I’ve been waiting for months to become a recluse from society and enter the world of Luke Cage, which hit Netflix 5 days ago. But, y’all probably know that. In fact, so many know about it that dedicated and new MTU fans alike might have broken Netflix for a little while. Either that or it’s great marketing. Regardless, Luke Cage is already a powerhouse and it definitely shows.
Before I get into reviewing the episodes by themselves, I have a couple of notes:
First, THANK YOU MARVEL. You are giving me Harlem realness of the old school and new. I’ve spent quite a bit of time there during my stays in New York, as my friend lives uptown. Harlem is as beautiful as it can be dangerous, but it’s every bit a fantastic backdrop for Power Man’s journey. The language is very old-spirited, and even a little corny, but it’s welcome in my book- especially considering Cage’s beginning years.
The opening credits are a rather good indicator of what you’ll get in this show: an aged musical opening with Luke carrying Harlem on his back like Atlas and having his fists highlighted by civil rights leaders. It’s what is to come and what is to be learned.
In terms of timeline, Marvel’s Luke Cage falls after the events of Jessica Jones, and in the middle or after Daredevil’s second season. The writing subtly reveals this, not even mentioning Jessica’s name (just calling her “the ex”) and referring to anything Avengers related as “the incident”. Tony Stark is mentioned by name though, which just slowly nudges our two Marvel worlds together, inch by inch.
But let’s get to the episodes, as there is a LOT to cover.
Episode 1: Moment of Truth
I have to say that this is an interesting title for an opening episode- already changing it up, are we, Mr. Hoker?
We start our episode in the epitome of a black man’s all-purpose meeting place:the barbershop. More specifically, Pop’s Shop. They talk about basketball and the difference between the new and older coaches. The group is an eclectic mix—some newer boys named Chico, Shameek and Lonnie—and the older blood, including Bobby Fish, Pop himself and Luke Cage. Due to the layout for the shop for a minute I thought we were in an episode of The Get Down (and I was completely fine with it). This quickly turns into a history lesson, as Pop’s shop has apparently seen many big wigs…and only a few would get in for free. (By the way, is anybody gonna tell Pop about Muhammad Ali?Anyone?)
Pop catches Luke pacing, an after-effect of being incarcerated. He’s still pining over Reva, but contemplating “getting coffee” with someone else and regaling times with Jessica. Pops changes the subject to what Luke should really be doing—saving people. But Luke is having none of it; he just wants to be left alone. And after having such a messed up time with Jessica and Kilgrave’s saga, I wouldn’t blame him.
Luke runs into Chico from the shop, who has a gun. Luke only questions him and lets him go because he’s running late, but it’s a bit obvious what might go down after Shameek announces their goal to “get this money”.
Meanwhile, Cage arrives at his second job at Harlem’s Paradise, a grandiose nightclub originated in a different time. With a high proscenium, a bar, and a decent VIP lounge, this is the domain of Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, or Mr. Stokes, if you have sense.
Now I cannot and will not let this show pass by without a mention—more like an obsession—over the music. It’s black as hell (Swear Jar: 1 ), and symbolic to boot. Being introduced by Raphael Saadiq’s “Good Man” is a great way to shed light on the two heavy hitters in the room, both “good” in their own ways. I felt like I won’t be disappointed, knowing who is at the helm (article).
The Councilwoman is sitting close to Cottonmouth, which reeks of the dealings of dirty politics from jump. We find out they’re cousins, and in some dark dealings in the form of “contributions”. It looks like Cottonmouth does indeed bring some venom, as a big-time weapons dealer. He even mentions Justin Hammer, a character from the Iron Man movies. So we know his weapons are the real deal.
The scene cuts to a gun deal turned robbery, ultimately ending the only way it can—a shootout, backed by more of the soulful Saadiq. However, it turns out that Shameek didn’t finish the job, and is ratted out by the final breaths of the person he betrayed. Shameek and Chico are in some deeeep shit now.(Swear Jar: 2)
Down at the bar, Luke is flirting with someone who looks a lot like Reva…
…and it turns into “coffee”…
…until she has to go “audit” the next morning, as she tells Cage. Turns out, our mystery lady is a cop, called to investigate the heist gone south.
As Cottonmouth tries to perform damage control, another player walks in the room, a representative of Diamondback, his supplier Shades. He’s there for…an insurance claim of Diamondback’s lost merchandise. Here we see our villain’s knee jerk intimidation- Cottonmouth knows better than to mess with bigger snakes.
A few scenes later, we see Madam Councilwoman’s platform come into play—she’s trying to promote Black America. Which would be great if it weren’t feeling like utter bullshit (Swear Jar: 3). She speaks the truth, but I can’t tell just yet if her intentions are true. It’s even weirder because in the next scene her “promoters” urge Luke to “stay black”, but in the least positive sounding way.
While Cottonmouth is hunting Shameek, the latter is spending his stolen half mil on a stripper. This dude is playing mob boss a little too seriously. And of course, it catches up to him. He’s lead through the kitchen of Harlem’s Paradise, and although Luke wants to investigate, he is stopped in his tracks by what seems to be a ghost of his past. We heard about him briefly in Luke’s dream, but here comes the nightmare for real.
Okay I’m not gonna lie, the Biggie scene is one of my favorites. If I was a guy I would store that initial monologue SO fast. And that lighting! I’m geeking out. But I digress. In short, Shameek gets the beatdown, and ultimately killed in a brutal scene that fleshes out Cottonmouth’s mindset just a bit more.
For our final scene, Connie (Luke’s landlord) is getting shaken down by Mariah’s thugs that we see a little earlier. Judging by the way she disowned these dudes like 3 scenes ago, her word seems unstable, even for a villain. But Luke comes in at just the right time to give a butt whoopin’, and it is just. Glorious.
But y’all had to kill me with having Luke say he’s not for hire…maaaaaaannnnn….
Episode 2: Code of the Streets
We should probably have a quick talk about the n-word usage in this show. Especially since that’s the core of the opening and closing scenes in this episode. How Cottonmouth used it in the first episode and how Luke refuses to use it, or to curse at all. I think it’s supposed to be an old school/new school mentality discussion all on its own, especially since most younger people have tried to reclaim it. It’s true to life in most communities, where older folks like to stay away from the word, regardless. But I think Cottonmouth’s careless use of it (while Mariah pointed it out last episode) places him in the new school department, even though he seems older to me. Or at least, he’s trying to act new. But, back to the show. Judging by the look of the first scene, some shit (Swear Jar:4) has gone down.
We get a repeat of the heist in motion, but for Misty Knight’s benefit. Maybe I just didn’t hear it the first time around, but I was like…that’s Misty?? Somehow my brain just forgot the promos…oops. And I’ll be even more honest by saying she seems older than expected, especially with certain characters that she…works with in the future. As she searches for Chico as well, it’s revealed that she is a basketball star and an old Harlem soul, as well as the cop she was meant to be. I’m intrigued, but a bit incredulous at her development. We’ll see. Also, the scene gives off a clairvoyant vibe…could that be a power of hers?
Pop and Luke talk fighting—and particularly his last night with the goons at Genghis Connie’s (really though, which writer came up with that name?). Pop predicts that a storm is coming, one that’s just about to touch down. And speak of the devil, here comes tropical storm Cornell as they speak.
Now, is aaaanyone else reminded of Sweeney Todd here with this shaving scene? It’s almost comical. Although that seems to be a bit of a recurring scene nowadays. Still, a threat is made and Pop knows Cottonmouth killed Shameek. As he regales his old gangster days, he intricately goes over every reason why he wanted the boys away from it. He enlists Luke’s help to find Chico before Cottonmouth does, and potentially keep the peace.
Like Pop has the motto to always move forward, Cottonmouth and Maria have “family first” on their agenda. But it doesn’t mean that they can’t get into a few squabbles. Cottonmouth feels the clock on him, so things could get volatile fast.
Luke finds Chico wallowing over his portion of the money. He’s clearly affected by the events of that night, but refuses to go with Luke when asked. Luke urges Pop to let Chico go, but Pop also refuses. Instead, he bolsters Luke’s confidence and offers him potential to what he could be. Right on time, Chico comes back to the shop and the parley is on.
And even more timely, Misty and Scarfe make their way to Pop’s. In contrast what was quite a hot scene the episode before, Luke and Misty act like complete strangers now, I guess in the name of “professionalism”. As a side note, I’ll probably never ask anyone out for coffee ever again.
Luke goes to parley with Cottonmouth, and the arrangements are set. However, his henchman Tone has some intel as well. It’s Turk, who I just recognized is the same arms dealer from Daredevil. Cottonmouth says to let it rest instead, but of course Tone has other plans.
Faith Evans wails over a scene with Cottonmouth explaining his need for a black legacy in Harlem, and Tone being a reckless idiot who I predict will die soon. Because he just shot up Pop’s shop, taking out Pop in the process. I understand that Pop’s death it’s a symbolic thing, but did y’all really have to Uncle Ben him though? With a bullet that ricocheted off Luke?? That’s cold.
Luke successfully protected Lonnie, but not Pop, nor himself from suspicion. Misty’s on to him-and really, why is nobody else? He survived a barrage of bullets and only got a torn t-shirt, and the other kid he protected was spotless. Y’all….
Shades presents the money to Cottonmouth, he pulls both him and Tone to the roof to speak about how they got it so fast. Tone confesses to moving to early, and also has to fess up to killing Pops. But hey, at least he gets to make a Django joke.
….Remember when I predicted Tone would die soon?
WELP. I just understand people like Cottonmouth, I guess. Maybe I should re-evaluate my goals…
Anyway, mourning throughout all parties commences. Pop was respected as hell (Swear…Jar?),and now that Switzerland is destroyed, the safe places are all but dried up.
But we see the definitive change in Luke. In this last scene, the aloof man who never liked to swear comes out of the shadows. And he’s ready to move forward.
Episode 3: Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?
Luke and Cottonmouth tune into the coverage of what they knew went down last night, and now the whole community has heard. They both process it in different ways Cottonmouth in amends and Cage in protecting Pop’s legacy.
Meanwhile, another shooting goes down, although nothing lethal. It seems gang related after Misty and Scarfe are sent to investigate. Of course, they continue to track it to the hospital—and to Chico, who just woke up from having about 4 bullets in him. He doesn’t confess (shocker!), which will probably not play out so well for him.
Misty runs into Luke at the hospital for another Chico interrogation and…I’m not gonna lie…that scene was really hot and I’m mad about it.
Attempting to make sure Pop’s spirit is still around in Harlem, Luke wants to renovate and open his shop again. Bobby Fish, perpetual chess-player turned accountant, says that it can be possible, with a bit more than $80k. So Luke decides to hit Pop’s killer where it hurts- his wallet. He confronts Chico about it, who knows a lot more information than he should about Cottonmouth’s finances, even with Dante’s connection. Still, it’s about to be one heist for another, and Luke plans a way to smoke out his cash.
Backed by Charles Bradley—who hails from the James Brown era, and looks it—Luke swiftly takes out some of those safe houses. Cottonmouth does as expected and secures the Crispus Attucks building, at Mariah’s disapproval. Okay I know that she’s a villain, but like…how villainous is Mariah? Because I’d like to believe that she’s just really misguided, and bad at making her own money. I’d like to think that she’s really, ACTUALLY concerned about keeping Harlem black. But I guess (more) time will tell. *sigh*
We are then reintroduced to Domingo, as tension forms between the two gangs. Cottonmouth suspects Domingo of raiding his safe houses as revenge. He is innocent of that…but he’s not innocent of LITTERING PICK THAT SHIT UP I SWEAR TO GOD- sorry. Swear Jar…wait, maybe not. Villain quirks are getting weird, y’all. First Lex Luthor with the Jolly Rancher and now the littering.
The next scene we get is probably the most famous so far—the ass kicking scene. I was already playing “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” in my head, even though I knew they would change it. But don’t worry, it’s just as lit; we get more Wu-Tang, in the form of “Bring da Ruckus”. The scene is beautiful, but we’re familiar with it, and we know we love it. Let’s move on.
Misty’s cop clairavoyance (that’s what I’m calling it for now) leads her conclude that Luke is the one smashing Cottonmouth’s holding areas. She wonders aloud why super-powered people would even want to do hero work, and Scarfe responds with a resounding “Who the hell cares?”. Honestly, I’m surprised that Misty is the one with the naivete here, although Scarfe is very much one for cynicism. Scarfe addresses the fact that Luke is doing what even a year’s worth of cop work wouldn’t have, and Misty is concerned about them going rogue (pffffffttt). They’re good for each other.
Scarfe then gets called to meet up with Chico right after that conversation, and it looks like Chico is ready to confess…until Scarfe CHOKES HIM OUT?? When I found out he was working for Cottonmouth, he had me like:
I rescind my original statement, RUN MISTY GIRL.
Luke hands over his winnings to Bobby Fish, and skims a bit off the top to hand to Connie. It’s a tearful scene for only moments, until Cottonmouth straight shoots a fucking ROCKET THROUGH THE GODDAMN BUILDING.
Like, I know Luke is invulnerable but DAMN.
And that’s where the episode ends.
Let’s be honest, y’all aren’t thinking “And you’re gonna leave us there fam????”. No, you’re going to keep watching these episodes. To tell you the truth myself, I’m almost done. But this series is just so good I have to tell you guys twice.
I will say, the show does make way for the corniness from time to time, but we have to remember where and when this show came from.
Oh and some last few blurbs:
Mahershala Ali’s voice is magical. Someone already put this together.
Please, PLEASE check out the music. The oldies and the newbies have never sounded so good together.
If you haven’t watched more (or if you just like my commentary), stay with me. I’ll be back next Wednesday!
Images courtesy of Netflix and Marvel