Marvel’s Luke Cage
NetFlix Original Series
Season 1, Episode 3: Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?
Air Date: 30 September 2016
Starring: Mike Colter, Frankie Faison, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Frank Whaley, and Alfre Woodard
WARNING: SPOILERS – review written for those following the show who have watched episode three through its completion!
The road to avenging Pops’ death is officially underway in this episode. Luke, after a brief talk with Fish, played by actor Ron Cephas Jones, who puts in almost as poetic a performance as Frankie Faison, determines to hit Cottonmouth hard. In the wallet. Obtaining intel from Chico on Cottonmouth’s money safehouses and the specifics on the Crispus Attucks facility, Cage takes it hard to the man. Luke drives the mobster to enact his Fort Knox protocol and move all of his available funds to the Attucks center, where Power Man busts the piggy bank wide open. However, the cost is in firmly arousing the suspicions of one Detective Mercedes “Misty” Knight. We get more of Misty’s history, and are briefly incentivized to take a shine to her partner, Detective Rafael Scarfe. Until his own dark secret is revealed.
This episode is better than the premier, but also takes a couple of steps backwards. First and foremost, Alfre Woodard’s dialogue is again relegated to an almost teenager-like, and inauthentic script that makes her seem naive and not of Harlem. There is a scene outside the Attucks building between Woodard and Cottonmouth actor, Mahershala Ali, where cringe-worthy lines like “I’m always ready, baby” and her delivery of the lines “What are they doing?”, and “They’re not projects, it’s going to be a community as soon as I get the rest of the funding and we start our construction” all come off sounding as if these two have never had a conversation before. “It’s real. This affordable housing initiative is going to change things, man” and “Uh, no I’m not, I’m the face on the money” are delivered like a petulant teen. The up and down quality of Woodard’s line scripting and her equally inconsistent comfort with delivering those lines is truly shaping up to be one of the show’s readily apparent weaknesses.
On the other hand, Frank Whaley’s Scarfe kind of came into his own this episode. In his discussion with Knight at the precinct as photos and evidence of the Cottonmouth money hits have started to come in, Whaley comes off sounding like the kind of cop you want in this world; one who is willing to accept the help of the capes. It works especially well as a foil to Knight, who embarks on the cliche-like “vigilantes are not authorized to take the law into their own hands” shtick. As he leaves the station, I’m finally up on Scarfe, as I have felt that Whaley’s acting talents have not been put to particularly special use so far in the series. I was thinking “this guy is either going to get killed or turn out to be on Cottonmouth’s payroll.” Of course, we learn minutes later that it is the latter. And while not engendering me to the character, it’s still a good twist that adds a useful element to the story.
A negative to the show now, however, is that one of the big detractions is in the fight choreography. We appear to be entering into a segment of the series where we can and should expect to see Power Man in full super-hero mode more frequently. Now, standby for heavy rolls, because I’m going to comic-nerd this out a bit. Power Man is supposed to be capable of lifting 25 tons and punching through 4 inch thick steel plate. His skin is supposed to be as hard as steel, and his bones and muscle-tissue are supposed to be super-dense, capable of withstanding handgun fire from 4 feet. But in the Crispus Attucks assault scene, there are times he struggles to lift a guy, while other times he easily tosses people around. Or bends a car door around a guy. He gets shot in the back with a 9mm and it appears to hurt him, while in a later sequence, he easily withstands fire from shotguns and an assault rifle.
Some of this might just be nerves and some learning curve in executing and shooting fight scenes. But I worry that the show’s production staff, coming from the school of more realism in fights from their Daredevil pedigree, may not have fully committed to the concept of rendering on-screen what a being of Power Man’s might would really be like in an effort to give him some vulnerability.
Overall, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?” is a weaker episode than “Code of the Streets”. We’ll see how episode four trends when I review “Step in the Arena”. More to follow.