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Luke Cage doesn't know what to do with its strongest characters

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage doesn't know what to do with its strongest characters
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The issue with Luke Cage being the least interesting character on the series could be mitigated if the series used the other characters wisely. Unfortunately, Luke Cage is devoting too much time to Mariah and Shades when their story lines are no longer interesting. Alfre Woodard is doing her best but Mariah has been spinning its wheels for a couple episodes now. Her character is behaving erratically and it’s not fun or compelling to watch. It feels like the writers are searching for new dynamics for Mariah to explore and keep coming up short. We keep being reminded over and over of the same facts. We get it. Mariah wants to go legit, Shades isn’t ready to give up the life, and Piranha is the key to Mariah’s financial success.

The episode ends with Bushmaster finally capturing Mariah. He lays out his motivations and it’s some ancestral “your family crossed my family” bullshit. This is the second Luke Cage villain who is motivated by family drama. It feels like a retread of Diamondback going after Luke over their father abandoning him. It’s not a surprise or particularly thrilling. Bushmaster’s insistence on calling Mariah “Mariah Stokes” feels childish and petulant from what could be a top notch villain. And his plan of recreating his mother’s death doesn’t feel of a piece with dunking a severed head in a fish tank in terms of villainy. A little fire? That’s all you got?


Comic book villains and their motivations are usually intimately tied to the heroes they stand in opposition to. They lack a moral code and, in turn, they push the hero to break their own moral code. As such they can be a cautionary tale for the hero. The villain gives into their darker impulses while the hero battles to overcome theirs. After watching this episode and as Bushmaster tells his family history, I’m left asking one question.

What the fuck does this have to do with Luke Cage?

Seriously. What does any of this have to do with Luke Cage? I’m struggling to figure out exactly how Luke is caught up in any of this mess. Sure, Luke can’t stand by while anyone threatens to flood Harlem with guns and drugs, in theory, but Bushmaster seems focused on reclaiming Harlem’s Paradise as his birthright. His surface want and his deeper want don’t have anything to do with Luke. At the end of the episode, Luke is saving Mariah from being burned alive. Again, he can’t stand by while anyone is in danger, and that’s fine, but what’s the end game here? I hope it’s not an alliance between Mariah and Luke. I can’t see what that would accomplish.

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage doesn't know what to do with its strongest characters

Outside of Mariah and Bushmaster’s drama, Luke is attempting to mend his relationship with his father. It just feels like a simple explanation for all of Luke’s tension. Luke’s relationship with his father doesn’t feel like it’s going to solve any of the narrative questions in the series. The series is behaving like there must be a relationship for Luke to struggle with and since Claire is gone, his father becomes the focus for all of Luke’s emotions. James Lucas swings wildly between desperately wanting a relationship with his son and threatening to slap some sense into him. The audience doesn’t know how to feel about James and that makes it very hard to invest in Luke’s possible reconciliation with him. We don’t know what’s at stake for this relationship and what this means for Luke. James blamed Luke for his mother’s cancer and that’s a huge thing to tackle in what ultimately feels like a throwaway scene.


Then there’s Misty. She’s off the police force but still is called the scene when the police captain’s body is found. We’ve already seen that Misty can handle herself in a fight so what is next for her? At this point the show is shackling every character to Mariah, including Misty. It’s a shame because Simone Missick is a bad-ass. Just let her fight crime with Colleen or solve mysteries while wearing cool leather jackets. Anything else feels like a waste right now.

Shades discovering that Comanche is an informant and killing him and the police captain was…fine. It didn’t tell us anything about Shades that we didn’t already know and it eliminated a compelling character who was an obstacle for Mariah and Misty.


This episode definitely felt like Luke Cage falling back on old habits and connecting Luke to the plot outside of Mariah and Shades would do a lot to solve the current issues.

Stray Observations:

  • The police captain asked if Misty was going to “audition” for the New York Liberty. What theater-loving indoor cat wrote that line?
  • Live from New York, it’s Luke Cage! Featuring musical guest: Stephen Marley!
  • The head spinning in the tank looked a little low-budget. The extended close-up shot didn’t sell the terror.
  • Tilda’s monologue about the power of the Earth was painful. It sounded like something that belonged on Dr. Oz rather than the middle of a mother-daughter fight. I imagine that Luke is going to tap into Tilda’s knowledge of plant life to defeat Bushmaster but YIKES, do they not know how to write for her.
  • I refuse to acknowledge this show’s meta jokes.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Ali Barthwell is a wearer of fine lipstick and fine hosiery.

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