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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Luke Cage can’t push past standard action fare

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage can’t push past standard action fare
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For a show that elevated itself from standard action television with stunning visuals and stylistic choices, it’s disappointing to see it all comes down to a tired villain trope: A scorned illegitimate child taking their anger and frustration out on their half-sibling. “Now You’re Mine” centers on the aftermath of Diamondback shooting as the police attempt to bring in Luke. The episode is pretty standard action fare but when the expectations for Luke Cage were set so high with the stylish and intriguing episodes earlier this season, “Now You’re Mine” can feel just fine, if a little disappointing. Some characters really shone or grew this episode (Claire and Captain Ridley); others felt like they were reacting impulsively (Diamondback). Diamondback’s unraveling felt like a complete meltdown of the character rather than getting to the core of the character. While better than the previous episode because it played to Colter’s strengths, the episode never transformed beyond another hostage drama.

Diamondback gets to tell his side of the story this episode and while we get more details about how he ended up on the wrong side of the law, the story isn’t innovative or told in an interesting way. Diamondback tells his life story to Damon Boone and to Luke over a speaker system in Harlem’s Paradise. He repeats most of the information from Luke’s flashback in the church or Diamondback’s monologue in the United Palace Theater. To invoke all of our writing teachers for a moment: “Show - don’t tell.” While Diamondback has proved to be a charismatic figure, his over the top dialogue style works in smaller segments and returning to it over for a long monologue split into parts wasn’t the best use of the actor’s talents.

We do learn how Luke and Diamondback ended up in prison together but there are big sections of Luke’s backstory still missing. How did he end up with the police? How did he end up in prison as an adult? How involved had Diamondback been in Luke’s life up until this moment? The real question I’m left with after this episode is how did Diamondback grow into a criminal architect of and major gun trafficker in New York City when he is so emotional and close to hysterics at the mere mention of Luke’s name. How does this play into the larger story of the criminal underworld in Harlem and Luke’s desire to clean up his neighborhood? So many hints about Diamondback and how scary he is and the criminal empire he’s created seem foolish now after seeing Diamondback as a petulant Bible quoting brother.

The reveal in this episode of the reason behind Diamondback’s rage toward Luke - their father didn’t claim Diamondback as one of his legitimate children and let Diamondback bear the brunt of his sons’ adolescent crimes - doesn’t feel like a shock. It felt like a rote inevitability and that’s never good for this late in a series. I can think of a handful of other movies and television shows with an evil half-brother reveal that felt more successful. The first season of Dexter is an example where the same type of reveal was used to greater effect because it wrapped up a major plot during the first season. As it was the fact that the confrontation between Luke and Diamondback didn’t feel like it had a conclusion was even less effective. Diamondback misses his shot and slips away with Zip.

The last couple episodes felt like they were building to a confrontation between Luke and Diamondback at Harlem’s Paradise with the Judas bullets coming into play and we didn’t get that narrative satisfaction. The full parental abandonment, ensuing psychosexual envious turmoil, and tenuous Biblical metaphors are left unresolved and I’m not even sure if Luke is the one to do that for Diamondback. They were Chekhov’s bullets left in the drawer. The first few episodes of the series dealt with the criminal underworld in Harlem and its connections to politics and Diamondback was painted as the big fish. Diamondback being Luke’s brother doesn’t answer any of those questions. Was Diamondback flooding Harlem with guns just to get at Luke? Also no one in the police force ever mentions the name Diamondback. He was a major player in the gun runner game but the police don’t have him on their radar for any of the murders connected to the criminal underworld? I’m left with too many questions here.

Thankfully the entire episode wasn’t a total snooze and I’m worried I sound like a broken record because the bright spots of the episode were Claire mother-fucking Temple and Shades. Also, Inspector Ridley finally got a moment to be somewhat useful when she was paired with Black Tower from the DA’s office. He arrived to tell her that Mariah Dillard’s gun deal was about to be finalized. They were finalizing the deal at the same time that the hostage situation was being carried out. Sure. Ridley and Blake were sorting out everything the audience had figured out from episodes before and Ridley was finally listening to everything Misty had been telling her. Ridley saying that guns aren’t Luke’s M.O. felt like a victory for Misty.


Unfortunately, the show walks much of that back when Ridley and Misty meet after the stand-off in Harlem’s Paradise. On the other side of the gun, Shades seems to be the only person concerned with keeping Diamondback focused. He manages to find where Luke is hiding Claire and Misty in the basement. He connects Claire’s interest in Candace and keeps his eyes on all the moving parts that Diamondback is content to shoot with a rocket launcher. Shades seems to bethe only competent criminal with a little foresight on this show. I wonder how Mariah will protect Shades after he’s arrested. Then there’s our shining angel, Claire Temple. Claire manages to outsmart just about everyone. Her quick thinking and medical knowledge allows her to sneak away from the guards and find Luke. Shades is playing catch-up to Claire in this episode as she finds the cracks in Diamondback’s hostage situation. She runs toward the fight rather than from it. Luke continues to need Claire and Misty to help him strategize and convince him that going out in a blaze of glory would be a bad idea. Claire’s moment with Misty after beating up Shades - “You got skills.” “Likewise,” followed by a shared chuckle - really makes me wish that the show Netflix gave us in Harlem was Claire taking down criminals and bonding with women. Everyone else leaves the standoff in cuffs or in a hospital bed and Claire is the only one walking free.

Stray observations

  • Sugar, one of Diamondback’s goons, calls Claire “Night Nurse, a reference to a comic book series put out by Marvel in the 70’s about three female roommates who were nurses working the night shift in NYC. The series was an attempt to reach the same audience as Nancy Drew. It only lasted four issues.
  • I’m glad Misty and Claire can co-exist without a catty rivalry for Luke’s affections and at this point in the series, I think they can both do better than Luke.
  • The choice of Diamondback (and the series) to play “Son of a Preacher Man” as Diamondback tells his life story is too on the nose for literally any television program.
  • Luke Cage made the mistake of killing Cottonmouth too early. He would have been a better match for Luke and his goals would have maintained thematic ties with the beginning of the season. Diamondback should have appeared in the last two episodes of the season after a clash with Luke and Diamondback and shot Luke with the Judas bullet and told Luke “I’m your brother” as the season one credits rolled. How much more effective would have that have been?