The early 2000s was the era of the mash-up — a bizarre, pop-forward era in music where everyone collectively lost their minds and catered their mixes toward the melodic tastes of the average fraternity rager. There’s very little of that era of music production that I find salvageable outside of some of the more oblique corners of noise pop (hello, Sleigh Bells and Discovery): The retrospective failures range from the truly abhorrent and dissonant car crashes of the DJ Earworm year-end roundups to the seeming well-intended fan-service effort behind projects like Linkin Park and Jay-Z’s Collision Course, which was ultimately a shameless cash grab by labels poorly attempting to create the lightning-in-a-bottle moment of Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album (which, if you ask me, was grossly overhyped). If there’s anything I took away from that era, it’s that not all things blend well together, despite the long history of sampling being used for innovating new sounds and pushing new musical textures forward; there is still an art and nuance to the practice.
This week, we find Kevin and Dan learning that lesson in their own ways. For example, after respectively convincing themselves that they can let bygones be bygones and close the door on the past year without addressing the remaining loose ends, those remainders make themselves known, infringing on their present-day circumstances in very unwelcome ways. Kevin is forced to finally confront Drew after treating his name like J.K. Rowling does Voldemort and the existence of trans people; Dan comes face-to-face with his cycles of self-sabotage and cowardice and how they manifest in his personal life. Their collisions have varying repercussions and impacts, and the main determinant of that is largely based on whether or not the person chooses to at least attempt to confront the situation head-on and let the cards fall where they may.
In the first season, Dan was consumed in his attraction to a colleague and supervisor, using it as a singular crutch to incentivize him to remain somewhat put-together until the charade fell apart; he is now repeating that in NA, with the added complication of attempting to dodge the deep shame of his complicity in Drew’s current circumstances. Instead of daring to speak with his sponsor, however, or confessing to Kevin the depth of the situation he has re-created for himself, he has instead displaced his frustrations onto Drew for daring to continue to impede into this fragile ecosystem of falsehoods and misrepresentations. It’s a crisis of his own making, but he is not yet ready to confront it head-on; instead, he chooses to run from the group altogether after a successful two-month stint at sobriety, convincing Sydney to meet him at his place for dinner in the process.
I can’t go another episode without giving actor Kareem Green his flowers. He has always been a standout in his comedic relief role as Dan’s stepfather; however, he takes that dance to new heights in this episode, combining his bumbling follies with arch, streetwise mentorship. Witnessing Dan amid a familiar spiral, he finds his own unorthodox tactics to intervene — from a not-so-gentle warning at the bike shop to physically imposing himself on the night’s events, even if that requires sacrificing his liver and consciousness to chug a bottle of wine and save the sober duo from themselves. None of that prevents the fire that erupts in the oven due to Drew’s novice cooking skills — again, a talent he only offered up in an attempt to seem more presentable to Sydney — showcasing that regardless of whether he is hiding himself or owning his flaws, Drew’s desperation for approval and acceptance leads him to repeated self-sabotage. Well, that and his windows not being up to the fire safety code.
Kevin is faced with dilemmas of his own. While he was once convinced that his art fellowship effectively closed the door on his past experiences with Drew, Dan’s revelation that Drew had been arrested and released (with a convenient omission as to the cause behind those circumstances) leads to a renewed panic. To his credit, he does attempt to remediate the circumstance immediately, approaching Drew to clear up any perceived lingering confusion; to his chagrin, however, he finds out that Drew needs his assistance to get back on his feet and reluctantly brings Drew into the thinly veiled racist enclave of the elite art world, where all of his colleagues have fully adopted the template for successful matriculation in ingratiating themselves to the administrators insulting and performative ally-ship tropes.
Drew’s presence in the environment pulls the entire performance into focus and exposes the entire production for the farce that it is: an artifice of seeking authenticity that is really just an extractive relationship with race. The perceived symbiosis is offering limited success to a cherished few as it positions white leaders in industries like the nonprofit sector or Africana studies as “informed” and “woke” individuals who care about “the work,” while they could never deem to articulate what that “work” actually is or will be. That is quickly proven in this episode, where the admin goes from quickly admonishing Kevin’s work for not evoking the easily identifiable paint-by-numbers symbolism of Nipsey Hussle’s portrait — or a Black power fist that is painted in an honorific to the oft-abused Caucasian proverb of the mythical multiracial “Black, white, green, or purple” people that apparently exist in the human race — until Drew interjects in between bites of Footprints’ legendary Rasta Pasta, as a man who has experienced the prison industrial complex, and immediately changes her mind. You can almost see the gears turning on her face; she has found her next cause to champion right after she takes down her black square on Instagram.
In the midst of all this chaos, however, Flatbush Misdemeanors manages to remind us that these are still people living their everyday lives in the most innocuous ways. In this episode, Zayna gets to eschew the episodic drama that has arisen out of having family in the system to have a bona fide teenage love affair. It is charming and sweet in all of the ways that teenagers can be about romance at that age; immature about what their desires actually are, posturing among one another over their intimate personal antics, and unsure of what impulses are worth pursuing. It is poignant that after several episodes in a row of Zayna confronting a world of adult responsibilities before she was ready, the show allows her to luxuriate in adolescent folly for a moment; just like on the show, for many New York teens, they can feel like treasured moments that take place entirely too few and far between.