In the season final of Luke Cage, Luke goes toe to toe with Diamondback in a all out, hand to hand knock out brawl on the streets of Harlem. The fight is inter spliced with odd out of place flashbacks of the two men as teenagers, boxing, in an attempt to draw parallels between the role these two brothers have played in each other’s lives. As a crowd of onlookers, reporters, and police crowd around Pop’s Barbershop Luke keeps taking hits until Diamondback grows tired. Then, Luke lets loose a final blow, knocking Diamondback out. A somewhat unceremonious and mercifully short conclusion to this family drama.
With the fight over, Misty arrests Mariah, who has sneakily used the media to out Luke as Carl Lucas. She is also finally able to bring an injured Diamondback into custody. With the bad guys on their way to jail, Luke finally agrees to come in to the station with Misty to clear up all the misunderstandings and clear his name. Misty goes about officially questioning Luke about the various incidents that he has been involved in. Luke responds to her questions with a rousing speech about his responsibility to bring hope back to Harlem that grabs the attention of the entire station, yet oddly felt hollow to me. Mariah, on the other hand, is thoroughly entertaining as she tries to spin her story in the interrogation room, pinning the murder of Cottonmouth on Diamondback. But she is visibly shaken when Misty enters the room with Candice’s audio recorded confession. Mariah goes from crocodile tears to straight hood in less than 60 seconds but Misty doesn’t have much time to bask in her victory. She soon learns that Candice has been killed. During the commotion at Pop’s Barbershop, Misty lost her phone but with everything going down, was unconcerned about finding it. Unfortunately, this one accident leads to her entire world crumbling around her. Shades, using Misty’s lost phone, lured Candice out of her hiding spot and killed her unceremoniously on the street with one shot to the head. With no witness to corroborate the recorded confession, Mariah is able to go free and Misty is sent reeling. After trying to stay within the confines of the system this whole series, Misty finally took things into her own hands and worked outside of it. Unfortunately, it only made matters worse, and Candice’s death and Mariah’s subsequent release are now on her.
There is nothing they can do.
While Luke and Claire talk over their future “coffee” plans, he notices Mariah walking out the door. Confused he asks her what she plans to do about the evidence that could exonerate him that she offered him before. Her response is amazing. “What evidence? Bye bye!” Best. Line. Ever. With no way to pin Mariah down Misty is forced to explain the situation to Luke and Claire. It is then that marshals arrive at the station to arrest Luke for his prison escape. Claire promises to get Luke in touch with “a great lawyer she knows” and they share a passionate kiss before he leaves with the officers. Mariah is already spinning the situation to the news as Luke is escorted to the awaiting car. She then makes quick work of taking her place as the new “Queenpin” of Harlem. In the car on the way to Harlem’s Paradise she holds Cottonmouth’s pearl handled pistol to her chest. He compliments her, telling her that is suits her. Finally, Mariah handles the pistol and agrees. She has changed. She has accepted who she is and she likes it.
As the episode draws to a close, Mariah already has Harlem’s Paradise back up and running. She replaces Cottonmouth’s Biggie photo of a piece of black art more to her taste. Speaking of taste and taking things, she also decides to take Shades too, taking a little taste of him before taking her seat as the new “king”, a move that both disgusted, excited and intrigued me. Judging from Shades face, he felt the same way. The montage continues showcasing that Misty has also gone through a funky metamorphosis, Claire has taken a look in to self defense classes, and Diamondback has gotten a visit from Dr. Burnstein.
As Luke is driven across the bridge, out of New York to face his sentence in Georgia, his message, despite the dark tone of the seasons ending is a hopeful one. “Sometimes backwards to go forward.”
So Season 1 of Luke Cage has drawn to a close and though I initially really loved this show, somewhere along the way, it dwindled. Luke Cage starts off with a lot of promise but fails to live up to much of it.
The thing that made Luke Cage work as a character in Jessica Jones was his sexiness, his potentially volatile nature, and his biting humor. In Luke Cage, he looses a lot of that after the first two episodes. He often fluctuates back and forth in his conviction to be a hero while still being a bit of a “goody goody” which is never very interesting. I found that he was often overshadowed by characters like Cottonmouth, Mariah, and Misty and relied too heavily on pre-established Marvel through-line characters like Claire. In the other Marvel properties, the main characters storyline is what stands out most prominently. In this story, it’s everyone else’s. He was dampened by the shows tendency to turn him in to an icon, a symbol – from MLK imagery to a Cain and Abel plot thread – he never felt like a fully realized hero. This may be, in large part, because a hero is nothing without a great obstacle to overcome.
Kingpin was a great villain. So was Kilgrave. Cottonmouth had the potential to be one, if he were a little less rash, but a completely realized Cottonmouth and Mariah team up could have done the trick. Instead, we got Diamondback.
Although many of the issues I had with the series were evident from the beginning; it wasn’t until the introduction of Diamondback that it became glaring. He burst on to the scene in campy, over the top fashion spitting cliche’d line after cliche’d line – from “Come out and play” to “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to “Son of a Preacher man” to “Bye Felicia” his performance felt hackneyed and groan inducing. No line had the power and chilling effect of Cottonmouth’s “everybody wants to be the king” from Episode 1. Yet, is this performance a crazy outlier? The more I think about it, oddly, the more it fits. I have said since the first episode that one of the things I enjoyed about the show was how it felt like a modern blaxploitation with better production value. From the music, to the style, the plot, to the character archetypes – which includes the villain. Cottonmouth and Mariah are better villains but Diamondback is a more “blaxploitation” villain. Over the top, flashy, and well connected while our hero is cool, grounded, and a savior to the people.
But for all the things that this show gets wrong, what it gets right, it gets really right. The fight choreography is tight, brutal and at times hilarious. Selfishly, I wished that Luke was more of the “slap-fu” and “hero for hire” that his comic book name suggests. Asking for money would have given him a flawed aspect that was funny and relatable. Yet, when the gloomy reluctant hero act takes a back seat for action, it’s thoroughly entertaining.
The music in this series is a character all it’s own and it makes sense. This is Harlem! A mecca of black music and artistry. The music has to have color and flair, and Luke Cage does this right. More so than any other superhero property, Luke Cage feels authentically New York. The New York that I remember.
But of course, I have to talk about the true heroes of this story. It’s women. This story is chuck full of badass, flawed, vulnerable, interesting women. Claire, my least favorite and (in my opinion) a fatal crutch for the show, is a badass but not over the top. Misty Knight is headstrong, troubled, and brilliant. She follows her gut and says what’s on her mind. Sometimes it comes back to bite her, but that’s okay. That’s what makes her human. I’d be interested to see Misty in more Marvel properties. I want to see her exist in a sphere outside of Luke Cage’s world. She’s such a cool character and I don’t really know if this show did her justice. As she’s questioning Luke at the end of episode, she keeps asking him, “why didn’t you just come to me?” Luke’s response of not knowing whether he could trust her, felt like a cop out. It seemed like they had initially started the series anticipating a stronger bond between them and ditched it to bring in Night Nurse/Claire instead. They further shored up this pairing by cutting his ties with Reva as well. From what I know in the comic-sphere, Misty Knight has her own team of friends to call on, including a relationship with Iron Fist (which will be coming to Netflix this year) and a partnership with Colleen Wing (the name that Claire pulled the off for the self defense classes) – so I hope that we will get to see Misty truly shine soon.
And of course, Mariah, who should have been the central villain in my opinion. She is as reluctant to get her hands dirty as Luke is. She is all brain and politics while he is all muscle and emotion. They never got a chance to interact very much but when they did, it seemed a natural fit. Luke is an obstruction that exists outside her realm of political gesturing and she is a adversary he can’t simply punch away. I loved that she was a “bad guy” with good intentions. She wasn’t using Harlem. she actually did love her home and wanted to keep it safe and prosperous, but she had a dangerous, morally grey edge to her. I found myself rooting for her constantly. I wanted her to win, and in the end, she did. It was awesome. Her last words to him as she walked out of the station free and clear were dripping with such sarcasm and venom and playfulness, it just made me love her so much more. We already know that Luke Cage has been green-lit for another season, so I hope that they will give her a chance to fully flesh her bad ass self in Season 2. That look Shades gives her after she kisses him hints at something dangerous. I’d love to see where that goes.
Overall, Luke Cage is s a solid series. For lovers of blaxploitation and Marvel comics, it’ll probably get the job done. But it’s many highs and it’s willingness to tackle hard social issues can sometimes get bogged down with preachiness and cartoonishly bad characters that kill the vibe *coughDiamondbackcough* Not Marvels, nor Netflix’s best, but certainly worth giving a chance.