TV Review: Marvel's Luke Cage - Season 1 Episode 2 "Code of the Streets"
Read Luke Cage Season 1 Reviews HERE!
EPISODE 2: "Code of the Streets"
SYNOPSIS: Harlem NYPD Detective Misty Knight investigates the junk yard massacre, leading her to Luke Cage- who she had a night of passion with before. Chico is desperate to survive from Cottonmouth, and Luke tries to help. When Cottonmouth learns where Chico could be, he orders a rapid fire drive by. Luke protects one of the young patrons, but Pops is killed in the crossfire.
REVIEW: When I finished watching the premiere episode of Luke Cage, I was left feeling like it was only half a story. Sure, the title character debuted on Netflix's Jessica Jones series, but that shouldn't be an excuse for a half-hearted introduction to a character meant to stand alongside the other Defenders. Luke Cage has always been a second tier hero in the Marvel Universe, but when he is introduced to the MCU, he needs to be at the top of his game. The premiere definitely set up some grand potential with Mike Colter's spot on portrayal of Power Man, but it was lacking something. But, with the second episode, those concerns are allayed and we finally get to see what this show is going to offer.
Serving more as a second half to the premiere, this episode sets Luke Cage on the path to becoming a superhero and the true defender of Harlem. Using a conceit that will repeat in future episodes, the hour opens with a scene set later in the episode before flashing back and picking up where the premiere left off. Cage has a sit down with Pops to talk about what comes next now that he has made his powers known to Cottonmouth's thugs. Plus, with Wilfredo on the run, Pops wants Luke to find him first before Cottonmouth does. Sure, it almost feels like Luke Cage is going to be sent on a mission-of-the-week, but the search for Wilfredo takes on more importance as the episode moves forward.
What really works here is the dynamic between Luke and pretty much every other characrer. For unknown reasons, Luke is hiding out from the law and keeping a low profile. This doesn't seem to match with his job as a bartender on Jessica Jones, but apparently Cage is concerned about people finding out who he is and where they can find him. This eventually gets explained later this season, but it feels a bit odd on the show. It also feels strange when Misty Knight's investigation begins to pick up steam. Misty is a cool character on her own but as this hour comes to a close, the fact that she had a one night stand with Luke begins to take on an aura of bad writing. Nevertheless, we get a good look at who the supporting characters are on this show as well as the importance of community to this series. Showrunner Cheo Hoardi Coker imbues each episode with some random pop culture discussion between Luke and other characters along with a key musical performance at Cottonmouth's nightcub, but the footage shot on the street with Colter interacting with real Harlem residents makes this show feel more realistic than either Netflix series that preceeded it.
What really makes this second episode work though is the connection of music with the narrative. The score gives the movie a western/blaxploitation feel, but the incorporation of hip-hop really gives the show a unique edge. Still, this may be the quietest Netflix/Marvel series to date. Sure, gunfire erupts throughout the episode, but the brooding, measured performance from Mike Colter really gives Luke Cage some bite. Daredevil fights and Jessica Jones kicks ass, but it is when Luke Cage is not punching through walls the the show really shines. The nods to the MCU throughout the show are peppered in to keep the viewer thinking that this shows is connected to the comic book world at large, but Luke Cage works as it's own universe. Both Jessica Jones and Daredevil were set in Hell's Kitchen but this show moving to Harlem is a breath of fresh air. Like fellow Netflix series The Get Down, Luke Cage makes the city itself a part of the show and it comes alive like a character. I know that sounds like a cliche, but this is the first of the Netflix/Marvel shows that feels like it actually takes place in a real city.
What Luke Cage does best is set-up the story of the lead character without making it a traditional origin story (that comes in episode 4). But, Luke Cage does transform from fugitive on the run to the only man who can stand up to the criminals taking over his adopted city. Unlike some heroes who were born and raised and defend their hometown, Luke Cage is a transplant from rural Georgia. Here in the big city, he is a stranger but he still feels the need to do what is right. The shocking turn of events at the end of this episode were meant to be a surprise but you could tell what was coming a mile away. That is not sloppy writing but rather the producers preparing us for a lot of true surprises later in the season.
Between these first two episodes, I find that Luke Cage is off to a rip-roaring start. Each episode has to be weighed on it's own merits which does mean that this second hour is superior to the first. Having already seen the rest of the season, I can say it only gets better from here. Luke Cage is definitely carrying the tradition of quality from the shows that have come before while also delivering something much different. The visual tone and mood of Luke Cage is similar to Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but there is a vibe just under the surface that comes busting through your speakers thanks to the kick-ass soundtrack. Episode two is good, but you haven't seen anything yet.
MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REFERENCES: Turk Barrett, the thug who has had run ins with Daredevil, appears in a key role.
NEXT ON MARVEL'S LUKE CAGE: Episode 3 "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" - Review to debut October 3rd.