Marvel’s Luke Cage
The sixth episode of Luke Cage opens with a hail of bullets — following Piranha’s attempted kidnapping, we watch as the Stylers begin their pursuit of Cage. Sheldon, as Bushmaster’s head henchman, directs the gang to search everywhere for Luke and Piranha (after Cage, like a dumbass, peers directly over the building separating him from his enemies). And this, normally, would be a non-issue for Harlem’s Hero: he’s made an entire franchise off of bashing swaths of villains. But Luke quickly finds that the Stylers aren’t nearly as timid as many of the foes he’s approached this season. Cage manages to shepherd Piranha through this altercation, but not without twisting his charge’s ankle. For the moment, they’re safe. But there’s no telling how long it’ll hold. In the meantime, Luke has a debate with himself over the linguistic tangibility of “rassclat.”
With those two safe, we cut to a shot of Gwen’s (Bushmaster’s family’s diner), where, in the middle of a soccer game, the screen cuts to the opening of Mariah’s FamilyFirst clinic: the newscaster describes it as the introduction of “Mexican-cartel level violence” to Harlem. Bushmaster seems pleased with that descriptor. Not everyone at the diner is as amenable. But when Sheldon calls his boss to tell him that Piranha escaped with Luke, Bushmaster loses his cool: He instructs the Stylers to comb the streets for the pair. They’re to show “no weakness.” For emphasis, we’re given a few shots of the streets being “hot.”
Meanwhile, Shades is taking his own precautions — and finding discord among his own crew regarding Mariah’s decisions. As ever, Comanche takes issue with that, and he prods Shades on Mariah’s true intentions. He tells him that it’s time to cut her lose. Comanche even asks the guy what advice he’d give himself. But Shades comes to the conclusion that, instead of going the obvious route, he and Comanche will find Piranha themselves. Shades shows Comanche the firearms he’d told everyone else he sold: As he tells it, dealers keep the best product for themselves.
At the police station, we learn that Mariah’s in custody, being stared down by Misty. Ridenhour informs his staff that the cops have 48 hours to resolve the Stylers threat, or the mayor has determined that he’ll call for the National Guard (which, hunh), and also ICE (who are, for whatever reason, making a larger dent in this narrative than most of the Marvel franchise characters — and are a more believable, and decidedly sinister, scenario for the sordid times in which we’ve found ourselves). When Misty suggests that the department asks Luke for help, Mariah immediately calls her out on it. And when Ridenhour presses Misty for how she found Cockroach’s body in the first place, he pushes her until she tells him that she’d picked the lock to get into his home. So Ridenhour tells Misty to head home. In her frustration, she vents, evaluating the hand she’s been dealt.
Afterward, we’re treated to a scene of the Captain attempting to interrogate Mariah — but it turns out that they have history with one another (in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade). He literally calls her “May May.” And when Mariah asks for protection for herself and her daughter, Ridenhour tells her it’s possible if she starts naming names. Mariah begins to help, slowly, but shuts down once Ridenhour admits that the cops know about her gun deal. He informs her that the Stylers don’t care about hiding bodies, or the cops — and that’s when Mariah decides that it’s time to leave. “I’ll be fine,” she says, when he tells her to reconsider. “It’s good to see you, Tommy.”
But regardless whether the cops assist him, Luke’s still saddled with Piranha. As he makes a splint for his charge, Piranha catches Luke up on Mariah’s dealings with him, and how Piranha serves as her power of attorney. Turns out, whoever controls Piranha, controls Mariah and Shades and Harlem’s Paradise. Luke rightly decides that Piranha’s a valuable gambling chip. But he doesn’t have much time celebrate — D.W. (Luke’s friend) calls Luke to tell him two men entered the barbershop through the back door looking for him.
Of course the two dudes turn out to be Comanche and Shades. They’ve even brought those arms they’d held onto. The men post up in two chairs to stake out the barbershop. They hash things out over Mariah, and, abruptly, Shades tells Comanche how Mariah killed Cottonmouth (which makes him only the third living person in the series to know this). Comanche tells Shades that he doesn’t understand why Shades is falling behind Mariah, and Shades says that it’s simple: his plan is to “live the American dream.” He tells Comanche that they can be so much more than gangsters. That they can get out of this life. And Comanche says, “We are more than that, or did you forget?”
Which, wow! Ooh. Because, uh, I’m not entirely sure how we got here, but we’ve ended up with one of our first (if not the first), relatively-but-simultaneously-not-at-all-plainspoken-queer-male-relationships in the Netflix Marvel universe. Comanche speaks it into existence. He talks about how they consummated their feelings at Seagate. But Shades pushes back, noting that “Prison has its own set of rules that no one on the outside would ever understand.”
“We’re out now,” he says. “It’s different. I’m different. We’re different.”
“I ain’t different,” says Comanche. “Inside, outside, I am who I am, B.”
“I would die for you, Che,” says Shades. “That’ll never change. But it is what it is.”
There’s an entire dissertation to be written investigating whether or not this particular exchange, and the series’ inability — or reticence — to be more blunt about it, does or does not bode well for queer inclusivity in the Marvel universe. But we’ll need more information. So we’ll sit on it for now. But while we’re waiting, we cut to a scene between Misty and the man who’d provided her with her psych eval from last season. He isn’t consulting for the department anymore. They’re catching up over dinner. Misty tells him that she was about to plant evidence on a guilty suspect, how she almost admitted it, and that she’s about to get fired. Her dinner date tells her that she probably should lose her job, and when Misty asks if there’s ever a right time to do the wrong thing, he tells her that there’s no right answer to that. But what Misty has to do is think about what’s real.
And she does think about it: Later, Misty approaches Ridenhour, and confesses that she almost planted the evidence. Her boss tells her off, but he doesn’t lash out too hard, telling her that they can fix it — but it’s not enough for Misty. She tells Ridenhour that she’s worried she’ll become Scarfe. And, despite his protests, she resigns from her position accordingly.
What’s also really real is the tension rising between Bushmaster and his uncle. They’re disagreeing, as usual, on the former’s brutality. When Bushmaster argues that he has to kill Mariah, his uncle tells him to go ahead. But Bushmaster’s methods (he calls them “terrorism”) aren’t the way. His uncle tells Bushmaster that Jamaicans came to the country with nothing, built everything up from scratch, and Bushmaster’s actions will punish those very same people. When Bushmaster tells him that the country has already turned on them, his uncle tells him that he needs to finish his conflict “with dignity, and not suffering. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
“The past is gone,” he says. “You can’t change it. All you can do is build something for the next generation.”
They exchange a look. Make a couple of faces. And Bushmaster tells his uncle that, ultimately, war is the way it’ll go.
That’s when we cut to a shot of Mariah, who’s having a drink (as usual), calling around looking for Tlida. She asks her assistant to pour her another. She toasts to “trust and love, screw ’em both.” She lists the people who have wronged her, but falling short on her main antagonist, claiming that, “If it weren’t for Luke Cage, Piranha and everything I own would be long gone … My sworn enemy is the only I can trust to protect everything I’ve got left in this world.”
In the midst of all of this, we cut, once again, to Piranha and Luke: Piranha tells Cage that he’s actually the love child of one of Mama Mable’s sex workers, and a client. When Piranha ascended into wealth, he told his father he could take a hike. “I’ll tell you what’s better than great,” he tells Luke. “Paying all my mom’s bills. Calling her at least once a day. I’m my own father.” And Luke agrees with that, mostly, until Piranha asks about Luke’s father — and then, all of a sudden, he’s less keen on talking. When Luke went to prison, his father didn’t believe he was innocent. Piranha tells Luke that he’s just running from himself, and that he should see the Reverend.
So Luke, naturally, dodges the issue entirely and calls Misty instead. He takes the phone call into another room, and literally, after five minutes, finds that Piranha’s been stolen by the Stylers (again) — oops! And after a chase scene where, one by one, Luke dispatches henchmen (who still haven’t acknowledged that Luke can stop bullets), he rescues Piranha intact (again). But it’s short-lived, as Luke decides that what he needs to do is leave the man with someone else, and he shows up at his father’s church. He asks if he can house him, temporarily.
And what does Luke do with the new-found time on his hands? He literally calls Bushmaster on the phone to challenge him to “a good old-fashioned showdown.” They plan a fight on High Bridge. If Bushmaster wins, supposedly he gets Piranha. If Luke wins, Bushmaster will leave Harlem alone. And because players know how to play, Bushmaster accepts Luke’s challenge, knowing full well that he has no intention of playing fair.
Once we arrive at the bridge, we watch as the two men slip into monologues: when Luke asks why Bushmaster’s so opposed to Mariah, Bushmaster tells him “History, destiny.” When Bushmaster asks why he and Luke don’t just join forces, because, I mean, fuck it, Luke tells Bushmaster that he’s “Harlem’s Hero.” So, not reaching an agreement, the two men proceed to fight — and Luke has a, um, difficult time doing that. Which still doesn’t make sense, really? But in the middle of their match, Bushmaster blows something in Luke’s eyes, freezing him up. Presumably it’s something herbal, from either his stocks or Tilda’s.
“Under different circumstances,” says Bushmaster, “we could’ve been brethren” — and then he kicks Luke Cage off of the bridge, and into what I truly hope is not another multi-episode arc of his trying to make it back to fighting condition again.