Friday, July 19, 2024

The Game Changes Completely in Luke Cage

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Things are starting to get rather hairy in the next few episodes of Luke Cage. In the chess game that is Harlem, some major players are realigned, pushed into a corner…and even captured. So, let’s watch the game unfold.

Episode 7- “Manifest”

Some classic Nina Simone guides us into a scene featuring Zip, Cottonmouth’s henchman. A heist is about to go down, and Luke interferes, busting up Zip’s gang. Well, not really busting up – it’s more like he speaks and they run away. But the moment of triumph is cut short, as Zip announces that Cottonmouth is getting out of jail. Damn, that was maybe like 5 minutes??

Turns out that the information Scarfe gave to Luke to find did absolutely nothing to help. But as some consolation, we get some more Momfasa, actually delivering the line “Remember who you are” in true James Earl Jones fashion. It calmed Misty down just enough to prevent her from reaching across that table to take care of Cottonmouth, a la that Batman and Joker interrogation scene in “The Dark Knight”.  

Across the street from the station, Luke and Cottonmouth exchange war glares as he leaves, then Misty and Luke do the same in frustration. But before we get our opening credits, it looks like a new player is in town…

Cottonmouth may have acted cocky leaving the station, but he is scared stiff of Luke. Street traffic has basically come to a halt due to his efforts, and to top it all off, Shades delivers the news that Diamondback will not be giving him the Judas that he desires. Cottonmouth won’t take no for an answer, and so he calls out his slithering counterpart for a meeting. Shades advises against it, but Cottonmouth makes it clear that he isn’t his handler, or his daddy. 

Claire, Bobby and Luke all convene for a meeting about the next steps for Cottonmouth’s defeat. Claire points out that since cops can only do “so much” within the spectrum of the law, it may be time for Luke to go rogue. Luke brings up Daredevil, and of course he is skeptical. I’ll be honest and point out the incongruity here: in the last episode, we get Cage saying the same thing to Misty that Claire is saying to him right now, and yet somehow it’s not clicking for him?  Somehow, he’s not getting the fact that he needs to be a hero already? Ugh.

Well, it seems there’s no time to really decide- Cottonmouth calls for a parley, and Luke accepts. Because the first one went so well…

Momfasa gets ousted from CCPD in the next scene (nooooo!), bringing the mysterious woman into the spotlight- Inspector Ridley, someone Misty is already acquainted with. It’s a short and tense interaction that sets the scene for any future police work. 

A political rival briefly mentioned in the last episode by the name of Damon Boone comes to Mariah’s home as an act of goodwill-and good favor. He warns her that she’s going to have to resign, but Mariah isn’t having it, not for a second. Admittedly, I will applaud her tenacity. It makes up for her extremely bad poker face. Afterwards, Shades appears at Mariah’s back door, which should really have her rethinking security detail. Looks like he has a plan…

But now it’s time for a flashback into Harlem’s underbelly, and the woman who ran it. We’ve heard a lot about her, but we finally get to see Mama Mabel’s game in action.

She was more like a Madame Mabel, if you get the drift. But she ran more than just the Paradise- she had a gun running game, much like the one Cottonmouth inherited. We’re given a bit of insight into Cornell’s early life and how it seems that he never really wanted to be a gang leader. He wanted to be a musician. (I won’t lie, this made me think of Hitler being rejected from art schooling). His Uncle Pete was as encouraging of both Cornell’s gift as well as Mariah’s intelligence. Mama Mabel wasn’t having it though- she encouraged being part of Pop’s crew, rather than pursuing creative endeavors. Mabel busts one of her runners for starting to sell drugs- and by “busts”, I mean literally cutting off his fingers and having young Cornell shoot him in the back. Oh, shit…am I feeling sorry for him?

Look at that poor traumatized face!

Luke interrupts the reflection by honoring the parley a bit early. Cottonmouth puts his cards on the table, letting Luke know he’s not the only guilty one in the room. Blackmail is the name of this game, along with Cottonmouth knocking Luke down a few pegs.

“Give a speech at a church, knock down a few doors in the projects and now you Harlem’s Captain America. N***a, please”

– Cottonmouth throwing a whole damn maple tree’s worth of shade

He then promptly kicks Luke out, which has Luke trying to find his way out…of Harlem. Claire tries to talk Luke out of it, and she succeeds in some way.

The next scene is another Cottonmouth flashback, which makes me suspicious to be honest. Not much bodes well from sudden flashbacks…

Off topic, but shout-out to this show for featuring a trans sex worker. I’m a bit impressed- and dismayed, mostly due to the improper pronoun usage and obvious misogyny. As Mabel and Cornell continue to fight about where he’s been, it’s revealed that Pete took him to an audition, once again trying to balance the gang life and creative life. He also reveals that Pete was messing with the Puerto Rican gangs- and their drug prospects. Uh-oh, smells like betrayal. 

Smoothly transitioning to Domingo’s gym, Luke is looking for the drug lord and gets an easily won fight in return. Seriously Domingo, you haven’t heard of Luke yet? Luke gets what he’s looking for,  and confiscates Domingo’s guns. Luke and Misty meet up again to transfer Domingo’s guns, and the system…AGAIN. I’m serious, both of y’all need to PICK ONE. Luke, Misty is clearly not here for you in the way you thought, and Misty doesn’t want your help. If I had to pick a hubris for her, it would be her pride right now because those guns just plopped in her lap with barely a thank you.

Mariah is indeed asked to resign, as predicted. And we’re swept back to Mama Mabel’s establishment. In short, she’s ousting Pete, and Cornell is holding the gun. In a traumatic barrage of begging and “family” mantras, he shoots the one person who believed in him. It feels like Mama Mabel really only believed in the women of her family, and as a black woman with her background I can understand why she wouldn’t be too open. But to force that upon a child (14, to be exact) is a true display of her evil.

Mariah runs to Cottonmouth in frustration, and a heated conversation becomes deadly. To be honest, it’s such a shame that this happened because I was really enjoying the tortured nuance of his character, his longing to be the best at something due to something else being robbed of him. I am not completely uncomfortable with speaking on this, but Mariah was triggered by her anger and her treatment by Uncle Pete, and Cottonmouth taking his side. I definitely noticed Pete’s creepy vibe before hand, and Mariah’s reaction to him. We obviously had no idea how strongly it had affected her, though. Holding that in for decades, taking it out on the wrong person- that in itself is truly torture, I think. 

Regardless, Shades takes absolutely no time in telling Mariah that she needs to cover this up, immediately. So deeper down the rabbit hole our politician goes, into darker and darker avenues.

R.I.P., Cottonmouth. You were a compelling, musical man. With a great laugh.

Meanwhile, Cage, after a successful day of shutting down gang activity, enjoys a walk with Claire in a nearby park. However, that success is cut short again when…he gets shot?

Wait- WHAT?

Episode 8- “Blowin’ Up the Spot”

We open right where we leave off, with what I can only assume is the Judas at work. But we know that Cottonmouth is definitely not the one behind it, so it looks like we’re about to get a whole new villain. Claire whisks Luke away in an ambulance, in what probably was the nick of time. Luke relents, not wanting to be in any system, even if it’s a hospital. But Claire is just as discreet as he is, and duh, she probably knows better Luke.

Either way, the assailant is right on his tail, and knocks them out, car and all. But at the first sound of sirens, he leaves and gives Luke a chance to do the same. That’s not a relief though, because he seems to be utterly enjoying this.

Shades and Mariah are still busy covering up Cottonmouth’s murder. Mariah is putting up the front that she’s strong, but I think she realizes what just happened…and what she just inherited. She lies through her teeth like a pro to Misty though- a true politician’s gift.

She even came with a second witness, thanks to Shades- Candace, the VIP hostess. She “confesses” that she saw Luke at the club that night, and Misty is compelled to bring him in for questioning. I’m sorry, didn’t Misty just see him, and hear him say that he wasn’t going to kill Cottonmouth that same night? Like….?

Regardless, with Mariah stirring up the media, it’s about to become an all out war with Luke right in the center.

Claire tries to treat Luke properly, but he insists on getting the bullet out as fast as possible. He says he can’t be compromised-seems like someone remembers his time with Killgrave more than we thought. The cops are hot on Luke’s trail though, and Misty goes out to bring him in herself. Now, this scene has got me heated TWICE, because Misty **just** tells Luke that he has an alibi upon discovering him wounded and with Claire, gets a phone call, and then attempts to arrest him???

This will continue to confuse me until the end of time, I swear. We never get to hear what happened on that phone call, either.

Anyway, this escalates into shots going off in the clinic, and Misty being kidnapped by Luke’s attacker. He almost shoots her, but instead preaches, knocks her out and disappears. Luke pursues him, and the exposition spills out as we learn he is Willas Stryker (!!), or as we know him- Diamondback.

That was pretty easy to guess, considering he had the Judas so easily available to him. A brief description of Diamondback could be something like 2/3 Bible verses and scenery chewing, 1/6 weaponry, 1/6 soliloquies. Very classic villain style writing for him, which makes me miss Cottonmouth. Stryker also reveals that he is the one who framed Luke- a long, sought out revenge I suppose. I guess family issues run strong in Harlem’s underbelly. They fight it out for a while, but it ends in a stalemate.

Claire gets brought into the station, only to be questioned by Misty. Again- FOR. WHAT. She just tended to you, so you interrogate her? I understand if there’s frustration with the system, Misty, but you should’ve already known corruption was creeping in. She seems to think that Luke has all the answers, even though his involvement is truly just a severe effect of “wrong place, wrong time”. Misty’s volition is so strong she ends up assaulting Claire, and only ends up proving that she cannot contain herself.

…and the fact that Claire has the BEST stank faces.

Shades seems to be participating in a hostile takeover himself, as Ghostface Killah’s “King of New York” covers a conversation with Zip and Cottonmouth’s old crew. He is “in charge” now, but for how long, and for his behalf, or for Diamondback’s? 

Meanwhile, Mariah pays off her patsy and heads home, only to have a semi Lady Macbeth breakdown. Is she turning into Mama Mabel? We’ll have to wait and see.

We end this episode with Diamondback tracking down Luke AGAIN in the morning, seemingly to finish him off. Then again, we have 5 more episodes in the season, and Diamondback seems to be a pretty bad shot, so…essentially Luke gets shot into a trash heap and hauled away. Yay, revenge? 

Episode 9- “DWYCK”

**Fun fact before we begin: I knew that some of these episodes were named after songs but I could never put my finger on where they came from. This episode made me look it up. Apparently a rap duo named Gang Starr are the masterminds behind these titles.  Nice! Here’s the original video if you’re interested, you might catch some parallels…

Misty is put into therapy for the last episode’s assault. I will say that CCPD works pretty damn fast in that regard, so kudos to them. Misty is clearly unraveling, for reasons I’m not sure we know of yet. She retells the reason why she became a cop, her cousin’s death at the hands of some gang members. She gives us this amazing quote to emote her passion:

“I don’t seek justice, I stalk it”

…which makes me wonder why she disapproves of vigilantism so much. Maybe because it is a symbol of a loss of control, specifically her brand of control over Harlem. Ultimately, within one day somehow, Inspector Ridley sends her out once more to capture Luke, and her job is what she’ll have to pay if it’s done incorrectly. 

Luke gets a ride uptown a la garbage truck, but ultimately he looks alright, just majorly wounded. Whew! Meanwhile, for some reason Diamondback didn’t take note of the truck  that hauled Luke away whatsoever and now he can’t find Luke either. Silly Diamondback! Still, it may be just a matter of time, considering Luke’s cover is definitely blown and making the 6 o’clock news.

There’s also the little matter of Shades wanting to assume some power, which Diamondback *almost* corrects with a bullet. He fucked up, and now he knows it. But he still holds power over Mariah, who is in need of “guidance”. It seems that everyone wants a part of Harlem’s soul.

Just after that scene, Luke is picked up by two policemen. This scene seems frighteningly familiar to recent events in our history, and I’m sure the showrunners were cognizant of it. Once the officers figure out that it’s Luke, they come with…guns blazing? Uh…have they heard of him?

Luke throws officer
Apparently not…

The footage of this altercation goes viral, only escalating the manhunt. Eventually, Luke makes his way to Claire, the only person equipped to help him right now. They decide to embark on the most unromantic road trip ever in order to find Dr. Burstein, the man who made Luke who he is.

Mariah wants to gather all of the bosses for…a parley, of sorts. Apparently she has a plan, and reaches out to Domingo for assistance to gather all the bosses in Harlem. But guess who crashes the party?

Diamondback is PISSED for a minute, and makes quick work of the gathered gangsters. Mariah was next, until she literally improvises a way out of that situation within 1 second flat. Impressive.

Misty embarks on her journey, backed by “Stop and Look” by the Delfonics, a nice nod and something of a plea to what transpired in the entire episode.

After Luke and Claire’s help in rebuilding Burstein’s barn-farm, we’re meant to watch the worst and best science experiment I’ve ever heard of. In order to take the bullets out of Luke, Burstein and Claire are going to dip Luke in boiling acid to weaken his skin cells. What the hell…

They actually do it! This is honestly terrifying and I don’t know how to react to it…except maybe happily if it’s successful. To be honest, I know the show is named after him but this is crazy as hell. Then we see him flatline…


…and of course, that’s the end of it!

What are you all thinking at this point? The progression of the series is a bit slower the second time around, at least to me. It might be the adverse affect of binging and then watching for critical value. I like where the arc has gone, but sometimes the slow buildup and inconsistencies get to me, as y’all can tell. So, let me know in the comments! See you next week with the last 4 episodes!


Images courtesy of Netflix 

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