TV Review: Marvel's Luke Cage - Season 1 Episode 4 "Step In The Arena"

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EPISODE 4: "Step In The Arena"

SYNOPSIS: As he rescues a victim of Cottonmouth's vengeance, Luke remembers his earlier life and the conspiracy that lead to his superhuman strength.

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REVIEW: Everyone complains about origin stories, but mostly when it comes down to a formulaic tale we have heard a dozen times before. Not only does the fourth episode of Luke Cage present an origin story we have never seen realized on screen before but it also manages to give us a hero created in a way unlike anyone else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Very reminiscent of the Daredevil episode "Condemned" which was set wholly in a warehouse, this hour of Luke Cage manages to shed light on Luke's wife Reva as well as how the hero came to get his unbreakable skin. For those familiar with the comic book roots of Cage, you will be very pleased to see this take is almost exactly like the illustrated version but with some tweaks that fit the series' tone.

While Misty Knight investigates the explosion that destroyed Genghis Connie's, Luke and Connie are trapped beneath the rubble that was the restaurant. It is unclear if Luke is remembering his life prior to Harlem or if this is just a narrative device, but we flashback to Carl Lucas, a former police officer framed for a crime he didn't commit. Keeping his mouth shut, Carl is indoctrinated into life behind bars where he soon learns that a crooked guard, Albert Rackham, is running an underground fight club and is using the prisoners as gladiators. Sure, that may seem a bit cliche for a prison origin story and I was not convinced that it would work, especially after seeing Mike Colter in that ridiculous wig and fake beard. But, as the story developed, I began to really buy into the prior life of Luke when he was still unsure of what to do with himself now that he had fallen so far from grace.

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We also finally get to meet Luke's late wife, Reva, who was only briefly seen in flashbacks during the first season of Jessica Jones. If you expected Luke and Reva's romance to have been traditional, you may have been shocked to learn she was the prison psychiatrist treating Luke and other prisoners. The brooding Luke and the idealistic Reva fall in love but not before Luke is forced to fight for Rackham. Luke tries to resist but the life of his friend, Squabbles, is threatened so Luke puts his life on the line. A mortal Luke Cage is quite the sight to behold and that is when we are introduced to Dr. Burstein, a scientist experimenting illegally within Seagate. All of this is treated more nefariously in the comics as Luke is a former criminal and Dr. Burstein is a mad scientist. Here, Luke and Burstein are forced to act against their will by Rackham which makes Luke's transformation all the more brutal to behold.

Burstein's machine is designed to help heal the fighters more quickly and Luke is seriously injured. When Rackham finds out, he traps Luke in the machine and cranks it to eleven. The machine melts down and explodes and leaves Luke with his unbreakable skin and super strength. Escaping the prison by breaking through the walls, Luke becomes a fugitive from the law which explains why he is trying to maintain a low profile. It is interesting to also note that the machine headset is a copy of Luke's trademark crown from his early days as Power Man. We also get a glimpse of Luke in his 1970s get-up, something we only see for a moment before Luke realizes how ridiculous it looks. A nice nod in an otherwise dark and serious episode. Luke meets up with Reva and the two go on the run together. That brings us back to the present where Luke emerges from the rubble with the wounded Connie. As New York reporters look on, Luke reveals himself as an enhanced person and seemingly blows his cover.

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This story poses many questions that connect back to Jessica Jones, namely why did Kilgrave want Reva dead and does the experiment at Seagate Prison have something to do with it? Is the experiment that made Luke Cage into a hero the same one that made Jessica Jones into one as well? Will this connection come back to play a role in The Defenders? I think that there is a lot of world-building going on that will cross these series and connect them together, possibly including Daredevil and Iron Fist as well. What I do think is special is just how well the series has managed to introduce Luke Cage after he has already debuted. Serving almost as a surrogate introduction, this episode is one of the best origin stories I have seen in either Marvel or DC's cinematic offerings.

Luke Cage has quickly righted the ship after a somewhat uneven first pair of episodes to really deliver in cementing who this character is and why he is a force to be reckoned with. Cottonmouth makes virtually no appearances in this episode and yet his shadow is felt in the aftermath of his RPG attack. But, in just one hour, we are able to feel the connection between Luke and Reva and see why their relationship was so vital to his evolution as a hero. But, Luke Cage has yet to really become the superhero we are all waiting for him to be. This story is just getting started. Only four episodes in and Luke Cage has already delivered one of the best episodes of 2016.

MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REFERENCES: Luke's iconic Power Man costume is briefly seen. Seagate Prison is also the location of several MCU villains, namely Trevor Slattery.

Final Verdict:

NEXT ON MARVEL'S LUKE CAGE: Episode 5 "Just To Get A Rep" - Cottonmouth strikes back at Luke by taking his vengeance out on the people of Harlem, while detectives Knight and Scarfe face an unexpected threat.

Source: JoBlo.com



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