There’s a lot written on “Netflix’s Strategy” to get viewers hooked. Pacing the season out to have the most impact on the viewer and carefully placing huge moments to get the viewers hooked to finish the season. Netflix also has a tendency for their series to feel aimless in the middle of the season, and season one of Luke Cage definitely suffered from a disjointed middle of the season. I’m wary about where this season will end up but if the rest of the season is as successful and moving as“Wig Out”, we should be prepared to declare Luke Cage the best Netflix Marvel show. Maybe even the best comic book show on television.
The final scene between Claire and Luke is skillfully written, masterfully acted, and expertly directed. The scene illustrates how the personal is political, and Luke and Claire each lay out how their race, gender, and how society interprets those things lead them to this breaking point in their relationship.
I’ve felt Luke’s rush to embrace his stardom has happened a little quick. The emotional pacing in these episodes has been explosive. There are moments where you can see his rising ego and anger benefit him. He walks into his first encounter with Bushmaster confident and confrontational but to get there, we witness the trade off. Cockroach lying incapacitated on the floor as Luke bristles at Claire and Misty for suggesting he went too far. For every cool fight sequence between hero and villain, we’re reminded of the people he’s supposed to be helping and now, they’re cowering in the corner.
While Luke Cage is clearly writing about the Black experience, it also is telling a story about toxic masculinity. Over time and perhaps due to overuse, the phrase has been watered down to mean “when men do something bad.” However, at the root of it it’s the idea that the cultural expectations and norms for men are harmful, to men and others. Claire identifies a change in Luke early and when she arrives on the scene in Cockroach’s house, she knows he might be too far gone already. Luke begins rejecting her help and advice this episode because he’s acting like a hero. Read: like a real man.
Even the language Luke starts to use with Claire this episode reminds the viewer of an unhealthy relationship long before Luke smashes his fist through a wall. He calls Claire “woman” instead of her name and complains that she is “talking at him” rather than to or with him. He even goes so far as to say that she’s trying to castrate him for warning him about his growing anger and yelling at her that he’s a man.
The show doesn’t shy away from the fact that because of their race, Black men are denied some of the “privileges” of manhood and masculinity but expertly uses Claire as a foil that the solution isn’t to become that scary nigga to feel powerful in a society that denies you agency. The solution is to dismantle your own anger and the system that steals your personhood. The show also deftly weaves in Claire’s heritage to refute Luke’s painful claims that she’s a stranger to racism. She may not be a Black man living in the world but she’s Afro-Cubano and seen her family deny themselves and her heritage because of anti-Blackness. A beautifully intersectional moment that doesn’t let Luke off the hook.
The words that Claire uses to describe Luke in this scene is purposefully dehumanizing. She calls him an ogre and refers to him as the boot stomping a cockroach. If Luke gives into his anger, he’ll lose his humanity and become exactly what society thinks of him.
This season seems to be wrestling with the fact that if Luke wasn’t a famous hero with special abilities, he’d be that dangerous Black man. This scene is also filmed to underline this point. Luke is shot from below to make him look larger and more imposing while Claire is shot from above or farther away to make her look smaller than she is. Luke’s body also looms into the frame when we see Claire as if his presence is looming over Claire.
The moment when Luke snaps and punches a wall four times is punctuated with silence and shots of Claire turning her back on him in tears. When Claire breaks the silence, her lines are like poetry: “I need the ocean. I need time. I need space. I need perspective. I need to go see my mom and abuelita in Havana.” Claire has lived a life of abuse a few apologies in the moment aren’t erase to face the fact that Luke has become the thing she feared and she has to use the advice from James she got earlier in the episode. She has to save herself first. Luke and Claire’s relationship was never about him saving her but her ability to save both of them. She’s done saving him.
A lot of time can and should be invested in discussing this brilliant work, but the rest of the episode did a great job balancing the other characters as well. Mariah uses her daughter to regain some of the political capital she’s lost and Tilda grows more comfortable with her mother even as Shades lurks in the background. He’s beginning to worry that Mariah only wants him because she has no one else and he’s defined by her utility to her. We get to see Bushmaster studying Luke Cage while he performs another religious or spiritual ritual. Bushmaster feels closer to striking out at Mariah but we’re still not sure what that is going to look like. I’m still enjoying Shakir’s performance that I don’t really mind the lack of clear information.
If the momentum and emotion created in “Wig Out” continues, we’re in for a thrill ride for the remaining episodes.
- There’s hardly enough time to talk about the scene between Misty and Colleen. The scene in the bar where they take down a creep who wants to get revenge on Misty for taking down his relative is great fun. Misty instinctively throwing a punch with her missing right hand and then figuring it out is a fun way to tell her story back to herself.
- My favorite moment of unintentional comedy is when Luke is staring at a map, circles Crown Heights on the map and has to lie down. There’s one bead of sweat on his head like it took a lot of energy to circle one neighborhood on the map.
- I’m loving the choice to use reggae this season to differentiate between Luke’s world and Bushmaster’s world.
- The old Jamaican men in Gwen’s restaurant are REALLY hung up on Luke being compared to Usain Bolt. Is he the world’s most famous Jamaican right now?
- Billie/Stephanie had to be either a spy for someone or going to die a tragic early death because of the way she was featured so heavily with so few lines. Turns out, she’s a spy for the Yardies.