Set in the heart of the early 90’s drug scene, Wu-Tang: An American saga chronicles the origins of the Wu Tang Clan, introducing a smattering of characters early on and allowing their story to play out. At times, it can difficult to discern exactly who everyone is and despite the relatively slow pace, does little to alleviate this until a few episodes in.
While the plot itself is engaging, swinging back and forth between Bobby’s desire to make music and the drug scene that consumes him, trying to remember who everyone is and what their allegiance is will almost certainly breed some confusion unless you’re completely clued up on the story surrounding these people.
We begin in the early evening with Sha being picked up from Park Hill; the writing ominously scribbled out and changed to read Killer Hill. As the rain lashes down they make it to Stapelton Houses. Uzis at the ready, they shoot up an apartment playing host to Dennis, a man caring for his disabled brothers. Seeing the bullets sprayed through the wall, he prepares for the worst as he rushes into the bedroom, where he finds wine spilt over his Mum, prompting him to grab his own gun and head out.
Meanwhile, Bobby is hounded on the streets by a white man trying to score before speaking to two of his crew about the upcoming war brewing in the neighbourhood. Neglecting his pick-ups, Bobby fools around on his synthesizer before being given a stern talking to by his brother, where he tells him to get his head in the game. It’s here he’s told first-hand about the earlier shoot out at Dennis’ house.
While the kids hustle, Assistant Manager Shotgun shoots disapproving looks their way while he spits lyrics in private. After confronting them, he’s pulled aside by Bobby who gives him a tape and offers him some studio time. As Bobby heads home, he breaks up a fight in the hallway, only to find the child watching in horror in one of the doorways. Wide-eyed, Bobby staggers back as this image brings back horrible flashes to his own childhood, where domestic violence caused him to be placed on a coach and taken away.
There’s a nice blend of hip-hop beats and stylish cutaways here as these flashes eventually lead us back to present day where Bobby finds a drum machine, the lucrative SP1200, in the local record store, immediately settling into a groove of producing tightly wound beats in the shop. Excited, he asks Divine for an advance of £2000 to buy it, but after being reminded of being behind on his rounds Divine laughs off from the idea. Snatching his headphones and heading off, Bobby gets to work hustling on the streets. When they get home later that evening, Divine talks to him excitedly about an upcoming kilo that could be just what they need to turn their fortunes around.
Bobby hits back, telling him he wants more for his own life and that may lie with music. If he can get his hands on that drum machine it may be enough for him to ignite the music scene and make a name for himself. Defiantly, Divine stares him in the eyes, telling him to forget the music and that drug dealing is the only way they’ll make it. Desperate, Bobby tries to steal the drum machine instead, sneaking it into his bag only to be caught in the act by one of the workers. He tells him he’ll keep things quiet if he puts it back, which he reluctantly agrees to do.
Inevitably the rivalry between the two factions continues to escalate through the episode, with the climax resulting in Bobby finding out Divine has been arrested and forced into the position of providing for the family. He tells Bobby to continue with the operation as planned, before a fight breaks out at the prison thanks to Divine’s over-use of the phone.
As the group discuss the possibility of him being in prison for an extended period of time, Bobby realizes his dreams of being a rapper are over for now with the threat of war looming over the community where we leave the episode.
The interesting back and forth between drugs and music continues throughout the hour, and for the most part there’s a nice blend between the two. The slick hip-hop beats and interesting camera angles help give the series a cinematic edge although the relentless way Wu-Tang introduces all of its players and switches back and forth between the two groups will almost certainly lead to confusion as you try to figure out who everyone is. Despite that, and the clear influences of shows like Top Boy and The Wire, Wu-Tang: An American Saga gets off to a good start, one that leaves the exciting prospect of the group’s early music to be showcased in later episodes enough to keep you watching.