"As directed by Hiro Murai, making his 18th contribution to the series, and written by Francesca Sloane, who joined the Atlanta writers’ room for seasons three and four, 'The Big Payback' dances between serious discussions of social justice, button-pushing satire, and evocations of horror that will scare the hell out of any white person who has railed against critical race theory without actually understanding what critical race theory is," says Jen Chaney. "At its core, it is about exactly what we witness in that coffee shop scene: the degree to which well-meaning but privileged white people like Marshall are able to block out racial injustices and just go on about their lives, as if the weight they carry were as light as everyone else’s. This is an episode about a man being jolted out of his bubble and forced to pay attention, and it in turn demands close attention from viewers. When TV shows, especially half-hour comedies, address racial issues, they often do so in a simplified way that tells the audience how to digest what they’ve just watched. Even really good broadcast sitcoms designed to handle these topics, such as Black-ish, can sometimes draw pat conclusions in order to ensure that their audience — which, to be fair, includes children and families — takes away the right messages. But Atlanta stubbornly, admirably refuses to simplify or overexplain, particularly in this episode. Murai and Sloane infuse every detail and creative choice with multiple layers of pointed, deliberate significance that enable the audience to draw their own conclusions about what Atlanta is telling us here."
Atlanta proves it is TV's most prophetic show: "As Donald Glover’s opus Atlanta edges closer to the midway point of its third season, there’s an intriguing pattern that forms when you examine how spot-on the series has been at touching on the videos we make viral, the trends we run into the ground, and the world around us as it changes," says khal. "Many times, Atlanta plays as a skilled mime, perfectly nailing each subtle movement and nuance in recreating the memes that were featured in this season’s first episode, itself an examination of the kind of life that Devonte Hart had to live before disappearing. Oftentimes Atlanta, in its efforts to become the 'Black fairytale' that Glover and company envisions, will create an episode of television that’s eerily similar to what’s going on in real life. Case in point: Their seemingly wild (albeit sound in theory) standalone episode on reparations from slavery, 'The Big Payback,' comes out roughly a week after discussions in California are examining who would even be eligible for payments. Life imitating art this is not; this is the brains behind Atlanta either a) having a Delorean stashed somewhere to get all the information à la old man Biff in Back to the Future Part II, or b) they are just that damn good at predicting the future."
"The Big Payback" is a potent reminder of what Atlanta is capable of at its most incisive: "All in all, this week’s Atlanta succeeds as a delightfully funny piece of speculative fiction (depending on who’s watching) and a biting critique of the vain attempts to rectify the destruction of slavery by institutions and individuals, making for one of the best post-BLM episodes of television, so far," says Kyndall Cunningham. "One can only assume there’s more to come."
How artist Alim Smith became responsible for Atlanta's Season 3 Afro-Surrealist promo art: "In August 2021, someone not from FX but a person who was like the facilitator for all of their projects hit me up and asked me if I would want to work on Atlanta posters," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It started off with an audition: I had to draw these black and white pictures. I probably drew like 80 pictures, different iterations of how these faces could be distorted and contorted. Then I got past that phase. I had to do the same exact phase all over again, but now in color and adding other little details, which was probably like another 100 pictures — and they approved those. Then they finally got new pictures of the talent. So I had to redo the entire process all over again, and this time it was even more strict with more edits. When I look back through all of the email threads, it was over 300 pictures just to get to the point where I could start painting the portraits."
How Justin Bartha ended up on this week's Atlanta episode: "The casting director—a legendary casting director, Alexa Fogel—reached out just to see if I’d want to meet about this secret part in Atlanta and I immediately said yes," he says. "Like a lot of people, it’s one of my favorite shows. I didn’t think much would come of it, but they called and said they wanted me to do it. I didn’t even read the full script until they told me they wanted me to do it and I just went from there."
Bartha says "The Big Payback "is just chock-full of symbols, small and big": "The cookie is, to me, the most important symbol. And it’s something that comes back around at the end of the episode a bit. It represents in broad, big terms, theft," he says. "If this episode’s called 'The Big Payback,' it’s in response to the big theft of slavery, right? So on a character level—and that’s what the challenge was with this piece—is separating the big metaphors from the little metaphors or the personal story with the societal story. So you’re talking about Marshall realizing he doesn’t overtly steal, or purposefully steal the cookie if you will."
Bartha on working with Hiro Murai: "The main thing that I got from the actual filming of it is the working relationship with Hiro Murai," he says. "I can’t sing his praises enough. I think he’s one of the greatest working today. He directs the first 4 episodes of the season. Even though two of them are bottle episodes, they do all connect to each other—especially the two bottle episodes, with the first one setting the scene on Lake Lanier where you have one character who’s in this episode as well. I thought the 'horror' tone was a little more overt in the first scene of that first episode. Then stylistically, it shifts a bit when you get to each new episode, which I think shows you how amazing Hiro is. Our (episode) is... I don’t totally see the horror element. Hiro is like Paul Thomas Anderson, David Lynch. There’s a surrealist bend and off-center skew."