Marvel’s Luke Cage
NetFlix Original Series
Season 1, Episode 2: Code of the Streets
Air Date: 30 September 2016
Starring: Mike Colter, Frankie Faison, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Frank Whaley, and Alfre Woodard
Well, there you have it. I wondered whether or not this series would take an uptick from the premiere episode and climb from its position in my personal score sheet from moderately above average to something special. NetFlix and Marvel can officially cross that off their bucket list. Warning ahead: the series has officially dropped on NetFlix as of yesterday, so as of now spoilers are free game. The remaining reviews of the show are written to open a discussion with those who have watched the series and specifically through episode 2. If you haven’t yet, just take my word that you need to, and then come back and read the review afterwards.
Just a couple notes of the things I really liked in this second outing for Mike Colter. Faith Evans showing up…an underappreciated artist that is probably more talented than her production teams have allowed her to present. The musical undertone of the show as being part of hip-hop culture is well-timed in view of the rise of shows such as Empire and the general musical renaissance that has been occurring on television networks since 2010. Frankie Faison’s performance, considered in aggregate across these two episodes, is arguably the best performance of his career. Here’s to hoping that he’ll get even meatier dramatic opportunities in the future. Alfre Woodard now feels like the Emmy and SAG award winning actress that I was expecting to see. Part of that is the movement of the script, advancing her character dynamic from an awkward politically correct councilwoman in Harlem thrust into gangster primetime TV, to one expressing concern and desire for her cousin, Cottonmouth, to exceed his goals and become more than a mobster (while concurrently taking his money). Although her apparent super-power to count money simply by staring at a stack of bills and declaring whether it is sufficient for her needs or that she’s been shorted seems a bit of dialing it in from a script-writing perspective.
The problem with an episode like “Code of the Streets” is where do you go from there for your sentimental hook? Frankie Faison was pretty much the only operatic character in the show, and with him gone there seems to be little left to hinge any style of Greek or Hemingway-esque tragedy on. Wherever this show goes, it needs to be grounded in an emotional hook or else it just becomes Mike Colter smashing things. I do look forward to the vengeance arc, and seeing Shades get his come-uppance. But even that is tempered because they already killed the actual shooter. Cottonmouth’s crew could come after Chico and if he gets offed, maybe if it is done while he is admitting his mistake, the notion that he was just following Shakeem and never really wanted to cross Cottonmouth, begging for mercy and forgiveness and then they kill him anyway…such a scene could yield suficient sympathy to cause another ground-swell of feverish compassion for Cage to smatter the bad guys to smithereens. But other than that, I am having a tough time seeing where the poetry of this show goes. Short of a tie-in and guest appearance of another, more established hero who validates Luke’s rise to the level of hero.
So, yeah, this episode is up; an improvement from the initial outing. But it leaves me with perhaps more questions than I had exiting from “Moment of Truth”. I do look forward to seeing Misty Knight get her bionic arm and hope that it happens on this show. It would be a perfect event to have S.H.I.E.L.D. show up because of. That all being said, I am fiending for the next episode after episode 2, whereas I was in “I’ll get back to it whenever” mode after episode one. It, in fact, took a massive force of will to prevent me from plowing straight into episode three without taking a break to pen this review. So let’s get back to it, shall we?