Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is on the run from the law and laying low in Harlem. When his mentor is killed, Luke finds himself thrust into the world of crime and politics in a part of the city that is known for being ignored by the law. Luke takes on Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and in turn his corrupt cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). Pursued by officer Misty Knight (Simone Missick), Cage will need all the help he can get…especially when someone from his past named Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) surfaces.
Luke Cage—Season 1 (also called Marvel’s Luke Cage—Season 1) was released on Netflix on September 30, 2016. The series joins Netflix’s TV series Jessica Jones (in which Cage first appeared) and follows Daredevil—Season 2 (which was released early in 2016). The series was released to praise and some claim that Luke Cage “broke” Netflix when it went down for hours the day after it premiered.
I liked the old Luke Cage when he was Power Man. In fact, Power Man and Iron Fist was one of my favorite titles in the ’80s when I was just starting to read comics. Luke Cage’s earliest appearances in Hero for Hire were some of my earliest comics, but I didn’t like the directions that Marvel took him in the ’90s and early ’00s in attempts to make him more mainstream. Luke Cage—Season 1 borrows from both worlds and succeed in areas and fails.
The story for Luke Cage is a bit of a struggle. It is unfortunate but I had to fight a bit through the first half of the series. Though I like Mahershala Ali in House of Cards, his Cottonmouth character was a time killer. The series really picks up after episode seven and that is a bit to long to keep viewers “boiling”. I liked when the series took a turn from just a comic book series into more of a social commentary TV series by incorporating more current events and really posing some good and interesting questions…it just took a bit too long to get there.
Part of the problem is the 12/13 show format. While I feel the 24 episode seasons are too long, the shorter seasons seem to always fall into the same pattern (be it the Marvel series or others). The first six or seven episodes are the first “book” and then the real threat happens…it is predictable. Cage never had very good villains but Diamondback developed far better than Cottonmouth…he should have started the series off and been incorporated into the first part of the season more.
The cast is good. I like Mike Colter’s Cage because he is intimidating but pulls off that sense of justice that is the crux of one of the first African-American comic book characters…he is a good guy (though complex) despite how the fictional media might portray him. Mahershala is rather wasted as the lame Cottonmouth, but Erik LaRay Harvey makes up the difference in the second half. Simone Missick is a scene stealer as the determined Misty Knight and Rosario Dawson has a more developed role in this series than Daredevil and Jessica Jones…though she does pose problems for the Cage-Jones marriage of the comics. Though her character is delightfully evil, Alfre Woodard seems a bit too “comic book-y” in a very comic book series. I don’t buy her sudden turn to hardcore gangster despite attempting to make it seem like it has always been in her ability.
The visuals and atmosphere of Cage are somewhat problematic. The series is trying to be proactive and positive, but it is labeled as “neo-blaxploitation”. This postmodern-Blaxploitation might be self-aware but the stereotypes seem to derail the productive aspect of the series (which is mostly in the second half of the season). There’s a lot of use of the N-word which Cage detests and says he detests, but it is used in “funny” or quotable ways that seem a bit problematic…I could see some kids/fans repeating the lines without the context. I do enjoy the throwback soundtrack of the series which plays up the blues-y soul of ’70s Blaxploitation films however.
Overall, Luke Cage is a good entry into the Netflix Marvel-verse which hasn’t had too big of a falter yet. I was disappointed that neither Iron Fist or Colleen Wing showed up this season (though Colleen was alluded to in the final episode). I also wish we had gotten a really clear look at Luke in his classic Power Man costume…it is discarded too fast. The series starts out too slow but picks up speed though I’d be interested to see how Daredevil, Jessica Jones, or Luke Cage would fare against a real “supervillain” (Purple Man gets the closest in Jessica Jones and is still the best of the Netflix villains yet). The series ends on a down note (which I like), so it does leave you wanting to see where it goes. Netflix is scheduled to follow Luke Cage with Iron Fist in 2017.
Luke Cage—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:
1.1 Moment of Truth Release Date: 09/30/16
Luke Cage (Mike Colter) continues to lay low with the realization that he’s wanted by the police. Working at Pop’s Barber Shop during the day and Harlem Paradise at night, Luke tries to forget his abilities. Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) discovers his Harlem Paradise hit by Chico (Brian “Sene” Marc) and Shameek (Jermel Howard) and sets out to rectify the problem. Cottonmouth’s cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) works with the New Harlem Renaissance as a councilwoman. Diamondback’s hired man Shades (Theo Rossi) comes to deal with Cottonmouth’s problems…and leaves Luke realizing that his past might have come back to haunt him.
1.2 Code of the Streets Airdate: 09/30/06
Pops (Frankie Faison) gives Luke the background of Cottonmouth but Luke finds Cottonmouth has taken an interest in him. Luke tries to bring in Chico and finds that Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) and Rafael Scarfe (Frank Whaley) are also looking for him. With Pops’ urging to seek out a peaceful resolution to Chico’s situation, Luke goes to speak to Cottonmouth…with disastrous results.
1.3 Who’s Gonna Take the Weight? Release Date: 09/30/16
Pops is dead at the hand of Cottonhead’s men and Cage is taking no prisoners…by going after Cottonmouth’s money. As Cottonmouth questions who is hitting him, a potential gang war festers with Domingo Colon (Jacob Vargas). Misty suspects there is something more to Cage and that he could be tied to Pops’ death…but the danger for Misty could be closer than she thought.
1.4 Step in the Arena Release Date: 09/30/16
Buried beneath the rubble after Cottonmouth’s attack, Luke Cage remembers his wrongful imprisonment in Seagate. When forced to fight for Officer Rackham (Chance Kelly), Carl Lucas finds love in Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and the opportunity for change with Dr. Noah Burstein (Michael Kostroff).
1.5 Just to Get a Rep Release Date: 09/30/16
Cottonmouth decides to pressure Luke Cage by going after the people of Harlem. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) comes to Harlem with a new plan to help superhumans that need medical help. Shades realizes who Luke Cage is…and comes up with a plan to fight him. Misty learns that Scarfe is under suspicion. Pops’ funeral arrives, and Luke declares war on Cottonmouth.
1.6 Suckas Need Bodyguards Release Date: 09/30/16
Harlem debates whether Luke is helping or hurting Harlem. Cottonmouth finds a meeting with Scarfe turning to disaster as he shoots him…leading the police searching for Scarfe and Scarfe seeking help. A TV interview with Mariah doesn’t go as Mariah plans.
1.7 Manifest Release Date: 09/30/16
The charges against Cottonmouth fall apart, and Cottonmouth is back on the street…and knows Luke’s secret. Misty learns that internal affairs are setting to clean out her department due to Scarfe, and the police are looking into Luke Cage. Cottonmouth remembers is past and his failed life of music. Mariah tries to have spin control over her reputation and realizes Cottonmouth’s actions are a liability.
1.8 Blowin’ Up the Spot Release Date: 09/30/16
Luke’s been shot with a Judas bullet by Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey) and fighting for his life with Claire’s help. Misty is called in for the murder of Cottonmouth as Shades helps Mariah cover up her involvement in the murderer. With Diamondback out to end Luke Cage once and for all, Luke will learn the truth of Diamondback’s rage.
1.9 DWYCK Release Date: 09/30/16
Luke is wounded and on the run, and an encounter with the police doesn’t help the situation. Misty undergoes mandatory counselling for her run in with Claire and is forced to get to the root of her problems. Mariah discovers she’s in a dangerous position as the newly named head of Cottonmouth’s crime family. Claire and Luke seek out the one person who might be able to help Luke with his wounds.
1.10 Take It Personal Release Date: 09/30/16
Claire and Doctor Burstein try to break Luke’s skin to remove the Judas shrapnel while Luke grapples with the idea that he never knew Reva. Diamondback and Mariah’s plans to sell Judas bullets ramps up with Diamondback continuing to frame Luke for attacks…causing Harlem to boil!
1.11 Now You’re Mine Release Date: 09/30/16
Luke has been saved and now he and Claire are headed back to Harlem to wrap-up his problems with Diamondback. Diamondback and Mariah have other plans with an anti-Luke Cage rally at the community center…which explodes when Cage arrives! With Misty fighting for her life, Claire as a hostage, and the police armed with Judas bullets, Luke must make a decision.
1.12 Soliloquy of Chaos Release Date: 09/30/16
Luke Cage escapes police custody and finds himself becoming the voice of the underground among the people of Harlem. Shades finds his ally Diamondback has second thoughts about his alliance as Mariah debates what to do about her association with Diamondback as well. Misty works to prove Luke innocent as an eyewitness comes forward with the truth about the murder of Cottonmouth. Diamondback is hunting Luke Cage and has a new weapon in his arsenal.
1.13 You Know My Steez Release Date: 09/30/16
Luke battles Diamondback in a final all-out battle as the fate of Harlem hangs in the balance. Misty sets to bring in Mariah, but Mariah and Shades have other plans. Luke’s past with Diamondback is only his first problem…his past in Georgia could be his undoing.