There are no explosions. There is no thunderous music nor brutal violence. Yet episode 9 opens strongly and forces you to pay attention nonetheless.
Episode 9 of Luke Cage, “DWYCK” opens with Misty staring straight at us. She is in the interrogation room being evaluated by a “volunteer peer counselor” after her altercation with Claire. She is noticeably standoffish and on her guard but after she boldly states that he “can’t break her”, the counselor, comes back at Misty with a statement that makes her pause. He says, “I’m not here to break you, you’ve already done that yourself”.
Back at Harlem’s Paradise, Shades is getting situated as the new man in charge. He has Cottonmouth’s crew under his thumb and has them out looking for Luke, who, despite being last seen nearly dead in the back of a garbage truck, is nowhere to be found. As he’s questioning the men, Diamondback makes his grand entrance, quickly putting Shades in his place. He doesn’t like Shades’ role in Cottonmouth’s murder and is about to shoot him in the face, but is saved when Zip intervenes on his behalf. Shook, Shades realizes that he is not safe until he can shore up Luke’s retrieval.
Luke meanwhile, wanders down the street, injured and trying to get back to Harlem. He “borrows” some clean clothes from a laundromat, where he sees that his face is now on the news in connection to Cottonmouth’s murder.
Still reeling from her cousin’s death, Mariah takes a private moment to speak to his body, safe from private eyes. She tells him about his mother and father, and tells him that she really did try to keep him safe. But this heart to heart is interrupted when Shades comes in. He tells her that she needs to get Cornell’s business affairs in order because whether she likes it or not, everything now falls on her shoulders.
Back on the streets, two police officers spot Luke sauntering down the street. Believing him to be a possible drunk, they approach him and ask him for I.D. Trying to avoid confrontation but knowing he’s a wanted man, Luke tries, unsuccessfully to avoid contact with them. When the officer orders him to turn around and remove his hoodie, the officer realizes that he’s Luke Cage and they draw on him. Unable to do anything else, Luke apologizes then knocks one of the officers out. The other officer opens fire, Luke guards the unconscious officer from the bullets, then lays him gently on the floor. He then knocks the other officer out of the way, a move that sends the officer flying into his police cruiser. He steals a police cruiser and drives off. The whole incident is captured on the other cruiser’s dashcam footage.
Misty is opening up to the counselor, little by little. At his prodding, she talks about why she joined the police, recounts how her cousin was raped and murdered by neighborhood guys and nothing was done about it, and about her connection to Scarfe. But he pushes a bit too far, pressing her on why she couldn’t see Scarfe for what he really was. He pushes again, forcing her to confront why she snapped at Claire and what led up to it.
Mariah meets with Chico Domingo to discuss gathering the local crime bosses to negotiate her letting go of Cottonmouth’s illegal enterprises. She wants to go straight. Meanwhile, Claire is looking for a way to treat Luke’s injuries when Luke suddenly shows up at the cafe. She asses his injuries and notes that they have become infected. They make plans to seek out the doctor that did the experiment on him at Seagate. Back at Mariah’s her aid shares with her that the dashcam footage of Luke’s altercation with the police has been leaked and has gone viral. He then suggests they use his as an opportunity to further paint their narrative of Luke as dangerous freak that needs to be stopped. Mariah wholeheartedly agrees.
At the precinct, Misty finally breaks down. She admits that she felt powerless and scared when Diamondback toyed with her life and that when Claire disrespected her, she wanted to take her power back. As the weight of Misty’s confession hangs in the air, we see that Ridley has been watching on the other side of the glass. Elsewhere, Claire and Luke arrive at Dr. Noah Burnstein’s home. He is shocked to learn that Luke is alive but has no idea how to treat him, since his powers came as a result of an accident. He doesn’t have any concrete answers but he does have a theory on how to temporarily undo the process, just long enough to operate on him. Finally, after an intense interrogation, Ridley gives Misty back her gun and badge. Although Misty wants to focus on the man who held her at gunpoint, she is forced to focus on bringing in Luke.
Meanwhile, Mariah arrives at the meeting of crime bosses, Shades at her side. She looks very much in her element, surrounded by these men, yet she is not there to ingrain herself in the underworld. Mariah discusses the peaceful dismantling and redistributing of Cottonmouth’s criminal enterprises but before talks can advance too far, the meeting is crashed. Diamondback shows up unannounced and kills all the crime bosses except Chico and Mariah. When he asks why he should let her live, Mariah tells him her ideas for going legit. Rather than sell Diamondbacks guns to crime lords, he should paint super powered people like Luke as the enemy and then sell the guns to the police as the cure.
Back at Dr. Burnstein’s residence, Luke, Claire, and the doctor prepare Luke for a very dangerous operation. They plan to dip Luke in an acid bath to weaken the bonds between his cells. The process is much like deep frying him in acid and the pain is excruciating. They attempt once and Claire, unwilling to subject Luke to so much torture brings him up, but the process hasn’t worked. Desperate they dump him again. The episode closes as Luke flat lines and things seem at their most grim.
I’ll start by saying this. I still don’t like Diamondback. He is just too cartoony in a series that, until this point, has been focused and grounded. And I don’t mean his methods or his plans, I mean his character.
The rest of the episode was solid. I liked that we had a chance to see Misty come to terms with her feelings of powerlessness. Relegated to the sidelines for an episode after she put Claire in a choke hold, Misty was able to express to the audience how she worked and why she was so driven and so angry. This last part, about being angry, I felt was especially important to address. Typically the “angry black woman” stereotype gets played up to black women’s detriment and largely, any underlying reason for their “anger” goes unaddressed. If it is addressed, it’s usually wrapped up in relationship drama or feeling oppressed by “the man” in some way. However, this is not the case for Misty. Yes, she is angry – but not without reason. She has been betrayed by her partner, she feels lied to and betrayed by Luke, a madman toyed with her life with a smile on his face, and everyone expects her to have a full handle on everything. She is scrutinized more heavily than her male counterparts and vilified by the people she is sworn to protect. As she states, she hates it, but she loves it too. It was great being able to see her work through her psychological turmoil, even if the device was a bit cliched (speaking to a “therapist”) but the decision to have her speak openly to a counselor while being in an interrogation room was a nice contrast. As an audience we, like Misty, don’t know if speaking freely in this setting is meant to help her get back on the street or put the final nail in her coffin.
Another beautiful “woman know thyself” plot thread in this episode was, of course, Mariah’s traversing the criminal underground. When we first see her, she is speaking to Cottonmouth’s body. It hurt me to see that body bag there. Better times. Better times. But the scene highlights Mariah’s conflicted nature. She stands there speaking softly and crying over the body of her cousin, who she loved and helped to raise but also viciously murdered in a fit of rage. But there is little time to dwell on the past, as she is informed that she must settle his criminal business affairs. I enjoyed seeing Mariah’s reluctant trek through the crime world. She wants no part of it, and yet, it is a natural fit for her. She speaks the truth when she says that she knows Harlem. She knows it’s history and she knows it’s seedy underbelly as well. She knows how to talk to people like Domingo without coaching and when she meets with all the bosses, she sits at the head of the table, Shades by her side, looking like a boss herself. She doesn’t even flinch when Diamondback shows up and starts killing bosses one by one. But more importantly, her idea to sell his guns to the police, straddling the lines between the criminal underworld and her desire to go legit, shows a mastery and cunning that I haven’t yet seen from any villain in this show sans Mariah herself and seems like it will play a major part in how the series progresses.
If only Diamondback were that cool… sorry, I’m digressing. He is a bit more tolerable this episode. Maybe I wouldn’t dislike him so much if this were the episode we were introduced to him and he kept some of the cliched scripture down to a minimum. I’ll give him one more episode to sway my opinion but I just don’t see myself liking him as the “big bad”.
Then, of course, there is our hero, Luke Cage. He had a bit more to work with this episode. The scene where he is confronted on the street was particularly poignant given the age we are living in. The two officers that stopped him had no reason to, other than the fact that he was a black man wearing a hoodie and appeared to be drunk in the wrong neighborhood, and the situation escalated very quickly. If not for the superhero slant, this would be a modern day tragedy. I appreciate the social commentary in this series as well as it’s attempt to not paint all police as the antagonists (something that the nature of superhero shows is often open to). However, I think this point could use a lighter touch. Luke Cage is our hero but also a vigilante which should make seeing the police as antagonistic something the casual “superhero show” watching public more amenable to. By comparison, look at how police are treated in Marvels other shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Are they the villains, no? But do they make a point to make sure that they aren’t harmed in the line of duty of never a casualty of getting in the hero’s way? No. Are they as involved in the central story? No.Yet a story centered around a bulletproof black man in a hoodie in this political climate requires a bit more tact than other superhero shows.
Now, I’m not hating, but I feel this desire to show a more “balanced” side, to rarely show
Luke as standing off against the police (yes he does send an officer flying but only after apologizing and then shielding another officer’s body from gunfire), the decision to make the face-off against the police an incident that is more construction than fact – paints Luke as something a bit boring. He’s a goody – goody. And as I watched more and more I realized that’s why I don’t find him compelling. It took me some time but I finally put my finger on it. He is a nearly indestructible goody two shoes. He’s superman with less powers. And I far prefer Batman to Superman. Suddenly, things have begun to make sense.
I’m also not a fan of this whole Claire ex machina they have going on, but I’ll save that for another time.
In general, I still really like the show, but I do have my concerns. Luke seemed to be a far more interesting and conflicted character in Jessica Jones and so far, I am not as invested in his character. But I am staying compelled by the amazing score, and side characters. Its a good show. They just need something deeper for Luke… and to drop Diamondback like a bad habit. But that’s just me.