TV Review: Marvel's Luke Cage - Season 1 Ep 3 "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?"
Read Luke Cage Season 1 Reviews HERE!
EPISODE 3: "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?"
SYNOPSIS: In the aftermath of a chaotic event at a favorite Harlem hangout, Luke heeds the call to action -- and hits Cottonmouth where he'll feel it most.
REVIEW: Whether you are a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or not, you have to admit that the Netflix series featuring the comic brand's street level heroes have delivered something wholly different than what the big screen superhero outings have delivered. Each series has presented a darker and grittier view of Marvel that shares more in common with Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy than anything related to THE AVENGERS. With this third episode of Marvel's Luke Cage, the latest series finally begins to hit it's stride and feels like a fully realized series rather than an off shoot of Jessica Jones. The first two hours combined into a nice introduction for Luke Cage and his showdown with Harlem kingpin, Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes. The third episode really begins the feud between Luke and Cottonmouth while sewing the seeds for a lot of plot elements to come.
In the wake of the shootout at Pops', Luke has vowed to move forward and defend his adopted neighborhood while also trying to honor his former employer's memory. The legend surrounding Luke has begun to grow, especially with the criminal element who have heard to stories about what Luke did at Genghis Connie's restaurant. Luke remains stoic as ever, even when confronting Cottonmouth at the funeral home while preparing for Pops' memorial service. Pops was a legend in Harlem and his backstory shared in the previous episode shows his connection to Cottonmouth runs deep. But, with Pops gone, who will protect the innocent in Harlem? Cottonmouth is already struggling with his deal with the rival gang led by Domingo and needs to replace the money borrowed from his cousin, Mariah, who is seeking re-election to the City Council. The political undertones of this series are strong and lend the show an air of drama reserved for non-genre television. But it works great here.
The crux of this episode comes down to three key sequences. The first is the face-off between Domingo and Cottonmouth. Domingo disrespects his tenuous business partner by dropping half-eaten chocolates on the floor of his nightclub. This one-on-one face-off is a commonly used framing device on this series and it really plays up the chess-like atmosphere of the narrative. Every character on this show is deliberately placed and every action they take has ramifications for the other players on the board. It is masterful how showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker has managed to elevate this show from rote superhero cliche to damn fine quality television drama. The relationships between Cottonmouth and everyone from Luke to Domingo to his cousin Mariah are slowly building tension. Despite Cottonmouth's seemingly short-fuse, it takes a surprisingly long time to build up to the closing explosion of the hour, both literally and figuratively.
The second big sequence of this episode is the reveal that Misty Knight's partner, Rafael Scarfe, is a dirty cop working on Cottonmouth's payroll. I am not shocked that this twist came when it did because few actors can play douchebag as well as Frank Whaley. One of the few Caucasian actors in the cast, Whaley imbues Scarfe with a cockiness that masks his true nature. The downside to this big twist is that these first episodes play up Misty's almost supernatural ability to process crime scenes and criminal actions. How did she not manage to realize that her own partner is as dirty as they come? It is an oversight that bothers me for the entire Scarfe subplot that carries through the next several episodes, but not enough to take me entirely out of the show. Still, connecting Scarfe to Cottonmouth helps show how deep the criminal's connections go, making him the Harlem equivalent of Wilson Fisk, albeit a criminal of a less subtle nature.
While Scarfe's murder of Wilfredo is a pretty brazen introduction to his dark side, that does not make for the third big sequence of this hour. Nor is it Luke taking down Mariah and Cottonmouth's safe house. While Luke playing Robin Hood does make for a nice dig against his foe, it sets up the brutal closing moments of this episode. Promising his landlord Connie tha the would protect her like he did in the previous episode, Luke is then shocked to find a rocket launcher sending a projectile right into the restaurant, exploding the building. Now, Cottonmouth taking an RPG the way he did was pretty ballsy for the third episode of a thirteen hour season, but it was pretty damn cool and sets up an awesome origin episode. I repeated this scene multiple times and loved every second of the music as Cottonmouth prepares to launch. Chills.
I am happy to say that Luke Cage finally finds it's footing with this third hour and doesn't slow down one bit from here. The unevenness of the first hours is now behind us and the writing remains consistently top notch from here on out. Mike Colter's seething emotion pervaded this episode as he looked like he was on the verge of losing his cool time and again only to remain calm thanks to the memory of Pops and that swear jar. But, the final shot of Luke as the rocket hit Genghis Connie's is all you need to know about what the superhero will do next. Also, lots of respect to Mahershala Ali who is a chameleon of the highest order. His take on Cottonmouth is so completely different than how I expected him to play the role and I love every second of hating Cornell Stokes. This episode made it easier for me to wish the worst fate for him and I am sure it did for all of you as well.
MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REFERENCES: There were no direct references this episode.
NEXT ON MARVEL'S LUKE CAGE: Episode 4 "Step In The Arena" - As he rescues a victim of Cottonmouth's vengeance, Luke remembers his earlier life and the conspiracy that led to his superhuman strength.