“Slavery was always a good offer…to a master.”
I mean goddamn, this show just keeps generating one killer quote after another. It’s one worth unpacking as well. In the logline for this show, you wouldn’t see “an exploration of the private prison system as a modern form of slavery.” That said, a lot of people have been talking about how Luke Cage is an unapologetically black show, and it’s hard to detail the black experience in America without touching on that very subject. Like any superhero show, this one could have simply gotten away with showing how Luke was experimented on while being in jail and been on their merry way. But what has consistently elevated this show beyond its peers is its willingness to plumb the depths of what so many of these concepts mean in the real world. Marvel has always been about grounded storytelling, and just like with Jessica Jones, they know that they can’t tell a story about a black man from Georgia being wrongfully imprisoned in a privately funded facility before being experimented on to become bulletproof without exploring all of the dark ramifications involved. That decision echoes through a lot of the choices for this episode, from having those in power be white (Rackham and Dr. Burstein) and all the other prominent characters be people of color, to having that dynamic personified in the basement fight club.
The fight club is a strong choice, as it not only does simple work of showing Luke get more skilled while losing hope, only to have Reva return it, but it literalizes the idea of black people (especially inmates) being chattel for masters, used to do work, earn them money and power, and be disposed of. It evens plays with the perceived savagery many white people equate with black men. Sure, it may be a little blunt, but we’re talking about an episode that ends with our main character being given superpowers, a new name, and a silly costume. This series could coast by on those elements, but it wants to explore them honestly, even if it’s in the fantasy world Marvel and Coker have created.
Even with all the socio-political commentary and an origin story, the show still takes the time to fill in one more gap of our hero’s story: Reva Connors (Parisa Fitz-Henley). I suppose I should have seen that coming, but I was just so wrapped up in the story that I had no idea until Luke said her name (my notes actually say “Oh shit. Reva!”). Like any good relationship, the meeting and courting of Luke and Reva plays out as a mini-origin of its own. Their time and experiences together shaped who they’d be moving forward, not only as individuals but as a couple. Luke helped open Reva’s eyes, and she helped give him hope back (considering the hell he was going through, that’s no small task). It’s also a nice twist to have Reva be somewhat responsible for giving Luke his abilities. She saved his life with that decision and continued saving it a hundred times over thanks to the powers he gained. Fitz-Henley, reprising her role from Jessica Jones, has fantastic chemistry with Colter, as they’re both able to keep their scenes together riveting, even when we’re in the middle of a prison drama, an origin story, and a cave-in plot. Since we know she won’t be showing up in the present timeline, I hope we get some more time with her during a future episode that details their trip up to Harlem, their marriage, and how they continued to shape each other.
While I’d typically leave the comic references for the One-Shots below, the episode is rife with them thanks to the origin story, so I wanted to go over them briefly. Despite a few deviations, this is actually a fairly faithful adaptation of Luke’s story in the comics. While he was originally from Harlem and not Savannah and was a small-time criminal and not a cop/vet, he was eventually framed (we’ll find out by whom in a later episode) and ended up in Seagate, off the coast of Georgia. There he was the object of scorn for a racist white cop named Rackham and started getting into some trouble for brawling (there wasn’t a straight-up fight club, though) and ended up a test subject in the experiments of Dr. Burstein, who was working on a Super Soldier variant. During the process, Rackham messed with the equipment, which gave him his powers. He escaped and headed back to Harlem, where he soon became a Hero For Hire under the alias Luke Cage and wore a costume strikingly similar to the one above. So a few tweaks and embellishments, but mostly a pretty faithful adaptation, which is commendable given how convoluted that could have seemed. To be fair, the costume was pure fan service (like, where did the chain come from?) and it was a long, awkward walk to him getting his new name, but for the most part, it was some seamless integration into the story that was already being told.
4 Cathartic Catchphrases out of 5. A fantastic look at Luke’s MCU origin that suffers slightly from the disjointed cave-in cutaways.
Tonight’s musical guest was no one.
Another masterful touch I just noticed from the intro: all of Harlem is written on Luke’s (black) skin.
So, if the fight club is being put online, does the public know about it? I mean, you could tell they had Seagate uniforms and can see the inmates and guards pretty visibly. How has this not been shut down?
Luke could really use a Carhartt sponsorship cus he is burning through those hoodies.
What’d you all think of the All-New, All-Different origin of Luke Cage? Let me know down below and be sure to use a spoiler warning if you discuss anything past this episode. If you haven’t read my previous reviews, you can check them out here, here, and here.