Saturday, August 13, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Get Down' - Zeke Helps Mylene Put on a Performance in Church in 'Seek Those Who Fan Your Flames'

Netflix's The Get Down - Episode 1.02 "Seek Those Who Fan Your Flames"

The guys seek spiritual advice from a grandmaster. Mylene's future might be in the hands of her father and politically powerful uncle.

The series premiere for The Get Down may have been long and over-flourished but it at least had distinguishing and exciting visuals. Not all of them worked but they built an episode that was pretty entertaining from start to finish. It's no surprise that that's what series creator and director Baz Luhrmann brought to the table. And yet, Luhrmann isn't directing every episode of the show this season. So, it's up to other directors to bring consistency to the storytelling while also keeping things exciting and unique. Martin Scorsese's directing of the Vinyl pilot covered up a host of issues with the story and characters that subsequent directors couldn't distract from. That same fate could befall The Get Down. So, there's a lot of pressure on the directors that follow Luhrmann this season. First up is veteran cable director Ed Bianchi, who really begins laying the groundwork for how this show looks on an episode-to-episode basis.

The episode really is a dying art form in the television industry. Because so much focus is on binging nowadays, creatives figure they don't need to make every episode distinct and entertaining because audiences will watch multiple episodes in one sitting. It's certainly how a lot of people watch television in today's world. That has led to the rise of season-long storytelling. A narrative that becomes very rewarding after watching the 13-episode journey. And yet, that process can become very tedious. If a show isn't providing pleasure with each episode, then what's the point? The Get Down probably could never be boring. All it needs to do is put at least one outrageous sequence in every episode to keep the energy high. But another problem with this mode of storytelling is that it can become lackluster if the story isn't inherently interesting. All the flashy tricks can't compensate for a story that's not coming together. "Seek Those Who Fan Your Flames" does have a number of crazy sequences - one that works incredibly well while another fails epically. But it also does a number of smart things in actually building upon the connections and relationships between the characters. It may be slightly boring in the moment but very necessary for the overall enjoyment of the season.

The young characters need to have strong and rewarding friendships. That's the only way this story is going to be enjoyable. Right now, Zeke and Shaolin are the only two important characters who are a part of the Fantastic Four Plus One. Dizzee, Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo don't really exist as personalities yet. They are simply along for this ride. Zeke and Shaolin are the two with dreams and ambitions. They are the ones who want to learn from Grandmaster Flash. They are the ones willing to put in the effort to understand how he does what he does as a DJ. The rest of the crew are there for support but leave as soon as it's time for dinner. They have a warm and healthy family unit waiting for them back at home. Zeke and Shaolin don't have that. They have the music and each other. That's it. Zeke's aunt and her boyfriend don't really understand his ambitions. They haven't tried to connect with him. So, he's always spending time away from them and the world they want him to live in. Meanwhile, Shaolin's family is the crime world where he works for Annie. But that's largely just a means to an end to support his musical goals. All of this highlights and strengthens the bond between Zeke and Shaolin. And yet, that bond is already being tested before it's really established in a genuine and meaningful way.

It certainly is strange that the show is already putting the pressure on Zeke and Shaolin's friendship. It is still relatively new and fragile. They talk a big game about how they are going to conquer the world together. But they still don't completely know the other all that well. Zeke is able to crack the mystery of the crayon for Shaolin while Shaolin shows Zeke the majesty of watching birds take flight together. It's in those moments that showcase how effective they are as a team. It's so rewarding to watch Shaolin finally master the turn tables. After so much hard work, he finally achieves it. This friendship is rewarded for all of the hard work. And then, outside forces conspire to tear them apart. It shows that this world can be cruel and unforgiving to anyone who dares to chase their dreams. Shaolin quit Annie's organization to focus full-time on his music career. But then, two young gangsters set his dojo on fire. So now, he'll be forced to return to that criminal world in order to finance his life again. It's a crushing defeat that is played through Zeke and Shaolin having their biggest argument yet. It just feels a little too forced to come across as a meaningful setback to their journey together.

Plus, Zeke is still distracted by Mylene as well. He has thrown himself into the music with Shaolin in order to get over being rejected by her so many times. It's only because he went to the get down and saw Grandmaster Flash and the MC perform that he was able to get over those hurt feelings. She still has quite a hold over him though. As soon as she appears, he goes running to her. Their chemistry is electric. But she still chose not to start something with him because of his lack of drive and confidence. She doesn't know what he's up to with Shaolin in the dojo. She just figures he's messing around. And now, she actually needs his help in order to impress a music executive. Her uncle, Francisco Cruz, has arranged for a music producer to come listen to her sing at church. He's doing so as a favor so Francisco will forgive his massive debts. That does open the question: If Francisco had this connection all along, why has Mylene been struggling to get noticed in the music industry? Why hasn't he tried to help her before? But more importantly, Zeke has to help her as well. She can't just simply sing the traditional and boring church hymns. She has solos that highlight her range. But that's not all that impressive. She needs to do more to stand out. She needs Zeke's help for that to happen. She needs him in order to get her big break. And yet, that drive is what led to their heartbreak in the premiere. Mylene needs Zeke's help but doesn't believe he strives for anything beyond their neighborhood.

Mylene also doesn't know just how close she is to losing everything she has either. Her father is very strict when it comes to religion. He needs his daughter to be a perfect girl. He wants that to compensate for the errors in his past. He's judging her because of the trouble he got into as a teen. He wants Mylene to be more modest and a god-fearing woman like the rest of his small congregation. He doesn't support her dreams. He believes he has encouraged these prideful thoughts by letting her have a solo every week in church. So now, he's willing to cut her off to keep her in line. At first, he just takes away her solo. But he's also serious about cutting her off completely just to see how she survives. He wants her to know just how much she needs him. To get that support, she just has to be the person he wants her to be. That's very oppressive. And yet, Mylene's star power can't be contained by her father. It's exhilarating watching her take over the church service and turn it into an audition for the music producer. The executive is ready to walk out the door because of all the craziness and lack of talent around him. But Mylene demands to be noticed. Gone are the beliefs that she has to remain modest in church in order to respect her family. She needs to act out to be a star. She succeeds in the moment. She takes the whole church on a journey. It's something she does in an outfit her father does not approve of. But it's a moment where she's in the spotlight and in control of her own future. It's a rising final moment for the episode. It should be very interesting to see what happens next both in terms of her career and the fallout with her father. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Seek Those Who Fan Your Flames" was written by Sam Bromell, Sinead Daly & Jacqui Rivera and directed by Ed Bianchi.
  • The crime story also takes quite the turn with Cadillac killing one of the young gangsters who shot up the club in the premiere. That was an unexpected and very crazy moment. It stands out because it's just so different and not as fun or effective as the rest of the show. A murder could really derail a lot of momentum the show has going for it.
  • Annie has a homicide detective in her pocket letting her know all of the details about the shooting investigation. And yet, she is still unable to reopen her club or sell drugs on the streets. So, she is currently operating with no new money coming in.
  • Mylene and her friends performing Gloria Estefan's "Turn the Beat Around" was quite a fun and infectious moment. It was just plain exciting to watch. All three of them are fun performers.
  • Mylene's mother does seem more supportive of her dreams than her father. She even shares her own childhood dream of wanting to be a veterinarian. Plus, she allows Mylene to break the rules in order to get the dress for the big church performance.
  • When the gangsters set the dojo on fire, it's suppose to be precarious and nerve-wrecking that Dizzee is in the building. And yet, it's not because he really hasn't been that important of a character. Plus, it wouldn't have been surprising if he was killed because Jaden Smith is only a recurring guest star. However, he was there to save the turn table so that Shaolin can spin for another day - just without his precious record collection.
  • Francisco knows that his brother, Ramon, is struggling to fill the seats at his church. He is spreading the word for him. But it's much more important that the brothers fight over their different influences on Mylene.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.