Previously on Luke Cage
This is the episode that turns the series on its head. Like Daredevil season two, Cottonmouth turns out to be the mini-bad of the series and his demise makes way for a more personal rivalry that Luke is forced to contend with. But before that happens, the audience is treated to Cornell’s twisted upbringing with Mama Mabel and his cousin Mariah.
One thing Marvel excels at is creating compelling villains and Marvel Netflix has taken one-note and cartoonish villains like Kingpin and The Purple Man and given them an unexpected depth. In the comics, Cottonmouth looks like little more than a 70’s style pimp but here, Cornell goes from a gangly, piano-playing boy, to a ruthless, killer. Prior to what we saw in Pop’s flashback, Cornell tinkers at the piano and dreams of going to music school even though Mama Mabel wants him to prove himself in her line of business. Mariah, on the other hand, is encouraged in her studies and pushed to escape the life Cornell is condemned to lead. Cornell’s resentment about his fate is compounded by the fact that the uncle who encourages his talents is the same uncle who’s abusing Mariah.
In the present day, Cottonmouth’s arrest is short-lived because Misty can’t make the charges stick and Cornell has a great lawyer (the same one Wilson Fisk employed in Daredevil). This leads Luke to seek out a way to take him down without the cops and poor Misty is breaking under the realization that the system doesn’t work the way she thought. Cottonmouth is also obsessed with taking out Luke and he asks for Diamondback’s help after learning that he may have the only weapon that can take down a bulletproof man. Even though Cottonmouth is out, Mariah is dealing with the fallout of her cousin’s arrest and with the addition of Shades’s manipulation, the past and the present collide when Cornell and Mariah’s resentments over their lives bubble up. And years of resentment leads to Cornell’s head being bashed in with a mic stand. The king is dead, long live the king.
Blowin’ Up the Spot
At the end of last episode, Luke was shot and injured by a bullet from a mysterious shooter who called him Carl. While that was happening, Mariah and Shades were framing Luke for Cottonmouth’s murder. Misty gets her murder board on and correctly assesses that Cornell was killed from being hit with a blunt instrument. Unfortunately, what she thinks is being contradicted by her superiors, who’d much rather believe Mariah’s fabrication about Luke Cage. It becomes even harder for Misty to be heard when Candice, the VIP hostess, corroborates Mariah’s story.
While Mariah and Shades are spinning their tale, Claire is trying to operate on a man with (somewhat) impenetrable skin. Oh, and they’re also running away from Luke’s attacker who wants to finish the job. Misty manages to track them down, hoping to take Luke in but when Luke’s attacker gets the drop on them and almost kills Luke, she’s forced to reconsider her stance on Luke being Cottonmouth’s killer. She also has to reconsider her life choices when Diamondback holds her own gun to her head. Luke’s attacker turns out to be Diamondback and he has a personal vendetta against Carl. He admits to setting Luke up to go to jail and he’s pissed that Luke came home from prison with superpowers. He puts a few more bullets in Luke and when Luke says he loved him like a brother, Diamondback retorts that he is Luke’s brother. And he doesn’t mean it in that Black man, my brotha kind of way.
At this point in the series we’re getting a lot of exposition. With the introduction of the new Big Bad (Willis Stryker/Diamondback), Luke is forced to go back to what made him in order to find out how to heal. Similarly, Misty is forced to reevaluate her life after attacking Claire during interrogation. For Luke this means finding the doctor that made him what he is and for Misty it’s a classic, cop therapy session.
Misty Knight by all accounts is a good cop but she’s taken a load of L’s in these episodes and it’s all caught up to her. Her tenacity, her ability to control the situation, and her conviction were all assets and now they’re the same characteristics that are making her a liability. Through this session, the audience gets deeper insight into her motivations and it helps lend empathy to a character that can come off as self-righteous. Misty also has to grapple with what she knows of Luke’s character versus the direction her investigation has been forced to take.
Mariah is mourning her cousin and trying to settle her affairs so she can hand the reins over to Shades aka Yung Baelish. Shout out to Garland. With Cottonmouth dead and, in the public’s eyes, being murdered by a vigilante, Mariah wants to capitalize on that sympathy to regain her position in politics. Unfortunately for her and Shades, Diamondback wants her connections and he likes having Shades as his number two, so neither of them get the come up they wanted.
On the road with Luke and Claire, the two of them head to Georgia to find Dr. Burstein and figure out how to get the shrapnel out of Luke’s body. Although the good doctor seems to have some ideas about how to help, he is also really the information Luke has on Reva’s flash drive. Dr. Burstein had given up on the experiment after he believed that Luke had died but finding out Luke is alive and has impenetrable skin has him noticeably salivating. But first he has to save Luke by dipping him in boiling acid. You know, typical surgery.
Luke Cage S1E7 - S1E9
These episodes are heavy on exposition but episode eight breaks up the dialogue-heavy arc with Diamondback’s chase of Luke through Harlem. Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi both give strong performances. Once you realize where Shades is leading Mariah, his character takes on new profundity. Although decidedly comic book-y, Diamondback can also come off preachy and it makes him hard to enjoy sometimes. Misty can also be empathetic and frustrating in equal measure. Watching her bark up the wrong tree and take loss after loss is rough. By contrast, seeing Claire step into her role as Night Nurse and be a badass problem-solver is exhilarating and for long time Marvel Netflix fans, Claire’s growth has been a long time coming.