Donald Glover Poe and Teddy
When my girlfriend now fiancé told me about Donald Glover’s “new” show Atlanta I was meh about it. By the end of the first season I wasn’t hooked but I was thoroughly entertained. This season I am hooked. As a MA Creative Writing candidate I love when Black creatives can create something outside of the ghosts of chitlin circuit past. Last night’s episode “Teddy Perkins” was an amazing adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story The Fall of the House of Usher. Poe’s story follows an unnamed narrator as he visits an old classmate, Roderick Usher, at his family estate. Imagine a Victorian style mansion that’s huge and decrepit much like Teddy’s. In Poe’s story Roderick exhibits symptoms of hyperesthesia, a disease that had not yet been diagnosed in 1839. The disease is described as being hyper sensitive to light, sounds, smells, and taste.
On the surface yes this sounds like a critique of the tragic story of Michael Jackson. Teddy eats an ostrich egg (taste), is an exceptionally talented pianist (sound), and keeps his home dark because of his sensitive skin (light). I wasn’t able to find a correlation to the smells. We can clearly see that Darius is our unnamed narrator and Teddy is Roderick Usher.
The retelling of Poe’s story became even more apparent when Teddy mentioned his brother Benny who is supposedly dead. In Fall of the House… Roderick says that his sister Madeline (Benny in Atlanta) is ill and often falls into deathlike trances that effect her nerves causing her body to have spasms. Midway through the story Roderick asks the narrator to help him bury his sister. The narrator assumes she is dead much like Darius does with Benny. The narrator does notice that Madeline’s cheeks still have a rosy hue to them.
When Darius asks to finish up the transaction for piano with colored keys he angers Teddy who retreats somewhere in the house. When Darius loads the piano onto the mansion’s elevator he forced to go into the basement where he comes to terms with his “fate”. In the basement Darius discovers that Benny is alive. He is hooked up to machines and is completely covered form head to toe. Benny warns Darius that Teddy is going to kill the both of them unless Darius fetches the gun from attic and kills Teddy first. The funniest scene to me was when Darius asks Benny why he doesn’t kill his brother. Benny who is a mute points to his wheelchair.
Darius gets the piano outside only to realize that Teddy has blocked him in. Darius goes upstairs and finds Teddy watching a video of himself in adolescence being abused by his father as he practices piano. Teddy reveals that he found the rifle and plans to kill Darius. Teddy takes Darius downstairs to the foyer and forces Darius to shackle himself to a chair.
In Poe’s story the narrator stays for roughly a week. Roderick is aware that Madeline is alive. At the story’s conclusion Madeline has freed herself from the tomb and collapses onto her brother in the dining room. In true Poe fashion the siblings and last two heirs of The House of Usher die. Benny frees himself form his “tomb”, grabs the rifle, kills Teddy, Frees Darius, then kills himself, an exact retelling of Poe. Glover showed off that fancy NYU education in this masterpiece of an episode.