Marvel’s Luke Cage Season 2 Review: Episodes 5-7
The only difference between the poor and the rich, according to a highly disputed piece of conventional wisdom, is hard work; conventional wisdom also says that the only difference between crime and legitimate enterprise is the law (this can also be disputed). So at what point does a criminal’s hard work result in legitimate success? It’s a valid question in a country that produced the Rockefellers, the Kennedy clan, and the twice-incarcerated Robert Downey, Jr. And we take a long look into that conundrum in Episodes 5–7 of Luke Cage.
Episode 5: “All Souled Out”
The previous episode ended with Luke getting served with papers regarding his beat-down of Dontrell “Cockroach” Hamilton (Dorian Missick) in Episode 2. We open Episode 5 in a law office where Dontrell and his lawyer are meeting with Luke and his lawyer (and Daredevil’s bosom amigo), Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). The negotiations don’t go well for Luke—he accidentally splits a conference table in half as Cockroach bemoans the injuries inflicted upon him by Harlem’s Hero—and the result of the talks is that Cockroach will settle for $100,000 in damages.
Foggy tells Luke that this is the best deal he’s going to get—if it goes to trial, no jury will believe that a towering, black ex-con who regularly lifts cars is innocent. But it’s okay—Foggy also tells Luke that he knows a guy who will pay plenty for Luke to simply appear at a party. Foggy will handle the fee negotiations if Luke agrees to do this. A frustrated Luke decides to go with this option, having few others.
Misty Knight (Simone Missick) has her own reasons for wanting to put Cockroach away. She tries to get Cockroach’s baby mama to rat on him, warning her that she could be another battered woman who ends up dead, but it doesn’t work. Misty also accepts the invitation from Danny Rand and Colleen Wing and goes to Rand Industries to try on a prosthetic arm. Yes, comic fans, Misty Knight finally has the robot appendage for which she is known in the Marvel universe. THE ASS KICKING WILL NOW COMMENCE.
Over at Harlem’s Paradise, Mariah (Alfre Woodard) and Shades (Theo Rossi) know that Bushmaster has something cooking for them, and they’re not sure over which shoulder to look. Yet, Mariah is on cloud nine now that her family’s criminal past has led her to the moment where she could cash in big time and use that money for community services. She’s pooled her resources and funding from others into a center named after Shirley Chisolm that will offer a variety of services to the people of Harlem. And Mariah lets her daughter, Tillie (Gabrielle Dennis), know that she could run the medical services section.
Shades’s confederate Comanche (Thomas Q. Jones) is secretly snitching on their operation to the head of Harlem’s police department, Thomas Ridenhour (Peter Jay Fernandez). After meeting up with Comanche to discuss a member of their gang who’s gone missing, Shades lets Comanche know that he’s got to search for their partner, as his duties for the night involve attending a party.
Luke and Foggy visit the office of the financial tycoon willing to pay big bucks for Luke to simply attend his party—and that tycoon happens to be Raymond “Piranha” Jones (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), the guy who offered Mariah the insider-trading scoop that helped her to go legitimate. Piranha got a big cut of the $20-million transaction, along with power of attorney over Mariah’s empire, so he’s in the mood to celebrate. Luke discovers that Piranha has a room full of Luke Cage memorabilia—bullets fired at him when he raided the Crispus Attucks building in Season 1, Luke’s prison uniform from Seagate—but Luke also sees a photo of Piranha with Mariah, so he agrees to stand around at the party for $150,000—and Piranha says, no sweat.
Misty’s old partner, Raphael Scarfe (Frank Whaley), haunts her thoughts at work—Scarfe mentored her and was a close friend before he died and it was revealed he was dirtier than an Iowa pig pen. Misty remembers the time she and Scarfe arrested Cockroach, a move that a court overturned when Scarfe’s crooked police work was revealed.
So now we come to the episode’s centerpiece: there are two people with whom you should never attend a public gala event—Jessica Fletcher and Luke Cage. Piranha’s party does not go well, as these bro-dudes-in-suits-doing-blow affairs tend to go. The only highlight is Ghostface Killah as the musical entertainment, making him the second Wu-Tang Clan member to appear on the show. Otherwise, one guest playfully breaks a bottle over Luke’s head to see how he’ll take it (with more patience than he should have to), and Piranha asks him to stand guard at the make-out closet while he ducks inside with two models. It’s that kind of party.
But when shots ring out, Luke gets an unlikely ally in Shades, who helps him take down the gunmen. Other gangsters speed off with Piranha, but Luke stops them, offering his services to Piranha for an even heftier fee than he demanded before, uttering the words “hero for hire” as he does so. It’s the phrase we’ve been waiting to hear since Luke first uttered his signature “Sweet Christmas” on Jessica Jones. In the comics, Luke was the one hero who didn’t hesitate to ask for a dollar compensation for all his superheroing. And, really, any freelancer would have to feel at least a pang of sympathy.
Meanwhile, Misty goes to Cockroach’s apartment to plant evidence against him. She has a change of heart just as she’s about to go through with it, but she discovers a bloody trail in the apartment leading to Cockroach’s body—minus his head.
Mariah opens the doors to her new Shirley Chisholm center, and the assembled press are horrified to see three severed heads on stakes just inside the door.
Regarding the music for this episode, I can’t help wondering—is Ghostface Killah’s performance at Piranha’s party for the Wolves of Wannabe Street a commentary on Martin Shkreli’s purchase of the Wu-Tang’s singular album? Are the Wu-Tangs acknowledging that they’re heroes for hire as well?
Episode 6: “The Basement”
After fighting off several members of Bushmaster’s (Mustafa Shakir) gang—known as the Stylies—Luke and Piranha hole themselves up in an abandoned movie house while the Jamaican gang sends all of its troops into the streets to find them. Piranha tells Luke the story of his mother, a prostitute who worked for Mariah’s grandmother, Mama Maybelle Stokes, and whose john left his son nothing save for a copy of his investment guide.
Misty confesses to her captain that she found Cockroach’s body when she went to plant evidence in his apartment that would convict him before having second thoughts. Instead of demanding her badge, Ridenhour accepts her apology and tells her she can stay on the force. But Misty isn’t sure she wants to; she’s crossing lines, and in the process, she’s wondering if Luke is right about the ineffectiveness of the police. Later, she witnesses Ridenhour interviewing Mariah in the interrogation room about the grisly turn of events at the Chisholm center, and Misty notes that Mariah and the captain are very familiar with each other and seem to go way back.
Mariah, understandably, wants Piranha found post-haste, especially since he’s got the financial keys to her kingdom. Shades and Comanche decide the best way to do that is to find Luke, so they arm themselves impressively and head to Pop’s Barber Shop, waiting in the dark for Luke to show up. Luke doesn’t, but while the two men count the minutes, Comanche reveals the nature of their bond; in prison, they had an intimate relationship, and while Shades says he wants to move on, Comanche clearly doesn’t. Shades also reveals what exactly he sees in Mariah: guys like him and Comanche have their big scores and their sharkskin suits and their pimped-up rides, but they’ll never be legit, or even LOOK legit—they’ll always be crooks. But not Mariah. Shades is convinced that she knows how to get out.
Once daylight hits, the Stylies figure out where Luke and Piranha are and move in. Again, Luke protects his client. He takes Piranha to the Rev. Lucas’s church, making his father promise to keep an eye on Piranha. This, obviously, is a mistake—the church can’t be well protected, and the Revered isn’t the kind of guy who can keep Piranha anywhere. It feels like the only reason Luke goes there is so that he and his father can have another moment where they’re slowly inching their way to some sort of reconciliation. But next time, Luke, leave your client with Danny Rand or Colleen Wing or Misty or Jessica Jones or ANYONE other than your dad.
As he gets measured for one of his amazing suits (and just an aside here—the wardrobe department deserves a special award for making Bushmaster as well-dressed as his predecessor, Cottonmouth, yet not in the same way. While Mahershala Ali wore darker suits that made him look a boardroom badass, Bushmaster wears lighter colors with a lower thread count, suits that would look comfy even during a Jamaican summer), Bushmaster discusses his plans for revenge with his disapproving uncle, a conversation that leads Bushmaster to talk about his mother. She didn’t like it when he got his school clothes dirty, but when he came home with a roughed-up uniform, he could tell his mom was proud that her son was a fighter. And that pride lasted right up until she was killed in a fire, one that he is convinced was started by the Stokes crime family.
With Piranha (not) safely stowed away, Luke finally challenges Bushmaster to a one-on-one on Highbridge Park, which spans the Harlem River and connects Washington Heights to the Bronx. Whoever wins gets Harlem, and whoever loses gets lost. Despite his eerie powers—either herbal or magical in origin—Bushmaster is the one beaten to the ground in this melee. But when Luke thinks it’s over, Bushmaster blows a fistful of paralyzing powder into Luke’s face, then kicks him over the railing into the river.
Episode 7: “On and On”
Whatever powder Bushmaster used to paralyze Luke doesn’t last too long, and as he sinks to the bottom of the Harlem River, episodes from his life flashing before his eyes, he recovers in time to swim to the surface and stagger back to his father’s church. To Luke’s surprise but no one else’s, Piranha isn’t there; Rev. Lucas didn’t even try to keep him in his pew, and he went to get a plane to get out of New York. Only the Stylies got him. Great job you’re doing on this “hero for hire” gig, Luke. Maybe you should go back to sweeping up hair clippings.
Bushmaster gets Piranha to empty Mariah’s accounts and turn everything, including the amount from the deal that must have netted Maria hundreds of millions of dollars, over to Bushmaster.
Misty, no longer on the force, meets Luke at Pop’s Barber Shop, and the two of them head to the Harlem headquarters of the Jamaican livery service whose cars prowled through Harlem carrying the Stylies as they were searching for Piranha. There’s something else I’ve learned from this show along with “don’t leave anyone with Luke’s dad,” and that’s “when you go in through the front entrance, you won’t find anything except the remains of the person you came to see.” Luke and Misty face off against the Stylies’ pit crew, but wheel jacks and socket wrenches are no match for Luke Cage and Misty’s amazing arm. However, the only result Luke and Misty turn up is Piranha’s head floating in a fish tank.
Mariah is continuing her efforts to win Tillie over to her point of view. At Harlem’s Paradise, Tillie asks for the truth and the whole truth from Mariah about their family, and Mariah, commendably, delivers. Tillie learns everything, warts and all, about her ancestry. But it’s okay, says Mariah, because we now have enough cash to redeem ourselves. We’re not bottom feeders anymore; we’ve made enough to be apex predators.
Comanche goes to meet Ridenhour, only he’s followed by Shades. Realizing that he’s been caught red-handed, Comanche tries to play it as though Ridenhour tricked him into coming there and shoots the policeman; Shades, who isn’t fooled (remember, he’s probably the smartest guy on the show), shoots and kills Comanche, with a heavy heart. It’s becoming clear why Shades wears sunglasses all the time—actor Theo Rossi has expressive eyes, and he can deliver so much emotion through a close-up that he could never bluff a poker hand, much less intimidate another killer. There’s too much human being there.
Misty goes to a bar, hoping, it would seem, to get lucky, but a call sends her out of the bar and over to the lot where Ridenhour and Comanche lie dead, set up by Shades to look like they shot each other.
Hoping to bring Tillie with her, Mariah is packing her bags at home when the Stylies show up and put Bushmaster’s final act of vengeance into play. With Maria and Tillie tied to chairs, he soaks the brownstone in gasoline and lights a match only to free Tillie and give her a chance to save her mother.
In a clever montage, Bushmaster’s monologue of the injustice done to his family by the Stokes clan is intercut with Luke’s conversation with his father about his own mother and how she visited Luke in prison shortly before she died. Reverend Lucas admits that he always blamed Luke for his wife’s worsening condition, which he now sees was wrong. Okay, so we’re running out of time for this session, but we’re really making some progress here.
Luke hears from his social media guru that Mariah’s brownstone is on fire, and he rushes in, saving Mariah and Tillie. Meanwhile, Bushmaster and the Stylies arrive in the Harlem’s Paradise like conquering heroes while Stephen Marley (one of Bob Marley’s sons) plays Jamaican reggae on stage.
While Episode 4 ended with Mariah on top of the world, Episode 7 ends with her having lost everything and Bushmaster having put the finishing touches on his ferocious revenge. Luke’s cause is now joined with Mariah’s, and we’ll see how this odd couple takes on their impressive foe in the coming episodes.