After the emotional thrill ride of the last episode and the threat of Bushmaster on the loose, “The Main Ingredient” felt like an unbalanced detour. There was plenty of tension and emotion built up in the last episode with the disappearance of Bushmaster but this episode takes Luke on a side quest with Danny Rand. Luke and Danny’s dynamic is relaxed and playful and their adventure feels low stakes but their scenes share an episode with Mariah’s murderous quest.

Holy shit.

I said in the last review that Mariah feels wilder and freer after revealing that her husband was not Tilda’s father. Mariah in this episode is positively unhinged. She’s trying to smoke Bushmaster out and commits what can only be called a massacre at Gwen’s restaurant. The episode had incredible tonal shifts from scene to scene. Luke and Danny’s scenes feel like a buddy cop movie and Mariah’s scenes are dark and brooding. There’s nothing really to bridge the gap between Mariah’s scenes and the Luke/Danny scenes and the episode feels unbalanced.

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Danny Rand is there to help Luke Cage out and he’s only dispensing advice that we’ve heard before. How many times are we going to hear that Luke needs to balance the energy within him or not let his anger poison him? It’s certainly good advice but since Luke almost killed Cockroach, we haven’t seen any evidence that he’s consumed with anger. He’s also remedied his relationship with his father. It makes me wonder if their exchanges would fit in better in an earlier episode. This whole episode feels like it could have occurred earlier in the season. There’s no urgency to the search for Bushmaster from Luke’s perspective.

Let’s not forget – at this point in the season, Bushmaster has beheaded several people, paralyzed Luke on a bridge, and blown up a police vehicle. Everyone should be worried about where Bushmaster is. Luke should be tearing the city apart to find him. All the urgency that has been building in the series feels squandered. This episode meanders to a big battle that feels like a retread of the grow house fight from last season. Luke Cage just added the Immortal Iron Fist Danny Rand and up and recreated a sequence from the previous season. It also doesn’t help that the mission that Danny and Luke are on is about…the herbs.

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The “Power Man & Iron Fist” storyline explored in this episode feels like a set-up for a future “Heroes for Hire” series, which is fine, more than fine even, but let that be a coda for the season after other issues have been resolved. Danny Rand is supposed to give Luke the key piece of information that will help him defeat Bushmaster but it’s difficult to judge if Luke really has “balanced his energy” or WHATEVER. In a visual medium, they’ve picked the one thing we as an audience can’t determine if Luke has accomplished or not, and I don’t want to just take Danny Rand’s word for it.

Aside from the fun and games of Luke and Danny bopping around the city, there’s Mariah’s rampage. Mariah is taunting everyone who crosses her path and is increasingly cruel. This feels like the Mariah that we’ve been warned about all season. She’s finally someone the characters should be afraid of. Her crew has captured Anansi and they’re going to torture him until they find Bushmaster. Personally, I’m always taking note of how television and film use images of dead Black bodies to shock their audience or drive home a storyline. So far, Luke Cage has walked a fine line of being respectful of images of dead Black people while still letting the audience understand the savagery of the characters. This season feels like there has been more graphic violence than the last season or at least more lingering shots of blood and dead bodies. It felt jarring to see the bloody bodies in Gwen’s restaurant.

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In this episode, Mariah says that her name is Stokes again and she’s accepting her family’s violent history. Although it makes sense as a story moment, it’s a quick jump for the character. Mariah has built her entire identity and image on becoming Mariah Dillard and it just took three days for her to complete reject the identity she worked so hard to create. When the series is taking its time with so many other elements of the story, they keep rushing these important character beats. If the writers have enough time for inside jokes and meta commentary, they have time to handle these character beats more carefully.

This episode felt like a departure from the forward movement of the season. I had hoped for a detour into the inner workings of some of the characters but this detour away didn’t tell us anything new.

Stray Observations:

  • Luke and Danny eat at Genghis Connie’s Too and she tells Luke she has another room open for him. Between Genghis Connie’s blowing up and Luke moving in with Claire, where did he live? I’m not backing off my “Luke Cage a fuckboi” theory.
  • When Danny said one of the life forces was “bad-kun,” my eyes rolled so hard I saw my ancestors. (I also googled “bad-kun” to make sure it wasn’t actually part of a religion or faith I wasn’t famililar with and the only thing I could find is it means “mucus in the cardiac cavity” in Tibetan.)
  • Live from New York, It’s Luke Cage! Featuring special musical guest: Faith Evans and Jadakiss!
  • The whole Nandi is a crooked cop business feels like a splendid example of the show doing something because something needs to happen. Misty needs to have something to do while Luke is off on an adventure so make one of the other cops crooked.
  • DW and his t-shirt business were just a Marvel comic book reference machine.

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