Many of The Get Down’s characters have the opportunity to go down a single path in “You Have Wings, Learn To Fly.” Ezekiel can be creative or be an intern. Jackie and Mylene can go disco or go secular with their music. Ramon can admit to his past sins or continue as a (somewhat false) holy man. And Shaolin can commit himself to either DJing or hustling. All of these respective people vocally struggle with their dilemma, and by the end of the episode, it seems that they’ll go with one choice over the other.
But they don’t. Instead, most of The Get Down’s cast decides they can be many things at once. Ezekiel realizes he can succeed at his internship, play church piano, and write rhymes for his crew. Jackie, Mylene, Yolanda, Regina, and all of their session musicians can create a song that’s equal parts disco and gospel. Ramon can own up to his sins—which, as revealed by Papa Fuerte, involve cocaine addiction and impregnating two different women back in Puerto Rico—and still be a Pentecostal pastor. And although it seems like he wants to eventually sever his ties with Fat Annie and Cadillac, Shao can still keep one foot in the criminal world and his music career. None of these things are mutually exclusive.
All of these outcomes end up being refreshing for going against the traditional entertainment narrative. As an audience, we’ve been trained to think that, when presented with a choice, characters generally go in one direction. But The Get Down, in its own open-minded way, recognizes that there are so many of us not defined by one thing or one stereotype. That’s especially true of hip-hop, a genre founded on the idea of compelling juxtaposition, of faith mixed with sin, violence mixed with tenderness, personal turmoil mixed with personal betterment.
As with just about everything else on The Get Down, the episode still bites off more than it can chew. Ramon’s past, in particular, gets hurriedly blurted out by Papa Fuerte in one clunky monologue, and the love triangle between the two brothers and Lydia continues to be the least interesting part of the show. Their whole subplot gets temporarily resolved early on, which doesn’t do any favors for its emotional resonance. Is there anyone out there who’s actually been moved by their story over, say, Ezekiel, Mylene, or any of the younger, more developed characters?
On the flip side, Ramon’s humbling does finally result in a moment of actual bonding between him and Mylene, something the series has been sorely lacking from the very beginning. And because they get most of the Cruz business out of the way in the front half, it frees up most of “You Have Wings, Learn To Fly” to focus on—what else?—the music; most notably the Get Down Brothers’ upcoming battle with Kool Herc’s crew, the Notorious Three. The favored musical highlight of the episode will likely be the disco-gospel hybrid of “Set Me Free,” but the Kipling brothers each finding their own voice as MCs is equally as thrilling. Dizzee turns out to be a solid rapper, Boo-Boo croons in falsetto like Michael Jackson, and Ra-Ra—while unable to rap at a measured pace—can spit at hyper-speed in the same fashion as more modern performers such as Twista, Bizzy Bone, and Dizzee Rascal.
The boys realize all of this gradually, playing to the show’s other strength of capturing the process—not just the product—of making art. Maybe that’s why the montages are always more captivating to me than the big musical set pieces. As exhilarating as “Set Me Free” is in its polished church-studio incarnation, it’s still a bigger gas to see Jackie get frustrated with himself as he figures out the right chords. It’s a bigger gas to see him assign the various parts as they come to him. Likewise, I could watch Ezekiel and his friends get high, screw around, and make music in their run-down rehearsal space for hours on end. It captures both a real-life casualness and rawness that the show sometimes struggles with when it gets more extravagant.
Depending on how much The Get Down wants to leave open-ended for the second half of its first season, there may be a lot to wrap up in the midpoint finale. And to be honest, I can’t say I’m excited to revisit anything having to do with Cadillac and Fat Annie, or even Papa Fuerte’s alliance with Ed Koch, even though both plot points have proved to be essential to the music itself. But even if the writers could have taken more time with these various elements or at least handled them with a lighter touch, they do fall in line with its everything-goes policy. If disco, hip-hop, and gospel can rub up against one another and still be entertaining, maybe the same goes with nostalgia, undercooked romance, cartoonish politics, and even more cartoonish criminals.
- In case anyone missed it, you can find every song featured in The Get Down’s first season over at TIME.
- The fast rappers I mentioned above are all modern. Does Ra-Ra’s style remind you of any older-school MCs? Big Daddy Kane maybe? Ra-Ra’s cadence is more rapid-fire and less abrasive, but he’s also young.
- I plan to watch some footage of the real-life Herc talking later, but does Eric D. Hill, Jr. do a decent job capturing the DJ’s aura? Is he up there with Mamoudou Athie as Grandmaster Flash?
- No Spanish-to-English from Papa Fuerte this week, I don’t think. Bummer.
- Although this was no doubt my favorite episode of the series so far, no quotes jumped out at me. Any suggestions?