Heading into the final five episodes of “The Get Down,” it feels like the story surrounding Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix series has overwhelmed its narrative. Production budgets, structural innovations, and a rare split in the streaming giant’s “all at once” release strategy have dominated conversation, instead of how hip-hop was mis-appropriated and corrupted by the record business. Outside of Baz Luhrmann’s love-it-or-leave-it filmmaking style, there’s no real reason for this: The first six episodes of “The Get Down” delivered its message with addictive grooves and intimate passion. At the very least, everyone should have found a song or two that got them out of their seat and a character (or six) to champion.
If not, the final five episodes may send you reeling. Taking place one year after the end of Part 1, “The Get Down” wraps up Season 1 by amplifying its core musical elements; there are more performances from the The Get Down Brothers and Mylene Cruz as both gain traction in their quest for stardom, and there’s an intensified focus on the challenges and choices facing musicians. Each performance feels like a victory just by reaching the stage, and what’s done when they’re up there is an extraordinary accomplishment from a true collaboration of artists. “The Get Down” comes together and cranks it up to 11, if you will, and for those who were already invested, it’s quite a ride.
A ride I hope isn’t over just yet. Without spoiling anything, I can say Jaden Smith’s Dizzie, while telling The Get Down Brothers’ story in comic book form, describes the last scenes of Part II as “The Final Chapter.” The aforementioned outside elements looming over the production gives cause for concern regarding the series’ future, as does Dizzie himself. (While no renewal has been confirmed, Luhrmann has said recently that Netflix and Sony are both “very driven” about making a second season.)
Dizzie’s comic adventures are a new addition, as the street artist uses paper instead of public property to share his craft and recount the crew’s quest for artistic conquest. We watch animated sequences that he narrates instead of the typical live-action accounts, and these scenes pop up randomly enough to make you wonder if they were incorporated to save money, help avoid reshoots, or simply add an extra dash of flavor in this giant creative pot — we’ve got DJs, choreographers, musicians, actors, directors, writers, and more, all on set, so why not an animation team, too?
Though Part 2 emphasizes and honors the vitality of all artistry, especially when working together, the bright, period-specific animation doesn’t pop as vividly as the general mise en scene found in the astounding sets. Meanwhile, Dizzie’s alien analogy for his homosexuality — he draws himself as a green extraterrestrial separate from, but living in, the human world — feels a bit too on the nose for us to maintain genuine admiration for his drug-fueled paintings. His disconnect from reality draws the wrong kind of comparisons considering who’s playing him, and his final arc is frighteningly opaque.
He’s not alone. A few other major players suffer from alienating character choices, with Ezekiel (Justice Smith) and Mylene’s (Herizen F. Guardiola) romance taking the biggest hit. We’re supposed to be witnessing how the all-encompassing quest for artistic accomplishment can drive a couple apart, but a few of their choices are based in forced melodrama. Luhrmann, Nelson, and the various writers and directors credited for these five episodes pull us back into the young love story by season’s end, but the couple’s spark survives because of what was forged in Season 1, not how they lose touch in Season 2.
That’s not for lack of trying on the actors’ part — Justice Smith remains a revelation, and the overall cast is finely in tune with their wild surroundings. “The Get Down” went to some dark places during Part 1, and Part 2 pushes even further. Mylene’s continuous battles with her religious father (Giancarlo Esposito) come to a head, as her budding fame demands more of her than he’s willing to give. Shaolin Fantastic (played by the electric Shameik Moore) is deeper than ever in the drug game, and The Get Down brothers are all being tested by their criminal surroundings. And Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, a charming devil) fully inherits his villainous birthright.
This kind of drama demands a strong, singular voice to tie together the many artistic forms coming together to tell this story, and Part 2 feels ever so slightly lacking in Luhrmann’s touch. The auteur Netflix executives demanded usher the entire season, start to finish, didn’t direct any of the final five episodes, and fans will be able to tell. What’s there is still powerful, passionate television; it just feels like there’s a bit more potential to be tapped than comes across.
And yet, thematically, “The Get Down” has everything working for it. It’s a fascinating subject told with vibrancy on every level, and the production deserves immense respect for the artistry packed into these episodes, rather than simply being saddled with the “troubled” label. If “Part 2” colors outside the lines a few times, it’s only because it’s straining to encapsulate an era of immense creative productivity. The spectacle is better than the chatter, and if these final five episodes are actually the end of Luhrmann’s serialized Netflix experiment, I’ll be sad to see it go. What we end on feels aptly obstreperous, plaintive, and charged, but there’s so much left to explore. With this team of master builders in place, it’d be criminal not to see what they can create next.
“The Get Down” Part 2 premieres Friday, April 7 on Netflix. Part 1 is streaming now.