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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The glue doesn’t hold on an unfocused episode of The Get Down

Illustration for article titled The glue doesn’t hold on an unfocused episode of The Get Down
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In film and television, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” almost always spells trouble. And why shouldn’t it? Despite its upbeat and swampy boogie-woogie, the lyrics are explicitly foreboding. There’s a reason why it was used to such iconic effect in An American Werewolf In London, right before the protagonist undergoes his first painful, lycanthropic transformation.

So when The Get Down plays a spookier, slowed-down, minor-key version of the CCR hit, we know that things are about to get dark, especially when considering the events and title of last episode. There will be drugs. There will be death. There will be tragedy. That much is clear from the song’s use as a motif early on in “Gamble Everything,” played over a freaky montage of some of the more surreal images to come. “Bad Moon Rising” pops up several times again throughout the episode, and it’s an effective, tone-setting framing device. That’s not a surprise. The Get Down has always been a show where the music serves as the glue that holds everything together.

Unfortunately, the musical sequences falter elsewhere throughout the episode, and that’s a problem when “Gamble Everything” is one of the plot-heaviest installments of The Get Down so far. The Cruz family’s relationship finally explodes when Ramon discovers that Mylene’s been permitted to perform at the seedy yet lavish Ruby Con nightclub. The shouting match begins with Lydia revealing her unhappiness and the how Mylene is actually Papa Fuerte’s daughter, then ends with her being struck by her husband. While Giancarlo Esposito and Zabryna Guevara are obviously incredible actors, the show hasn’t devoted enough time to the intricacies of their relationship for their knock-down, drag-out fight to work. The stagnant camera work doesn’t help either.

Ra-Ra’s immersion into the Universal Zulu Nation gets similarly short-changed. The sequence is more or less entirely animated, but not with the length or hypnotic fluidity found in the Rocky montage from a couple episodes ago. For the first time, it’s as if the show runners are using animation as a shortcut rather than an unconventional storytelling advice, which feels odd for what’s supposed to be not just such a transcendent scene for Ra, but a possible out for the The Get Down Brothers to escape the tightening grip of Fat Annie.

None of this would be an issue if the episode’s centerpiece—Mylene’s performance at Ruby Con—had the knockout quality of The Get Down Brothers’ first rap battle, the writing of “Set Me Free,” or just about any other musical sequence on the show. But it doesn’t, meaning that the glue meant to hold the rest of “Gamble Everything” together doesn’t hold. For one, beyond some brief nudity and the odd cocaine snort here and there, the club itself never reaches the intoxicating decadence described in its introductory song—a Cabaret-esque number that mixes patter-song and an interpolation of David Bowie’s “Fame.” Despite all the talk of the club’s exoticness and weirdness, the Luhrmann-lite visuals never live up to the hype.

The bigger issue comes with Mylene’s latest song. Titled “Toy Box,” it has none of the gospel or disco elements that have helped her rise to the upper echelon of the airwaves. Hell, it doesn’t even sound like a song that would have been written in the ‘70s—more of an unused Lana Del Rey track than Gloria Gaynor or Donna Summer. Even that could be forgiven if the hook was somewhat memorable, but it never reaches the dizzying heights of anything previously performed by Mylene, which feels odd, given that this is supposed to be her career-making moment in front of mega-producer Robert Stigwood.


Thus, the weaker elements surrounding the music never hit home. Ra’s conversion and Shaolin’s rebelling against Fat Annie are rushed, and Ramon’s drunken suicide onstage at his own church ends up deflated when it should be a gut-punch of a climax. The only plot thread that does resonate throughout “Gamble Everything” is Boo-Boo staying by Dizzee’s bedside as he recovers from last episode’s overdose. As they draw comics together, they rekindle some of their faded sibling bond while also realizing the increasing limitations of their relationship. Dizzee knows that his little brother will likely never understand his romantic feelings for Thor, and it’s both sweet and heartbreaking to see him come to and accept this realization. For once, it’s a quieter, character-driven scene that ends up being the strongest moment on The Get Down.

Stray observation

  • Only one episode left, and we’ve only gotten two scenes with Kevin Corrigan’s Jackie Moreno. Shame!
  • We get to see someone playing Robert Stigwood. Apparently, the New York elite all call him “Stiggy,” which is kind of cute.
  • Did anyone else think Ramon’s blood looked embarrassingly digital in that final scene?
  • I wonder if Afrika Bambaataa will end up playing as prominent a role as Grandmaster Flash in the first season’s final episode. Speaking of which, where the hell is Flash?
  • Am I alone in disliking “Toy Box” so much? I don’t know—it just doesn’t have the power or memorability of “Set Me Free.”