Previously on Luke Cage
Before I get into reviewing the final episodes of Luke Cage’s first season, I want to make something very clear: It’s a good show. It’s a great viewing experience. And I can’t wait for season two.
That said, the season went steadily downhill for me after episode 7. The series had such a gem in the charismatic, unpredictable, stubborn Cottonmouth. To kill him off halfway through the season was a bold move, and it held a promise of a bigger, better bad to come.
That did not happen, and I truly believe the majority of the fault lies in the fact that the season was 13 episodes. So much action (and at times inaction) felt like it was only happening because the story needed stretching.
In episode 10, “Take It Personal,” Luke and Claire travel to his hometown so he can stand in his father’s abandoned church and trigger a few memories that confirm what Diamondback already told him: They’re biological brothers. Did Luke really need to go all the way to Savannah to remember what should have been memorable events? At the very least, let him confront his father for confirmation. Traveling to see him about something so important face-to-face makes a lot more sense than driving to another state on the off chance the church might help you recall something.
Thankfully, Diamondback isn’t the only villain taking us into the final stretch of the season. Mariah is a political animal and it doesn’t take much for Diamondback to convince her to align their goals for mutual gain. He kills a cop while wearing a hoodie and shouting, “I’m Luke Cage!” and then tags in Mariah to work the media and shame the police into using his Judas ammunition – the only thing capable of taking Luke down. Both their jobs are made considerably easier after a detective roughs up a young boy who knows Luke. Harlem is firmly on the side of police accountability and getting Luke Cage the menace off the streets.
The most disappointing developments in these last episodes fall on Misty Knight. While I absolutely adore Simone Missick’s portrayal of the character, it became frustrating watching her stare at her vision board scene after scene. Even when her instincts were telling her one thing, she allowed herself to be swayed that Luke Cage was the priority. And when she makes the Diamondback connection, her boss asks why she thinks he’s the one truly responsible for the violence and Misty replies, “I don’t know.” Why not just tell her the evidence you found to make the connection to begin with?
And after several scenes of her staring at the board, when she does leave the precinct, she gets shot approximately three seconds after her confrontation with Diamondback. Ugh.
The biggest development is in Luke learning that his wife, Reva, lied to him about the secret experiments going on at Seagate, and her real purpose was to suss out which inmates made the best candidates to participate. Luke admits to Claire that he no longer loves Reva, just the idea of her.
Things don’t get much better in episode 11 “Now You’re Mine” when it comes to advancing the plot. Diamondback, Shades, and a few of their henchmen take hostages inside
Cottonmouth’s Mariah’s club, Harlem’s Paradise. Misty is suffering from a gunshot wound to the arm with only Luke as her protection. As Claire huddles with the other hostages, Luke and Misty travel through a secret tunnel to temporary safety.
Outside, the police think Luke Cage is behind it all. You know, because the guy who had a very public beef with Cottonmouth is now using his goons to hold hostages. In all fairness, Shades tells Diamondback immediately that it’s the shittiest of shitty ideas, but Diamondback has blinders on when it comes to Luke.
The standoff does give Mariah the room she needs to make her move and get the mayor to agree to equip the NYPD with the Judas ammo. Meanwhile, inside the club, Diamondback takes a really long time recalling his terrible childhood being shunned by his birth father (Luke’s father) in favor of Luke. He gives way too many long speeches about his daddy issues. Fortunately, over one of Diamondback’s evil monologues, they at least put a montage of Luke kicking ass on his way back to the main part of the club.
Shades finds where Misty is hiding, but too bad for him Claire also made her way to the basement to tend to Misty’s wounds. Shades was not ready for the beatdown those ladies gave him.
Of course, Diamondback gets away, Misty’s boss suggests rest when Misty tries to tell her Luke Cage wasn’t responsible, and Misty decides it’s a good idea to suggest to Luke that he escape police custody (after purposely turning himself in) to look for Diamondback since no one else will. I wonder if, just spitballing here, Misty gave an official statement as a member of law enforcement they might listen to her instead of having Luke make himself look even more guilty. But, you know, 13 episodes.
The bulk of episode 12, “Soliloquy of Chaos,” the penultimate, sees Cage trying to get to Diamondback before the police can get to him. Domingo also has it out for Diamondback and launches an attack hoping to regain control of the guns in Harlem. It doesn’t end so well for Domingo.
The series highlights its thin plot of the past few episodes in a particularly annoying scene between Misty and Inspector Ridley. Misty expresses frustration with the department chasing down Luke Cage with special bullets when they should be focused on Stryker, but this wouldn’t be happening if she hadn’t told him to run. Ridley agrees that getting at the truth means bringing in Cage and Stryker, but wants to focus on Cage. Again, they’d have half the equation if Misty hadn’t told Luke to bolt, and it really feels like this decision was made not because it made sense or was the smart call of an experienced detective, but because they needed to fill 13 episodes.
Mariah’s tough front hides a private meltdown. She has now found herself exactly where she didn’t want to be: leading an illegal operation that’s sucking the life out of the city she loves. She’s essentially the new Mama Mabel. She gets a new ally when Diamondback springs Shades from jail just to kill him. Shades gets away and offers Mariah a deal: They can work together to send Luke after Diamondback (even though he’s already after him) by offering him the evidence he needs to clear his name. If they kill each other, win/win.
A run-in with Method Man gives Luke’s public perception a positive boost as the rapper takes to the radio to rap his praises. It was a series high point, and was fun to watch (and listen to; Meth still got it), but felt like a quick way to reverse something that shouldn’t have happened to begin with. Once Luke and his abilities went public, all he did was help the community. He helped the people shaken down by Cottonmouth, he disrupted the Crispus Attucks operation, and he gave the cops the guns. Everything he did said, “Hey, I’m on your side!” Even the dashcam video shows him protecting one cop from becoming the victim of friendly fire.
The finale, “You Know My Steeze,” finally features the brother v. brother battle brewing since episode 8. While Luke and Stryker fight it out inside (and outside) Pop’s barber shop, flashbacks reveal the early days of their relationship. Between that and the gathering crowd cheering on support, it felt more afterschool special than the culmination of a decades-long deadly vendetta. It got particularly cheesy when all Luke needed to win was the crowd chanting his name and Claire advising him to “remember who you are.” Really?
Mariah, ever the politician, hails the fight as a battle for the soul of Harlem. She’s already putting a positive spin on her impending arrest. Shades, also aware his partner will be going down for Cottonmouth’s murder, uses Misty’s missing cell phone to lure Candace out of hiding. With her dealt with, there’s no evidence against Mariah. She and Shades (one of the best parts of the season) escape justice for now, but Misty is keeping an eye on them.
Luke goes on the record, finally, with the police, but it also means he has to head back to Seagate to answer for Carl Lucas’ crimes. With Fish now in possession of the evidence that proves Stryker set Carl Lucas up, his stay won’t last long at all. Plus, The Defenders.
Luke Cage S1E10-S1E13 = 7.8/10