Welcome back! If you missed it, then the mini reviews for the first half of Luke Cage are here (episodes 1 – 7). If you came looking for part two, then let’s get to this.
Blowin’ Up The Spot
We left off with Luke (Mike Colter) taking a bullet (that actually hurts him) in his stomach. He and Claire (Rosario Dawson) are on the run from Diamondback (Eric LaRay Harvey) — escaping from a flipped ambulance into a women’s clinic where Claire can try to figure out what to do with the injured Luke. Mariah (Alfre Woodard) and Shades (Theo Rossi) begin to set their plan in motion and to frame Luke for Cottonmouth’s death. They get Candace (Deborah Ayorinde), a hostess at Harlem’s Paradise, to corroborate their story. Luke and Diamondback have a semi-climactic confrontation and we find out that Diamondback is Luke’s half brother — William Stryker. Misty (Simone Missick) interrogates Claire and it gets rough. Luke escapes in a garbage truck.
Sooo… Having spent the first half of the season building up Cottonmouth as a character if not a competent villain, now we get someone brand new. With no context outside of his threatening use of biblical passages and his incoherent explanations of how he’s been pulling the strings on Luke’s life since before Seagate, this is not yet a compelling substitution. Yes, the Judas bullet means that Luke has a setback for the first time all season. But I can’t help but think it would be more interesting if this was Cottonmouth still.
We’ve lost too many characters going into the back half of the season. We’ve had seven episodes before this and a not inconsiderable amount of screen time was devoted to building Pops, Scarfe and Cottonmouth as characters — and all of them are dead now. We’ve even lost Misty’s first lieutenant to bureaucratic necessity. Since most of the side characters that get attention are killed or don’t reappear it leaves the main surviving cast feeling a bit disconnected.
That said, Claire saves a chunk of the dialogue nicely by telling Luke Cage he’s corny. He is corny, and having a character in world comment on it means it becomes a character note instead of overly serious writing.
Another Netflix/Marvel consistency note: I love Fisk’s lawyer showing up for Candace. He’s great and I’m glad he’s back both here and in the previous episode when he springs Cottonmouth.
Finally, I want to talk about police investigations. Because when Misty shows up and says, “I need you to come with me.” Both Claire and Luke’s response seems to be “BUT HE’S INNOCENT!” As intelligent adults, they should both know that’s not the point. Misty isn’t looking to get them killed, and she’s excited when she hears that Luke has an alibi — but she needs them to show up and make that official. The plot’s going to work against Misty here, and the setting requires a mistrust of police. But I desperately wanted both Luke and Claire to come up with something better than, “He didn’t do it!” and work with Misty a little more. Misty isn’t being unreasonable, and neither are her superiors, when they want to sit down and talk to Luke.
Misty talks to a police psychologist about why she lost it when questioning Claire. Mariah and Shades pull together a meeting of the underworld and Diamondback shows up and kills most of them. Meanwhile, Luke is on the run from Diamondback and the police, still injured. After a confrontation with the cops, he and Claire take a road trip to Savannah, GA, looking for the doctor who did this to Luke in the first place. They find him and he agrees to help. Apparently the solution is dipping Luke in boiling acid to soften his skin so that they can get the shrapnel from the Judas bullets out.
This episode has two solid monologues well delivered and both dealing with consequences. The first is Mariah speaking to Cottonmouth’s body. She was one of my favorite bits of the show, and everything that isn’t her and Diamondback continues to shine.
The second is Misty’s monologue about losing control and what got her onto the force. It’s hard to listen to, but another of my favorite sequences from the episode.
Other than that, Claire has a surprisingly good grasp on the science behind Luke’s superpowers. I’m not going to get into the handwave-y science of superheroes, this wasn’t the best and it wasn’t the worst. But giving Claire all the solutions instead of the guy who’s been studying this nonsense and did it in the first place, gets pretty funny.
So far, I have not enjoyed Diamondback. We don’t really know why he kills the other leaders of various gangs and his hate for Luke is still incoherent. As much as I’m against the wanton destruction of minions, the only thing I’ve liked from him so far is when he waves his hand around like a gun and then shoots from the real weapon in his pocket.
Take It Personal
Back to the acid bath! It works, and Claire is able to remove the shrapnel from Luke. Meanwhile Diamondback has some sort of tech that lets him replicate Luke’s super powers and he uses it to kill a cop. He and Mariah also decide to try to sell the Judas bullets to the police. One of the cops investigating the allegations against Luke Cage beats up a child suspect. Mariah leverages the police brutality to call a community anti-Luke meeting at Harlem’s Paradise. Luke and Claire head back to Harlem after a stop in Luke’s father’s church. They arrive for the anti-Luke meeting in time to help Misty as she goes after Diamondback and gets shot in the process.
Where did Diamondback’s tech come from? And if he was involved with the experiments on Luke and KNEW THEY HAD WORKED, then why didn’t he undergo the same process? These things don’t need in depth explanations, but a line or two would have gone a long way.
I’m glad we get to reinterpret Reva. It would have been easy to leave her as an idealized character, but letting Luke see her records of the experiment on him changes their other interactions in retrospect.
Luke’s flashback in the church reads a little too close to Misty’s ability to see the crime scene. It’s not the first time we’ve had some flashbacks for Luke, but this one bugged me stylistically.
The sequences that deal with the police precinct are chilling and on point. There’s more to say there, but I’m going to stick with noting that all the performances are wonderful and that the escalation works well. They set up Harlem as a powder keg, and we’ll see what they do with it next episode.
Finally, I like Misty. I’ve liked Misty for almost all of the show. But, what the hell? She goes in alone to try to take out someone who she knows is dangerous. She does it in a building with a lot of people, some of whom she knows will be backing up Diamondback. And then, when he goes for a weapon, she stands there to get shot.
Now You’re Mine
Harlem’s Paradise is a mess of violence. Luke and Misty retreat into a secret cellar beneath the kitchen. Diamondback takes hostages and Shades starts to question his boss — because Diamondback has no plan. Diamondback tells the police outside that it’s Luke Cage holding everyone hostage. Outside, Inspector Priscilla Ridley (Karen Pittman) tries to handle the situation without getting anyone killed. Mariah uses the standoff to close the deal with the government on the Judas bullets. Claire — one of the hostages — escapes from the minions, finds Luke and Misty and tends to Misty’s wound. Luke starts taking out the henchmen. Misty and Claire knockout Shades. Luke saves Candace instead of catching Diamondback and is placed under arrest.
A few great moments in this episode worth highlighting:
Blake Tower (Stephan Rider) of the DA’s office is another nice consistency from the second season of Daredevil. And he’s worried about putting Judas bullets in the hands of law enforcement for good reasons! Actually, all the various perspectives outside Harlem’s Paradise from Inspector Ridley to the ESU officer are strong and mostly reasonable.
Huzzah for Shades cautioning and questioning Diamondback. I like the pragmatic villain, the survivor. Still not sold on Diamondback and have a hard time finding him interesting. He’s just violent.
Claire and Misty’s interaction is nice. It’s also good to see Candace working with the heroes.
Soliloquy of Chaos
Luke escapes from custody. Candace comes forward to talk to Misty about what Mariah paid her to say. Shades is in custody. Diamondback bails him out, and orders Zip (Jaiden Kaine) — his number one henchmen — to kill him. That goes badly for Zip and Shades survives. On the streets, people are wearing hoodies with bullet holes in solidarity with Luke and to make it harder for the police to find our hero. Luke is trying to find Diamondback, when Shades and Mariah appear to blackmail Luke into handling Diamondback for them. Diamondback appears with a new suit that enables him to go toe to toe with Luke.
There have been some good bits of fight work in Luke Cage, but my favorite might be the elevator sequence with Shades and Zip. One of the problems with Luke Cage’s Superman complex is that there’s not a lot of tension to the fights. We know if something is going to hurt Luke long before it connects and not much is going to do it. I didn’t know if Shades was going to walk away from that fight, and the choreography was solid.
This is the second time someone has had a weapon trained on Diamondback and let him get away. Come on, Domingo. You had no compunction about shooting him.
The music throughout Luke Cage has been fun — and using live musicians is a neat conceit. The sequence in this episode with the radio station was easily my favorite.
You Know My Steez
Luke and Diamondback battle it out in front of the neighborhood. Luke wins! But the victory part of the show is pretty short lived. Shades stole Misty’s phone, and uses it to lure Candace out and kill her. The feds show up and take Luke into custody. Mariah walks free. Diamondback is still alive, and the doctor who made Luke Cage a superhero gets his hands on him. And Bobby Fish is left with the Barber Shop destroyed again.
The big knockdown drag out has arrived! And while I don’t think there’s a great reason for the number of spectators or the police not trying to get people out of there, I have to admit that the audience is effective.
Alas, Luke’s victory is short lived and we end the season with no one happy. I’m down for leaving a few loose ends, but it seemed extreme to leave all the heroes unhappy and all the villains set up for comebacks.
I’m onboard for the weird little crime family of Mariah, Shades and Mariah’s assistant Alex. I think the romance between Luke and Claire would be boring but acceptable, if it didn’t contradict Claire’s character and choices from Daredevil — which it does. I wish we were done with Diamondback. I would totally watch a show about Misty dealing with her disillusionment in the system.
You may have noticed that I didn’t love the second half of Luke Cage. The acting is stellar, the production is great, but the plotting falls apart. Some of the writing is great and some of the writing is cliched. There are good moments.
I wish it had been better.
But it was an important show. It needed to be made. A bulletproof black man is the sort of hero we need in our modern era. And if they hit the symbol of a hoodie with bullet holes a little hard, maybe that needed to happen too. I’m glad it’s here, I’m glad I watched it. I’m glad a lot of people watched it. I’m sure it’ll get a second season — and I’ll watch that too.