Marvel’s Luke Cage
With the tenth episode of Luke Cage, we’ve left the rails entirely. The hour can largely be summed up to one question: If we didn’t see it on camera, did it happen?
Luke kicks things off with a problem he hasn’t seen before: Folks are hassling him about his powers, and whether or not he won his most recent bout with Bushmaster. Harlemites are calling bullshit on his particular brand of hero-dom. One woman yells, “You ain’t no better than the damn cops”; another guy tells Luke that he simply isn’t using his powers right. And Luke isn’t entirely sure how to solve that particular issue, but we find out that he’s got bigger problems: Bushmaster escaped custody THREE DAYS AGO.
Luckily, Luke has The Immortal Iron Fist to assist him — after nearly an entire season of hinting at their reunion, the show has seen fit to introduce Danny Rand to the screen. But Danny and Luke aren’t without their own blend of friction. Danny asks Luke to recap how Bushmaster is still alive, specifically. They talk about Danny’s appeal, and they talk about Luke’s lack thereof, and they talk about meditation, and it’s a conversation that continues for entirely too long. But the point comes down to this: Danny gets Luke to realize that what they really ought to find Tilda (who, incredibly, Luke seems to have disregarded).
At one point, walking through Harlem, Danny has the audacity to say, “I love these streets,” solidifying his cross-series status as a walking parody. Nevertheless, they make their way to Tilda’s shop. They toss around her still-broken belongings. And the pair arrives at the conclusion that Bushmaster found several episodes ago: Nightshade is rare, and only so many people can concoct it. The pure brand is inaccessible outside of Jamaica. But if Bushmaster has a plan, it’ll be to procure more of it locally.
With Bushmaster temporarily stunted, Danny and Luke aren’t the only ones making moves. We see that Mariah’s lawyer, Ben Donovan, has made a play to return to her empire. Ben expedited the return of Mariah’s money from Bushmaster’s accounts, along with ownership of the nightclub. When he asks if that settles things between them, she makes it clear she’ll remember his betrayal. But Mariah and Shades let Ben live — for now, at least. Mariah says, “It’s good to have the money, but we need the streets back.
Convinced that he can trust her again, Shades hands Mariah her old revolver — the one he used to kill Candace last season. They chat with their hostage from last episode — Anansi (Bushmaster’s uncle). He says he has no intentions of giving up his nephew, and that’s exactly when Danny and Luke step into the nightclub, treating their entrance like a casual stroll. And they’re arguing between themselves! In the middle of Harlem’s Paradise! But Mariah interrupts them, eventually, to deride Luke about her newfound wealth. When Luke asks her about Tilda, Mariah says that she and her daughter have gone their separate ways. She also tells Luke that he needs to find Bushmaster before she does.
After the two heroes leave, Mariah and Anansi continue their conversation, but to no avail. Not only does Bushmaster’s uncle have no info, he wouldn’t give it up if he did. And now, on top of everything, he sees exactly why Bushmaster wants Mariah dead.
“When Johnny declared war on you, I felt sorry for you,” he says. Now, it’s clear the sympathy’s gone.
But we don’t have time to dwell on the sentiment before returning to Luke and Danny’s bizarre adventure as they check in on a legal paraphernalia shop, looking for clues on nightshade. Luke breaks a glass bong for no good reason. (Danny, at one point, picks up a dragon vape and says, “I like this one.”) They move on from the dispensary, to the warehouse manufacturing the herb, and after fighting a few henchmen, one of the guys they’ve spared tells them what we already know: Nightshade won’t grow properly without Jamaican soil. Armed with old information, Danny and Luke set the warehouse on fire.
Afterward, Luke and Danny catch dinner at Connie Lin’s restaurant. Danny parrots the sentiments Luke’s friends have tried to give all season, telling Luke that too angry. He tells Luke that Harlem was around long before him, and it’ll stick around for much longer afterward. And then, Danny reveals the the point of his presence: Claire asked Danny to check in on Luke.
When Luke asks why Claire didn’t call him, Danny says, “You know why” — but that’s only what she told him to say. Danny basically tells Luke that every hero in Netflix’s Marvel universe has his back. They talk about the food, they talk about Danny’s plans, and they talk about K’un-Lun. Danny tells Luke to show some respect, because, “It’s my history.” (And, listen — there are so many discussions to be had about how Danny’s galling appropriation here mimics the roots of his own franchise’s faults, and how Rand’s casting would be better served by an Asian or Asian-American actor, but we’re not going to dwell on that too much here, because we’ll have an entire second season of The Immortal Iron Fist to straighten that out.)
Across town, Misty and Chief Ridley look Bailey (Misty’s old partner) in the face in to tell him that Nandi is a traitor, and — surprise, surprise — the white guy dude doesn’t listen to the two black women delivering the facts to his face. Misty and Ridley explain that there’s a record-keeping system behind who enters the interrogation room. Bailey explains any number of nonsense reasons Nandi could’ve passed through, and goes as far as to charge Misty with having trusted Scarfe — so how can she be trusted here? The scene is almost unbelievable.
But the three of them find video evidence of Nandi leaving Harlem’s Paradise. They run her cards and numbers, only to ambush Nandi on her way out of the city, moments away from stepping on a literal flight. And, for whatever reason there’s a fistfight between Misty and Nandi, because I guess that’s something that needed to happen. Of course Misty lands a thorough victory. But later, Misty brings Nandi to the police department’s interrogation room (which has become a character in itself within the series). We find that Nandi sold out Mariah to Bushmaster because she believed pardoning her was unfair — she felt Misty took the easy way out. And now, she’s going to jail for it.
So, a lot has happened this episode! Too much, even. But the narrative hasn’t reached its climax: Mariah, Shades, and her muscle head over to Gwen’s with Anansi in tow (but not before Buggy, one of the more thoughtful henchmen, opts out, citing that the scene doesn’t feel right). Shades tells Mariah that all they’re going to do is deliver a message. Mariah agrees. Then she walks into the restaurant, clearly introducing herself as “Stokes, Mariah Stokes.” She finds out that Billie was Bushmaster’s mole, and Billie is immediately shot for it. When Billie’s friend steps up to help her, she’s shot, too. Every patron in the restaurant, it seems, is being shot, and then there’s a look of panic on Shades’s face as he realizes how things have escalated.
“This is not what we talked about,” he says to Mariah, once the dust settles.
“We’re sending a message,” says Mariah.
When the dust clears, Anansi cries at the carnage before him. He is doused, by Mariah’s men, in Bushmaster rum. Mariah lights a match, and sets him on fire, but before he’s finished burning she unearths the revolver Shades handed her earlier to shoot him. (“Jesus,” she says, “Die already.”)
The act solidifies Mariah’s role as a Stokes — she’s eclipsed Cornell’s viciousness, and she’s nearly reached her grandmother’s. Shades, it seems, is reconsidering his commitment. Back at the nightclub, Mariah replaces the Basquiat in her office with Cornell’s long-gone painting of the Notorious B.I.G.
When Luke Cage allows melodrama to work into its favor, it is largely successful. When it pushes that mode to its outer limits, you end up watching a farce. Unfortunately, this episode pushed that limit to the brink — but one would hope that it can redirect the course with the few we have left.