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Luke Cage: Time for a Geography Lesson On "Suckas Need Bodyguards"

Alfre Woodard, Marvel's Luke Cage | Photo Credits: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

Marvel and Netflix are launching their new original series Marvel's Luke Cage today, September 30, with 13 original episodes. The superhero series developed by Cheo Hodari Coker exists in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Avengers movies; but are more closely tied to fellow Netflix Originals Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Because we're so excited about the show, we're going to recap each episode every hour as we go through and watch: you can check out our recap of the premiere, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4 and episode 5. And needless to say, spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage past this point!

Well, that's it then! As of Luke Cage episode 6, the good guys have won, the bad guys have lost, and it's all over. It was a great series, but... What's that? There are seven more episodes to go? Well I guess we should get into it, then.

So yes, of course this isn't the end of the series; but as act breaks go, this episode was a doozy. If the first few hours were all riffing off superhero tropes, the past few have delved deeper into movies: the prison movie; the community railing against an evil developer movie; and this time the urban assault movie. Specifically, 16 Blocks comes to mind, as Luke (Mike Colter) and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) end up taking a bleeding Scarfe (Frank Whaley) the treacherous short distance from Harlem, to 1 Police Plaza with deadly results.

Scarfe is in this situation in the first place because he mouthed off to the increasingly erratic Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), squeezing him for money to get weapons that can pierce Luke's unbreakable skin; and instead, getting shot by Cottonmouth. Cottonmouth is without the bullets he needs to kill Luke and get his honor back, and Scarfe is being hunted by both Cottonmouth's men, and the police.

See, Misty (Simone Missick) knows Scarfe is dirty, and wants to be the one to look him in the face and ask why... As his long time partner, she owes him that. Unfortunately she's held back by another rat working for Cottonmouth, who she ends up having to take down -- missing the opportunity to catch up with Luke and Scarfe.

A quick geography lesson for you non-New Yorkers: Scarfe pops up in, er, Pop's former barbershop, bleeding on the floor because he knows Luke will do the right thing and protect him. Luckily, Luke's reconnected with Claire, who tries to nurse Scarfe back to health. Once they get Scarfe's copious notes on Cottonmouth, though, it's off to 1 Police Plaza.

Marvel's Luke Cage is the most important TV show of 2016

This is where the geography comes in. Pop's is in Harlem, which is pretty much a straight shot to NYPD headquarters once you drive to the East Side, or the West Side. But when you get down to Lower Manhattan where 1 Police Plaza is located, the streets aren't a grid anymore. That's why Luke and co. don't have any problems for a good long while (other than not being discovered): if they hit the East Side Highway late at night, they pretty much wouldn't need to slow down until that final 5-10 minutes.

Hence why those last two blocks or so become a firefight. Luke has to slow the van down, they get discovered, then they get trapped mere feet from safety. And then Scarfe dies, too late for Misty (or anyone else) to save him.

Misty arrests Cottonmouth, his operation gets shut down, and everyone lives happily ever after. The blowback even hits Cottonmouth's cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), who's political goals get stymied by a bad interview with local press (what, Pat Kiernan wasn't available?) and an association with her criminal relative. Then Claire and Luke semi-flirt about coffee. The end!

Except not at all. Like I said, we're just finishing off the first half of the story here. The police chief tells Misty that without Scarfe's testimony, Cottonmouth will get released. Something weird is going on with Mariah, and her obsession with her villainous relative Mama Mabel. Diamondback is still out there somewhere, threatening to take over Harlem the second Cottonmouth falters.

Oh, and then there's that super-bullet that's going to take down Luke, that hasn't been used yet. Just like Luke's trip down the East Side Highway, it's been easy sailing so far. Now, things are going to get twisty, harder for the heroes, and most likely headed towards a tragic end.

Easter Eggs & References:

- Hey, it's Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), host of Trish Talk! The popular (fictional) radio show was first introduced in Jessica Jones -- Trish is Jessica's best friend -- and though it only played briefly into the previous show, Trish is also known as Patsy Walker, the comic book hero known as Hellcat.

- "First Fisk. Then Cottonmouth. This is huge," the chief tells Misty. Fisk is Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), the crime boss who terrorized Daredevil in the first season of his show, and then briefly in Season 2.



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Luke Cage: "Just to Get a Rep" Asks... Who Owns Harlem?

Mike Colter, Marvel's Luke Cage | Photo Credits: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

Marvel and Netflix are launching their new original series Marvel's Luke Cage today, September 30, with 13 original episodes. The superhero series developed by Cheo Hodari Coker exists in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Avengers movies; but are more closely tied to fellow Netflix Originals Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Because we're so excited about the show, we're going to recap each episode every hour as we go through and watch: you can check out our recap of the premiere, episode 2,episode 3, and episode 4. And needless to say, spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage past this point!

Who owns Harlem? Is it the heroes? The villains? Or maybe, as the fifth episode of Marvel's Luke Cage posits... Nobody owns the neighborhood, it's just a collection of people. That last idea -- which Luke (Mike Colter) throws out to the attendees at Pop's funeral later in the episode ("I don't believe in Harlem. I believe in the people who make Harlem what it is"), is probably refuted by the opening credits themselves. But let's get a little deeper into it.

Luke Cage's strong suit is, well, that he's strong, even in a suit. So when Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) sends his thugs out into Harlem to collect tithes, and he tells the people to ask Luke why they're being robbed... Luke doesn't waste a whole lot of time taking the fight back to Cottonmouth. Clearly both men are on edge. Pop's funeral is happening later that day, and each has their own special relationship with the departed barber. To Luke, he's a father figure. To Cottonmouth, a brother. Both feel like they let Pop down: Luke by not saving him from a hail of bullets; Cottonmouth by never quite living up to being the man Pop thought he could be.

So Luke stalks around Harlem non-stop, destroying his fancy new funeral suit, and -- frustration filling his furrowed brow -- trying to help as many people as he can at the same time.

Marvel's Luke Cage is the most important TV show of 2016

Cottonmouth, meanwhile, has a far different reaction: he's panicking, and everyone knows it. Luke's actions have depleted his criminal empire down to just Harlem's Paradise, his club; and some very, very nice suits. Three episodes ago Cottonmouth killed Tone (Warner Miller) for going nuts shooting up Pop's shop, growling, "There are supposed to be rules." Three episodes later, he's blown up a Chinese restaurant with a rocket launcher, shot one of his associates for suggesting, "Maybe if we just give this Luke Cage cat his side of the street, we take ours?" and is calling in favors from all over to buy a super-bullet called Judas that might be able to break Cage's unbreakable skin.

Before that, though, it's Pop's funeral. And if you watched Netflix's The Get Down, you'll know what's about to happen. Cottonmouth gives the Ed Koch speech, while Luke gives Zeke's coded message speech to the people. Or in other words, Cottonmouth does what he always does: focuses on himself and the money; while Luke talks to the heart of the people.

And Luke wins the war of the words! Which is good. But then Misty (Simone Missick), who has just found out her partner Scarfe (Frank Whaley) is under investigation, confronts Luke. "You just started World War III in there," Misty says. "And you may be bulletproof. But Harlem ain't."

She's the one who's right, of course: ultimately, nobody owns Harlem, it owns itself. Cottonmouth may represent Old Harlem, and Luke the raw justice of the streets; but ultimately, if these two ideologies don't work together to stop what the uber-bad Diamondback has planned (or whatever is going on with Mariah Dillard), it's the city that's going to pay.

Hopefully, the duo can decide on joint custody of the city before that happens.

Easter Eggs and References:

- Hey, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) is back! She's shown up in every Marvel/Netflix series so far, first (and third) as a nurse taking care of Daredevil, and then as she tells her Mom, she helped watch Luke after he got shot in the face in Jessica Jones. Oh, and in the second season of Daredevil, she quit her hospital job. So that's what she's doing in Harlem! Other than getting there just in time to help Luke heal from his super-bullet wound next episode, probably.

- Shades (Theo Rossi) shows Cottonmouth a gun test of the Judas bullet, and explains it uses metal from "the incident." That's the Chitauri attack from the first Avengers movie, so he's not-so-subtly saying it's alien metal.

- Scarfe has Cottonmouth as "Charlie Mack" in his phone. No comics reference there, it's just cute.

- Dapper Dan, the real life "Hip-Hop Tailor of Harlem" shows up to give Luke his suit, which is pretty cool (and also marks the second cameo after Method Man of real life awesome dudes giving Luke clothes).



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Luke Cage: Let's "Step Into the Arena" and Talk About Origin Stories

Mike Colter, Marvel's Luke Cage | Photo Credits: Netflix

Marvel and Netflix are launching their new original series Marvel's Luke Cage today, September 30, with 13 original episodes. The superhero series developed by Cheo Hodari Coker exists in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe as the Avengers movies; but are more closely tied to fellow Netflix Originals Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Because we're so excited about the show, we're going to recap each episode every hour as we go through and watch: you can check out our recap of the premiere, episode 2 and episode 3. And needless to say, spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage past this point!

Let's talk about origin stories. Because even though we met Luke Cage (Mike Colter) in a previous Marvel/Netflix series (that would be Jessica Jones), these first four episodes of his titular series have served as a tour through the origin stories of other Marvel heroes, as filtered through the uniqueness of Mr. Cage (née Carl Lucas). And with the first act done, it may be time to rev this baby into high gear.

If the first two episodes were Luke's Spider-Man "with great power comes great responsibility" moment, and episode three was a riff on Netflix's take on Daredevil, then episode four is very loosely Captain America with a touch of Iron Man. But those references (which we'll get to in a moment) are purposeful, while the origin story here is all Luke Cage.

This was also easily the best episode of the show so far. The hour flew by with a precision and focus we haven't seen yet. Without the ongoing saga of Chico (RIP Chico, you were a character, I guess) over, and Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) amping up the danger considerably by trying to blow up Luke with a rocket launcher, the deck is clear to focus in on the man who is now known as Luke Cage; and the show was better for it.

Luke and Connie (Jade Wu) trapped under the wreckage of her Chinese restaurant -- Genghis Connie's -- was a neat framing device (and of course thematic: the idea is that Luke needs to once again break out of the weight that's holding him down). But the main event -- and the bulk of the episode -- is focused around Luke's time in prison.

We've gotten hints and mentions of it before; and even after this hour we don't know everything (who did Luke trust, and what did he do that turned him from a cop into a convict?). But by putting Mike Colter in an amazing wig and beard that made him look more like the cowardly lion than a superhero, we got to figure out what's driving the man we know today.

Marvel's Luke Cage is the most important TV show of 2016

Turns out, it's a whole lot of guilt, and a little bit of silly sci-fi science: the perfect recipe for a superhero origin story.

First, you need a guy who feels like he can never win. That's Luke in jail, so sure of his own righteousness that he screams he's not guilty his first night in jail, and alienates Reva (Parisa Fitz-Henley) the one person who seems to actually believe him. Mix in a racist prison guard making sure Luke can't win, two convicts who don't mind playing dirty, and you've got Luke feeling like maybe he does deserve to be treated like a bad guy, after all.

So Luke joins a prison fight club, refuses to shower, and goes a little Unabomber. The second element of a hero origin story is there, though... He's doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, to protect his only prison friend Squabbles (Craig Mums Grant) from getting framed by the guards.

And then of course there's the crazy science. After Luke nearly gets beaten to death, Reva's co-worker Dr. Noah Burstein (Michael Kostroff) puts him in a tube full of liquid in order to heal him. The guard, Albert Rackham (Chance Kelly) finds out and busts up the machinery, which causes Cage to emerge with unbreakable skin, super strength and a perfectly shaved chest.

Don't worry, the last ingredient is there, too. Cage heads to Reva's place to clean up/take off his beard wig, and gets his superhero identity after Reva explains he'll need to change his name. He quotes Luke 4:18 from the bible, repeats how his preacher used to say, "No one can cage a man if he truly wants to be free," and we're off to the races.

Oh, and back in the present, Luke has his Iron Man moment when the press chases him to ask who he is, after he saves Connie's life. He takes off his hood, looks them in the eyes, and says, "My name is Luke Cage."

What works so well about this episode is that it hits all of those typical origin story points, while staying utterly consistent with the tone and the focus that's come before. We've talked about how Luke Cage is exploring the African-American experience (and Harlem in particular) from all it's different aspects... And in particular, it's more problematic aspects. That definitely includes a black man wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. It definitely includes a racist man in power using said power to manipulate a man of another ethnicity. And it also, for better or worse, includes all the prison movie tropes of the Blaxploitation genre, including "secret prison fight club."

Now we're done with Act One of Luke Cage. The origin is over, the world knows his name... So what's next?

Easter Eggs and References:

- Though Squabbles seems to be a totally original creation, Luke did meet both Rackham and Burstein in Seagate, in the comics. Rackham was pretty much the same (including messing with the experiment on Luke, which caused his powers), as was Burstein. Only twist with the latter, he was using a variation of the super-soldier serum that created Captain America to create Luke. Here, that seems to be more implied than actual text.

- Comanche (Thomas Q. Jones), the prisoner palling around with Shades (Theo Rossi) is also from the comics, and a frequent antagonist of Luke.

- He doesn't show up, but there's a poster behind Reva's shoulder in one scene for a talk by Warden Stuart. In the books, Stuart saved Luke from Rackham while he was in Seagate.

- After the machine explodes, Luke emerges wearing bracelets and headgear that looks sort of like a tiara. Add in his more close shaven beard and hair, and the loose yellow shirt he finds after escaping, and you have Luke's original look from the comics. I think it looks pretty great, even if Luke sees himself and says, "You look like a damn fool."

- Related: the production/shooting code name for Luke Cage was "Tiara," so people wouldn't storm the set looking for Luke Cage.

- After punching a hole in the prison wall, Luke says, "Sweet Christmas," his catchphrase from the books. Granted, he's already said that once before, on Jessica Jones after punching... Something else... Really hard. Cough.

- Speaking of Jessica Jones, Reva sure does love her flash drives, doesn't she? She's gripping one with Luke's info pretty tight once he escapes; and she mentions to him, "You haven't always been a convict, I haven't always been a psychologist." In the previous series, Reva was killed for having a flash drive containing incriminating footage of experiments on the villainous Kilgrave (David Tennant).



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