Monday, October 17, 2016

Luke Cage Season 1, Episode 3, "Who's Gonna Take the Weight" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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After the excitement in the last episode, “Code of the Streets,” you would think that Luke Cage needed to take a moment to reflect on what happened to Pop and Chico.  However, that is absolutely not the case in “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight,” as Luke gets right back into the action.  There’s plenty of exciting action in this episode, but that doesn’t mean it’s all action; there is still plenty of intrigue, as well as a few moments for reflection.

The episode kicks off with a flash-forward of Luke assaulting the Crispus Attucks community center, which is guarded by a large group of Cottonmouth’s thugs.  This is a pretty awesome way to begin the episode, particularly when the previous episode concluded with Luke standing outside the Crispus Attucks center and scaring off the lookout.  What is most effective about the opening is that we do not know what is going on (because we are outside hearing the action take place), and we do not know why it is happening.  It is only at the end of the sequence when Luke walks out that we figure out exactly what is going on.  This is a similar opening to one they used on Daredevil, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In both cases the opening works to set up the episode in a certain way.

This episode is the first place we really see Luke actively getting involved in the larger events in his city.  In episode 2, Luke got involved searching for Chico, but only because Pop asked him to and pushed him to do it.  However, once Pop was killed, Luke gained exactly the motivation he needed to get involved.  In fact, he says as much to Cottonmouth when they meet at the funeral home.  This interaction may be one of the best indicators of both their characters at this moment in the series.  Cottonmouth is still grieving Pop’s death in his own way—he never wanted Pop to be murdered, especially in his own shop.  Consequently, Cottonmouth feels guilty because someone under him had killed him.  It is clear that he hoped taking care of all the arrangements for Pop’s funeral would help appease his guilty conscience.  Luke, however, also blames Cottonmouth for Pop’s death, but he cannot be assuaged.  He sees Cottonmouth’s actions as disingenuous and threatens to continue going after Cottonmouth to get revenge for Pop.  Is Cottonmouth to blame for Pop’s death?  Yes, in the sense that his employee killed him.  Did he want Pop dead?  Absolutely not, though Luke doesn’t believe it.  Is Luke in the right for wanting revenge against Cottonmouth?  He certainly thinks he is, though Cottonmouth tells him it is unnecessary as he has already avenged Pop by killing his murderer.

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To avenge Pop, Luke works with Chico against Cottonmouth by hitting him where it hurts:  his money.  It is quite clever of Luke to push Cottonmouth into moving all the money into Crispus Attucks by attacking multiple stash houses, and it certainly makes for a good sequence as Luke takes down rooms full of guys.  The action is a definite positive all through the series; Marvel and Netflix really do understand how to make their action sequences exciting and intense.  The stash house attacks are not very long sequences, but they do whet the audience’s appetite for the main action sequence of the episode, which is when Luke makes his assault on Crispus Attucks.  That he rips a door off an SUV and uses it as first a shield and then a restraint is a very clever addition; for me it calls back to Captain America: The First Avenger, when Steve does the same thing with a taxi cab door within his first 15 minutes after the experiment.  This is actually a really good callback to include, considering the connections between Luke Cage and Steve Rogers:  both are given super-strength and enhanced durability by super-soldier experimentation, and both serve as the leaders and (eventually in Luke’s case) moral center of their respective teams.  The series itself calls Luke “Harlem’s Captain America” on a few occasions, which is definitely appropriate.

In my estimation this fight sequence isn’t quite as impressive as the one-take hallway and stairway fights from Daredevil seasons 1 and 2, respectively.  It is still very technically impressive and a lot of fun to watch up close, particularly when Luke just allows the thugs to waste all their ammunition on him without even slowing down.

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Misty and Scarfe both get some good development as part of this episode.  Yet again Misty’s investigative skills are on display, particularly with regard to Luke and the mystery of his lack of injuries from the barber shop shooting.  The relationship between these two may be the most fun aspect of the series, which is highlighted in this episode when they are discussing the shooting and Scarfe observes that the only reason she suspects Luke of any wrongdoing is because she slept with him.

However, this relationship takes a decidedly shocking turn when Scarfe is revealed as dirty.  The fact that Scarfe was actually working for Cottonmouth—and the fact that it is revealed when he murders Chico in cold blood to prevent him from testifying against Cottonmouth—is something that I had not seen coming before it actually happened.  Credit where credit’s due, the writers did a very good job of making Scarfe a likeable character so that the reveal would be that much more powerful.

The series does a good job of working in a lot of references and nods to the commends, and this episode is no exception, as Cottonmouth actually uses Mariah Dillard’s “comic book name” (“Black Mariah”) once.  However, for as much as I appreciate their incorporation of comic book nods like this, this one just didn’t fit all that well.  I understand that her main political platform is “Keep Harlem Black,” but that’s not quite enough for me to start calling her “Black Mariah.”  I’m not sure what would be enough, but I would just as soon leave the “Black Mariah” reference out.

I really enjoyed this episode for how well it develops some of the characters and the amazing fight sequences.  The fight at Crispus Attucks may not be the most technically impressive fight in the Marvel Netflix shows, but it is still an awesome fight and a great use of Luke’s unique abilities.  Misty and Scarfe’s interaction is a lot of fun, and makes his betrayal all the more powerful.  All the villains in this series are really good, especially Cottonmouth in this episode.  And after watching Cottonmouth blow up Genghis Connie’s to try and kill Luke at the end of the episode, you really can’t stop watching here!

What do you think of this episode?  Did you think Scarfe would be a dirty cop?  Let me know in the comments!

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