Episode 3 of Luke Cage begins and ends with a bang, both literally and figuratively. After the death of Pop, Luke goes to war with Cottonmouth, breaking in to his stash houses and hitting the gangster where it hurts: in the pocket.But Luke isn’t the only problem Cottonmouth has to contend with. He is being hit by his former business associate Domingo after the botched gun sale and Misty Knight is hot on his tail, following the destruction that both Domingo and Luke are leaving in their wake. But when Cottonmouth gets intel that Luke Cage is the man hitting his stash houses, he takes extreme measures to retaliate.
With the first two episodes setting up the major conflicts, characters, and motivations, this episode benefits from being able to fully realize who all of these characters are and get the ball rolling on the war being fought in the streets of Harlem. The episode opens to the sound of gunfire and we see men fleeing the Crispus Attucks building when a couch, of all things, comes crashing out the window. The episode then backtracks, much like in episode 2, to earlier that day. As the news reports the incident at Pops Barber Shop, we get to see both Luke and Cottonmouth struggle to come to terms with Pop’s death. They confront each other at the morgue when Cottonmouth shows up to cover the cost of Pop’s funeral. Luke threatens to make Cottonmouth pay for what happened to Pop but Cottonmouth does not see Luke as a threat. Afterwards, Luke comes face to face with Misty at the hospital. Misty and her partner, Scarf, have been following the hits on Cottonmouth’s men and she is highly suspicious of the out of town bartender who appears to be connected to everything. Their somewhat flirtatious but mostly contentious relationship does not go unnoticed by Scarf.
Luke leaves Misty and checks in on Chico to get information on Cottomnouth’s stash houses. With the locations of Cottonmouth’s money, Luke goes on a raiding spree set to soundtrack of Charles Bradley’s “Ain’t it a Sin”, taking out Cottonmouth’s men but leaving the cash behind for the police to find.
The shake up puts Cottonmouth on the defensive, forcing him to move what’s left of his money to their “Fort Knox” the Crispus Attucks building, but that evening Luke raids that location as well, leading us back to the scene we witnessed at the beginning of the episode. Luke takes out thugs left and right set once again to an appropriate soundtrack, this time Wu Tang’s “Make a Ruckus”. Unlike the previous raids, Luke does take some money this time around. He takes one single bag of cash and gives it to his friend at Pop’s Barber Shop so that they can keep the business going. Misty, meanwhile begins to piece together what is going on and comes to the conclusion that Luke is the person raiding Cottonmouth’s stash houses. After a contentious discussion about vigilantes and whether they are a good thing or not, Scarf leaves the office to meet with Chico, who is finally ready to talk. They meet in a deserted street and talk. However, before Chico can say too much, Scarf strangles Chico to death with his neck tie and reports to Cottonmouth that Luke Cage is the one hitting his businesses as well as where Luke lives. Already enraged, Cottonmouth goes to seek vengeance. The episode ends with Luke at Genhis Connies. He gives her a stack of cash, making up for the months he’s gone without giving her rent and securing the businesses future. Suddenly, Cottonmouth appears on the roof of the building across the street with a rocket launcher! He takes aim at Luke Cage and fires, blowing up the building.
When the episode ended I laughed for 3 straight minutes. The ending was absurd and awesome and everything I could have wanted and cements Cottonmouth as one of my favorite Marvel villains ever. As an audience member it is a shock to see something like that in this show because, with the exception of Luke Cage being super strong and bulletproof, the show has stayed pretty firmly in the realm of realism. Even though rocket launchers are a real weapon, to see Cottonmouth pull one out and blow up a building with it out of the blue is jarring to say the least.
I also loved the reveal of Scarf as a crooked cop. The music that complimented him choking Chico to death was very reminiscent of 70’s blaxploitation where white detectives were always crooked. His deviousness is also given perspective when you see how the episode built up his relationship with Misty only for him to use the information he gleans from her to sell to Cottonmouth.
One scene that many viewers were anxious to see was the “hallway fight” at Crispus Attucks. What we saw a glimpse of in the first episode, we get to witness in a more realized way in this one. Luke, clad in a grey hoodie, is riddled with bullets but cannot be stopped. The image is powerful and raw considering the political climate today but also sets Luke apart from other heroes in the Marvel television and cinematic universes. He cannot be stopped with bullets or a rocket launcher so the main way to wound him is emotionally and psychologically, a lesson Cottonmouth has yet to learn.
However, as a person who loves conflicted characters Mariah and Cottonmouth once again steal the show for me. After the raids on Cottonmouths stash houses, he and Mariah talk. She doesn’t like him using Crispus Attucks in this way and the viewer begins to see the differences in motivation between them. Whereas Cottonmouth is more concerned with his bottom line, Mariah is a flawed idealist. She wants to build a legacy that embraced Harlem’s history. Specifically it’s black history. When Cottonmouth says to her, “you worry about the black, I’ll handle the green” I felt that it perfectly put into context who they were and why they worked together so well. They are opposites that compliment each other. Mariah is the face of the movement, willing to do shady things to achieve her ideals. Cottonmouth is the underbelly, willing to help a noble cause but only if it’ll help him make money. Both are trying to secure their legacy.
If I had to say what has made this story successful so far, it would be the level of escalation. While the first episode worked very well, I felt that the second seemed to slow down the pace. Luke seemed to be motivated to being a hero at the end of the episode but suddenly had questions during the second. The third episode puts those doubts to rest and the pace picks up with Luke actively engaging with the enemy and revelations that Cottonmouth and Mariah probably aren’t the biggest threat. Cottonmouth is disrespected by Domingo, fears the wrath of Diamondback, and is even treated lightly by Scarf when he reports to him. With Luke Cage having indestructible skin, there isn’t much Cottonmouth can do to him physically. The question then is, if not Cottonmouth, who should we be fearing?
I’m really enjoying this show thus far and know that the next episode will establish Luke Cage’s backstory, which I ‘m sure will thrill most comic fans. Hopefully, the show will keep the momentum and not jump the shark. I don’t know how many rocket launcher moments I can handle before it becomes too ridiculous.
But seriously, who has a rocket launcher in Harlem?!?!