Monday, 3 October 2016

Review - 'Luke Cage', S01E03 - 'Whose Gonna Take the Weight?'






Following on from the tragic events of the previous episode, the third episode of Luke Cage introduces us to a title character who finally ready to fully 'step up', and take on the role of lead protagonist of his own series. In fact, 'stepping up', and taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions (or, inaction) seems to be the primary theme of this episode – something which we see not just with Luke Cage, himself, but also with Chico.

Surviving the attack on the barber shop, which cost Pop is life, Chico finds himself in hospital – pressed by Misty Knight to finally reveal the part he played in all of this rapidly escalating chaos, and to testify against Cornell Stokes. Despite the clear sense of guilt he feels for his part in Pop's death, though, he is very reluctant – and, ultimately, the police are left with no other option but to cut him loose.

For his part, Luke Cage is now a man consumed by roughly equal measures of anger and grief. He seems to blame himself for not doing enough to protect the man who had taken him in – but, he is also clear headed enough to realise that the true blame lays with Cornell Stokes, himself (or, rather, the underling who took it open himself to attack the barber shop, and who is now dead – not that the distinction truly matters to Luke). Clearly wanting revenge against Cornell, but also hoping to find a way to keep Pop's barber shop open as a way of honouring his friend, Luke soon comes to the realisation that we can, effectively, kill two birds with one stone by taking the money he needs directly from Cottonmouth. And so, making use of Chico's knowledge of Cornell's criminal organisation, Luke hatches a plan to launch staged attacks against Cornell's operations – forcing Cornell to divert all of his wealth to a single, heavily fortified, location which Luke Cage can hit.

This, of course, leads us directly to the signature action-sequence, which many will have already seen in previously released footage, as Luke launches a on-man assault against Mariah Dillard's 'New Harlem Renessaince' office. It is an action sequence that is every bit as impressive, in context, as it was when the scene was previously released – and, it makes the best use of Luke's super-human abilities that we have seen, so far (either over the previously couple of episodes, or on Jessica Jones). It is Luke Cage's very own 'hallway fight' (something which seems to have become a recurring element of Netflix's Marvel content). While it might, for obvious reasons, lack the style of Daredevil's scenes, or the sheer brutality of the Punisher's prison fight, it is a scene which still serves much the same purpose – providing the perfect show-case for Luke, and what he can do.

The calm, and almost casual, manner in which Luke Cage fought his way through an entire crowd of heavily armed thugs made for a pretty spectacular 'superhero' moment – but, the circumstances surrounding the scene meant that it wasn't quite as simple as an indestructible man easily dismantling a criminal empire. As we also see, elsewhere, there is also clear indication that Luke might actually be in over his head, here – and, that his actions might actually be about to make things much worse for the people of Harlem. With Luke's attacks on Cottonmouth seeming to also, indirectly, lead to an escalation of tension between Cottonmouth and a rival gang, there are some fairly obvious hints, already, about the chaos to come.

Of course, as it turns out, Luke wasn't the only one whose efforts to do the right thing were somewhat stymied – as, Chico's decision to reach out to the police, later in the episode, also meets a significant road-block with the (very unexpected, and extremely well done) reveal that Misty Knights partner, Rafael Scarfe (Frank Whaley), is actually being paid off by Cottonmouth.

Given that the theme of this episode seemed to be about taking responsibility, and trying to do what is right, it was actually a very interesting twist to see the way in which both men's efforts seemed to backfire on them – clearly indicating that, at least in these circumstances, simply 'stepping up' isn't necessarily enough.

While Luke Cage's hall-way action sequence was the clear high-light, here, this was still an incredibly effective episode in a variety of ways. This was an episode that was also filled with a wide variety of genuinely great character moments for so much of the cast – whether that was the very genuine manner in which so many were affected by Pop's death, or the wonderful moment of tension between Luke and Cornell during their sole scene together, or the surprising development of Rafael Scarfe (who had seemed genuinely likable, until now) actually been a corrupt cop. There was even room for some great moments of moral ambiguity with Mariah Dillard, with the indication that she clearly seemed to believe in what she was trying to do – even if her methods, and her association with Cornell, call that into question.

Overall, this was just another fantastic episode of a, so far, very impressive season.

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