success as a rapper.

“You guys have seen him go through so much. And I think that this season, you get to celebrate him and he gets to celebrate himself … he’s reaping the spoils of, and he’s going for it,” Henry said. “Now, there’s still dumb shit that’s gonna happen to him — and that happens with fame and profiles growing, but there’s something different about him. He’s just so much more comfortable in his skin, and he’s so much more willing to take people along for the ride and he seems to be more grounded.”

Stanfield’s Darius on the other hand is still up in the clouds.

“I’m always surprised by what Darius is up to, I think — like many people,” the actor said of slipping back into the role. “It was just fun to think about what he might be up to now and check in with him. And it was cool to see what he was on. He’s always growing and expanding.”

Beetz teased a juicy arc for Van, saying this season shows the character’s “reflection on her identity as a mother, as a woman, as a partner, and it’s sort of just a new angle and take on on that narrative.”

But with two seasons in the can — the fourth and final season of “Atlanta” will premiere in the fall — it’s an end of an era for the actors. On the electric blue carpet, Henry and Beetz both sported gold necklaces with their characters’ names on them. Wrapping the show was emotional, Beetz admitted, but, “Because we all knew that Season 3 and 4 were going to be the end, as we were shooting it, we were able to sort of have closure with it.” That finality pushed the actors “to do what we really wanted with the characters, to take the risks we wanted to take, because we knew that was going to be it.”

As much as it affected their work on screen, it also filtered into their interpersonal relationships behind the scenes. The troupe really “leaned into each other,” Beetz said and, ultimately, “I think we had sort of a satisfying end, and now it belongs to the world and I’m just going to celebrate.”

“Atlanta” airs Thursdays on FX and streams the next day on Hulu.