Sunday, August 14, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Get Down' - A Blackout Forces Everyone to Confront What They Truly Want in 'Darkness Is Your Candle'

Netflix's The Get Down - Episode 1.03 "Darkness Is Your Candle"

Disgraced record producer Jackie Moreno wants to shepherd Mylene's music career. Boo-Boo plays a rare bootleg tape at a party, inviting trouble.

Nothing bonds a group of friends together like sinking a body to the bottom of the river, right? That's certainly something that I wasn't expecting to happen on this show. It definitely gives some credence to the inconsistent and erratic criticisms of the narrative. And yet, "Darkness Is Your Candle" is the most effective episode of The Get Down yet. Yes, it's startling to see Zeke, Shaolin and their crew being unified as they dump a car with a body in the trunk into the river. It's an experience that rocks all of them to their cores. But it also strengthens the bond between the characters. The connections amongst them are becoming stronger. They are relying on each other more and more. They are all realizing that they need each other in order to achieve their dreams and escape from the Bronx. Their city is only getting worse with each passing day. Sure, that provides them with opportunities to further their ambitions. But it's also a debilitating factor that could destroy any one of their spirits. Because it hasn't done that yet, they have emerged stronger and more united than ever before.

It's not as if the gang started in a happy and healthy place either. All of their hard work went up in flames after Shaolin's dojo was set on fire. Zeke, Dizzee, Ra-Ra and Boo-Boo are pulling their money together in the hopes of being able to buy new equipment. Meanwhile, Shaolin has returned to Annie. He is committed even more to her now. It's unclear if he was sleeping with her before. But he sure is now - to the vitriol of her son, Cadillac. He's becoming more and more a part of this family. That's why he was tasked with getting rid of the car with the body in the trunk. But with that increasing importance in the criminal operation, it will only become more difficult for him to leave again. His musical ambitions haven't gone away just because all of his prized possessions went up in flames. Sure, he acted violently and pushed his new friends away in the aftermath. But he still wants to be the next DJ who changes the world. He's just now accepting that he needs to be a criminal with Annie in order to finance all of those dreams. The rest of the crew is continuing to play it straight. But that's not really bringing the money in right now.

Despite pulling their money together, Zeke and the crew can't afford to buy any of the equipment they need right now. And yet, that visit to the local music store wasn't for nothing. It's there where they get a secret bootleg copy of Grandmaster Flash spinning. They don't know how to do what he does with records. But they figure they can just play the tape and throw a massive party to make a bunch of money. They are just teenagers after all. They want to try stupid stuff like this just to make a quick buck. They've become captivated by what Grandmaster Flash has done. Ever since they first stepped into the get down, the entire crew has wanted to be a part of this musical moment. And now, they are taking this opportunity for themselves. They throw a party and it goes well for a long time. But this decision has the potential to ruin everything they have worked so hard for over the course of the series so far. Word got around. That's why they got so many guests to attend. But it's also what leads to the Grandmaster's crew showing up and exposing them for the frauds they really are. The music business can be very territorial. And now, the crew has lost any kind of good faith they have with the Grandmaster. They could be out there on their own for the rest of the season. That's a terrifying prospect.

And yet, Zeke and the crew don't wallow in the misery over potentially ruining all of this good fortune in their lives. Shaolin pulls up in the sweet car and invites them to chill with him and have fun for the rest of the day. They are able to just escape from all of the responsibilities of the chaos they just created. They are able to leave all of this behind and just have a good time with each other again. Yes, it's incredibly strange and startling to see Shaolin want to be close with the guys again. He made it a big deal when he told Zeke to keep on walking if they ever saw each other again after the fire. But now, he's cooled off and wants to reconnect with the crew again. It's an erratic plot beat for sure. And yet, it also highlights just how young and hopeful the characters really are. They say things in the heat of the moment. But they still want to conquer the world together. Shaolin is just doing it with a fresh perspective now. Of course, not everything can be fun and games. They do find the body in the trunk and have to deal with it. They have to finish pushing the car into the river. They need to do so as a united group of friends. None of them can turn back now. They will be forever changed by what they've just done together. It will strengthen their friendship but it also means more hardships are coming for them in the future.

The final third of this episode is perhaps the bleakest the show has ever been. The city is plunged into chaos by a mass power outrage. Moments after sinking the car in the river, the power goes out in the whole city. It's a stark difference from the world the characters and audience have come to know across three episodes. It forces everyone into action just in order to survive. It makes this world so much more dangerous. Everyone has the one thing that they care about. During the blackout, they are each in close proximity to achieving those dreams. But the darkness also ensures that nothing will be simple when it comes to obtaining them. Zeke can't just act like the events of this day won't change him moving forward. He and the crew will need to get back at Cadillac for what he forced them to do. Lydia wants her daughter to return home so that her family can return to being happy and healthy. She doesn't want her husband to be suicidal in the aftermath of the church performance. And yet, that would be asking Mylene to change her whole identity just to fit into a box. That's not something that Francisco wants for her which Lydia slowly has to accept. Meanwhile, Mylene has to realize all the hard work it will take to make it in the music business especially by working with a producer who may no longer be good. All of these stories hit their emotional high points during the blackout as everyone comes to a big revelation about their futures.

Of course, there was a lot of awkwardness in the handling of Zeke and Mylene's relationship before she went to Manhattan to record a demo. First off, it's clear that her producer, Jackie, is manipulating her and Francisco just to get money to buy drugs from Cadillac. But more importantly, she continues to look to Zeke for support as she chases these dreams that can take her far away from him. It's meaningful that Mylene and the rest of the girls learn what the guys have been up to lately. They enjoy the party just as much as they do. However, they are the ones left to clean up the mess. Mylene is able to escape that by going to the recording session to record her demo. She does so alone because Zeke is a player and wants to hang with his friends. He isn't there to support Mylene. But she doesn't need his support anyway. She finds a new way to get confidence in her performance. She just has to believe that she is talented and deserves to be a star. Jackie just wants to hand her a pretty terrible song and be done with it. The blackout forces them to connect and get to the true honesty of what Mylene wants to do in the business. It's a beautiful moment that shows that Jackie may still have some redeeming qualities left in him. Mylene singing that final song is wonderful - especially once Zeke's verse is added on top of it. That just shows just how powerful a pairing they can truly be. In the end, there is no awkwardness either. Mylene may be heading on to bigger and better things. But she's just as interested in knowing what's going on in Zeke's life. It may be difficult now but letting that pain and frustration out could be very beneficial moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Darkness Is Your Candle" was written by T Cooper, Allison Glock-Cooper & Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Andrew Bernstein.
  • Shaolin is trying to make "Books" a thing for Zeke. It's his new street name because he's so smart. And yet, it's something the show is only vaguely interested in including. So, it's really difficult to latch onto it as something important.
  • Things surprisingly got romantic and tense between Francisco and Lydia. That was unexpected and a little weird. The impact of that scene was lessened a little bit though because it dragged on for too long. It could have been shorter and much more effective.
  • For a brief moment, Zeke is back in Annie's club where so much of this story got started. His uncle puts him to work fixing the place up. But then, Cadillac storms in with a mood swing and fires them both while also asking for Mylene's number.
  • The Kipling kids probably won't be punished too severely for throwing a party in their parents' salon. The Grandmaster's crew broke a lot of stuff. The kids didn't even clean it up. Because of the blackout though, they can just blame all of the damage on looters breaking into the store.
  • Zeke, Shaolin and the rest of the crew actually break into the music store and steal the turn table and more equipment during the blackout. That highlights just how dangerous and criminal they are becoming. It's something they feel they need to do in order to survive in this world.
  • The opening performances from an older Zeke have become fun little moments to start each episode. However, it's disappointing that the show isn't even using Daveed Diggs' talents. The vocals are dubbed over by Nas. Plus, the only purpose they serve is to catch the audience up on what happened between the episodes. Here, the music lets us know that Mylene has been kicked out of her house following her church performance.

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.