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!
As Stokes begins to extort the residents of Harlem (and blame Luke for it), the community comes together for the funeral of beloved barber and mediator, Pop. And it’s time for some speeches. Lots of ‘em.
This episode is even slower than the previous four, although there’s a good reason for the more sombre tone. The big plot twist is the introduction of a somewhat literal Chekov’s Gun: bullets that can hurt even Luke Cage. No prizes for guessing how they’re going to make shooting at Luke finally seem like it might accomplish anything. Shades also recognises Luke from Seagate, so it seems his cover has been blown.
Personally, I liked seeing Luke out there dealing with small crimes and interacting with regular people who need his help. One of the things I don’t like about the modern trend for novelistic TV is that you tend to lose the immediate satisfaction of a plot introduced, investigated and resolved within one episode. I can tell you what happens in any given episode of Buffy or Star Trek: TNG, but for the most part Luke Cage blurs into one, and it seems a shame to me that ideas are drawn out over hours instead of given an intensive exploration within one episode.
Still, maybe that’s just me being grumpy.
This episode also saw the return of Rosario Dawson to the cast, last seen getting fired in Daredevil Season 2 because self-resurrecting ninjas attacked her hospital and she refused to participate in the cover-up. Dawson last met Luke in Jessica Jones, where she performed some seriously ad-hoc surgery on him.
Again, we’ve covered this before, but for completeness’ sake: In the comics, Claire Temple is a nurse (later a doctor) who was a romantic interest of Luke Cage. Here she’s been mashed up with Night Nurse (First appearance: 1961’s Linda Carter, Student Nurse #1) for the Netflix Marvelverse. The latter reappeared after a lengthy absence in Daredevil (1998) #58, running a secret clinic where superheroes could go get themselves patched up.
Believe it or not, the guy who fits Luke with a suit – “Dapper” Dan – is actually a real-life tailor from Harlem. Real name Daniel Day, his boutique sold clothes to the likes of LL Cool J, KRS-One, Mike Tyson, and Erik B. & Rakim. He appears as himself here.
The bullets that can kill Luke are based on Justin Hammer’s technology, and named “Judas”. Given that Tony Stark once named his missiles “Jericho” and Justin Hammer is the world’s biggest Tony Stark fanboy, it’s not hard to see where Hammer got the idea for the name. These bullets allegedly contain alien metal harvested after “The Incident” (i.e. the attack on New York in the Avengers movie) so that’s a pair of pretty solid MCU references there.
And that’s pretty much it. As episodes go this one was clearly designed to be slow and reflective after the craziness of the last one. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it, though I do find characters giving subtext-laden speeches in front of one another a little too on-the-nose. It’s like guys, it’s a funeral, maybe leave your beef outside and talk about the guy in the casket?
Still, if the pacing is slow, the general quality of the series is that the writing is excellent. So far it’s been subtle, well-constructed and consistent, which are things that (in my opinion) Jessica Jones struggled with. Hopefully it can keep that standard throughout the rest of the series…!
Remember: keep the discussion as far as episode 5 only, please!