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Luke Cage: "Blowin' Up the Spot" Brings on the Bad Guys

Can Luke recover from this?

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, and episode 7. And needless to say, spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage past this point!

What hurts the most? Is it a bullet to the gut? Being thrown off a balcony? Or is it the emotional pain of being unable to escape your past? If the eighth episode of Luke Cage is any indication, it's definitely the latter, as everyone from Luke (Mike Colter) to Mariah (Alfre Woodard) is haunted by specters from deep in their personal histories.

For Luke, though, his most immediate problem is the Judas bullet buried in his gut. Turns out, the super-powered artillery didn't just pierce his "unbreakable" skin, it also burrowed into his equally unbreakable flesh, and exploded into shrapnel. But even with that, Luke is still a superhero. So when he and ex-nurse extraordinaire Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) get attacked by a mysterious "new" challenger, he steps up to the plate.

"This is my cross to bear," Luke tells Claire late in the episode. "No one else can do this."

That's the superhero line, of course, but what Luke truly is doing here is not learning from history. Whenever he's tried to go it alone, he's failed: protecting Pop (Frankie Faison) in episode 2; trying to save Squabbles in episode 4; and, as it turns out, not saving his own brother from the wrath of their father.

That's the biggest shocker of the episode, and fills the power vacuum left by the death of Cottonmouth (Masershala Ali), with the reveal of our ultimate bad guy, Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey). The show has been dropping the mob boss' name pretty much since episode 1, and we finally meet the baddie. Turns out, he's not just a friend of Luke's, or an adversary. He's literally his brother. Probably.

Look, Cottonmouth was a superb foil for Luke, pitting his "classic" Harlem against Luke's modern take on the neighborhood. But tying the main villain to Luke's past -- and so tightly? That's classic Marvel, and the setup for yet another tragic story. It turns out this show isn't so much about the battle for Harlem's soul (though it still is, and we'll get to that in a second); it's about the battle for Luke's soul. Appropriate, then, that Diamondback and Luke's father was a fire and brimstone preacher.

Also worth mentioning: their nearly episode-long fight, which ranges from a blown-up ambulance, to an assault on a women's clinic, to a fight in an abandoned theater, to finally taking it to the streets -- where Luke gets shot with another Judas bullet, and falls nearly dead into a garbage truck -- is appropriately epic. Diamondback may only be Luke's physical equal because the latter is slowly dying due to a bullet wound; but it's the first time (other than episode 4 when Luke was pre-powers) that we've seen him challenged.

Watching Colter sweat, groan, and then pull himself together to keep going reminds us what superheroes are all about. It'll be interesting to see how the show handles the fights between the two -- and there's sure to be more -- once Luke is back to full health.

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

The other half of the episode is also all legacy: Mariah living up to that of Mama Mabel. With Cottonmouth dead by her own hand, and coached by Shades (Theo Rossi) -- who, unshackled from his careful advisor role to Cottonmouth, is finally justifying his existence on the show in the best way -- Mariah is stepping up. She frames Luke for Cottonmouth's murder, using every tool at her disposal: the police (she's friends with the chief); the press, which she masterfully manipulates outside of the police station; and money, as she pays off the hostess from Episode 1 who was afraid of Cottonmouth with enough money to get her to help frame Luke.

The only one who isn't having it is Misty (Simone Missick), who is unable to escape her own past allegiances, or at least her present ones in the police department. Misty is a "play by the rules" kind of girl, but when she tracks down Luke, deep down she realizes that, despite the "evidence," he's not guilty of Cottonmouth's murder. The physical evidence is telling her one thing, but her gut knows Mariah is responsible.

There's a beautiful, complex moment when Diamondback puts a gun to Misty's head, and she thinks she's going to die. Is she realizing in that moment that she spent most of her days going by the book, when the book is often wrong (shades of Luke/Diamondback's father's sermons)? Is she regretting spending her final moments chasing down an innocent man? Or is there something deeper coming from her past that having a gun to her head brings back in the worst way (particularly since everyone on this show seems to have very, very damaged pasts)?

Whatever it is, she snaps at Claire later on, grabbing her and forcing her against a wall, trying to get Claire to tell her Luke's location. Claire isn't having any of it, but Misty is now headed down a very different path. We can effectively split her history between pre-gun to the head, and post-gun to the head. Where she goes next, we'll have to stay tuned to see.

But back to Mariah, who gives the hostess nearly word for word the same speech Mama Mabel gave in the last episode: "You're not a whore. You're a businesswoman. That in your lap is enough to change your life, and your whole family. That's power."

This is followed by Mariah telling Shades that if the hostess blabs, she'll kill her, kill her whole family, and only regret bringing down the property value of the historic apartment building she lives in. But it's also followed by Mariah looking at a picture of Mabel and nearly cracking. "I'm not like you," Mariah tells the picture, lips quivering. She's lying to herself, unfortunately. The only thing that will save Mariah is if she truly becomes the monster Mabel was, and Shades wants her to be. Any weakness, and she's on the same deadly path as Cottonmouth.

Turns out, the strongest punches (or bullets) in the gut are the ones from our past. Whether we accept them or not determines how we face our future.

Easter Eggs and References:

- Diamondback, a.k.a. Willis Stryker, only appeared in two issues of Luke Cage: Hero for Hire back in 1972, but his appearance here is surprisingly close to how he showed up in those two issues. In the books, Luke's childhood friend reemerged, still viciously jealous that Reva Connors loved Luke more than him. He kidnapped Claire Temple, threatened Luke, and it was revealed that Diamondback framed Luke and had him sent to prison. The only big difference here is that, in the books, Diamondback used exploding switchblades, which is way more ridiculous than alien-powered, exploding bullets. Right? Right.

Also potentially of note: In the comics, Claire tracked down the doctor who gave Luke his powers to help him recover from Diamondback's attack. When we last saw the good doc, he was lying unconscious under some rubble ... but could he be the key to healing Luke after the dual Judas bullet shots?