Watching the second episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage one becomes aware of a certain beauty that creeps into each scene. The dialogue is almost musical in its perfection. Like the dialogue in an Elmore Leonard book, the words spoken by the inhabitants of this world sound authentic and true.
Luke Cage feels more legitimate than any other Marvel superhero, with the exception of Jessica Jones. Jones, like Cage, shares that dark space that other heroes from the verse only visit on occasion. Even Jones is allowed to leave the underbelly that Cage lives in.
Harlem, in Cage’s world is not all about “Live at the Apollo,” it is about the reality outside. Pop’s barbershop, Cottonmouth and corrupt people in power; Cottonmouth’s cousin, all inhabit this section of town.
In this episode, Chico is on the run with the half a million stolen from Stokes. Shameek, is dead and Cottonmouth’s thugs are scouring the streets for Chico and the money.
A little backstory is presented on Pop. The barber grew up on the mean streets and had his own crew. Things went bad and Pop went behind bars for a 10 stretch. He came out a changed man.
All this is relayed to Luke in front of the barbershop. A flashback that is partly verbal and the lines sing. Both characters interact, and do so throughout this episode, rhythmically and melodically. This is down not just to the actors but to the writers as well.
Luke Cage presents itself, in terms of dialogue, as R&B mixed with a little jazz (all the better to pay tribute to all those blaxploitation films) and just a touch of rap and hip hop.
It has a reality that relies on solid ethnicity to give it strength. Each character has their own truth and we believe it.
When Det. Knight challenges the basketball player to a game of h-o-r-s-e it is a given that she will win. Even before seeing the initials painted onto the court, Knight exudes the right amount of quiet certainty. It is this, and her solemn authority that makes up her badge of office.
The search for Chico, which ends in the massacre in Pop’s, could have ended with a “parley” with Stokes. Pop made all the right moves to facilitate it. He and Cottonmouth had history together they were members of the old school. It was Tone, Stokes’ little wannabe that messed things up.
Not of the old school, Tone did not understand the code of the streets that both Cornell and Henry grew up following. It costs Tone his life.
Stokes’ solitary tear was also a brilliant touch. It proved that beyond the gangster’s rise in power he never forgot the connection between himself and Pop.
Like Luke’s quiet determination to become more and Misty Knight’s smooth authority, Cornell’s tears ring with a truth that is beautiful.
Marvel’s Luke Cage is, quite simply, the best depiction of a superhero on television at the moment. Jessica Jones comes close. (Oh so close, although her journey is almost more dark comedy compared to the tragic verse that Cage moves through.)
Mike Colton continues to kill it as Luke Cage. Frankie Faison will be sorely missed, his battered survivor who rose out of his own ashes was a brilliant character. Ali, Missick, Woodard and Rossi all bring a lot to the table in this show.
Series creator Cheo Hodari Coker has given viewers a show that is grimly beautiful. It has the right amount of resonance to the past and a gritty reality that practically sings like a dark musical performed on the streets.
Marvel’s Luke Cage is streaming on Netflix right now. The network original series has all 13 episode on offer. Tune in and get carried away with this “real” superhero.
- Mike Colter – Luke Cage
- Mahershala Ali – Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes
- Simone Missick – Missy Knight
- Alfre Woodard – Mariah Dillard
- Theo Rossi – Shades Alvarez
- Frank Whaley – Rafael Scarfe
- Cassandra Freeman – Partrica Wilson
- Frankie Faison – Henry “Pop” Hunter
- Rob Morgan – Turk Barrett