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Luke Cage suffers a defeat and the series slows down to watch his fall

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage suffers a defeat and the series slows down to watch his fallem/em
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Because Netflix series are intended for binge-watching, it’s difficult for a single episode to stand out. Episode three of Luke Cage was a tremendous episode. The episode that would follow a stand-out episode would naturally feel like a bit of a letdown after such an emotional episode. “I Get Physical” features the speedy opening that the season has been building to but the rest of the episode noticeably slows down and traces Luke’s descent after his defeat. If you divide the season into thirds, “I Get Physical” gives us the end of the first third of episodes. The episode begins with the inciting incident of the season – Luke getting his ass handed to him. That moment establishes a new status quo where Luke can’t be destroyed. The table has been set, flipped the fuck over, and we’re watching Luke hold onto any normalcy he can.

Bushmaster is one bad man and he kicks Luke’s ass. The real terror of Bushmaster is the calm with which he dispatches Luke. He’s as strong as Luke but he’s also faster and ready for his opponet. Luke has been lucky because walking directly into his opponents has been enough to take them down. His fighting style has lazier. He’s a hero; he shouldn’t have to fight this hard. It should be easy. It should look easy. But when he’s faced with Bushmaster, it’s not. Bushmaster is the one who looks graceful. Luke is humiliated. Luke winds up on the sidewalk with a crowd gathering to take pictures and video of his defeat.


Luke getting knocked down isn’t his only defeat. His support system is slowly crumbling. The people he relied on to make him feel like a hero are disappearing. The footage of the fight goes viral because D.W. sold the footage to ESPN. Luke finds him selling DVDs of the fight on the street corner. He drove Claire away and he’s realizing he relied on her for more than just emotional support. Fortunately for Luke, he finds a potential substitute for Claire when he finds Tilda and her shop.

The moment Claire moves out of her apartment and writes a letter to Luke, presumably saying goodbye, Luke attempts to stay with Misty. Y’know, his former sexual partner? Misty jokes with Luke that he shouldn’t leave his bag in her car so he doesn’t have an excuse to come by late that night. In talking about how the show is exploring Luke’s masculinity and how it’s tied to his role as a hero, the show does not do enough to condemn Luke finding solace in women.

The first time Luke steps foot into Tilda’s shop, they circle around each other and end up holding hands in a moment that goes beyond caretaker and patient. Luke craves healing and only seeks it out from women and those relationships end up being sexual. Claire and Tilda are both medical professionals who heal Luke the first time they meet him. His relationship with Tilda is just beginning but it’s not hard to imagine that their relationship will become more than friendly.

Even considering the dramatic irony that Tilda is Mariah’s daughter, their chemistry is palpable and the scene is seductive. For all the praise the show gets (and deserves) for creating complicated female characters, the show’s male lead still seeks out female attention to satisfy a void within him. This season is an indictment of the more toxic aspects of Luke’s personality and we can only predict that Luke’s relationship with Tilda is bound to crash and burn.

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage suffers a defeat and the series slows down to watch his fallem/em

After completely knocking Luke Cage off his axis, Bushmaster comes face to face with Mariah. Bushmaster referred to himself as the brick that the builders refused and has a real interest in the teams that literally constructed Harlem’s Paradise. All these references to construction and masonry lead us to believe that Bushmaster’s family was crucial to the building of Harlem’s Paradise but the Stokes family denied them profits? Or something? Just let us know already. All the subtext is killing me.


The theme of alienation is echoed in Mariah’s storyline. She’s refusing to listen to Shades or Comanche when they are trying to give her advice. She’s too concerned with building her fortune and clearing her family name to listen. Shades tells her to be careful around Bushmaster. Even though Comanche tries to consule Mariah by telling her that if she can’t explain the scam to a seven-year-old, then she’s the one being scammed. Comanche working with the police undercuts his concern for Mariah and creates another storyline to balance.

Finally, Bobby is going off to donate a kidney to his estranged daughter. Bobby says that Luke must feel this proud and accomplished every day. The scene between Luke and Bobby is another lovely, quiet scene between two gifted actors. Bobby points out if Luke doesn’t control his emotions, real lives are at stake. But Bobby’s advice is too late. He’s already pushed away the person he loves the most and his anger is preventing him from reconciling with his father.


Luke Cage does a wonderful job this episode of following Luke’s descent from hero to a sad man sleeping in a barbershop chair. All it took was one punch from Bushmaster to propel us into the second act of the season with a humiliated Luke Cage, trying to build himself back up.

Stray Observations:

  • Tilda’s montage of solving the mystery of Bushmaster’s order at her shop was ridiculous. She glanced at a Jamaican flag and knew the answer. When she whisper-shouted “Nightshade” to herself, I had to take a lap.
  • The shot from inside the hole in the wall was a great image.
  • Every time we find a headless body, finish your drink.
  • What happened to Luke’s apartment before Claire? Doesn’t he have anywhere to go? Is Luke a fuckboi? Discuss.
  • “This Jamaican cat makes Diamondback look like Ben Carson.” TOPICAL BURN!

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

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