The episode opens exactly where we left off. Harlem’s Paradise is empty and Shades and Diamondback are out to get Luke. With Luke being bulletproof, their target becomes the injured Misty. They take all the remaining people in the building as hostages. Shades is unsure of Diamondback’s plan but is assured that chaos is their friend in this situation… I guess. Let’s see.
As they hide from Diamondback and his men, Luke tells Misty who Diamondback is and how he’s connected to him. Meanwhile, news and police are gathered outside. ESU arrives and wants to go tactical right away, but Ridley won’t allow it until she can ensure the safety of the hostages and Misty. That is when she gets a call from the councilman Boone, telling her that “Luke Cage” is holding them hostage and has threatened to start killing people. In truth it is Diamondback holding a gun to his head making him say these things, The councilman tries to negotiate with Diamondback but he seems uninterested in what the councilman has to offer. Diamondback gives Boone his bible (a gift from his father to his mother), which is completely highlighted, underlined, and notated.
Back with the hostages, Claire meets Candice. She treats Candice’s wounded ankle and the two talk about how to save Luke. Candice tells Claire that there was a way for Luke and Misty to have gotten out of the kitchen undetected. Armed with this knowledge they create a diversion and Claire escapes to go find Luke.
Outside, ESU is itching to go tactical but Ridley is still telling them to wait. This is when an ADA comes and informs Ridley that the mayor is in a closed door meeting with Mariah Dillard to discuss arming the police with the enhanced Judas bullets. It doesn’t take long for them to get word that the mayor has OK’d these bullets for police use, a decision that doesn’t sit well for Ridley or, surprisingly, for the ADA with her. He tells her he fears when this type of weapon will, inevitably, end up on the street. A few hostages are released as means of stalling for time. Meanwhile, Claire finds Luke and Misty inside the hidden bunker they are holed up in.
In Cottonmouths old office, Diamondback plays “Son of a Preacher Man” while telling councilman Boone his sad backstory. Fitting, I suppose but a bit on the nose. However, despite his bravado, Diamondbacks not at all thought out plan is unsurprisingly falling apart. The hostages they released are giving conflicting reports about who actually shot up the club and held them hostage, further cementing Ridley’s doubts that Cage is behind this incident, Shades calls out Diamondback for this stupid plan, one of his men is discovered injured and a hostage (Claire) missing, and Diamondback and Shades are forced to change tactics. They decide that everyone in the building has to die. Diamondback sends a message to Luke through the PA system. He tells Luke that if he doesn’t surrender himself, he will kill a hostage every 10 minutes, starting with the Boone. Luke knows he’s not bluffing and goes out to face Diamondback while Claire stays with Misty and patches up her arm. With the PA system still on, Diamondback continues to monologue to the Boone about his sad history, revealing that after stealing a car for a joy ride, he and Luke were caught and arrested. Their father managed to get Luke off the hook and sent to the Marines, but he was sent to juvenile detention, where he was jumped by other boys and was forced to kill one in self defense, leading to a longer, harsher sentence. While stuck in prison, his mother died of cancer alone, as the reverend pretty much abandoned her once Willis was out of the picture. He ends his story by donning the power glove and punching the Boone in the chest, killing him. The councilman’s body is then dumped at the front door and Ridley has no choice but to mobilize ESU, now armed with Judas bullets.
While washing his hands, Shades discovers the hidden bunker beneath the kitchen floor and finds Claire and Misty. Despite their disadvantage, Misty and Claire team up to beat Shades and the two bond a little. Luke meanwhile, releases the rest of the hostages and finally comes face to face with Diamondback. He is holding Candice hostage and forces Luke to save her rather than chase after him. He pushes Candice from the second floor balcony as ESU units enter the building. Luke catches Candice but is arrested. With the situation resolved, Luke and a number of Diamondback’s men are arrested, Misty is recovered from the building and tells Ridley that Luke is innocent, and Diamondback escapes.
I felt lukewarm about this episode. Granted there were some pretty fun action sequences but I couldn’t quite stay engaged. It took me a while to figure out why but as the episode came to an end I realized it was likely the absence of Mariah. More so than any other character in this series, Mariah’s path to formidable villain is the story I am most engaged in, so without her, I felt no excitement. Likewise, Misty was inured and unable to do much but grimace, curse, and struggle through her injury.
Yet placing these two strong female characters on the back burner allowed the characters Claire and Ridley to shine. It was good to see Claire in her element, doing what she does best, thinking fast and patching people up. I’m sure comic book fans appreciated the little nod to the comics when one of Diamondback’s men called her “Night Nurse” – as that’s her comic alter ego. This entire episode showcased Claire in many ways. She got vital information from Candice, found Luke and Misty, saved Misty’s arm, helped take down Shades, and even got a little female bonding moment with Misty. Yet, my favorite part was Claire getting, if even for the slightest moment, a taste of humble pie (“Did you two get coffee yet?” “No. Besides Luke doesn’t even like coffee” “I know.” – OHHHHH! SAVAGE). It was just a moment, and Claire clearly shook it off by the next scene, yet I felt it was necessary. Claire Templeton has yet to truly fall short or get checked at any point in this show and, in my opinion, that is what makes her less interesting. Everyone, from Luke to Misty, to Cottonmouth and Mariah, all of them have had to take their lumps. Yet Claire seems to exist only to be the Claire ex Machina, correcting all problems that surface and, I would argue, stunting Luke’s development as the hero of our story.
Ridley, on the other hand, impressed me thoroughly with her performance this episode. She is a complex character, initially entering the series almost like an antagonist for Misty. When we first meet her, we can tell there is some bad blood and a history between them. Her “by the book” methods consistently force Misty to keep her attention focused on Luke even when it seems to obvious that Diamondback is the real issue. But when she responds to the Harlem’s Paradise hostage situation, her main concern is the safety of Misty and the people left inside, she holds her own against ESU officers anxious to burst down the doors, immediately realizes that Mariah is plotting something, and only backs down when she is overruled by the chief. It was great getting to see her take control and reassuring to me as a viewer to see that someone else realized that this whole Luke Cage hostage situation stank to high heaven.
Speaking of which, how the hell did Diamondback think this plan would work? I swear, how did this guy get in to the position he is with half assed plans like this? Diamondback seems to exist in a world without subtlety or finesse. This is further exacerbated by song choice here. Monologuing his sad story as the illegitimate son of a preacher and his secretary while playing “Son of a Preacher Man”? A little on the nose, doncha think? I found myself living vicariously through Shades throughout this episode, looking around at this mess wondering “what the hell is this?” as Diamondback tries to reassure me that it’s all gonna work out fine. Shades, like me, seemed less than convinced but seemed to go along with it anyway, yet the look on his face makes me wonder if Shades is gearing up to arrange an accident for this guy the way he did Cottonmouth (may he rest in piece with all the other great underused characters). I think that would be a nice little twist cause Diamondback just ain’t cuttin it.