Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Luke Cage Season 1, Episode 5, "Just to Get a Rep" REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Sorry for the late review this week—and sorry in advance that it is shorter than usual.  We went to see Doctor Strange again last night, this time in 3D.  The 3D experience is certainly worth it, particularly for the multiverse and fight sequences.  There is something to be said for 2D making it easier to see details of what’s going on, but the 3D definitely makes everything “pop” more.

But we’re not here to talk about Doctor Strange; we are actually here to discuss the fifth episode of Luke Cage, “Just to Get a Rep.”  After the previous 2 episodes, in which Cottonmouth made a direct attack on Luke, we see some of the fallout of that decision as Cottonmouth goes after Luke’s reputation in the community.  This episode is a lot of fun, particularly for the indirect ways in which Luke and Cottonmouth fight each other.

Oh, and this is also when Claire Temple shows up.

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Let’s get Claire out of the way right up front.  At this point Claire is becoming a staple in the Marvel Netflix shows.  She is already confirmed for both Iron Fist and The Defenders, and it’s only a matter of time before they confirm her in The Punisher—if they haven’t already.  She is the glue that holds these shows together:  she is the normal human character who experiences these events up close and personal and has to reconcile them with what she understands.  It is a very safe bet at this point that she will be the one who brings the team together in The Defenders and points them at Sigourney Weaver’s character to fight her.  So it’s not surprising to see her show up here as the biggest connection to Daredevil and Jessica Jones in this series—by which I mean she’s the one who talks about them the most.  However, what an introduction she gets.  We haven’t really seen Claire fight thus far beyond a snatch or two in Daredevil, but she actually holds her own very well (even if it’s just against a purse snatcher).  Following that incident, her conversation with her mother gives a good indicator of her character and where she is following Daredevil season 2.  Simply put, while she was already well on her way to becoming the “Night Nurse” (a nurse who tends vigilantes), she is now to the point of embracing this role as something she needs to do.  This is definitely significant for why she does what she does in this series, and it also leads to her role in Iron Fist (teased at the end of Luke Cage).  However, I do wonder just how well someone would have been able to follow Claire’s summary of Daredevil season 2 if they hadn’t actually seen that series.

The biggest conflict in the episode is between Luke and Cottonmouth (who is now broke).  Cottonmouth refuses to leave Luke alone and insists on sending all his guys to terrorize Harlem and tell everyone that Luke is to blame:  Cottonmouth proved in the last episode that he can’t take Luke out head-on, so he’s going to use the public against Luke.  After all, just because someone’s skin is bulletproof doesn’t make them immune to public opinion!

Luke, however, does take the time to stop all Cottonmouth’s guys and return all the stolen property.  I do like how this series shows Luke actively standing up for people rather than contenting himself to just stop the bad guy and hope that’s enough.  However, you have to wonder how one man would be able to singlehandedly undo the actions of a whole crew of thugs!

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The primary setting for this confrontation between Luke and Cottonmouth is not the streets and it is not when Luke goes to Harlem’s Paradise to force Cottonmouth to call off his thugs.  The primary confrontation actually happens at Pop’s funeral—and it’s a “war of words” rather than fists.  That was quite the unexpected twist, and one that I really appreciated.  Both characters get to lay out their case for their side of the conflict—Cottonmouth is Harlem-raised; Luke stands for Harlem’s history.  Both characters also call the other one out for representing what is wrong with the city.  And at the end of the two speeches it is crystal clear that these two are headed to a confrontation—or at least that is clear to Misty, who fears for the fallout this confrontation would have on Harlem!

One hint of just how this confrontation could wreck Harlem comes when Shades recognizes Luke and tells Cottonmouth about the Judas bullet, an experimental ordnance with the ability to absolutely destroy a person—it blows up inside them.  Naturally it is Hammer Tech (and actually works, unlike the “Ex-Wife” from Iron Man 2), and naturally Diamondback has a source that can get it for him.  Cottonmouth wants to use it on Luke personally—do his own dirty work since Luke ruined him—but apparently Diamondback wants to kill Luke himself.  Why?  Don’t worry; we’ll find out in the back half of the season!

I really enjoy this episode, even though there is very little in the way of “action.”  That is something that sets these series apart from a lot of other TV series:  they build tension and create drama in a way that does not require violence.  Luke and Cottonmouth do not exchange a single physical blow, but we still feel the tension between them mounting due to Pop’s death and Luke’s subsequent assault on Crispus Attucks.  The confrontation at the funeral may be one of the best moments in the first half of the season both for how well it highlights the two characters and their motivations and for how unexpected of a venue it is.

What is your favorite part of Luke Cage?  What do you think Claire’s role will be in the rest of the Marvel Netflix shows?  Let me know in the comments!

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