In this episode of Luke Cage, “DWYCK,” the case is made for any one of the number of criminals and villains running around Harlem to fill the vacuum left by Cottonmouth’s death: Diamondback, Shades, Domingo, Dr. Burstein. Diamondback is invested in eliminating the competition and finding Luke Cage. Shades appears to be annoyed that everyone around him is losing sight of the forest for the trees. Domingo just wants to be left standing when the dust clears. It seems a little suspicious that Dr. Burstein has recreated his Seagate laboratory in his basement. These men are motivated by an obsession with Luke or exploiting the criminal order in Harlem. By the end of the episode, the person revealed to be the biggest threat to the criminal order in Harlem is Mariah Dillard.

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Her solution to untangle her family and its reputation from the criminal world would entangle the criminal underworld with the police and exploit society’s fears of outsiders—whether they’re gangs from downtown or people with supernatural abilities. While the men are looking for revenge or profit, Mariah is looking for control and using that control to get rid of her problems. Despite the eventual alliance between two of the series most compelling characters, “DWYCK” chugs along steadily. There are some captivating set pieces: Dr. Burstein’s lab, the negotiations between the crime operations but none of them were too suspenseful or gasp-worthy. It’s another episode where Luke ends up in mortal danger. It’s not reinventing the Luke Cage formula but it’s not a total letdown.

Misty’s storyline doesn’t intersect with any other storyline but we get valuable insight into her character as her storyline runs alongside Harlem’s other native daughter. Misty and Mariah use the same tools: a connection to Harlem and a desire to see it thrive, incredible foresight, and emotional self-restraint. Misty and Mariah were both exposed to violence and tragedy early in their lives. Mariah’s upbringing taught her self-reliance and a willingness to do whatever it takes to stay on top; Misty’s upbringing instilled in her a deep sense of guilt that she’s trying to assuage every day on the force that leads to a number of coping mechanisms. Misty starts off her session attempting to stay one step ahead of the situation: She recites her badge number because she’s been on the other side of the table and even when things aren’t being recorded, things are being recorded.

For Krasner, the therapist, there’s a psycho-babble explanation for everything Krasner identifies as an explanation for Misty’s behavior. She played point guard because she needed the control. Misty fires back that it’s because she was short and it was the only way for her to get on the court. It’s maddening to be a woman, a black woman and have your behavior scrutinized and the assumptions white men make about our lives come from a lack of empathy and can feel like insults instead of insights. The therapist buys Misty a can of Country Time Lemonade to goad her into telling the “Lemonade” story. He does so with a little smile. The “Lemonade” story that the volunteer therapist tries to get out of Misty with a smile is actually a deeply heartbreaking story about sexual assault that explains why Misty was drawn to the police force. The therapist looks at Misty’s pain and asks her “How broken are you?” He’s written her off. Misty tries to hold onto her upper-hand in that situation and her assertions that all cops, especially male cops, behave badly. They lose control all the time and it doesn’t become an indictment of their humanity. They aren’t inherently broken.

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It’s not a revelation to say that the police represent control. Misty became a police officer in order to reclaim and establish control in her sphere of influence. This episode also represents a loss of control for the police force. There’s been a rising worry about vigilantism and how it can’t exist in an orderly society. That worry becomes heightened when confronted with Luke. Mariah wants to offer the Judas gun to the police department in order to stop enhanced individuals. This would repair her reputation in the community, satisfy the demands of the gun market, and eliminate her need to go after Luke on her own. Her campaign against vigilantism does nothing to stop vigilantism but satisfy her needs, and she appeals to Diamondback’s self-interest to get him to play along. That’s the thirteenth law of The 48 Laws of Power.

When they stop Luke for “appearing drunk” (or walking while black), the usual tools of police aren’t effective against Luke. The image of Luke lowering his hoodie to police and then withstanding their bullets is a powerful one but again the series goes only three quarters of the way there. Luke Cage has avoided taking on a stand on police misconduct and when it’s enacted on screen; Luke could easily be interpreted as the aggressor and there’s no comment on the reality of police misconduct and police brutality. The series’ lack of a stance on racial justice issues can be difficult to watch when imagery of so much black death and black pain is being evoked over and over again. Seeing those kinds of images can spark an incredibly painful reaction in many black Americans and to see those images in this show without some other commentary is getting a little old. I’m fine if bullets bounce off Luke’s back but to see them fired from a cop’s gun is too much. Although the police lose control of the situation with Luke and Misty is reprimanded by Inspector Ridley for losing control with Claire, nothing changes. Misty gets her gun and badge back and Mariah plots to give larger guns to the police to take out whoever they might feel is an enhanced individual.

The episode ends with Luke being lowered into a bath of boiling hot acid. Dr. Burstein has been attempting to recreate or even understand the conditions that lead to Luke’s ability. Rackham turned up the dial and Dr. Burstein, get this, didn’t have control of his experiment. In addition, there might be something in Luke’s DNA that made him predisposed to the treatment. Everything that lead to Luke’s abilities was an accident or a coincidence. Claire, because she is a wonderful human being, maintains her composure and impresses Dr. Burstein with her wealth of knowledge. Before Luke is lowered into the bath, Claire tells him to make a fist if the pain is too intense. When she pulls Luke out the first time, Dr. Burstein plunges him back into the bath and Luke makes a fist before his heart flat lines. It’s a powerful image and I hope the show pays it off in the next episode.

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Stray observations

  • The drive from New York to Georgia is about 13 hours and Luke and Claire appeared to be riding in silence. Did they run out of episodes of 99% Invisible and This American Life?
  • Mariah asking if her assistant is using her personal tragedy for political advantage and then following up with “I taught you well” after a dramatic pause might be over the line of corny-ass dialogue.
  • What did the cradle being lowered into the bath remind you of?
  • I loved the Delphonics’ performance this episode, including their amazing glittery jackets.
  • The 48 Laws Of Power is one of the most requested books in the prison system. 50 Cent collaborated with the author to write a new edition, The 50th Law.
  • Luke says “Sweet Christmas” TWICE this episode. We get it, Netflix.

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