In Luke Cage’s fourth episode, we’re privy to even more stage-setting. Luke’s in a bad spot. Misty’s being hampered by the police department. Mariah is making moves all over the board, and Bushmaster’s setting his own play. But it remains to be seen where their conflicts will take us, or whether the payoff will warrant the journey. More than once, we’ve been set up to fall short of a sizable payoff. There’s really no telling where this season could end up.
But we open with an unfamiliar sight: Luke getting the hands put on him, courtesy of Bushmaster. It’s where we ended the last episode. And immediately after Luke wakes up, the next scene we’re given is a Friday-esque shot of his friends overlooking him, as if to emphasize what a rarity this is. Luke asks his crew if anyone caught the name of his assailant, and D.W. says he heard something like Bushmaster (“Or something like that — you know them Jamaican niggas, can’t tell if he was singing or talking.”) But Luke will need more for this particular pursuit than a name alone.
So we watch along as Luke limps his way toward the barbershop. It looks like our hero’s woozy, and more than a little busted, which is an unwelcome sight for more than the obvious reason: We spent an entire arc with Luke in this state last season. We don’t need another one. But it’s reassuring when that particular thread ends, and his buddy Bobby finds Luke in the shop. When he’s asks Luke how it happened, Luke claims that Bushmaster was “just fast.” Bobby notes that anyone who can take Luke bare-handed can’t be good for Harlem — and when he asks whether or not they should call Claire, Luke declines.
While they’re convening, we segue to Misty and her cohorts in the police department — but she’s hardly at ease. Her co-workers are wasting time, bellowing show tunes, and Misty isn’t having it. When Captain Ridenhour arrives, Misty hopes he’ll reprimand them, but when he fails to do so — if anything, he joins along in their levity — it becomes clear that it’s only a matter of time before Misty’s out of the force, even if she doesn’t know it yet.
But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s sliding downhill. Meanwhile, Mariah and Piranha are celebrating money that … hasn’t come in yet. Shades doesn’t entirely trust the situation, and he picks up on the fact that Mariah’s hiding something, but she claims is that it’s just some old business with her grandfather. “No past,” she says. “Just future from now on.” This ought to be music to Shades’ ears; it’s exactly what he’s wanted all along. But it’s clear that Mariah’s worried nonetheless, and in the midst of their conversation, Comanche pokes his head in to voice his disapproval. Mariah perfunctorily dismisses him — once in public, and then again, later on, in private — but it’s clear that one of them is going to have to make a move on the other soon. Comanche asks Mariah, face to face, if he can help with dealing with Piranha. When he tells her she’s being played, and that Mariah doesn’t scare him, she replies in no uncertain terms that she should.
It doesn’t stop the world from turning though, and in our big journalist cameo of the season, Stephen A. Smith shows up to harp on Luke Cage’s defeat. But he’s not the only one profiting off the moment: D.W.’s also selling discs titled Luke Cage: A Beatdown in Harlem. When Luke comes across the sale, D.W. claims that his hands are tied. Business is business. And also, Luke’s a hero. He’ll shrug it off. But this is where Luke disagrees with his friend — until D.W. notes that he saw Claire heading out of town, which is exactly what she said she would do.
Not that Luke pays that any mind. He makes his way to Claire’s apartment anyways, and Luke finds that Claire’s already set it up to be sublet. And the white lady leasing the apartment lets Luke know that he’s not welcome there until she hears otherwise. She points Luke toward a note left from Claire, and Luke apologizes to the woman (who immediately raises her clipboard!) — only to run into Misty a little later. They riff on how he’s doing, before Misty hands Luke a case file, and allows him to shadow her as she tails Bushmaster. Eventually, she offers to talk with Luke about Claire, before diagnosing the exact issue between the pair: Luke isn’t listening. Luke replies, “She just has a different idea of what it means to be a hero.” Misty tells him, “The rules of engagement exist for a reason.” Things are settled between the two, and it looks they’re in a comfortable place, but once Luke asks Misty if he can “crash at her crib for a few nights,” she says, “Hell no.” No sooner than Luke’s declined, the pair get to work. But in lieu of Bushmaster, they find a decapitated Nigel in the garage. It’s important information, but they had no business pursuing it, and when Luke asks Misty what’ll happen if they get in trouble, she tells him that she’ll handle it.
And handle it she does. In the next scene, we meet Tomas (!), a guy Misty has some history with. He brings the pair up to date on the Yardies, and the gang’s split into what would become the Stylers. Luke and Misty pick up Bushmaster’s real name —John — before agreeing with Martin that the last thing they need is a gag civil war between rival Jamaican factions. So Misty and Tomas plan to head to an ICE facility in New Jersey (and what a fucking time it is, when ICE is in our entertainment) to speak to Gideon Shaw, a reliable plug in the process of being deported. She reminds Luke not to forget his bag in her car — because he really won’t be sleeping over — but she adds that he ought to give Claire some time. “I believe in y’all,” she says.
And, in the midst of a musical interlude, we’re given a shot of Tilda cooking up what appears to be … nightshade. Once she’s finished, Luke drops by her shop, and he asks if Mariah’s daughter has run into “a large Jamaican man” lately. When Tilda asks why he’s wondering, Luke tells her that it’s a long story, but she all but spells out that she’s willing to hear it. So he catches her up on season one. They make skin-care jokes. And, eventually, Tilda touches Luke’s skin: She calls it “soft, like worn-in leather, but it’s on the inside that really matters.”
So, something could happen there! Which would be sad, honestly. Claire’s been gone for what, a day? Nevertheless, Tilda gives Luke a concoction for his getting his ass kicked. And then she touches his hand, again. And he puts his hand on hers! “Even though you are who you are,” she says, “You might want to get an MRI.” They share another moment, and it’s clear that if Claire isn’t back soon, she might have to count Luke out entirely.
At the same time, Misty’s questioning Gideon at the ICE facility in Jersey. When she asks him why “Bushmaster is so crazy,” Gideon says, “I hope you never have to find out.” When Misty asks why Bushmaster’s in town, he gives her a spiel about “the man on the top of the hill.” But meanwhile, Mariah is actually meeting Bushmaster, in real time, at Harlem’s Paradise — when she says it’s a shame he’ll be flying back to Jamaica so soon, he informs her that he just might be staying in town. They talk around one another, barbing each exchange with their respective family histories. Mariah goes out of her way to disparage Bushmaster’s lineage, but he tells Mariah that she can’t erase the past. The blues are science in its purest form. And they continue to talk around the thing they’re actually talking about, which is hating each other, but before Bushmaster leaves, he calls Mariah “Stokes” (to her face!), and she lashes out at him. “Enjoy your little time on the hill,” he tells her.
As far as verbal showdowns go, Mariah lost that one by a mile. We follow Bushmaster as he returns to Gwen’s, and into what mostly looks like a hero’s welcome. His uncle, though, appears less than pleased. The man says, “I seen you’ve gone up the hill.” And Bushmaster replies, “Now that the guard dog is out of the way, nothing else can stop me now.”
And as if to emphasize how far behind the curve Mariah’s camp is, it turns out that Comanche — Shades’s associate — is a police informant! We watch as he speaks to Ridenhour in the darkened end of a parking garage. The Captain tells Comanche that, “The purpose of you being back on the streets is to infiltrate that connection.” Comanche tells him that Shades is getting suspicious, and he is — although Shades doesn’t know what he’s looking for just yet. But he is looking. And Lord knows he’ll find out the truth, eventually. It’s worth wondering how long Comanche can hold the act.
The episode ends with a conversation between Luke and Bobby — the old man’s headed out of town. His daughter needs a kidney transplant. Bobby’s a viable donor. He tells Luke that he’s flying out the next day, but also that Luke ought to fix things with Claire, and Luke agrees, sort of. Or at least that’s what it looks like. But before he can even the slightest headway on that end, a scruffy guy appears in the doorway, well past the barbershop’s hours. Luke tells him they’re closed, but the man is actually a process server with Superior Court of New York County — and he’s come to serve Luke with a lawsuit papers. That’s just the kind of luck that our guy has.