Warning: This is a recap, and as such, contains spoilers for the Luke Cage episode, “Code of the Streets.” Get out of dodge if you haven’t watched the episode yet.
The end of the premiere saw Luke stretch his super strength and invulnerability, and when Pop asked him about what happened (because word gets around about that sort of thing), Luke wasn’t regretful. It’s his first step towards using what he has to change the narrative, and he’s pushed further into a new direction in “Code of the Streets.” Pop’s shop is place where honest, real talk flows freely, and as the second episode opened, he explained he’s urging Luke on because Harlem smells like trouble–that trouble being Cottonmouth. But as Pop and Luke discussed Cornell and his cousin Mariah, guess who strolled in?
Cornell came in under the guise of wanting a close shave, but of course, he and his entourage member Shade wanted to ask about Chico. He’s the last missing puzzle piece of the hijacking, and Cornell likely wants to bring Chico to a similar end as his cohort. Pop wasn’t born yesterday though, and he noticed Cornell’s bloody knuckles and covered for Chico. It was a game. Cornell and Shades suspected Pop wasn’t being honest, and Luke didn’t help matters by offering to take out the dirty towels—a.k.a. Cornell and co.—and then making Cornell pay before he walked out.
Since Pop realizes Chico’s life is on the line, he calls in a favor, and it’s here we learn Reva grew up in the neighborhood and knew Pop. Pop didn’t ask any questions when she showed up with Luke, and now he wants Luke to bring Chico home. The reminder was all it took for Luke to jump into action. He was reluctant, but this is a man who has a code and after hitting the streets and flashing a picture of Chico on his phone, Luke found the frightened boy.
His words weren’t enough to coax Chico into coming to Pop’s, and the news about broke Pop’s heart. Were you ready for the paths to converge more? Because Pop opened up about how he used to work alongside Cornell on the streets. Pop isn’t some affectionate nickname given to him by the kids he helps. No, he earned it because “pop” was the sound his fist made when it hit other people’s faces. A former gangster turned neighborhood savior isn’t a groundbreaking story, but damn, things don’t have to be done first if they reach your heart. And Pop’s story did, and his motivation for pushing Luke to be all he can be became crystal clear.
Unfortunately, Cornell didn’t turn his life around like Pop did. He kept following the same road, and he doesn’t see a thing wrong with it. Still, he has a code as well, so when Pop asked to parlay for Chico, Cornell was a willing player. Unfortunately, just as Luke brought the offer to the table, the ever-present Turk Barrett told Cottonmouth’s associate where Chico was hiding. Since Cottonmouth clearly is a man of action, his flunky Tone decided to prove his worth and earn Cornell’s respect by handling the matter himself. That’s when things went, as they say, to hell in a hand basket.
It’s only been two episodes, but we’ve spent enough time in the barber shop to know its status. The business was akin to a church as far as being holy, untouchable ground, but Tone utterly desecrated it. His actions shocked even Shades, who to this point had barely twitched an eyebrow. Tone went to the barber shop and instead of calling Chico outside, he opened up an automatic. He was reckless. And because we know what the shop was about, the sound of every bullet stung. Luke was able to shield a kid getting a haircut but not Pop or Chico. As soon as Tone formulated his plan, Pop’s destiny was set. He’s the Uncle Ben in this story. And even more tragically, it’s likely Pop took a bullet because it ricocheted off Luke’s skin.
The aftermath of the shooting was quiet and deep. The reactions were compelling rather than theatrical. Tone’s actions left a stain on the show that affected everyone we’ve met so far. Misty looked like she’d been punched in the gut, and this is a woman who sees death and all manner of hell on a daily basis. And Luke… Luke may be the strongest, but you could see the tragedy pushing down on him. He looked this close into falling the way of despair and inaction–the kind of inaction that comes when we feel like everything we do is futile. Instead, Luke picked himself up and started a new journey, the one Pop wanted him to take. The rage practically jumped off him when he saw Mariah with the bag of money taken from Chico.
Cornell was struck by the loss, too. He was none too pleased Tone went off on his own to handle Chico, but when he learned Tone killed Pop, a switch flipped. Pop was his friend (hence why it was important to explain their history earlier in the episode). He wasted no time in disposing of Tone. Losing Pop is what got him, but you could see he was also ticked about the disruption of the rules.
- For an inanimate object, the swear jar at Pop’s carried a lot of emotion. It’s a symbol of how Pop’s shop was a safe haven. He kept one little place in Harlem pure and good, so no wonder Luke held onto that like a lifeline. You could practically hear Pop talking through the jar and encouraging Luke to use his talents for the force of good.
- The little touches, like tail lights throwing a red glow when Cottonmouth appeared, make such an impression.
- I wasn’t sold on Detective Scarfe immediately, but he won me over bit by bit throughout the episode. He didn’t seem to be a match for Misty–she’s such a powerhouse she deserves a partner that’s her equal–but their easy camaraderie was too strong to be ignored.
- Mariah doesn’t want to get her hands dirty, yet she’s sure willing to play witness to everything Cornell does, isn’t she? It’s an intriguing contradiction. Though maybe it isn’t such a contradiction.
Do you see what happened with Pop as being formulaic? What are you thinking about Cottonmouth at this point? Sound off in the comments or come talk to me on Twitter.