Photo: Luke Cage/Netflix

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.

I’m not gonna lie, I was losing a bit of steam with these binge-reviews, but this episode perked me right back up. “Soliloquy Of Chaos” sees the return of everything I loved about the first half of this season. And, most importantly, that means a big focus on Harlem.

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Put this in an art museum

It feels like it’s been forever since we last saw Pop’s place and it’s really nice to return to that newly renovated (at least for a minute or two) location that carried so much weight earlier in the season. The return to Pop’s also means the return of Bobby Fish (delivering some great Claire-esque deadpan lines) and the return of Luke’s complicated relationship with the neighborhood he loves.

The most fascinating thread in this episode is the idea that Harlem has adopted Luke Cage as its folk hero. “There are more people rooting for you than you think,” a cop/former Pop’s customer tells Luke before he let’s him go. The idea of everyday people rooting for superheroes is nothing new (the train fight in Spider-Man 2 is a prime example), but Luke Cage puts a new spin on the concept by exploring the ways in which the black community in particular has adopted Luke as a symbol of hope.

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And, hey, Method Man is here! The Wu-Tang Clan member makes a delightful cameo appearance as himself in this episode (that’s another Wire alum to add to the list!) and he becomes a crucial point of view character for the ways in which the black community has embraced Luke Cage. Luke first runs into his hip-hop icon while preventing two particularly bumbling thieves from robbing a convenience store, and the whole scene adds some much-needed comedy to the series. It’s utterly delightful to watch Method and Luke geek out over getting to meet one another, and they even switch hoodies, each thinking they got the better end of the deal.

Method Man meets Power Man

But Luke Cage also aims for more than just comedy with Method Man’s appearance. During a surprisingly length interview on Sway’s Universe, he expresses the same sentiment as that sympathetic cop: Luke Cage is someone to root for. Much of Method Man’s praise for Luke Cage the person doubles as praise for Luke Cage the show (“There’s something powerful about seeing a black man as bulletproof and unafraid”), which is certainly meta. But the conversation between Method Man, Sway, and Heather B. strikes me as a not unrealistic depiction of how we might actually discuss the emergence of someone like Luke Cage in the real-world.

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredibly on the nose sequence, even before Method Man starts rapping about Luke Cage: Bulletproof Folk Hero and we see a montage of black men in Harlem donning bullet-pierced hoodies in solidarity with Luke. But there’s something about the blend of hip-hop and superheroes (two genres not really known for their subtlety) that works like gangbusters for me. There have been tons of moments in other Marvel movies in which people fanboy (or fangirl) over Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. And Method Man’s rap is an extension of that idea that also deepens what could be just a gag into an exploration of solidarity, oppression, black masculinity, and the importance of representation.

Hat trick

And, hell, if Luke Cage is a little self-congratulatory about singlehandedly quadrupling the diversity of the MCU, well, there are worst things in the world.

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“Soliloquy Of Chaos” returns to the slower pacing of the show’s earlier episodes and puts its focus back on the minutia of its central organizations. Misty tries to walk a fine line of helping Luke without contradicting her precinct’s official position that he’s a wanted criminal. She also reconnects with Candace, who now wants to admit that she lied to the police about the fact that Luke killed Cottonmouth.

Elsewhere, Mariah decides to abandon the political career that was once so important to her and focus her energy on Harlem’s Paradise instead. The club represents the legacy of not only Mama Mabel but also Cottonmouth. And as Mariah becomes more and more like her ruthless family members, she’s also more open to the idea that there are other ways to grab power rather than just legitimately.

Meanwhile Shades manages to survive what I assumed was certain death by Diamondback’s cronies. And with his former boss out to kill him, he reteams with Mariah for a partnership I really get a kick out of. Mariah thinks like a politician and Shades like a gangster but they both come to the same conclusion: The best way to protect themselves is to pit Luke Cage against Diamondback. And since they have proof that Diamondback was the one who had Luke falsely imprisoned, they have all the motivation they need to make Luke fall in line.

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Put this in an art museum too

Though I really enjoyed “Soliloquy Of Chaos” as a whole, the ending of the episode has me very nervous. While I was excited by the idea of a Luke/Mariah/Shades parlay, I’m less excited about the idea of watching Luke battle his “pimp Stormtrooper” half-brother. Diamondback continues to be the weak spot of Luke Cage, so here’s hoping the Luke Cage finale is a little more about Harlem and a little less about superpowered people punching each other.

No

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Grade: A-

Standout moment: Since I’ve already praised the Method Man stuff, I will give a shout-out to the episode’s cold open. From Misty speaking to Luke in code to the sympathetic cop letting Luke go, I thought it was all great. Plus I will never get tired of watching Luke smash through stuff.

Also my new dream is that Sway will become a regular commentator in the MCU. I can’t wait to hear what he thinks about the Sokovia Accords!

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Marvel Cinematic Universe connections: Method Man references Iron Man in his rap. Plus Turk is back and he really doesn’t like dirty diapers. Also here’s your Stan Lee cameo:

Burning question: Did Diamondback get into the Harlem gun trade specifically to reconnect/track down Luke? Or is it just a massive coincidence that one of his major cohorts also employed his half-brother as a dishwasher?

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