Welcome to The A.V. Club’s Luke Cage binge-watch. From Friday, September 30 through Sunday, October 2, A.V. Club contributor Caroline Siede will be watching and reviewing every episode of the Marvel series’ first season.You can follow along and comment on the whole season on the binge-watching hub page or chime in on the individual episode reviews. For those watching at a more moderate pace, reviews by Ali Barthwell will run every other day beginning Monday, October 3.
The tricky thing about writing these binge-reviews is that it’s hard to see both the forest for the trees and the trees for the forest. By which I mean, I’m watching so much content that a lot of Luke Cage is starting to run together for me. But I’m also so hyper-focused on offering up an opinion about each episode that I sometimes forget to examine the season from a wider perspective. I say that not as a complaint (I actually really enjoy the binge-review process), but simply to provide some context for this bizarre way of reviewing a TV show. And because I think my confusion speaks to the binge-watching experience in general. It somehow makes you both more critical and more forgiving; more forgetful and more aware of details.
Since we’re nearing the end of the season, I tried to take a step back and think about Luke Cage’s larger arc while watching “Now You’re Mine.” In its early episodes, Luke Cage established itself as a show about the ways in which Luke—one of the more passive superheroes in recent memory (and I love that about him)—contends with social and political shifts in his Harlem home. And I think that’s why the addition of Diamondback has felt so jarring to me.
Though he’s technically a major part of the Harlem crime scene, Diamondback’s motivations are tied much more to Luke than they are to the neighborhood at large. The result is that he shrinks the show’s perspective rather than expanding it. Though Cottonmouth’s death seemed designed to propel the season forward in exciting ways, we basically went from one well-dressed violent criminal to another, less interesting one. It’s a bizarre lateral move.
There are potentially interesting angles to Willis, both in his complex familial relationship to Luke and in his religious motivations. But right now he’s far too broad of a character for either of those elements to land. He has all of Cottonmouth’s style, but none of his humanity. And while I praised Luke Cage’s early episodes for their specificity, I almost feel like the show goes overboard in its attempts to explain Willis’ motivations in this episode with his longwinded monologues about his father’s shitty behavior.
Overall, however, I actually thought “Now You’re Mine” was a pretty solid return to form for Luke Cage after the misstep of last episode. It centers on a tense hostage crisis in Harlem’s Paradise in which Luke, Misty, and Claire are trapped inside while Willis spreads lies that Luke is responsible. It’s nice to have most of the main cast in one location and the episode wrings a lot of tension out of Luke, Misty, and Claire’s attempts to evade capture. Plus Misty is finally brought onto Team Luke, which is a lot more fun to watch than her rather arbitrary hatred of him.
The hostage crisis gives Mariah (who’s completely off-screen this episode) leverage to negotiate a deal with the police for her Judas 2.0 bullets. “Now You’re Mine” sidesteps any potentially problematic connection to the Black Lives Matter movement to focus instead on the reality of how politicians and police might actually deal with the emergence of superpowered people in their neighborhoods. As with the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War, there’s some disagreement on how to move forward. Putting Judas bullets in the hands of cops might be the only way to take down Luke, but as assistant D.A. Blake Tower reminds Inspector Ridley, indiscriminately arming the police with exploding alien tech might have unintended consequences too.
But enough about that, let’s talk about one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the true MVP of this episode: Claire Temple.
I don’t want to sound too hyperbolic, but I truly think Claire is one of the best characters on television right now. It’s rare to see such a straightforwardly pragmatic female character in a superhero property, where weaponized sexuality and icy coolness are usually the signifiers of confidence. But Rosario Dawson has created an impossibly appealing everywoman who immediately enlivens any scene she’s in. Her street level perspective makes her incredibly relatable, but her all around competency is aspirational. She’s an audience stand-in you genuinely want to be and I really hope Marvel realizes what a treasure they have on their hands with her.
This episode is chockfull of amazing Claire moments. She fibs her way into helping Candace (“She’s my best friend and I’m a nurse”), improvises a plan to break free from her captors, calmly knocks a man down the stairs, saves Misty’s life (although maybe not her arm), and beats the shit out of Shades. She also calls Luke out for both his bad tourniquet skills and his corny flirtations. While I’m not particularly thrilled by the idea of a potential Claire/Luke romance (mostly because it feels like a retread of her early Daredevil arc), I’m in favor of anything that brings Claire more to the forefront of the Defenders universe. She even gets called “Night Nurse” for the first time!
Though this episode was fairly solid, on the whole, I’m definitely enjoying the second half of Luke Cage less than the first half. But with two episodes left, here’s hoping Luke Cage (and Claire Temple!) can stick the landing.
Standout moment: Maybe I’m just sleep deprived, but I truly can’t overemphasize how hard this exchange made me laugh:
Luke: “Couldn’t we have made amends a long time ago?”
Willis: “Couldn’t you have died during childbirth?”
Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: You may recognize A.D.A Blake Tower from Daredevil season two, where his biggest claim to fame was Stephen Rider’s bizarrely central billing in the main cast.
Burning question: Between Matt Murdock, Domingo, and now Willis’ mentions of being in the ring with Luke, is everyone in the Defenders universe a boxer?