The second episode of Luke Cage starts with a trick I’m really starting to get tired of. It’s a situation that’s presented, and then we work our way back to that point. It can be a nice plot device, and it’s even done decently here, but I really think they could have done the story without it. Countering that, they include something I’m hugely in favor of. The infamous N-word gets used, in my humble opinion, far too often in movies and tv. Luke gives a mini-lecture against it, and he’s the second character in this series to do that. I wholeheartedly approve.
Beginning to work our way back to the opening scene, we see Misty showing how skilled a detective she is. From studying the crime scene photos and being there herself, she manages to do a pretty damn good mental reconstruction of what happened with the robbery/homicide. She also has insights about Chico from his record. Her partner, Rafe, continues to be singularly unimpressive. I’m really developing a dislike for this character.
Back at the barber shops, Luke and Pop debate books. It’s a nice, simple, mature conversation between two adults that is the kind of thing lacking in a lot of today’s movies and tv shows. Yes, I’m a huge reader so I may be biased, but it was nice seeing adults portrayed as, well adults. There was a certain maturity to the scene I really liked.
The relaxed conversation gets a bit more tense when Pop pushes Luke again about helping people. Pop isn’t happy that Luke has these abilities and isn’t using them. They talk more about Mariah Dillard and Cornell Stokes, who are apparently cousins. Pop describes their grandmother as “the Devils ex-wife,” which both amused me and made me want to learn more about her. Luke is evasive about where he’s from originally, finally saying Savannah, Georgia. If that’s true, it’s a major departure from the comics. Nothing that screws up their story or anything, just a big change for Luke’s background.
Speaking of Stokes, that’s who walks in to the shop, with Shades and Tone. Stokes and Pop have a conversation that flits over many things on the surface, but is really just about settling Stokes’ score with Chico. Luke is increasingly unhappy with this conversation, especially since he’s worried about Shades recognizing him. He even plots ways to take out Stokes and his crew and hints at it to Pop, who doesn’t want it to happen. As Stokes is leaving, Luke calls him out about not paying, which Stokes is amused by and Tone annoyed.
As soon as the gangsters leave, Pop implores Cage to help find Chico. Apparently Luke has told Pop enough that Pop knows Luke used to be good at finding people. Pop knows Stokes killed Shameek from the damage to Stokes’ hands that Pop noticed. Pop leans on Luke heavily to push him into action. Pop wants to set up a meet with Chico and Stokes, claiming that his shop, “is like Switzerland.”
Misty and Rafe crash a game of basketball to ask around about Chico. Misty is polite, to a point, but not letting them get away with the usual line of, “I don’t know that guy.” She challenges one of the players to a game of Horse, with predictable results, while Rafe looks on.
Luke, meanwhile, is doing the old-fashioned legwork to find someone. They do a good job of showing how frustrating and boring it can be, with nothing after nothing happening. I used to do locates, so I really appreciate their attention to detail here. Luke does see Stokes go into Mariah’s office. We see Stokes drop some money off for Mariah, who says it’s not enough. There’s gratitude for you. We get more details on the nature of the business dealings between Mariah and Stokes. Neither of them are really happy with the results of the conversation, although Mariah does take a moment to make another snarky comment at Shades. Shades seems more amused than offended.
Luke finally finds Chico, and makes a very dramatic entrance. Luke pleads Pop’s point of view to Chico, ignoring the gun Chico has pointed at him. As a persuader, Cage points out that he found Chico in four hours. For free. With the money Stokes is throwing around, Chico won’t last long. Chico says he won’t come in.
Back at the shop, Bobby, one of the usual folks that hang out there, is playing chess with a familiar ne’er-do-well: Turk, who we’ve seen in the Daredevil series. Luke reports his failure to Pop, and Pop shares some of his background with Luke, which explains a lot about why he’s trying so hard to save Chico. Chico pops up in the back room, and there’s a lot of hurried conversation. Unfortunately, Turk sees them, and we know he’s not exactly one of the good guys.
After Cage tells Turk to get out, Turk runs into Misty and Scarfe on the street. Misty also apparently knows Turk, and isn’t fond of him. Misty tries to explain Pop’s influence in the neighborhood to Rafe, who is utterly unimpressed. When they go inside, Rafe refuses to shake hands with Pop. Yep, not liking Rafe at all. He’s a lot better character, or at least less of a jerk, in the comics. Misty and Pop talk about trying to find Chico, and Cage seems both amused and annoyed that Misty lied to him about what she does. The police finally leave with vague promises of help from Pop.
After they leave, Pop tells Luke he has to be the one to set up the meeting. Luke works at Harlem’s Paradise, so he has a reason to go there in case the police are watching. Luke isn’t happy, but gets talked into it. He goes there, has more words with Tone, and finally suggests the meet to Stokes. Stokes, with Mariah sitting right there, pretends he has no idea what Luke is talking about, but agrees to go see Pop. It goes reasonably well, although Stokes, being a bit petty, fires Luke. After Luke leaves, Stokes and Mariah argue about money versus respect in terms of motivation and how long it lasts.
While Stokes and Mariah debate philosophy, Turk turns up, snitching to Shades and Tone. Tone, ever the diplomatic one, stiffs Turk for his reward. During the drive to the barber shop, Tone keeps fiddling with some huge guns, while Shades urges him to at least wait for Chico to come out of the shop.
Chico proves he’s bad at hiding, wandering out front because he’s bored. Luke can’t believe how stupid he is, and then things get worse. Tone doesn’t wait. It’s an ugly scene. Luke, while he’s fairly invulnerable, doesn’t have superspeed. He protects Lonnie, the young kid who keeps hanging around the shop, and whispers at him to play dead. In one of the scenes that make no sense, Tone wanders in, looks around, and leaves. Later, we see Chico get taken out by medics, shot at least twice. So. Tone either found him and decided shooting him twice was good enough, or managed to miss the Latino who was cleverly hiding by bleeding on the floor. But he did find the bag of money.
Misty and Rafe show up after the shooting’s done. Now, while I mocked Daredevil for having just one cop respond to everything, this actually makes sense, since it’s clearly part of the same case. In addition to being worried about the violence and the casualties, Misty is getting very curious about Luke, who was clearly shot but is equally clearly unharmed. Luke hears Misty and Rafe comparing notes that Cottonmouth Cornell has an alibi and they have no witnesses. Luke is both enraged and saddened by the shooting.
Shades and Tone return to Harlem’s Paradise, bearing the money, but not exactly great news. Stokes doesn’t understand what happened at first. Shades gives a dry, factual accounting to counter Tone’s bluster and bragging. When the full details come out, Stokes is furious. Turk makes an ill-timed reappearance asking again about his reward. Stokes takes some definitive action that shows his displeasure with Tone and convinces Turk to “go back to Hell’s Kitchen where it’s safe.” Mariah saw all this and seems mildly disgusted. Even Shades seems saddened by what’s happened. A shaken Stokes remarks to Shades that, “There’s supposed to be rules to this.”
Misty and Rafe lean on their cruiser and drink, because that’s what cops should be doing in public. Misty is still trying to figure out what’s going on with Luke, while Rafe just dismisses her concerns. Meanwhile Luke broods at his place, holding a talisman from the shop. Finally, he decides to take action, which brings us back around to the opening scene, when Luke gives a lecture that is part language and part history lesson to the increasingly freaked out gunman. After getting rid of the pesky kid and his weapon, Luke sees Mariah going in to her office and quotes Pop’s mantra, “Always forward.” I suspect the Dillard/Stokes alliance is going to have some bad days ahead.
What I liked: I really like that the series is taking a stand against the N-word. I enjoyed the book talk between Pop and Luke. Most of the bad guys seem to have their human side, which is something Marvel in general and Netflix in particular have been good about with these characters. Misty is very good at her job and is a strong, tough woman.
What I didn’t: I mentioned Tone getting the money but leaving Chico alive. Rafe in general is bordering on completely unlikable. I really hated the aftermath of the barbershop shooting, but I get it from a narrative perspective. Turk in general is just scum and needs more than the occasional beating from Daredevil.
I’ll give this one a 4 out of 5. The elements are all in play, and we can see the confrontation building. I think I even see how Luke will have a challenge later.