Warning: This is a recap, and as such, contains spoilers for the fourth Luke Cage episode, “Step in the Arena.” Get out of dodge if you haven’t watched the episode yet.
It’s possible to tell a superhero story without doing the whole origins thing, but the opportunity to explores the hows and whys of extraordinary people isn’t usually skipped. In the case of Luke Cage, it shouldn’t be. Known as Power Man in Marvel comics, Luke Cage is not a household name. Heck, he’s not even known to everyone who reads Marvel comic books. His origin story hasn’t been told a dozen different times in various formats. So, “Step in the Arena” puts us into Luke’s past and shows how he became invincible.
The flashback was cut with the dire events of the present. You know, the part where Cottonmouth destroyed a building in an attempt to take Luke out with a rocket launcher–just another day in Harlem. Luke being Luke, he survived the over-the-top-but-pretty-perfect attack. He seemed bruised, but he was well enough to start moving the rubble to save his landlord Connie. That led into the flashback.
Luke was once a police officer called Carl Lucas, and he was framed and wrongfully put in jail. From the outset, we know the Luke that arrived at Seagate Prison isn’t the man we know now. He has a lot of hair, for one thing. More importantly, we see Luke reel after a guard punched him in the stomach. We see blood on his knuckles as he cries and beats his hands on the wall. This is a man who is vulnerable in every sense of the word.
Even if he didn’t display hand-to-hand combat skills, Luke’s size literally put him heads and shoulders above the other prisoners and that put him on the guards’ radar. Yes, you guessed it: most of the guards at the prison seem to be crappy human beings, who force the inmates to fight in gladiator style competitions for the sake of money. When the guard Rackham made Luke an offer, Luke pointed out what he was putting on the table is basically slavery. He said no, but eventually Rackham got to him.
The prison’s therapist was Reva Connors, the woman Luke married and the woman Kilgrave made Jessica Jones kill because she knew too much about him. It was weird because going into it, we know she and Luke are going to end up together, so it was impossible not to look for signs of their mutual interest. I noticed a spark because I was examining every look between them, but I don’t know if it would be apparent to someone who didn’t know she was Luke’s future bride.
As it was, the plot pressed a fast forward button on Luke and Reva’s relationship, stopping here and there with barely enough interactions to convince you Reva’s interest in Luke was more than clinical. She opened up to him about her past after Luke pressed her and they started to connect, but whatever was happening was cut short when Rackham threatened Luke with the one friend he did end up making in prison, Reginald, a.k.a. Squabbles. By the way, Shades was in on it and siding with the guards.
To protect Squabbles, Luke started training for the fights. The chemistry between him and Squabbles was natural; we had slightly more time with the pals, but their relationship was way more believable than Luke and Reva’s. Squabbles was in Luke’s corner during his fights, and though Luke got bloody, he kept winning. He sort of lost himself in the battles. Months went by. He stopped taking care of himself and spiraled; it was all about survival.
Reva caught on to his weird behavior and started asking questions that of course put her on Rackham’s radar. Luke got enough time to tell her that inmates who lost fights eventually disappeared–there were rumors that experiments on prisoners were happening at Seagate. Luke couldn’t prove anything about experiments, but he wanted to take Rackham down. Unfortunately, he shared his plan with Squabbles and Shades and others tortured the information out of him.
I hope we’ll revisit Seagate because we only know as much as Luke knew. We didn’t get an omniscient view and didn’t have access to a ton of information. We learned the experiments were happening, but not why. When Luke was severely beaten by Rackham’s minions (again, including Shades), he was put into a tank by the prison doctor to help him heal more quickly. When Rackham interfered, the process went sideways and Luke suddenly realized he could do things like bust through a wall. His exclamation of “Sweet Christmas!” said it all.
So, Luke Cage is not only a superhero; he’s a fugitive. He got out of Seagate and went on the run. They found a way to work Luke’s comic book costume into the escape, from the headband to the yellow v-neck, rather hilariously. Luke’s comment on the ridiculous ensemble was spot on; thank goodness Marvel doesn’t use those sorts of gaudy costumes in the series. Once Luke put aside his yellow top and other snazzy accessories, he met up with Reva.
Back in the present, Luke managed to free himself and Connie from the rubble and have his, “I’m Iron Man” moment with the world. He told reporters his name and by doing so, painted even more of a target on his back. Though if Cottonmouth couldn’t hit Luke with a rocket launcher, what else could he try?
Tell me: What are your thoughts on Luke and Reva’s relationship? Leave ’em in the comments.