Warning: This is a recap, and as such, contains spoilers for the series premiere of Luke Cage, “Moment of Truth.” Get out of dodge if you haven’t watched the episode yet.
Right or wrong, I’ve been worried about every Marvel series on Netflix since the premiere of Daredevil. Eventually one has to be off, right? It’s a numbers game. However, I’m happy to report Luke Cage is just as solid as its predecessors (read Alicia’s review if you haven’t yet) and carries itself with charisma, respect, and style. The series premiere, “Moment of Truth” set the tone, with its soulful music and warmer palette, you’re immediately put in another environment. This isn’t Hell’s Kitchen, and Luke Cage isn’t like the other heroes we’ve met.
The story quickly established Harlem as a character as much as any of the physical folks—a point that was reinforced throughout the episode. You’re not hit over the head with the importance of the neighborhood, though, it’s simply there as a living and breathing addition. Harlem’s presence is, uh, present from the opening scene in Pop’s Barber Shop, saturating and affecting the plot simultaneously. And what a fine place for viewers to catch up with Luke: Last time we saw him was on Jessica Jones. He’s put his past behind him, though, and we see him working at Pop’s in a cash under the table janitorial role and Luke’s just fine with his place, even if he has to work another under the table job to get by.
The “with great power comes great responsibility” theme isn’t a new one, and they brought it into the series early with Pop’s heart to heart with Luke. It was enough to reveal Pop knows Luke has abilities, he’s aware of Luke’s former relationship with Jessica, and he wants Luke to do more with his life. And hey, he even worked in a Power Man reference. Luke resisted his words, though, giving him the opportunity to hint at his origin story: he didn’t ask for his powers and isn’t super-thrilled about having them, either.
I’ve referenced how quickly this show put things on the table—I don’t think I’ve been more invested in a Marvel TV series faster—but like the other series, Luke Cage takes its time. We followed Luke through his neighborhood and got a taste for why it’s his home and why he wants to protect it; we’re given time to see why it’s important, and the supporting players are introduced deliberately and given their own moments to shine.
Luke’s other job is at Harlem’s Paradise, a club owned by Cornell Stokes, a.k.a. Cottonmouth. Thus, we met our villain in short order. And what an impression he made in his first scene; the pride he showed for his club and his overall role in Harlem shined—this is a man who is ambitious and confident, going toe-to-toe in his scenes with Mariah Stokes. Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard were electric as Cornell and Mariah from the get go: They both command the screen, and when they shared scenes together, their combined power makes you go along with damn near anything their characters say.
Cornell and Mariah’s conversation made Cornell’s less than lawful business operations apparent, and we’re shown a taste of those entanglements. The first act of violence in the series illustrated the stakes and danger, as well as the importance of the music. The way it’s used in Luke Cage isn’t like anything we’ve seen in a Marvel production or any comic book TV series for that matter. It’s woven into the story. In this case, a soulful song being performed at Harlem’s Paradise was cut with a bloody hijacking to stirring effect. The music is a living piece of the plot, much like Harlem, and it brings a fascinating contrast because it’s Cornell, a murderous, cutthroat bad guy, who most appreciates the music. You can see his passion for music in his eyes whenever he watches performers at his club.
Also happening at the club? Luke had to fill in for the bartender (who, incidentally, was part of the hijacking I just mentioned) and met the one and only Misty Knight. (He wasn’t aware of it, but she was undercover.) Though we’d seen plenty of Mike Colter’s charm as Luke up to this point, he rolled a natural 20 on that front in his scenes with actress Simone Missick. Luke is a much more personable hero than either the aloof Matt Murdock or angry Jessica Jones, so you’re naturally drawn to him. Misty certainly was: their hook-up was a complete 180 from Luke and Jessica’s furniture-smashing sex, and it was interesting to see Luke with a woman who was just as strong as him in every aspect (except, y’know, physically).
Oh! And the hijacking? It turned out to be an inside job that utterly screwed Cornell and involved one of the barbers at Pop’s shop. So, worlds start to collide. Cornell’s reaction to catching one of the youths that stole from him said it all, his anger a terrifying thing to behold. The red lighting and music added a comic book, cartoon-y element without taking away from it being frightening as hell. I was torn between appreciating how he was framed so perfectly under the crown in his B.I.G. photo and holding my breath as he lost his shit. I mean, villains aren’t usually rational when they’ve been robbed from, but already, Ali has made this character something different than the status quo.
As Cornell suffered this embarrassment, an associate of a bigger fish called Diamondback came in to more or less babysit Cornell. The arrival of Shades (Theo Rossi)—so-called I presume because he constantly wears sunglasses—affected Luke because he recognized the lackey from his time spent at Seagate Prison. And if you’ll remember, Misty said Luke talked about Shades and Comanche in his sleep.
The appearance of Shades brought Luke’s “Moment of Truth.” He almost ran, but instead remembered his wife and stayed. This choice led to the first look at Luke’s powers in the series, as he engaged in a truly fun brawl to protect his landlord’s restaurant. It was there as if to say, “See, this show’s gonna get real, but we’re gonna have a good time, too.”
How did you feel about the Luke Cage premiere? Were you immediately hooked? Talk to me in the comments.