Warning: This is a recap, and as such, contains spoilers for the fifth Luke Cage episode, “Just to Get a Rep.” Get out of dodge if you haven’t watched the episode yet.
Put yourself in Cottonmouth’s shoes. You’ve pulled out a rocket launcher to eliminate your enemy, and yet he puts aside the wreckage and comes out not only alive but unharmed. Luke’s survival has to be unsettling. Since his usual solution of direct application of violence didn’t work, Cottonmouth tried to undermine Luke to the people of Harlem in “Just to Get a Rep.”
Luke has been going after Cottonmouth’s operations for a couple episodes now, but Cottonmouth’s realized what a threat Luke is and he’s ready to go head to head. Cornell gathered his men and the person who handles his accounts to assess the damage. He took a hard financial hit, but Cottonmouth reacted more strongly to the news that the streets were siding with Luke and therefore standing against him. One of his real weaknesses shone through at the meeting: he sees himself as Harlem’s hero but also views the streets as his. Harlem and its people are not things to be owned, but Cornell doesn’t see any issue with his approach.
I was actually impressed Cornell would be humble enough to have a state of the union meeting with his posse, but then he didn’t listen to anyone else. When someone spoke up in disagreement, Cottonmouth didn’t hesitate to shoot him. It’s another flaw. If someone has a differing opinion, Cornell views it as disloyalty. He’s been trained to handle any perceived betrayal in a single way–refer back to the direct application of violence.
Since Luke is bulletproof, Cornell decided to tear down his reputation. He sent his thugs to the neighborhood to do damage and to spread the word all the damage was a result of the Luke Cage stupidity tax. It’s a conditioning of sorts. The smarter residents of Harlem were frustrated with Luke, but I think they saw through to the real cause. They certainly didn’t hesitate to run to Luke for help with their problems. He responded like he didn’t just decide to be a hero in the last few days. He’s already shouldered responsibility and undoubtedly realized his role in Cottonmouth’s actions. This is Luke Cage being a goddamn hero.
Oh, what fun it is to watch a plan backfire. If anything, Luke ended up with more of Harlem behind him after Cornell’s attacks. He helped people get out of trouble and walked right through Cornell’s front door. Though both Cornell and Shades knew Luke has survived bullet after bullet and a rocket launcher, they witnessed his strength first hand. The unflappable Shades was still unflappable but pulled his sunglasses off with what almost looked like admiration for Luke. He finally recognized his former fellow inmate.
Luke and Cottonmouth’s private talk and their public words at Pop’s funeral outlined why they’re both alike and dislike. Ultimately, they both want Harlem to be Harlem–vibrant, safe, resilient–but Cottonmouth is coming from selfish angle, whereas Luke is coming from a selfless one. Cornell wants to control Harlem and force it into submission; he grew up there and because it’s his home, he thinks he knows what’s best. He’s like a father figure in that way and he sees himself as this benevolent patriarch guiding the neighborhood. Luke knows Harlem needs to stand on its own, and its citizens can’t rise up with Cottonmouth or anyone else poisoning the water.
Elsewhere in the city, one Claire Temple came home. We’ve seen her help a variety of heroes and stand her ground, so it’s not surprising her first action in Luke Cage was to chase down a man who snatched her purse. Despite the time we’ve spent with her in Daredevil and Jessica Jones, her few scenes here packed more information about the character than we’ve ever learned before. The moments were truly about her and not her telling some superhero what’s what. We got an idea about what makes her tick, and since she spotted Luke Cage, chances are she’ll apply her new career goals in his direction.
Do you see where Cornell’s coming from? What do you think of him at this juncture? Sound off in the comments or come chat with me on Twitter.