Cheo Hodari Coker
Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali, Alfre Woodard, Simone Missick, Rosario Dawson, Erik LaRay Harvey
September 30, 2016
Summary for Moms:
After the events of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) heads uptown to Harlem where he butts heads with local crime boss Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), his cousin, corrupt politician, Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and dogged detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick). In the midst of a conflict for the soul of Harlem, Luke’s chief superpower – being bulletproof – is compromised, and he is forced to relive the accident that gave him his powers, as well as the estranged half-brother he left behind.
Y’know, I didn’t really want to revisit Luke Cage with my mom. I just didn’t like it enough the first time to want to see it again. Also, we’d already done The Defenders, and Luke Cage didn’t really bring anything substantial to the table. But after a bit of a drought of Marvel content, my mom was eager to watch something new and went out of her way to request Luke Cage! Was she right to ask, or was I right in not wanting to? Turns out, a little of Column A, a little of Column B.
Luke Cage isn’t exactly the same as the other Marvel Netflix series. It tends to focus less on plot and more on a character-driven narrative, which is a fine choice, but not necessarily conducive to filling 13 episodes. And to fill the company-mandated time, Luke Cage has to become two different shows. And it’s the villains in this show that mark the transition.
Academy Award Winning Actor Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth is simply sublime, and, in addition to his ping-ponging between calm and crazy, provides Luke with a suitable and intimidating adversary that he can’t simply punch in the face. It’s Cottonmouth and, to a slightly lesser extent his cousin Mariah, that defines the first half of Luke Cage and really gets across the idea of a battle for the soul of Harlem. The first six episodes always kept me rapt. My mom, on the other hand, was interested, but not as immersed as she was in previous seasons.
It’s after Cottonmouth’s jailing and subsequent (spoiler alert) death at the hands of Mariah and Shade (who my mom says is a “really evil looking guy”), that Luke Cage takes a dive off a cliff that it never, in my opinion, recovers from. With Cottonmouth out of the picture, Erik LaRay Harvey’s Diamondback supplants him but does not measure up to be a replacement. Where Cottonmouth was a slick, intense character with a terrifying stage presence, Diamondback is a loud-mouthed, Bible-quoting caricature who was introduced with little context and seems to cross the line into a pure Blaxploitation villain, which doesn’t quite mesh with the precedent set by the first 6 episodes of the show. I also happen to think that punching a cop in the sternum and then yelling “I’m Luke Cage!”, when you are not, in fact, Luke Cage, is not a plan that warrants accolades. But what do I know?
However, that being said, Diamondback’s intro was when my mom started to get into it. She was immediately curious as to who he was and why he wanted to kill Luke Cage. She was also shocked at the reveal that he was his brother. She was also very worried that Luke would die when he got “shot twice, hit his head and [was] in the garbage.” There were still 5 more episodes to go, so he was probably going to be okay.
My mom was also quite interested in Claire, Luke and Dr. Burnstein’s acid bath odyssey to remove the armor piercing bullets from Luke’s body. So, at the very least, Luke Cage made the threat of his death very real for her, despite the fact that we’ve already seen The Defenders. She was also heavily into the fates of Mariah and Shades, who seemed to be getting away with everything.
Luke Cage is one show split into two different ones, each of which my mom and I have differing opinions on. While I think it goes to pot after an interesting, thrilling first half, my mom found herself more engaged by the second half, and the drama surrounding Luke and Diamondback. By the final scenes, she was incredibly upset that Doctor Burnstein had found a wounded Diamondback and was going to give him powers similar to Luke’s. She also expressed sincere concern that several tantalizing bits of story involving Shades, Mariah and even Misty were left as cliffhangers for the second season. If I were reviewing this show as a standalone, I’d rate it pretty low on the totem pole, but seeing how engrossed my mom got towards the back half, I think we’ll split the difference.
Mom Rating (Out of Five):
- When Luke is looking for a casket for Pop, my mom asked why the Funeral Home guy didn’t start with the budget options. “These are not things people can afford.”
- Mariah’s name is now “Maria”, guys. And Cottonmouth has some “nice teeth”.
- She was really amused by the fact that they “wrote a rap song about it”. She still doesn’t know who Method Man is. I don’t think she ever will.
- She thinks Claire driving a dying Luke 15 hours to Georgia is unrealistic. I’d have to agree.
- She asked me if I was still writing about her “to my friends”. I said yes. So, thanks for reading, friends!