NOTE: This is an episode review. Of course there are going to be spoilers.

Van is stepping out. Her girls have access to a New Year’s Eve party thrown by Drake. Her girls are trifling. It’s OK; everybody gets trifling sometimes.

It’s pretty great timing that Atlanta’s seventh episode, “Champagne Papi,” comes right after the premiere of Drake’s new video, “Nice For What,” in which he cedes most of the camera time to some of our favorite black women in popular culture. But it’s actually just an example of Atlanta’s uncanny timing (the writer of this episode joked having the rollout for “Nice For What” in mind when conceiving it), and its clever way of creating entertaining stories inspired by Hip Hop.

The main takeaway here is that everything’s fake. We get that message through a plot that turns Drake’s massive “Hotline Bling” into an actual storyline, this time told from Van’s point of view, aka the girl Earn used to call on his cell phone. Even as she’s preparing for the NYE party, she’s still creeping on Earn’s IG, where she sees him with some other lady in a Story, playing with his hair as he smiles and laughs. She decides to go all out for the night, and though we as viewers don’t really want her to do what she has every right to do (i.e., stray from Earn’s grasp, and poor romantic decision-making), we know she deserves it.

So, as the song goes, now she’s wearing less and going out more. Hanging with some girls we’ve never seen before. And we’re reminded of the connection with the episode’s outro, a Spanish version of the song that plays just after Van has a revelation that “Drake’s Mexican,” after meeting his Spanish-speaking Grandfather.

There’s so much to this episode that feels completely true to the experience of going out in Atlanta. The only people who go to actual clubs anymore, other than during special invite-only events, are out-of-towners who’ve heard about Opera, Havana Club or Compound on Migos songs (shout out to Season 1), and feel like they need to experience the vibe. But the real parties are mansion parties, and apparently Drake has a mansion in Atlanta. It’s not far-fetched – Rick Ross has been living in Evander Holyfield’s old place for a few years now, and he’s always throwing some kind of party but never showing up to his own event, in his own home.

That’s why it’s funny we’re teased with Drake’s presence the whole episode, even though he isn’t actually there. It’s a simulation of a Drake party, complete with life-sized cutouts that the attendees can pose next to for $20 ($30 if you want a pair of Puma slides), if they’re thirsty enough. Two enterprising ladies are smart enough to know they have a captive audience that wants a piece of the lifestyle to share on the ‘Gram. And as Van shows us with the look she gives as she walks away, it’s sketchy but possibly worth it. She’s invested in this fake reality, and without a pic, it didn’t happen. We’ve all been there, when we know we’re being hustled, but we’re not above buying into the dream if it’s inclusive enough to let us taste what we think we ought to have.

#DrakeNYE

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Everything’s fake in “Champagne Papi.” There are the uninvited guests who can’t get in: our guy waiting outside the shuttle pretending to be delivering a pizza to an address he somehow didn’t get, and the girl crying tears of joy on the shuttle but then not having the proper credentials to get into the mansion. By the way, if you didn’t die when she screamed “You da – you da best!” as she’s being carried away by security, you’ve never lived.

There’s Brandon, a guy who stalks Van and seems to know his way around Drake’s mansion, but in actuality is Drake’s nutritionist’s cousin, and only happens to be able to navigate Drake’s basement because he got there early and nobody stopped him from roaming the floor. There are the drugged gummies, which simulate a feeling that the women in attendance obviously think they should have in Drake’s presence. There’s Van, quietly exploring Drake’s closet and finding his jacket (which seems like something we’ve seen him wear in a video, but is clearly not the red bubblegoose from “Hotline Bling”), spraying on his cologne, all for the simulation of his embrace. You almost wish Drake would show up, just for a moment.

And all of the fakeness makes it very real as a critique of Atlanta’s “Black Hollywood” experience, which is built entirely upon hype and expectation. It reminds those of us who went to legendary Atlanta nighclub Vision, back in the aughts, of how you can completely manufacture a lifestyle, and if you build it, they (in this case, “they” meaning thirsty women and social media Stans) will come.

So it’s no small deal that the strongest connection to reality in “Champagne Papi” is actually… wait for it… Darius.

It’s interesting that he’s completely shaken off the craziness of Teddy Perkins, but it’s not unexpected, because Darius seems to exist on the thin line between space and time. And he shows up in heroic fashion this time, keeping a high-on-edibles Nadine company.

Darius’ brilliance comes through in this episode, as he breaks down a theory that we humans are actually simulations of people, controlled by members of an advanced future civilization who can dictate our every move. And Nadine, one of Van’s girls who didn’t really want to take the gummy edible, but did so anyway out of peer pressure, is in need of someone who can normalize things as she sits by the pool. She may be out of it, but she’s aware enough to know that things don’t make sense, and that they should. Who better to meet someone floating in the abstract ether than Darius?

And Nadine, in her high state, brings us some of the most golden moments of truth in the episode. When she tells Van she’s been talking to Darius, who tells her she’s “nothing” (“It’s all a simulation, man. It’s all fake.”), there’s something sad but very real that speaks to the value of black women in society. Weaves, asses, irises, names and personalities are all simulated; our women wear The Mask. And we expect it, especially at industry parties, in videos, and in our recollection of how they behave when we rap along to our favorite old-school Dogg Pound song. It gets straight to what we’ve allowed to become black women’s role in Hip Hop narratives, and how they’re still drawn into an assigned cultural identity that sometimes thoroughly degrades their humanity. When Van tells Nadine not to ruin her high by worrying about what she’s been through, and to just enjoy herself, Nadine’s reply that she’s “such a good friend” stands out. When Nadine asks Darius if the woman bathing in the hot tub is real, and he says, “real fake,” she says, “I knew it.”

And of course there’s the scene in which Van’s other homegirl, who was all about coming to the party at first, decides to confront the white lady who is there with a handsome black guy who may or may not be with Drake’s crew. We don’t know who he is, but we hear him quickly apologize after his date excuses herself at the point when the conversation can’t be salvaged. We get a dramatic interpretation of the deep anger many black women express when black men opt out of dating within the race. If anything’s real about this episode, it’s that interaction, but still it’s something we know is felt but not often stated. In its own way, it’s a fantasy confrontation that black women probably applauded when they watched it, but how likely are we to see such scenarios in an actual club environment? Not very.

This episode ultimately wins on the merits of confronting fakeness in all forms. While many people will find the brilliant usage of Drake as the centerpiece for a discussion of what happens when normal people get a taste of a star’s orbit, there’s also a great view into the experience of young black women in our culture just trying to have a good time, and looking for a leading man who just isn’t there. And it’s another reason to raise a glass of bubbly to outstanding storytelling that Atlanta has made us come to expect.

Rating: 4.8 out of 5