The third episode of The Get Down evokes memories of a song by the Trammps, and, no, I don’t mean “Disco Inferno.” This particular song begins, “Where were you when the lights went out in New York City?” It tells the story of July 13, 1977, the day New Yorkers learned that Con Edison’s power generators were plugged into a gigantic version of the Clapper. Somebody clapped too loudly and POOF! On a Jheri-curl-alert hot summer night, it got real dark, real fast.
And what was the lead singer of the Trammps doing when the lights went out? He was screwing! The entire song is about blackout rumpy-pumpy. There are 8 million stories in the Naked City, and according to the Trammps, every single one of them was X-rated on July 13. So it’s appropriate that this episode ends with a rooftop consummation that’s tender, erotic, and not at all unexpected.
But if you want to talk about unexpected scenes dans le boudoir, look no further than Fat Annie’s apartment above Les Inferno. The owner of a familiar pair of red-and-white Pumas is entertaining Annie with a comical, dirty dance. Clad only in matching red-and-white drawers, Shao performs for Annie, who responds by making it rain up in this club. She compliments Shao on his sexual prowess. “Let me see if I can pet the lion and make it roar again,” she coos. You go, Miss Annie! Get yours, gurl!
Annie’s son, Clarence, a.k.a. Cadillac, isn’t happy about his Mom’s extracurricular activities with Mr. Fantastic. Mama doesn’t care; she tells Cadillac that Shao has “joined the family,” and demands that Cadillac give him some dirty work. “You boys play nice,” she says as she leaves. “Step to me wrong, and I’ll kill you,” Cadillac warns. “Tell anybody what you’re doing with my mama, and I’ll kill you. Breathe in my general direction, and I’ll kill you with pleasure. Understood?” So much for niceties.
Cadillac calls Shao a “muthafucka,” which, technically, is accurate. But Clarence knows better than to defy Annie, so he hands Shao his first assignment. “Make this car disappear,” he orders. “And then we can talk family business.” The car in question is Cadillac’s white Cadillac. The car’s pristine condition should raise a red flag for Shao, but he’s distracted by the notion that he can spend the entire day cruising the Bronx in a gorgeous gas guzzler. Plus, the job pays $100 and mends fences between him and Books.
Meanwhile, Dizzee, Boo-Boo, Ra-Ra, and Yolanda prepare for a weekend without their parents, who are heading to a funeral in Niagara Falls. Mrs. Kipling tells them what they should eat while she’s gone. Sadly, there’s no mention of that Rice-a-Roni with the non-federal cheese and the ground-meat chili, but there is chicken salad and two gallons of milk in the fridge. Before he leaves, Mr. Kipling lays down the law: “No fighting, mind your manners, no biting, no strangers, and no water balloons! Yolanda, you’re in charge, ’cuz the girls are on top!” Is it me, or is Winston Kipling the coolest dad who ever roamed the Earth?
Winston’s parenting style is in stark contrast to the pious righteousness of Reverend Buggin’ Out. Mylene’s church performance got her disowned and thrown out of the house. The Kiplings are putting her up for the time being, and the longing in Mylene’s eyes as she looks at Winston speaks volumes about her own family life. “I’m sure your mother wants you back,” Mrs. K says. It’s too late for that, as Mylene is committed in her belief that Jackie Moreno will shoot her rising star right to the top.
Of course, Mylene shouldn’t put her faith in a drug-addled, deeply indebted, three-time Grammy-winning has-been who can’t wait to snort up whatever money he snags for her stardom. Jackie’s problems increase tenfold when a visit to Marrakesh Records’ head honcho, Roy Asheton (an intense Eric Bogosian), ends with a searing verbal rejection. As usual, Bogosian owns his scene; he may be the scariest gangster on the show.
Jackie immediately switches into hustle-protection mode, convincing Francisco to fund Mylene’s demo himself to the tune of $40,000 — all cash. Flush with money, Jackie buys a little studio time and a lot of cocaine. The latter comes from Cadillac. To prove his disco bona fides, Cadillac also offers up a song written by “a friend.” It’s a “party anthem written in a 4/4 beat” called “Boogie Oogie Disco Biscuit.” With a title like that, Cadillac’s songwriting friend must have been Bill Cosby.
Grandmaster Flash also has a hustle-protection mode, complete with a muscular insurance policy represented by some very large brothers. An insurance claim gets filed against Books and the Kipling kids when they throw a party using an improperly obtained mixtape of Flash’s beats. Their intentions are good — they’re trying to raise money to buy DJ equipment — but they violate the cardinal rule that states one must never pass another’s work off as one’s own. That’s the “no biting” rule Winston mentions. (And you thought “biting” had to do with teeth! Check your Urban Dictionary!) In addition to the crew destroying their relationship with Flash, his burly insurance adjusters destroy the Kiplings’ hair salon. Let’s see how cool a dad Winston is when he returns to this hot mess!
Actually, the Kipling kids will get a reprieve on this one, as the blackout results in the severe looting of many local businesses. When the skyline goes dark, The Get Down asks of its characters the same question the Trammps asked of their listeners. So let’s see where everybody is when the lights go out in New York City.
Shao, Books, and the Kipling boys end their test drive by discovering the dead body of the teenager Cadillac accidentally shot at Les Inferno. The Kiplings panic, but Books finally steps into his intended leadership role. He tells them this event inextricably bonds the FF+1 crew in such a game-changing manner that they need a new moniker: the Get Down Brothers. Revenge against Cadillac is their current goal, so after sinking his car in the river, the Get Down Brothers runs a slow-motion equipment raid on Les Inferno.
Mylene is totally not feeling the Quaaludes song Jackie brought her. In a coke-fueled panic, Jackie starts destroying the studio. But during the blackout, Mylene has a calming effect on him; she makes him feel needed in his capacity as a producer. Jackie reveals his terrible fall from a success-filled grace, but Mylene’s faith nevertheless clears his head and motivates him. In this scene, Kevin Corrigan and Herizen Guardiola do their best acting so far in the series, and for once, a song choice isn’t used in such blatantly on-the-nose fashion. Accompanied by Jackie on piano, Mylene does a powerful rendition of the Supremes’ biggest post–Miss Ross hit, “Up the Ladder to the Roof.” Later, taking that song’s advice, she leads Books “up the ladder to the roof, where we can see heaven much better.” The on-again, off-again couple finally consummate their relationship.
Mylene also plays into another story line after Francisco gets a surprise visit at his office from his sister-in-law. She accuses him of tearing her family apart by supporting Mylene’s silly ideas about singing. But when the office goes dark, the truth comes to light: Francisco and his brother’s wife were an item back in the day, but for whatever reason, she chose to marry a Christian hypocrite instead of a capitalist hustler. That hustler still carries a torch for her, one that’s burned since 1960. Mrs. Cruz is conflicted, but her principles win out for now. Still, we see a side of her that fleshes out and complicates her character. The way Jimmy Smits and Zabryna Guevara play this scene is magnificent — it’s subtle, aching, suspenseful, and real. Their dialogue and symbolic slow dance inject a level of emotion into The Get Down that I hope to see in future episodes.
And let’s hope that happens soon, if only because the show’s action plotlines are its least interesting elements. The cavalier attitude toward death just doesn’t work as well as the human factors that ultimately drive The Get Down. Relationships of all types — romantic, sexual, familial, and platonic — take center stage in this episode, giving the series a much-needed stabilizing force. The show finally feels as if it is comfortably settling into its own skin. Or at the very least, implementing its own hustle-protection mode.