Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Luke Cage clears the table for greater adversaries

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“Suckas Need Bodyguards” is not quite a table-setting episode—it might be something closer to a “table-clearing” episode. The beginning of the season was focused on Luke’s mission to do right by Pop and take down Cottonmouth the right way. With Cottonmouth in cuffs at the end of this episode and Scarfe dead in Misty’s arms, the question is what’s left after this episode?

How Luke Cage clears the episode was certainly entertaining. A car chase, an underground shootout, Luke evading the police and breaking into Scarfe’s apartment: This episode felt closer to an action movie than the crime drama that’s been playing out this season. Claire and Misty are wonderful action heroes and the action in this episode plays well to Colter’s strengths: His intimidating presence and quiet confidence. Luke handily disposes of the bad guys in the basements he’s dragging Scarfe through and he stops a charging luxury SUV like it’s a pillow in a pillow fight. Luke (and Colter’s) ease at saving lives makes those around him ask if he’s ready to be a hero on a larger scale.

One of the people to ask Luke this question and really get under his skin is Claire. Bobby Fish is already pressuring him to step up and be a hero but Bobby Fish’s version mostly involves going after fame and money. He goes so far as to eschew the label of hero in favor of a paycheck: “That’s a great slogan. I ain’t no hero. Pay me.” Claire is haunted by the lives she saves and wonders where they are after she’s changed the course of their lives. She’s effusive when she sees Luke but he’s a little more restrained. Luke doesn’t see his powers as of much use to the greater public but a burden he reluctantly bears.

He thinks he’s a freak and wishes he was normal. He’s uncomfortable with the adoration and attention that comes with his powers. I couldn’t help but wonder if Luke is more uncomfortable accepting the adoration and attention of women. Luke tends to be a little pricklier toward women. His interactions with Misty crackle with hostility just under the surface and I’m not sure exactly why, to be honest. Although Mariah is a villain, his first insult to her this episode is to call her a spinster. Then he puts his one move on Claire. The only way he seems to be able to interact with women is antagonism or to put the moves on them. The women of Luke Cage deserve better and Luke Cage needs to get his fuckboy tendencies under control, especially in an episode where Mariah sets her sights on Luke.

This episode, we also get more insight into Mariah and her world. She’s a seasoned politician with her talking points down pat. She’s able to control herself better than her cousin and doesn’t want to know the details of his operation but she’s still willing to reap the benefits. Her speech to Cottonmouth where she suggest various methods to kill Luke is ruthless and efficient. Violence for Mariah is a tool to be wielded with precision. Cottonmouth on the other hand is being driven further and further into complete and utter desperation. He shoots a cop. He tells his cousin he shot Scarfe because he tried to shake him down for more money. It’s really because Scarfe says that Cottonmouth got punked. As much as Cottonmouth insists that his money is the most important thing to him, he commits violence when his reputation is threatened. He uses violence when he feels out of control. Violence is not something he controls but something that controls him. It’s a terrible coping mechanism. Luke uses violence for the first time not in self-defense when he begins to choke out Scarfe after Claire removes a bullet from Scarfe’s leg. Claire talks Luke down and Luke tells her he’s not a killer. Don’t push him.

The focus on Mariah continues to drive home the question of what and who is really good for Harlem. The episode opens with “Trish Talk,” Trish Walker’s radio show and she’s asking callers to weigh in on the recent events in Harlem. The conversation naturally becomes about Luke Cage and the corrupt forces in Harlem. The callers suggest that calling Luke Cage would be more useful to clean up the neighborhood. The people who have had interactions with Luke are the ones who sing his praises. Maybe because Luke Cage isn’t willing to be a hero for the entire neighborhood and his focus is still on avenging Pop and taking down Cottonmouth. He’s not accessible or available to the entire community even though his actions that benefit Harlem as a whole. Mariah on the other hand is enacting sweeping change that outwardly will benefit Harlem as a community but her motivations are extremely personal. Her selfish actions, to gain money, fame, political power, will do some good, sure, but does that matter if Mariah is corrupt?


Cottonmouth is lead out of Harlem’s Paradise in cuffs, Mariah is called out on television, and the police department begins to search for the rest of Cottonmouth’s allies. What’s left for this season? The actions set in motion in the first episode seem to be tied up. Luke’s questions are mostly answered: What happened to Chico and Tone? What’s the best way take down Cottonmouth? Fortunately, any vacuum in a criminal hierarchy leads to bigger and badder Big Bad’s step up to fill the void and that makes for compelling drama. There’s few hints to where those next pieces of drama could be coming from after this mid-season reset point and that’s a little unnerving. Misty finds herself under scrutiny by her colleagues for her loyalty to Scarfe. So we’re in store for more IAB intrigue from the police department. For Luke, there are a few questions still left unanswered: Who is he and what is he going to do with his abilities?

Stray observations

  • I loved the references to Geoffrey Canada, a real-life educator and social activist who is the president of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Plus, his name fits in so perfectly in a comic book world.
  • He’s also featured in the documentary Waiting For “Superman.
  • The references to real-life Harlem figures make all the characters feel like real occupants of the neighborhood.
  • Luke insisting on only wearing hoodies doesn’t help his fuckboy status.
  • I vote for Bobby Fish as The Defenders’ Nick Fury. He’s great at coming up with slogans and knows that superhero masks exist.
  • Perez refers to Misty as a curandero in Scarfe’s apartment. Is this a hint that Misty also might have…abilities?
  • I’m unsure of the importance of revealing Scarfe has a son in the same episode he dies. To show again how close he and Misty are? To drive home some point about guns?