It’s no coincidence that the musical guest this episode was Stephen Marley. The Jamaicans have officially taken control of Harlem. And to be honest, our heroes (and villains) didn’t put up a very good fight.
Episode seven of Luke Cage is, in my opinion, a step up from the one that came before it. Full of drama, character building, and revelations – this episode gives us a lot to digest and sets up a brand new direction for the season without killing off our OG baddies (like they did around this time last season). However, where the episode stumbles is in scenes and dialogue that should have happened in episode six, and the general feeling that many of our heroes are just standing around while Bushmaster runs loose.
The episode picks up right where episode six left off. Falling to the bottom of the lake, Luke’s life flashes before his eyes: saying goodbye to his mother in prison, Reva’s funeral, walking through his father’s church – all emotional images. But it is his father’s voice that bring’s Luke back to his senses and sends him swimming back to the surface of the water. Though this sets up some of the emotional baggage that Luke will have to unload this episode, I also felt it was resolved a little too quickly. As someone who is invulnerable to bullets and most physical damage, it was always teased that something like poisoning or drowning could easily be his undoing – and yet this idea never gets too far. Having Luke suddenly overcome the paralysis in the beginning of the episode feels like a lost opportunity. They could have at least teased us, like he was in real trouble for a while, then moved to another scene or two. Give the audience a chance to see him struggle and bring out more repressed memories with his father and his mother before he makes his escape.
Although it was nice to see the inevitable emotion dump and reconciliation between Luke and his father, I feel that the conversation that they have in the back room of the church, after Piranha leaves, would have been better suited in episode six. The tension, distrust, and venting would have provided a more natural progression if it occurred while Luke was leaving Piranha in his care. It would also provide more context for his father’s willingness to simply let Piranha leave half an hour after Luke left to fight Bushmaster. As it stands their reconciliation seems to swing back and forth too much. It feels disorienting. But with their tear filled emotional catharsis out out of the way, this should be the end of their father-son drama for a while.
I couldn’t help but feel bad for Piranha this episode. For someone so important, his safety was really an afterthought for everyone (including the writers apparently) up until his ultimate demise.
After dedicating a good chunk of last episode to learning about his backstory (major death flag there) he is allowed to simply leave the church he was hiding in. We also didn’t even get an opportunity to see him get snatched up by Bushmaster’s men, which is more than a little disappointing. When Luke realizes he’s gone, he goes back to the barber shop and stares at his map, but there is little urgency in his conversation with Misty, despite knowing there’s a good chance Bushmaster’s men might have found him already. Also, in spite of Mariah’s outburst, telling her men to find Piranha, the next time we see Shades, he’s having drinks with Comanche. I mean – was anyone paying attention? Bushmaster had heads on pikes two episodes ago! So it’s no real shock that the next time we see Piranha, he is being forced to sell out Mariah and give all her funds to Bushmaster before having his head cut off and put in a tank full of (you guessed it) piranhas. A cruel and poetic end. But hey! At least we got a pretty nifty fight scene with Luke and Misty along the way! I just love it when these two team up!
The odd progression of Luke and his father’s relationship and the blasé attitude towards Piranha’s capture were the only things I took issue with. The rest of the episode was solid and took quite a few twists and turns.
MVP awards go to Mariah and Ridenhour this episode, as far as I’m concerned. Mariah is desperate to find Piranha, not just for the money but because of the personal connection she has to him. Mariah is unraveling, unsure of who to trust – who is family? Well apparently Ridenhour might be. His desire to cut a deal for her seems to stem from genuine affection for her and Tilda. A tense exchange between Mariah and Ridenhour reveals that Ridenhour could be a lot more than just an old high school sweetheart, as he seems to know the circumstances surrounding Tilda’s birth, her real age, and who her “real” father is… oh snap!
Also, despite seeming like a by-the-book hard ass at the beginning of the season, Ridenhour reveals there is much more to him than meets the eye. Ridenhour confides in Misty, that he has a snitch in Harlem’s Paradise. He won’t tell her who it is, but we know that it is Comanche, and the pressure is on. After Piranha’s head is found, Ridenhour becomes convinced that with a little more pressure, he can convince Mariah to flip on Shades and bring an end to both her operation and Bushmaster’s. However, his desire to cut a deal with Mariah definitely rubs Misty the wrong way, and his overly hasty tactics ultimately come back to bite him when a suspicious Shades follows Comanche to their meet up.
In the end, Comanche shoots and kills Ridenhour in an attempt to save face, but the damage is done. In a heartbreaking scene, an emotionally wrought Shades shoots the apologetic Comanche and kills him. But it remains to be seen how this will affect Mariah. Surely, Ridenhour’s death and Comanche’s betrayal will spell trouble for her.
I also loved Bushmaster this episode. We come to understand how Mariah’s grandfather, Buggy Stokes, destroyed his family – betraying and murdering his father. Then, in an apparent act of retribution for Buggy’s death, he and his mother are targeted as well, resulting in his mother dying in a house fire. I love how they make Bushmaster a tragic character, but fall short of making him someone you can root for. He is not alone. He has family. Brethren. People who encourage him to take his winnings and move on with his life – but he refuses to. Time and again. His rage is understandable but not justifiable.
At the end of the episode, Bushmaster has not only taken all of Mariah’s money and her club, he leaves her and Tilda to burn alive in her brownstone. He has won. Reclaimed his birthright. But unaware that Mariah, Tilda, and Luke are all alive (and possibly about to begin cooperating with each other?) how long will Bushmaster be able to hold on to his winnings?
This changing of the guard mimics what Luke Cage did in season 1, with the death of Cottonmouth and appearance of Diamondback as the new big bad – but is a far more welcome change. Bushmaster has effectively beaten both Luke and Mariah at this point. But his actions may spawn an uneasy alliance. to be sure, Mariah can definitely use the help. When her life was falling apart the only person Mariah could depend on was Luke Cage. Shades is nowhere to be found in her hour of need and his best friend Comanche just killed her (maybe) baby daddy. She has no money and everything she owned has just gone up in smoke. It’s a hard reset. And it’ll be interesting to see if Luke is willing to pay ball in order to take down Bushmaster.