Monday, October 3, 2016

Luke Cage Season 1, Episode 1, "Moment of Truth" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Apologies for the late update; I was at a meeting most of the day.

Marvel Netflix continues its strong streak with Luke Cage, a series about the hero of the same name, who receives super-strength and unbreakable skin from a sabotaged experiment and eventually decides to use his newfound abilities for good.  In the comics it is a long road for Luke to move from fugitive escaped convict to “Hero for Hire” and from there to become an Avenger.  The same looks to hold true for the Netflix iteration of the character, who began on Jessica Jones as a fugitive escaped convict who decided to leave Hell’s Kitchen after his entire world got turned upside down by Kilgrave.

Luke Cage picks up with Luke living in Harlem and working two jobs just to get by.  Luke is set up as a very down-to-earth character, similar to both Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones.  Considering all of the parallels in terms of story between these three characters (2 get their powers in an accident with random chemicals, 2 use their powers to support themselves, all focus their efforts on lower-level villains, and they are all located in the same city) it should not be surprising that there are similar story beats between all of them.  In this case, Luke is hiding his powers entirely (like Matt), working menial jobs to get by (like Jess before Alias Investigations).  However, like Jessica he comes face to face with a character from his past (in his case a fellow inmate at Seagate) and has a miniature panic attack out of fear that he was recognized.  It is a little jarring to see the exact same story beats from the first episode of Jessica Jones repeat themselves—particularly when he made his first MCU appearance in the first episode of Jessica Jones—but it is what it is.  Everything in the episode does work together to give us a very good idea of who Luke Cage is and what drives him forward.  I especially like that Luke has flashbacks of his time in prison when he sees Shades.

This episode actually does a good job of introducing all of the major characters—Luke, Misty Knight, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, and “Black” Mariah Dillard—and giving us some indication of their characters.  Misty’s initial introduction was intended to be misleading, but I saw through it pretty quickly for myself (can’t speak for anyone else)—but, then, I already knew the “twist.”  Misty isn’t exactly the most subtle when it comes to surveillance, considering that she tipped Luke off pretty quickly that she was watching Cottonmouth.  And at the same time, she does a poor job of remaining objective while on the job—I’m pretty sure sleeping with an unrelated subject while on the job is frowned on by most police departments!  At the same time, this all serves to make it crystal clear what Misty’s role in the series will be:  she is the love interest (that was quite the intense sex scene, though no worse than anything in Jessica Jones), but she is also an important character in her own right.

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Cottonmouth considers himself to be something of an old-school gangster, though he appears unaccustomed to doing his own dirty work (as when he murdered Shameek).  He and Mariah are working together to essentially control Harlem, but for different reasons.  Mariah is the public face of the empire; Cottonmouth handles all the dirty work and fills her coffers.  She wants to make Harlem a better place (though “Keep Harlem Black” seems like a very non-P.C. slogan these days…); Cottonmouth just wants to keep himself in power and keep the money coming in.  Even though they are cousins, it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to see eye-to-eye for the entire season, at least in terms of their end goal.

The main conflict of the season gets kicked off fairly early in the episode, when we simultaneously see Cottonmouth sealing an arms deal with Domingo and three masked men ambushing that same arms deal. This puts Cottonmouth in a serious predicament, as he owes money to both Mariah and his supplier, Diamondback.  And he still owes those guns to his buyer, Domingo.  This will provide the central conflict which pulls Luke into the greater events of Harlem.

There are some really good moments of action in the episode, with the biggest one coming right at the end when Luke throws down with four thugs who are trying to shake down his landlady.  We’ve already seen part of the fight in the trailer, but the guy literally breaking his hand on Luke’s face is every bit as gruesome as you would like.

I really like how easily they pull in references to both the comics and the rest of the Cinematic Universe.  Pop comes right out and calls Luke “Power Man,” right after teasing him with “Mr. Bulletproof.”  There are a couple references to Jessica Jones season 1, but nothing too obvious; the biggest one is that Pop calls Jessica Luke’s “rebound chick” who shot him in the chin with a shotgun.

I think the biggest hit against the series in this episode is just how quickly everyone seems to know exactly what happened with the shootout at the gun deal, and the fact that everyone knows who was responsible within hours.  I can understand how Cottonmouth knows—Dante told him before he died—and I can even get Pop jumping to that conclusion as soon as he finds out Dante was killed there.  But I’m surprised that the police were able to figure it out so quickly.  Even if the three of them are known associates, that doesn’t automatically make Shameek and Chico the coconspirators.

Overall, Luke Cage gets off to a very strong start.  All of the characters receive decent introductions, and the relationships between them are quite clear.  The main conflict for the first arc of the season is set up right up front.  The music and cinematography really pull you into the action.  All in all, this is looking like another definite hit for Marvel Netflix.

What is your favorite part of this episode?  Do you like how they work in references and Easter eggs?  Let me know in the comments!

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