‘The Get Down’ Part 2 Returns With Higher Stakes, Brighter Lights
Breakthroughs and breakdowns loom as The Get Down and hip-hop look to build beyond their origins. Check out XXL’s review of the second season of the show below.
Episode 1 - "Unfold Your Own Myth"
Just as everyone found their voice at the conclusion of Part 1, The Get Down returns with Mylene, Zeke and Shaolin enjoying new fame, uncertainty facing them nonetheless. As Zeke explains in the introduction, writing his college entrance essay in narrative rhyme, contrasting forces are at play, for him and the rest of the crew.
Mylene's star is rising as a gospel-disco hybrid, performing on the popular Platinum Boogie and facing the standard industry pressures. She tells the show's host that she's single but does so for publicity's sake. She plugs her father's church and tells him she'll remember her calling, despite showing a clear favoritism to pop sensibilities. She asks for a joint from her new manager Shane after a stressful photo shoot leaves her frayed, as if everyone she knows feels angry towards her.
"You may not be exactly the same as how they see you, how they want you to be, because you’re growing as an artist, and as a person,” Shane tells her, and it's true of many of the characters.
Shaolin isn't quite the DJ Zeke wants him to be and the young rapper/intern says as much, Shao's new foothold within Cadillac's businesses offering them a new club to perform in, drugs and Shaolin's mob ties overshadowing whatever artistic response The Get Down Boys may receive.
Situations remain shaky throughout, Mrs. Cruz and Francisco giving in to their more sinful urges, Zeke kissing a fellow intern, the boss's daughter, after smoking and explaining the beauty in the break. Dizzee meanwhile is enjoying the run of product coming through the club's back room. This is fall of 1978; the rise of the music is coinciding with the rise of drugs and those are just two of the competing forces at war. Disco vs. hip-hop for radio supremacy. Cadillac vs. Zeke for Mylene's affection. Everything has its sides, and some will have to win out to salvage these careers and relationships.
Episode 2 - "The Beat Says, This Is The Way"
With the dualities in everybody's world set up, The Get Down got right to blowing things up, friction leading to a spark. At a Yale entrance event, Zeke is told to mix and mingle, and be himself. But as he'll learn, his two halves, pursuing school and music, can't mix at all, and to be himself, he'll have to choose.
Mylene learns too, that becoming a pop star and remaining her father's faithful daughter are growing increasingly at odds with one another. "My brother isn’t the only one with a vision,” Ramon announces, Giancarlo Esposito making the most of his one narrative beat, being a drag. He sees Mylene as the focal point of his new religious enterprise. Francisco and the label see her as a ballad singer. Boo sees himself as a more capable piece in the drug operation, and here, he projects a common vision throughout: the pursuit of cash.
That's what brings Ra face-to-face with Fat Annie, promising more money for LES Inferno if The Get Down Brothers could perform on their slowest night. And in one of the more literal moments of confrontation, Shaolin beats Cadillac in a dance battle, proving hip-hop has a place in both the club scene and Fat Annie's business portfolio.
It's what happens at the Yale event though that puts most everyone's vision in jeopardy. Shao's attempt to grab Zeke for the Inferno show ends with him pulling a gun on some white collar coke boys, and though the DJ and his emcee escape, the whole dust-up has ramifications. Zeke's boss threatens to pull the funding for Papa Fuerte's housing project, which leads to the boys encountering more trouble at home. The parental figures all agree, no more music if its lead to drugs, graffiti and conspicuous income.
It's often one step forward, one step back for the characters of The Get Down, and there's one faction that won't accept hip-hop as a viable artform or industry. “It's not a matter of if the Get Down is going to be very fucking profitable, it’s a simple matter of when,” Ra says early on. That when is delayed though, so long as some continue to teeter.
Episode 3 - “One by One, Into the Dark”
The Get Down Brothers often get told who and what they are by others who don't quite understand them. Mr. Gunns tells Zeke he's throwing away his future by pursuing music. Mr. Kipling asks his sons once more if they're selling drugs, as the sudden influx of cash suggests. More frequently than not, these assumptions are wrong, but as "One by One, Into the Dark" concludes, it's impossible to separate the trade of music and drugs, even as Zeke refuses to sign with and work for Fat Annie.
The episode opens with a news reel on the impact of angel dust, with Mayor Koch vowing to lock up the "poison pushers," and though the boys scraping their pieces for an extra weed hit seems innocent enough, it's reflective of how intertwined the two commodities are. Never mind that Cadillac pays Popeye to taint the stash of dust headed to the 1051 club, Little Wolf lays it out for Shao before: the music is just a commercial for the product.
How complicit are the boys then in the resulting aftermath, people collapsing on the dance floor, Dizzee among them, from the laced stuff? Ra presents his father with a contract to prove they aren't participating in any illegal activity, except that Boo really is, and Dizzee's life is now in peril because of it.
This is a Baz Luhrmann property and so setting and period are crucial. So are the musical pieces, and seeing The Get Down Brothers with a more choreographed set, or even imagining Mylene's upcoming performance at the Rubicon, serve as episodic highlights. In the end though, these characters can't escape the times. The 1051 club needs drugs to operate, and as a result, morality is compromised. Roy Asheton tells Mylene she needs sex appeal in order for her career to thrive, and as a result, her own morality, particularly as viewed by her religious father, will no doubt be as well.
In an animated scene, a recurring bit this season, Dizzee and Thor run into a train tunnel and are chased by police, only one emerging out the other side, at least at first. Who escapes from the literal or figurative dark from here on seems equally questionable.
Episode 4 - "Gamble Everything"
A brief history lesson from the man in the powdered makeup, who tells the club goers that everyone has to cross their own rubicon. Julius Caeser's army crossed the Rubicon River in 49 BC, what was considered then an act of insurrection. The phrase to "cross the rubicon" has come to mean the point of no return and that's certainly where the characters of The Get Down find themselves in "Gamble Everything."
Mylene has her star-making moment at the Ruby Con club, performing "Toy Box" in front of Roy Asheton, producer Robert Stigwood and her father Ramon, who shows up to rescue his daughter only to catch her newly sexed up routine. Ramon himself passes the point of no return when he beats his wife Lydia, who calls him out for prioritizing his own fame and glory. When he returns home to find Lydia and Francisco kissing, she drops a bombshell on him: Mylene is Papa Fuerte's daughter.
Shaolin crosses his own threshold upon visiting Fat Annie at LES Inferno. He asks her to let the Get Down Brothers out of their contract and learns that the record they're going to cut won't feature any DJ'ing at all. He then pistol whips her and flees before Cadillac arrives. Shao spends the rest of the episode paranoid of an impending attack, his gang ties irrevocably damaged. Ra has a solution though, emerging yet again as the brains of their operation, after witnessing the strength in numbers Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation have.
As Ramon becomes increasingly unhinged, Giancarlo Esposito is given his best material yet, and the episode ends with him recounting his family's many transgressions to an empty auditorium. That he decides to pass the ultimate point of no return means the series loses its biggest star, likely to traumatic effect.
Mylene will no doubt feel guilt for driving her father to such a point, but in the drug-fueled party scene, she fails to realize that her popularity has begun to drive Ezekial away as well. "The family that stays together, gains together," Ramon says early on, and as families fracture here, a greater emphasis is placed on the bonds that remain.
Episode 5 - “Only From Exile Can We Come Home”
In putting both Cadillac and Roy Asheton in their respective places, The Get Down Part 2 finishes by empowering its artists like never before. Mylene is going to Los Angeles to shoot a movie and Ezekial is going to Yale to make his family proud. We still don't know how Zeke comes to be the Nas-voiced superstar later on, but we see the light starting to break through, particularly as the studio engineer encourages Zeke to record some of his rhymes
And yet, hip-hop remains largely unrecognized. Studio exec's and hotel partiers are enamored with Mylene, "See You On The Other Side" gaining greater significance with each passing scene. And though the movement is galvanized in defiance of Cadillac and Annie, the first global hip-hop record, "Rappers Delight," is released less than a year later, with a band, the sort of novelty record Annie had imagined for The Get Down Brothers.
Despite that progress, it's hard to feel optimistic given the current scene, both Boo and Papa Fuerte ending the season under arrest. Zeke tells Shaolin he's officially done after learning of Boo's role in his drug business, and as Books tacks a verse onto Mylene's record, it's uncertain through which avenue he'll make his musical break.
Thor and Dizzee's final train piece reads “You Cannot Imagine What We'll Become” and it's apt, Shaolin falling back into to Annie's clutches, The Get Down Brothers splitting following their biggest triumph yet. Part 2 gave the boys real musical legs within their borough and ends by taking them away, who will become what taking a back seat to how they'll get there.
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