Marvel’s Luke Cage episode 4 viewing notes: Step In The Arena

Marvel's Luke Cage revisits the superhero's origin story in episode 4. Here are our companion viewing notes for Step In The Arena...

Luke Cage is back! In his own show! And so are our Marvel-Netflix episode notes where we’ll do a bit of commentary and reference-spotting for each episode of the series. Feel free to read along as you watch too, but please don’t spoil future episodes for anyone in the comments!

Pacing-wise it’s a little odd that Luke Cage essentially grinds to a halt for an extended flashback scene while the man himself spends an hour lying underneath some rubble, but at the same time, it’s hard to hate this episode because it’s exactly what the fanboy in me has wanted to see ever since Jessica Jones: the Luke Cage origin episode.

Speaking of Jessica Jones, this episode also harks back to plotlines from that series. We meet Reva Connors for the first time, and learn how she and Luke became acquainted, and even the origin – though not the contents – of that mysterious flash drive. Also it’s impossible to watch this episode and not be hugely impressed with Luke’s (sorry, Carl’s) facial hair.

The origin of Cage isn’t quite the same in the show as in the comics. The fight club is the big change (unless that was added in a version of the origin I missed) but the basics are the same: sent down for a crime he didn’t commit, Carl Lucas submits to an experimental procedure that gives him superpowers.

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One thing the show doesn’t do is connect Cage’s origin to the super soldier experiments, which is something the comics have done – although that’s true of about half of Marvel’s superheroes it sometimes seems. Doctor Bernstein in the comics is arguably less amoral than this version, but prison staff like Warden Stuart and Billy Bob Rackham are here and they, like the regeneration procedure and Luke’s circumstances, are straight off the pages of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1.

One big change is that Luke meets Reva in prison. In the comics she’s his childhood friend who gets murdered by organised crime members who are coming after Luke’s enemy. Indeed, Luke is framed for her death and that’s what gets him sent to Seagate in the first place, so it’ll be interesting to see what it is that got him here in the TV show.

It’s worth saying that while I’ve been slightly disappointed that the show hasn’t had more in the way of comic book fan-service – the kind of thing that made Daredevil such an enjoyable watch for me – this episode does deliver it in spades: Luke’s 1970s look is replicated in full, complete with Tiara, chain belt, bracelets and yellow silk shirt. I couldn’t be happier. We also get the first “Sweet Christmas” of the series (swear jar neatly avoided).

This has been coming out as one of the less-celebrated episodes of the show, and given the radical shift in tone and pacing I can completely understand why that might be. Personally, I loved it. This is what I want out of superhero shows: a close interpretation of the source material that nonetheless takes it to a new level. Even the B-Plot of Luke digging himself and the woman he was protecting out of the rubble was A+ superhero show material as far as I’m concerned. As much as I love the music and the politics, I’m not gonna pretend I’m not here for the superpowers and the rescues.

But hey, different stokes etc. If you didn’t like episode 4, episode 5 is just around the corner…

Remember: keep the discussion as far as episode 4 only, please!

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