Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 24, 2017)
As a kid in the early 1980s, I read pretty much every comic Marvel produced, so that included Power Man and Iron Fist. That series took two characters who couldn’t sustain sales on their own and combined them in hopes of greater success.
Fast-forward 35 years or so and TV finds the two heroes separated again, as both inspired their own series. Here I’ll address 2016’s Luke Cage, a show about the character known as “Power Man” in the old comics.
This four-disc Blu-ray set provides all 13 episodes from Season One of Luke Cage. The plot synopses come from IMDB.
Moment of Truth: “With tension building in the streets of Harlem thanks to ruthless club owner Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) finds it increasingly difficult to live a quiet life.”
Pilot episodes tend to focus on introductions and exposition, and that largely becomes the case with “Truth”, though it doesn’t dig into story/character backgrounds in depth. As a series launcher, it proves reasonably efficient, but I can’t claim it makes me all that excited to see where the show goes. Hopefully Cage will get more involving from here.
Code of the Streets: “Luke is pulled deeper into the fight for his neighborhood when, as a favor to an old friend, he tries to help a kid who's in trouble with Cottonmouth.”
Like “Truth”, “Code” largely emphasizes exposition and early character development, as it appears to push the series toward a main narrative. Also like “Truth”, the episode leaves me a little cold, but I think it does enough to move the season forward that it gives me hope of greater drama in the future.
Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?: “In the aftermath of a chaotic event at a favorite Harlem hangout, Luke heeds the call to action and hits Cottonmouth where he'll feel it most.”
From the very early moments of “Truth”, it seemed inevitable that Luke and Cottonmouth would become primary enemies, so this aspect of “Weight” comes as no surprise. Other aspects of “Weight” seem pretty predictable as well. Some action beats enliven the episode but the narrative remains fairly tepid.
Step In the Arena: “As he rescues a victim of Cottonmouth's vengeance, Luke remembers his earlier life and the conspiracy that led to his superhuman strength.”
To date, Season One has acted as an “origin story” in that it shows how Luke became a do-gooding vigilante, but it left us in the dark about the way he acquired his powers. Though we get some story material in “present day”, most of “Arena” remains in the past and points toward Luke’s development. While not the most dynamic episode, it manages some interesting details and gives us a bit better understanding of our lead.
Just to Get a Rep: “Cottonmouth strikes back at Luke by taking his vengeance out on the people of Harlem, while Detectives Knight (Simone Missick) and Scarfe (Frank Whaley) face an unexpected threat.”
Most of the prior episodes felt like little more than basic exposition, so I’m happy to see “Rep” move along the action and drama better. It seems like we’ve finally gotten past the basics and can now explore topics in a more satisfying manner. Throw in an intriguing new character played by Rosario Dawson and “Rep” puts the series on the upward slope.
Suckas Need Bodyguards: “After Cottonmouth and Scarfe's bloody clash, Luke realizes that saving the community may turn former allies into enemies, and enemies into allies.”
As my notes indicate, Cage didn’t exactly enchant me for its first few shows, but once the series got Luke’s backstory out of the way, it’s come to life. “Suckas” continues this ascension and delivers a dramatic episode with good development and momentum.
Manifest: “Mariah's (Alfre Woodard) political career comes under fire, and Cottonmouth picks up information that could put Luke on the run.”
Character elements come to the fore here, and we get flashbacks to Cottonmouth’s youth that finally let us meet Mama Mabel (Latanya Richardson Jackson). These elements add depth to the series along with the usual action, so “Manifest” propels the season in a positive manner.
Blowin’ Up the Spot: “Mariah campaigns to turn the city and the police against Luke, and not even Misty or Claire (Rosario Dawson) may be able to save him.”
“Manifest” ended with a major development, so “Spot” uses much of its time to proceed after that event. Though this leaves “Spot” as more expositional than the last few shows, it still manages to push things ahead well.
DWYCK: “With Luke wounded and on the run, Misty faces a soul-searching interrogation. Mariah's rise to power takes a dark turn.”
Like “Manifest”, “DWYCK” seems more like a “narrative-builder” than anything else. It lacks much substantial drama of its own, but it accelerates some story/character points in a fairly satisfying manner.
Take It Personal: “Luke gets closer to the truth about Reva (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her part in his fate, while Mariah wrestles with morality of her new role. Misty hunts for Luke.”
After a couple of fairly expository episodes, “Personal” ups the ante well. It digs into Luke’s past and points toward the future via intensified concerns with the cops and Mariah. Expect a solid show.
Now You’re Mine: “In one bold move, a person from Luke's past puts Luke on the defensive, Misty in dire straits, and Harlem's safety in jeopardy.”
After the broad drama of “Personal”, “Mine” goes with a tighter focus, as it largely concentrates on one location and theme. This gives the episode a nice sense of tension along with a few useful character tidbits.
Soliloquoy of Chaos: “Misty digs deeper for the truth as the neighborhood's power players throw the city into confusion.”
With little time left in the season, “Chaos” manages to up the ante pretty well. Toss in a little much-needed comedy and a fun guest spot from a famous musician to make “Chaos” a strong way to push toward the season finale.
You Know My Steez: “With all of Harlem bearing witness, Luke takes on the fight of his life in hopes of emerging as the defender his city needs.”
After an action-packed opening, much of “Steez” wraps up elements from the season’s storylines and character elements. This fills more of the episode than I’d prefer, but “Steez” still manages to encapsulate matters well enough, and it finishes the year on a positive note.