It’s been just over a month since Baz Luhrmann‘s hip-opera The Get Down returned to Netflix. Reviews of part one were divisive. Some reviewers praised the glitz and bustle, while critics painted it as childish and thrown together. On the whole response had been positive, though. Countless people waited patiently to reconnect with their favorite young poet Zeke, his disco queen Mylene, and all of The Get Down Brothers.
I waited this long to write about Part 2 because I was one of those people. Part 1 was one one of my all time favorite binges. Everything from the bright palette of red, orange, and yellow that permeated the set design to Zeke’s rhymes and the dances that accompanied them left me captivated. Dreams and expectations all came wrapped in a youthful exuberance that the show’s young cast carried with retro swag. Although struggles no doubt were ahead for The Get Down Brothers, Part 1 left viewers believing in the magic and power of hip-hop.
While there is a lot of meaningful truth to the intense melodrama of Part 2, I felt no reason to believe The Get Down was going to become a tragedy.
To be clear, I find nothing wrong with tragedy or a little bit of heart break. I am of the firm belief that Harry Potter should have stayed dead in book seven. He’s a more dramatic character as a martyr and Neville, as the hero. Voldemort was open season with the destruction of the last digress. I digress. My point in all of this wizard talk is to say that I do think tragedy has its place, but the way it came for Zeke and the gang. Actually, I should rephrase that. Zeke himself makes it out Part 2 relatively unscathed, but we’ll come back to that.
As a musician, The Get Down was always an underdog story to me. In the late ’70s disco was still enjoying its run as America’s go-to party music. Drugs like cocaine and angel dust found a home in clubs like the infamous Studio 54 and its fictional counterpart Les Inferno. Struggling underneath it all was the Bronx, literally in flames as children wandered the streets and fell wayward into crime.
Amid this turmoil, The Get Down Brothers found solidarity through rhyme. Although they may stumble along their way (Shao gets Boo into drug dealing and Dizzee collapses from a bad batch of dust) they risk everything they have for the chance to transcend their circumstance. The dream is alive and well when Ra-Ra finds an in to the Zulu Nation. Corny budget masking cartoons aside, it is an uplifting feeling when The Get Down Brothers united to set themselves and Cadillac free from Fat Annie’s gangster grasp. That is, until it all comes undone in the span of twenty minutes.
Had Part 2 ended in freedom for The Get Down Brothers I would have only minor gripes about its five episodes. The cartoon transitions were confusing at first and down-right childish by the end, but I gave them a pass knowing The Get Down’s troubled budget history. Pacing was definitely an issue as the show rushed to tie the knots of its hopelessly tangled plot web. I personally was unsure at the onset if Part was the continuation of Season 1 or the conclusion of a mini-series. Hindsight points to the latter, and it’s a shame because each of the story’s rich characters gets stifled by its knee-jerk ending. Each of them except Zeke and Mylene.
Despite an incident involving Shaolin, a gun, and a few young representatives for Yale, as well as defiantly walking away from his internship, Zeke gets what was always expected of him. The show’s final scenes show him at the kitchen table, college acceptance letter in hand, while Shao is forced back to Annie, Boo is in jail, Dizzee is likely dead, and Ra-Ra is left with no brothers. All the talk of unity and spirit fall apart at the hands of the Bronx’s seedy underbelly, and yet the narrative expects the viewer to be glad in that moment for the boy who made it out.
But there is no hero in Ezekiel Figuero. Any moral sense of obligation on his part is destroyed at least three times throughout Part 2. Once when he kisses Claudia Gunns, again when he leaves the internship, and once more when he abandons Shaolin at the end. We’re supposed to be proud when Zeke finally lets go of his inner-city ties, but it’s impossible when you see the damage he’s left behind. He has the makings of a tragic hero, one whose indecisiveness costs him his passion, but based on the stadium scenes that start each episode we know this not to be the case. Instead, The Get Down punishes everyone involved in Zeke’s flaw while he is free to become anything he wants to be-perhaps it is my own misunderstanding.
For all I know The Get Down was always meant to be the ballad of a young poet and his princess, destined to be estranged. How else are we supposed to interpret Mylene never returning a final “I love you” to Zeke before flying to LA? If there’s any retribution it is that Mylene will most likely never return to the Bronx. But what is the message then: in a show supposedly about the formation of hip-hop the only victor is a gospel/disco singer?
If I had to describe Part 2 of The Get Down in a word, I would probably use confusing, although disappointing also feels like an apt substitute. If it were possible to blame it on the budget I would, however issues with character progression and a complete shark-jump ending leave a long lasting taste all their own. It feels as though the writers forgot halfway through what made The Get Down enjoyable in pursuit of an end, due to its extravagant spending. For those who may not have seen Part 2 yet, its better to leave The Get Down Brothers as they were at the end Part 1. Young, black, and inspirational.