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Luke Cage Finale Recap: It All Ends With "You Know My Steez"

What makes a hero?

Alexander Zalben

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 is 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, episode 5, episode 6, episode 7, episode 8, episode 9, episode 10,episode 11 and episode 12. And needless to say, spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage past this point!

Who owns Harlem? It's a question we asked pretty early in the going for Marvel's Luke Cage, and it's one that still doesn't have an easy answer by the end of the finale. Unlike the last episodes of fellow Netflix series Daredevil (both seasons) and Jessica Jones, there's a lot of plot left open, dangling threads and teases for future seasons by the time the credits roll.

But the bigger thematic questions? They're locked up tight, starting with whether Luke Cage (Mike Colter) will embrace his role as a bulletproof black superhero, or continue to reject his calling. In case you were in doubt at all, Luke answers pretty plainly in a speech to the New York Police Department about halfway through the episode.

"Like it or not, I finally accepted that someone had to be me," Luke says explaining why he's the hero Harlem needs right now. But he adds that it isn't his responsibility alone, saying, "You have to fight for what's right every day, bulletproof skin, or not."

But let's take a step back before that confession, because the episode has a pretty clear three act structure. The first act is Luke versus his half-brother/arch-enemy Diamondback, a.k.a. Willis Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey). Wearing a super-suit so he can go toe-to-toe with Luke, his one-time friend beats the s--- out of him in the middle of the Harlem streets, as a crowd gathers to watch. Luke tries everything: subduing him; talking to him; letting Willis beat on him for old time sake. But ultimately, Luke just needs every supporting character we've seen on the show to slowly pick up chanting, "Luke! Luke! Luke!' ...And with one punch, Luke knocks Diamondback out.

End act one, start act two where Luke voluntarily turns himself into the police. Giving the above speech in the station, he clears his name and himself of all wrong-doing. Misty (Simone Missick), emboldened by Luke's statement, steps up and pins Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) for the death of her cousin Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali). And Luke even, super cornily, finally asks Claire (Rosario Dawson) over to his place for some hot sex (I mean, they're talking about coffee, but come on).

Act three, the villains win. Shades (Theo Rossi) pops up to kill Candace (Deborah Ayorinde), the one witness to Cottonmouth's murder, freeing Mariah in the process. Two federal agents turn up to take Luke back to Seagate Prison for escaping, years ago. And Shades and Mariah become the new king and queen of Harlem, taking over the club Harlem's Paradise and presumably, its criminal empire as well. Finally, Mariah has embraced her destiny as the new Mama Mabel, with her very own "Pistol" Pete Stokes by her side (though hopefully without all the molestation).

There are plenty more loose ends, including the surprising return of Dr. Burstein (Michael Kostroff), the man who gave Luke his powers and who seems to be ready to experiment on Diamondback. There's the question of what will happen to Pop's barbershop, now that it's destroyed (again). And there's the question of whether Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones) will be able to use the folder of evidence he finds, the folder that's supposed to clear Luke Cage's name.

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

But as I said, thematically, Luke has accepted his destiny as a hero. "Sometimes backwards, to move forward," Luke says, bastardizing Pop's old axiom, as he's carted away by the Feds. "Always." He's going back to the hole, but he's not, "planning on resting." He knows he'll get out again, and head right back to being the Harlem hero he was meant to be.

There's also the theme of escaping the past... And for all our heroes, that's what they do. Luke knows he has to go back to Seagate to finish off that old part of his life, and move into the next phase. Misty is ready to take the fight to Mariah and Shades -- if not as a police officer, then as a vigilante. And Claire smooches Luke like there are no more smooches left in the world: she's also taking charge of her destiny.

Meanwhile, the villains are moving backwards, whether it's Mariah and Shades becoming the new Mama and Pistol, or Diamondback being haunted by the ghost of Luke's past. "You have to let go of the past, or I'm really gonna have to hurt you," Luke tells Diamondback before punching him across Harlem early in the episode. That, if anything, was the true theme of the series. It's not about who owns Harlem, what Harlem was, or can be... Because those are different things to different people. It's about what it represents to you, and how you can make it the best it can be, not just for yourself but for the people around you.

That's the lesson of the show, pretty plainly stated in the text. And whether you're a bulletproof black man, or a regular old nobody... Just do right by people. Help them. Support them. If someone is in trouble, take a chance to get them out of it. Because those who get stuck in the past are doomed to repeat it.

Here's hoping Luke Cage remembers that in Season 2.

Easter Eggs and References:

- Diamondback's suit is Hammertech, which is the same company that provided the Judas bullet, and was previously run by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) in Iron Man 2.

- When asked if Luke needs an attorney, Claire notes, "I know a really good one." She's talking about Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a.k.a. Daredevil.

- Claire takes a tear sheet at the end for a defense training and martial arts class run by Colleen Wing. In the comics, Misty and Colleen are part of a Harlem based fighting duo named Daughters of the Dragon. On screen, she'll be played by Jessica Henwick, and will appear in the upcoming Iron Fist series from Marvel and Netflix.

- Speaking of which, in case you were wondering what was up with Misty's 'do at the end of the episode: that's her classic look from the comics (along with her preference for tight red clothing)... Though without the accompanying bionic arm.