When reviewing the front half of The Get Down’s first season, most of my criticisms revolved around the series’ tonal inconsistency—how the near-parodical villains and politicians clashed with the more authentic portrayals of inner-city youth and, of course, hip-hop and disco music in the 1970s.
Going into the second half of the season, it’s pointless to keep skewering the show for its clashing story points. Because, let’s face it, those elements don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. At the end of the day, The Get Down isn’t striving to be authentic as much as it’s striving to be a vintage kaleidoscope—a constantly spinning tunnel of of real-life events, cartoonish gangsters, the eye candy of late-’70s New York, and, most importantly, the rise of several vibrant and important musical genres. As a critic, you have to eventually accept this aesthetic and meet the show on its own terms, or hand the job to someone else.
So with that in mind, what’s the critical barometer be going forward for The Get Down, a show whose central thesis (and appeal to its fans) relies on its inherent messiness? It probably varies from person to person. For me, success all depends on how well the production team can curate the messiness. At what point is each rotation of the kaleidoscope enthralling, and at what point does it make you nauseous?
In the case of “Unfold Your Own Myth,” the faster the show spins, the better. The writers used the same approach for last year’s lackluster midseason finale, but it succeeds here because, from a pure plotting standpoint, The Get Down is beginning to coalesce. For all of Ezekiel’s writing about everyone in his world leading two different lives (that’s more or less the theme of the episode), the warring elements are at least finally taking place in the same environment; under one raised and enflamed roof, so to speak.
For instance, it looks like Mylene’s Pentecostal upbringing will eventually be a bigger sticking point as her music career continues to evolve. But for now, her father proudly watches from the sidelines as she and the Soul Madonnas perform a new song on Platinum Boogie, a dance variety hour that bears a striking resemblance to Soul Train. In Ramon’s mind, such a national showcase of the group’s disco-gospel hybrid is just another way to spread his faith to the masses.
While Mylene looks uneasy about her father’s enthusiasm (as I said, it’s bound to result in conflict down the line), their uneasy alliance is preferable to watching her get physically abused inside their apartment. If nothing else, transporting the tension to a musical sequence makes room for, well, more musical sequences—still The Get Down’s biggest strength, by far.
The same principle applies to The Get Down Brothers’ residency at Cadillac’s rehabilitated nightclub. Sure, their mic-passing performances rake in the cash, but it’s also a front for Cadillac and Shaolin Fantastic to be able to move more cocaine (as well as heroin and angel dust, apparently). In that way, drug dealing is to Shao what religious oppression is to Mylene. Neither one of them truly wants that monkey—haloed or not—on their back, but for now, it allows them to do the thing they love.
It’s also easier to swallow the outsized personalities of Cadillac and Little Wolf after witnessing The Get Down Brothers’ most lyrically agile performance to date. One of the great pleasures of watching The Get Down is the young musicians’ artistic evolution. Just as Mylene (with help from Jackie Moreno) figured out how to fuse spiritual inflection with the supposedly sinful hallmarks of disco, each of the Kipling brothers is gradually developing their own persona to match Ezekiel’s: Dizzee deals in surrealism, Boo-Boo is all braggadocio and bluster, and Ra-Ra prefers to spit about his leadership and intelligence.
On top of the two musical centerpieces, director Lawrence Tilling and series co-creator Stephen Adly Guirgis (who wrote the episode) heap on stylization after stylization. In addition to the adult Ezekiel’s usual opening rap, the young Ezekiel bookends “Unfold Your Own Myth” with his statement of purpose in his entrance essay to Yale, weighing the best technique to write about the dichotomy of his life. This forms the odd artistic choice of a framing device within a framing device as he ponders the duality of his buttoned-up internship and burgeoning rap career; of Shao’s turntable skills and descent into drug-dealing; of Mylene being torn between her faith, her fame, and her relationship with Ezekiel; of Ezekiel’s own leanings toward infidelity.
And yet, the dovetailing of The Get Down’s once disparate story beats allows it all to hang together to the point where every left-field trick becomes fun, rather than contributing to the sensory overload of some of the early episodes. Because of the consolidation of the various religious, musical, political, and criminal conflicts, there’s room for two framing devices. There’s room for two musical sequences. There’s room for two instances of the show suddenly becoming animated to reflect the original comic book Dizzee keeps sending to Thor in jail.
Does any of this feel narratively realistic? Of course not. But by keeping everything in close proximity to the music, “Unfold Your Own Myth” finds a vibrancy that was often lacking in previous episodes. Even if the plot doesn’t always feel authentic, the show’s spirit certainly does.
- Welcome back to The Get Down. We’ll be posting a new review every day at noon for these final five episodes.
- Cool Calvin Moody is an excellent surrogate for the late Don Cornelius.
- I feel like I should dock the episode a whole letter grade for not featuring enough Kevin Corrigan, but oh well.
- Papa Fuerte and Lydia’s affair is still of little interest to me. Hopefully the show will do something valuable with it.
- As much as I love The Get Down Brothers’ steadily improving lyrics, I don’t think any MCs were rapping with that kind of adeptness and creativity back in 1978. The imagery and flow just seem to be light years ahead of what was being written at the time. Still, the rap sequences are so good, I won’t complain.
- “Big Bird sniffing glue” is a surprisingly accurate way to describe the sex appeal of Joey Ramone.
- Dizzee’s alien voice in the cartoon sequence reminds me of the vocal effect André 3000 started often adopting on Outkast’s ATLiens.
- Ezekiel deciding to address Yale as if it were a romantic partner is a nice touch. I wonder if that would work in real life.
- “Shao, lemme get some chocolate milk to chase this champagne.”