Donald Glover on Why ‘Atlanta’ Will End With Season 4: ‘Death Is Natural’

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Donald Glover originally wanted to end “Atlanta” after Season 2. But now that the show will indeed wrap after this year’s back-to-back third and fourth seasons, the star/creator/executive producer/writer/director/executive music producer told reporters on Thursday that he felt the time was truly right.

“Death is natural,” he said during FX’s portion of the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “I feel like when the conditions are right for something, they happen, and when the conditions aren’t right, they don’t happen. I don’t feel any longevity. Because then things start to get weird. The story was always supposed to be what it was. And the story, it really was us. Everybody in that writers’ room, everybody on set. It really was what we were going through and what we talked about. … I think it ends perfectly.”

Glover said the decision to end “Atlanta” was unrelated to his deal at Amazon, where he signed a rich overall pact in 2021. He added that he’s not opposed to revisiting the series in some way one day. “If there’s a reason to do it, of course. Like a Christmas special,” he joked. “It always depends. I like keeping my options open.”

Stars Brian Tyree Henry and Zazie Beetz said they knew going into Season 4, that this was it. “I was a little emotional,” Beetz said, “but I agree with Donald that we’re ending on what feels like a peak and not letting it peter out. I think the best thing is knowing when to end it, and knowing when to move on with things. We are all doing other things. But we did all joke and talk about, wouldn’t it be funny if 15 years, when we have grandchildren, to come back. But I’m glad I knew it was ending because then I could really lean into the relationships, knowing this was my last chance to play Van. Van changed my life and I loved her.”

Henry added that “Atlanta” had “played such a huge role in all our lives, being able to play these characters changed our lives in such dramatic and drastic and beautiful ways. We’re all eager to figure out what becomes of the gang, what happens to us. I was wondering, what happens to older rappers? What is Albert at 55? Is he still going to be doing the same thing? But that’s the great part of coming to an end. For us, it just naturally felt like it was time. ‘Atlanta’ feels like an institution. You go to high school for four years, you go to college for four years, this was our own graduation of going somewhere bigger. I am so deeply connected to these people. That was the greatest gift of doing this show. If we decide to come back together when we’re 65, with arthritis medication and our walkers, we probably will because we’re all connected for the rest of our lives.”

Having not aired a new episode since May 2018, “Atlanta” finally returns with Season 3 on March 24, followed by Season 4 set to air this fall. Earlier in the day, FX topper John Landgraf revealed the show’s wrap-up with Season 4.

Much of Season 3 was actually written in the fall of 2019. “We were super excited about it,” executive producer Stephen Glover recalled. “I remember we thought we were going to start shooting it and then COVID happened.”

Donald Glover said he almost wants FX to put a disclaimer before the episodes that they were written in 2019, because so much of what happens may now feel like parody of things that actually happened. “We actually prophesied most of 2020,” he said. “The world is extremely predictable. We really just knew how a lot of this stuff was going to pan out. Everybody needs to know that we wrote this in 2019. All the shit that’s in there is actually just us being like, ‘Oh, this is how the cycle works.'”

Beyond that, “there’s some stuff that we changed in Season 4, because I think we all changed,” he added. “We all got older and just went through our life. I think COVID was a very reflective time. So all of us kind of grew up. The show’s very punk in a lot of ways, and I think we became more not punk, because we cared about stuff.”

Added executive producer Stefani Robinson: “The seasons mirror where we are in life and you can track that to a tee, very closely. At the first season, I feel like we didn’t really know what we were doing. And then you start to see in Season 2 where we were dealing with a surprising amount of success at the same time as the characters were. Even going into Season 3, there is much more of a maturity and the approach of how the characters are dealing with what’s happening.”

On the show, Season 3 takes place mostly in Europe — where it was mostly shot, during the pandemic. Earn (Donald Glover), Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Henry), Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) and Van (Beetz) are on tour and navigating their surroundings as outsiders — while adapting to their newfound success they had aspired to. Among the themes addressed are what it’s like to be Black and famous, both in the U.S., but also abroad. “Season 3 is about curses and the curse of whiteness,” said Stephen Glover. “White people have blind spots, obviously to race and things that are going on. They’re affected by this, too. It’s not just Black people who are going through this and having a hard time. You’re actually affected by it, too. The first episode does a perfect job of showing how both sides are affected by this.”

As for Season 4, Donald Glover says the idea was “have more fun. Once you go through that cycle, you realize, oh, we did Season 4 like Season 1, which was, act like you’re going to get canceled!”