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Luke Cage Brings the Fight to the Streets In "Who's Gonna Take the Weight"

...And some other, familiar venues, too

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 and episode 2. And needless to say, spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage past this point!

Last episode, Luke Cage did a light riff on Spider-Man's origin story, killing off the titular hero's father figure and teaching him a variation on the classic, "with great power comes great responsibility." And though Luke (Mike Colter) does repeat that mantra towards the top of the episode ("Forward. Always."), he's aping another hero who's much closer to home this hour: Netflix's Daredevil.

Though Luke and Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) have yet to cross paths on screen (save that for the Avengers-style crossover Defenders), the plot of this episode is like the first season of Daredevil, condensed into less than an hour. First, there's the plot: Luke follows up on his decision in hour two to take the fight to the villainous Harlem mob boss Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) by taking down his safehouses, one by one.

...And that's exactly what Luke does, using his bulletproof bod to make short work of Cottonmouth's men, robbing him of 7 million dollars; and even taking down the Crispus Attucks Complex, which Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) sees as a hope for Harlem's future, and Cottonmouth sees as a fortress.

Actually, it's neither: with Luke on a heroic rampage, Cottonmouth is out of money, and Dillard is about to exposed as less community organizer, and more organized crimelord. And just like Daredevil villain Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), Cottonmouth goes off the rails (again), using a rocket launcher to blow up Genghis Connie's (and presumably Luke, RIP Luke, gonna be weird to have a TV series without him).

There's one other similarity with Daredevil, and that's the show's signature centerpiece, the hallway fight. Season 1's standout found DD fighting a series of goons in one shot, in a hallway; while Season 2 upped the ante weaving in and out of elevators, staircases, and yes, hallways. The Luke Cage hallway fight is definitely an abbreviated version of the Daredevil one, but it's an homage nonetheless.

That's really where the similarities stop. Cage isn't Murdock, and Harlem isn't Hell's Kitchen. The cops may be beleaguered down in Midtown, but Uptown they're plain bad, as we discover when it turns out Misty Knight's (Simone Missick) partner Scarfe (Frank Whaley) isn't all jokes and weirdly eating tofu. He's also a stone-cold killer working for Cottonmouth, who kills Chico (Brian Marc), the kid whose busted attempt at ripping off the crime lord kicked off the events of the series; and even uses Misty's intuition-based-info to rat out Luke (hence the rocket launcher).

Also dissimilar? The slow, simmering, almost casual way the show keeps dropping serious racial issues in the middle of a superhero show, while never stopping for a lecture. Last episode it was the shockingly straight-forward exploration of what -- and how -- we use the N-word. This episode, in case you didn't pick up on Cage's "costume," Scarfe telling Misty, "...Some big black dude in a hoodie takes on direct bullet shots," while she tries to figure out who has been taking on Cottonmouth should have hammered it home.

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

Also, the credits, I guess: we haven't talked about this aspect of the show yet, but in the opening credits, Luke Cage IS Harlem. He's the streets, the buildings, his body is the spirit of the place. While Dillard thinks we need to "save Harlem legally," and Cottonmouth thinks that saving Harlem is all about accruing money, Luke is a black man walking around in a hoodie holding no weapons getting shot at. Who then, really, represents what Harlem truly is about? Cottonmouth (its past)? Dillard (a vision of the future based on a base of corruption)? Or Luke, the stark physical representation of its present?

To have all this bubbling below the surface while also embracing the superhero and twisty crime drama aspects of Daredevil (or, to a very small extent Jessica Jones) is what's elevating this series beyond just being a one-note rip-off. That and the music, of course, which is straight fire.

Too bad they killed Luke this episode, though. Oh well.

Easter Eggs and References:

- "I saw the incident up close," Scarfe tells Misty while they're arguing about the merits of vigilantism. "Unless this side arm I have suddenly turns into a magic hammer, this whole job is irrelevant." The incident is the Battle of New York from the first Avengers movie, and the magic hammer is, of course, a reference to Captain America's shield. Just kidding, it's Thor's hammer.

- Cottonmouth shouts, "Shut up, Black Mariah!" at Mariah Dillard when they're fighting in his office. Though the term has a lot of baggage (it was a slang term for police vans in Harlem back in the 1800's), it's also Mariah's supervillain name in the Marvel comics. Woodard's character is very different from the classic Luke Cage villain, at least for now; but it is a sneaky mention of who she might become.

- "I was always a Jumbos guy myself, used to love Willie Burger back in the day," Scarfe tells Chico moments before strangling him to death with his tie. Jumbos is a classic Harlem burger joint, which opened in the same 145th street location as the previous classic Harlem burger joint, Willie Burger.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Willie Burger as Willy Burger, a chain from Texas that adopted the name after Willie Burger closed.