Six years later and right on time, “Bruk Up” introduces Netflix’s Top Boy as a withering portrait of the contemporary capital.
This recap of Top Boy Season 1, Episode 1, “Bruk Up”, contains spoilers.
It takes less than five minutes for “Bruk Up” to drop a Brexit reference, and Top Boy’s vision of contemporary London doesn’t get any more flattering from there. It has been six years since we last caught up with this show, and a lot has changed in the meantime, both in its setting and the lives of its characters. Dushane (Ashley Walters), the show’s titular top boy, is living in Jamaica with his cousin, Donovan, renting out cars and trying to keep one step ahead of his criminal reputation, despite the fact that he seems to be as well-known in Kingston as he is in east London. In his absence, the drug game back on home soil has been monopolized by Turkish gangsters, replacing last season’s Albanians, and their stranglehold on the product is tight.
Netflix’s Top Boy Episode 1 – the first two seasons have been rebranded Top Boy: Summerhouse, meaning this is officially the first season of the show even though it’s technically the third – find new focal character Jamie (Michael Ward) assuming Dushane’s position as the ambitious, entrepreneurial spirit of his community. He negotiates a new, lily-white supplier so that he can work around the Turks, which means that he and his friend Kit (Kadeem Ramsay) have to get their hands dirty in the climax of “Bruk Up” by eliminating the Turkish competitors so they can dominate the market.
Jaime and Kit’s assassination of the Turks is juxtaposed with Dushane and Donovan being terrified by local police working for a prison-based kingpin known as Sugar, one of whose soldiers Dushane shoots dead during a disagreement. As penance, Dushane agrees to move Sugar’s product back in London; the gunshots around their ears are an effective scare tactic to let Dushane know what will happen to both him and his cousin if he doesn’t keep his end of the bargain.
This creates an obvious problem to be dealt with in future episodes: Dushane is returning to London to shift a massive supply of drugs in the immediate aftermath of Jamie having negotiated his own massive supply of drugs. They’ll both immediately become the two major players in the market, and are destined to collide.
“Bruk Up” is a reminder of what Top Boy does best: Similar to Mayans MC, it’s a show about ruthless criminals who’re also thoughtful children, parents, friends, and carers. Scenes of Jamie negotiating drug deals and shooting rival dealers are interspersed with him caring for his younger brothers, Aaron (Hope Ikpoku Jnr) and Stefan. This is a show that reminds you these things don’t have to be mutually exclusive; it’s about the complex moral codes of those who feel hemmed in by their circumstances and environment, and as seems to be the case with Stefan and his friend Ats, it still has a mind to examine those things largely from the perspective of children, much like how it did with Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete) in the first two seasons. Top Boy Episode 1 is a promising start to Netflix’s revival.