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Luke Cage: "Take It Personal" Sets the Table for What's to Come

Plus, a surprising twist from Luke's past

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 and episode 9. And needless to say, spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage past this point!

After nine episodes of intense focus, I guess Luke Cage had to have a table setting hour at some point. Not to say that "Take It Personal" was bad by any means. But where the previous nine hours have found a nice balance between an episodic structure and the ongoing serial story, here we're picking up from episode 9, and leading into the final three.

Because of that, the plot is relatively simple, though dominated the run of the episode:

Luke (Mike Colter) recovers from his bullet wound, thanks to Claire's (Rosario Dawson) quick thinking. Not trusting Dr. Burstein (Michael Kostroff) with Reva's (Parisa Fitz-Henley) research, they hack in, only to discover that Reva basically threw Luke under the bus back in the day. They trash Burstein's lab (though he manages to keep a backup of the research), make a quick stop at Seagate, and then head back to Harlem in time to make it for a rally Mariah (Alfre Woodard) is holding at Harlem's Paradise.

Mariah is holding that rally because Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) dressed as Luke Cage and used a super-powered glove that is definitely not a Nintendo Power Glove to punch a cop to death. The cops went crazy, started rounding up young African-American kids, and nearly beat one to death. So Mariah jumps on the opportunity to not only demonize Luke, but also to get the public behind the idea that the cops should arm up (read: buy Diamondback's super-bullets) in order to take down vigilantes.

Oh, and Misty (Simone Missick) discovers that Diamondback is Willis Stryker, Luke's childhood friend; while at the same time, Luke conveniently remembers that Willis is actually his half-brother from an affair his father had with his secretary.

This all convenes on Harlem's Paradise. Misty gets shot by Diamondback, Luke saves her, they jump behind a bar, and we're left with our heroes trapped under a hail of gunfire.

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

Because so much time is spent on pushing the plot forward, there's not quite as much attention paid to the fascinating -- and complex -- secondary plot happening, involving the cops and young black teens. There's the obvious parallel to the Black Lives Matter movement, with the police in the show profiling only young African-American men. But it gets muddied by the fact that Mariah and Diamondback are creating the conflict between the cops and the people of Harlem. Yes, a cop beats a kid -- but he only does that because the villains are pulling the strings.

That's a pretty uncomfortable subtext, isn't it? That the TV show's Black Lives Matter movement is a manipulation of people in power, for nefarious purposes? That's certainly what some real-world people (read: racists) think about the real BLM protests; so to see a variation of that on Luke Cage is uncomfortable, at best.

It's confusing, too: from the first episode of the show, Luke Cage has clearly been shining a new light on race issues through the lens of a very entertaining superhero TV show. But the perspective has always been clearly on the side of the people, not the government, or conspirators. Here, that gets muddied. And while it's nice that they showed the perspective of a police force under siege, and how hotheads can make some very bad decisions, the lack of lead-up to the cops freaking out (they've been far less represented on the show than the people of Harlem, or the criminal element) means the argument comes out lopsided.

"In Harlem. Black. Wearing a hoodie. It's not rocket science," says one cop, referring to Diamondback dressed as Luke Cage, and the point certainly gets underscored. But the show has been much more nuanced in prior episodes.

It also may not stop. Diamondback's only goal is chaos, to tear everything Luke has built to the ground. "Past is present for him. Whatever wounded him has not cooled off at all," Claire tells Luke after they discover his secret origin (or at least part of it). So we're probably headed for an epic battle between the criminal element, the people of Harlem, and the cops -- with Luke stuck in the middle -- before the end of the series.

Here's hoping the show can focus up before then.

Easter Eggs and References:

- During the rally, Mariah says, "That woman over in Hell's Kitchen snapped a man's neck because he was ... mind-controlling her." She's talking about Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) killing Kilgrave (David Tennant) in the finale of Jones' show. FWIW, he wasn't actually mind-controlling her at that point, but Jessica was cleared anyway because Kilgrave was a horrible monster of a human.

- Not so much an Easter Egg as a potential of what's to come, but Misty gets shot in the arm. In the comics, she lost her arm in a bomb, and got a bionic, super-strong one from Tony Stark. Doubtful that Robert Downey, Jr. will show up here, but we may get a riff on it anyway.