TV Review: Marvel's Luke Cage - Season 1 Episode 8 "Blowin' Up The Spot"
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EPISODE 8: "Blowin' Up The Spot"
SYNOPSIS: Mariah campaigns to turn the city and the police against Luke, and not even Misty or Claire may be able to save him.
REVIEW: Luke Cage is playing a dangerous game with viewers. In the last episode, the primary villain touted in virtually all marketing for the series was killed in brutal fashion. From the perspective of the narrative, this works to move our story away from one foe and aid in the development of Mariah Dillard as the new antagonist. But, since the very beginning, this series has been building to the reveal of Diamondback who has been merely a name mentioned to frighten Cottonmouth and the other criminals populating Harlem. In the comics, Diamondback was a character who only appeared in two issues of Luke Cage comics before being killed off. Here, we are meant to view him as a big bad guy and this is his spotlight hour. The only problem is that we are given a ton of information to process about the character and expect that he is going to live up to the great performance given by Mahershala Ali.
Played by Boardwalk Empire's Erik LaRay Harvey, Diamondback is the street name for Willis Stryker. Stryker was the man who shot Luke with the Judas bullet in the last episode and appears here to finish the job. With a slow gait reminiscent of Jason or Michael Myers, Styker hunts down Luke with precision and determination. Calling him Carl, Stryker quotes THE WARRIORS and leaves Misty Knight and Claire Temple alive just to toy with his injured prey. We also quickly realize that these two have a history. In the pages of Marvel Comics, Stryker was the childhood friend of Luke Cage and the two grew up in the same gang and both fell in love with Reva Connors. Stryker was also the one who framed Carl and sent him to prison and thereby aiding in his superpowered accident. Here, the two were still childhood friends and Stryker claims he also had Luke sent to prison, but their childhood connection seems to be that they were both raised by Luke's father, a preacher who favored his own son over Stryker.
Daddy issues once again rear their head in an MCU property. Will there be any bad guy from Marvel who isn't seeking paternal affection? Needless to say, Stryker is laser-focused on killing Luke but is also prone to monologues explaining his hatred for Carl Lucas. Injured and unable to get the shrapnel out of his gut, Luke and Stryker have a stilted battle in an abandoned theater. Stryker could easily have shot Luke multiple times but instead wants his friend to suffer. Luke apologizes to no avail and the two fight to a standstill. That is until Stryker gets knocked out and Luke collapses in pain. With Stryker gone, Luke heads out to find sanctuary in Harlem. But, will it be that easy for the man accused of killing Cottonmouth?
Thanks to Shades, Mariah Dillard bribes an employee of the club named Candy to claim she saw Luke Cage murder Cottonmouth. Mariah, under her new benefactor's tutelage, plays it cool in front of Misty and the media as she decries Luke's name and sends the NYPD hunting for the supposed savior of Harlem. Alfre Woodard does an amazing job in this episode as she seems fully composed in front of public eyes and yet in private is haunted by what she is becoming. There is a fantastic moment when she sees a framed photo of Mama Mable and refuses to acknowledge that she is becoming like her guardian. Shades also recruits Cottonmouth's former crew into his fold, claiming Mariah is the new boss but that he is in charge. Shades is still a difficult figure to pin down but I get the distinct impression that we are going to see a lot more from him in the coming episodes.
Misty is also on the ropes. Known for her skills as a "visualist", Misty clearly knows that Mariah Dillard is guilty of her cousin's murder, but she just needs to prove it. Misty has so much potential as a character but I am continually frustrated at the downright dumb decisions she makes on this show. This hour alone, she plays her cards in the open so Mariah knows she is a suspect, then she heads to the clinic where Claire is helping Luke without back-up, and finally she chokes out Claire in an interrogation room because her judgement has been questioned. Clearly, Misty is being developed as a character who plays both sides of the law but they are doing a pisspoor job of getting her there. I would not be shocked if Misty were suspended within the next few episodes and reassesses whether she can perform her duties as a cop.
As for Luke, the end of this episode leaves him in bad shape. Knowing that Stryker is still out there, Luke still ambles down the center of the street, skin gray from blood loss. Luke is not doing well but he is easily found by Stryker who has reloaded his weapon and is ready for his kill shot. Luke professes that he loved Stryker like a brother when the bombshell is dropped: Stryker IS Luke's brother. While it was more eloquently relayed in the episode, Stryker's reveal hits harder than a bullet ever could and we now have our first MCU sibling rivalry since Thor and Loki. Somehow, Stryker misses killing Luke despite the episode ending with our hero lifeless in the back of a garbage truck, but there are still five episodes left, so we all know he lives. How Stryker suddenly became a shitty sniper after his great shot last hour is beyond me. Overall, this was another enjoyable episode but a rushed one. It felt that not seeing Diamondback for over half of the series required everything to be crammed into one episode, leaving me feeling less than invested. Still, I want to see where this is going and what comes next.
MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REFERENCES: Ben Donovan, Wilson Fisk's lawyer, appears as Stokes' attorney defending Candy.
NEXT ON MARVEL'S LUKE CAGE: Episode 9 "DWYCK" - With Luke wounded and on the run, Misty faces a soul-searching interrogation. Mariah’s rise to power takes a dark turn.