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After the first episode of Luke Cage introduced the instigating conflict, things really start moving in the second episode, “Code of the Streets.” Up until this point Luke is content to largely stay out of the way, keep to himself, and keep his unbreakable skin out of everyone else’s business. However, events take a turn decidedly for the worse, and Luke can no longer stay on the sidelines.
The episode is very serious, but there are also a few fun moments, particularly having to do with Turk Barrett, who it seems decided to take a break from being Daredevil’s go-to punching bag in order to visit some friends in Harlem.
Pop and his history are very much the focus of the episode. Episode one introduced his character, but he doesn’t get fleshed out until now. It turns out that Pop used to run the streets, alongside both Cottonmouth and the father of Chico (the surviving robber from the first episode). However, Pop spent some time in prison, came out a changed man, and took it upon himself to make a difference in the lives of the neighborhood kids who would otherwise end up on the streets like him. His effort to make a difference isn’t limited just to the kids; he also tries to do the same thing for Luke, pushing him to think about others instead of just himself, to think about the good he could do with his power—“Power Man.” He—and everyone else in Harlem—considers the shop to be “Switzerland,” a neutral area where everyone is welcome and beefs have to stay outside. Unfortunately, the shop isn’t quite as safe as Pop would think.
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That moment—Cottonmouth honoring his parley with Luke—does quite a bit for Cottonmouth’s character. Even though he is clearly a villain, he considers himself to be more in line with the classical mob bosses who respected their opponents and honored their agreements than with newer gangsters who have no respect or honor for anyone. The exploration of the history between Pop and Cottonmouth also helps to further develop his character. In fact, I think one of Cottonmouth’s best moments is when Tone tells him about the barber shop shooting and Cottonmouth is at first upset but resigns himself to what happens and decides to (anonymously) help Pop rebuild. The surprise, horror, and anger when he realizes that Pop was killed in the crossfire—and even more the shock of him dropping Tone off the roof—is huge. Turk Barrett sums it up pretty well when he says he’s returning to Hell’s Kitchen where it’s safer! I suppose when the alternative is getting thrown off a roof, I also would prefer getting beaten up by a dude who dresses like the devil!
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My biggest complaint in this episode is just how conveniently Luke finds Chico. We don’t really see any shots of him investigating (though we know that Cottonmouth is pouring all his resources into a citywide manhunt), but Luke still manages to find Chico before anyone else. I suppose they can’t show every little thing, but the idea of Luke finding Chico before either Cottonmouth or the police is something that really needs some explanation.
All in all, this is a good episode for further exploring Cottonmouth’s character as well as for delving a little more into Misty’s character. Pop’s murder is a huge surprise (even if I did see it coming). From this episode it is very clear what is going to motivate Luke moving forward.
What do you think of Misty’s character in Luke Cage? Do you like Cottonmouth as a villain? Let me know in the comments!