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

Luke Cage debases its characters and leaves us with blood on our hands

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage debases its characters and leaves us with blood on our hands

Luke Cage is a lot of things: a crime drama, a comic book show, a modern take on blaxploitation. But this episode reveals that the writers and director of Luke Cage are able to deliver a taste of all these genres in one episode and pull off a devious misdirection. The first portion of “All Souled Out” is a light episode about selling out and then the whole thing takes a sharp left turn into horror. Season one of Luke Cage or any other Marvel show could not have been trusted to pull off such a wild and graphic ending shocker. The ambition required from a director to even attempt such a bold shift in tone is a lot but to pull it off masterfully is an even bigger accomplishment and Kasi Lemmons should be applauded.


The writers and directors pull a trick on us. We are used to seeing Bushmaster appear all over an episode, working to lay down pieces of his master plan. This episode moved quickly enough and told a clear story about Misty and Luke that I felt lulled us into thinking this episode was a detour on our journey to the end rather than part of Bushmaster’s plan all along. I assumed that this episode wasn’t a Bushmaster episode. The way the show handled Bushmaster in this episode reminded me of how Dexter handled some of its best villains throughout that series. If we’re not seeing the villain in person that means they’re doing something sinister and unthinkable. It’s like if a small child is suddenly quiet in the other room—you’re about to walk into something gross and difficult to clean up. So, this was one of the rare moments I was fine with seeing less of Bushmaster. We don’t need to see Bushmaster actually chopping off heads or hear him deliver a manifesto from a rooftop as he looks down on the crime scene. The moment those heads are revealed, we realize just how skillful and barbaric Bushmaster is.

Thematically, the episode toys with selling out and compromising your morals. To even get us to a place where we can explore that this episode, the series takes Luke and Misty to their lowest point. Luke is being sued by Cockroach and even though Misty is given a new robotic arm by the people at Rand Industries, she’s going increasingly impatient with the tactics of the police department and remembers moments in her police career with Scarfe where he was signaling to her that he was planting evidence. By the end of the episode, both have become the thing that disgusted them the most in the world to solve a problem of their own making. Luke was warned about taking the law into his own hands and Misty is warned about her dogged persistence.

Before the shots break out at Piranha’s party, Luke is being treated as a prop. Piranha’s obsession with Luke almost borders on fetishization. Piranha thinks that because he’s purchased Luke’s time, he’s entitled to every part of Luke’s body and encourages party-goers to think the same way. It starts out innocent enough with a few selfies but a party-goer smashes a bottle over Luke’s head to provoke a reaction for the gram and Piranha offers up a chance to shoot the bulletproof man. Misty has broken into Cockroach’s apartment to plant evidence to make the case against Luke go away and put Cockroach back in jail where he belongs but she makes a gruesome discovery.

The party scene becomes increasingly disorienting because when Luke shrugs off some of the minor offenses, it sets the stage for Piranha to demand Luke Cage take a bullet for his own amusement. There was some symmetry with the moments where Misty thinks about Scarfe’s behavior. The way Scarfe joked with Misty about planting evidence made me think that Scarfe was testing Misty to see if how strongly she would object to planting evidence. This is similar to a study that found that some young men will joke about sexual assault around their friends and the lack of criticism or push back from their peer group allows them to assume that their friends either have done the acts they’re talking about or find those acts about acceptable. Luke Cage has gotten better at communicating the theme of the episode or a moment without the characters standing and delivering a monologue set to jazz about the issue. The subtle pushing of boundaries in each story-line helped tell the story. In both Misty and Luke’s case, they were purposefully being pushed to test their boundaries and when they didn’t fight back, they ended up in a terrifying place.

While the episode is focused on driving Luke and Misty to their lowest point, it lifts Mariah to what is her most successful moment and tears the rug out from under her. She’s preparing to open her Family First! Complex and she’s continuing to ignore the advice of Shades to get out of town. He can sense the gang war brewing but she feels untouchable. She can see the money in her bank account. She offers Tilda a job and she basically accepts it by showing up to the ribbon cutting. She’s used all her political capital and shed almost all of her gun inventory. She’s the teenager sneaking out to drink in the woods in the horror movie. She’s happy and defenseless. She even mentions she’s washed her hands clean of the dirt that got here to where she is and by the end of the episode, her name, her reputation, and her complex is covered in blood.


Stray Observations:

  • I thought the number Cockroach was asking for was going to be larger since the other amounts of money on the show were in the millions.
  • Misty goes from struggling to picking up a coffee cup to doing fine motor manipulation in what looks like a matter of days.
  • Luke has to put on an outfit for the party and I desperately hoped it was something like what he wore in the comics based on the way he rejected it but it was his Carhatt hoodie with holes in it. That made Piranha’s request to shoot him with a gun at the party even grosser.
  • Live from New York, It’s Luke Cage! Featuring musical guest: Ghostface Killah!
  • I think Piranha is one of my favorite mid-level annoyances on Luke Cage in a while. He’s annoying and charming in equal measure and just sleezy enough.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Ali Barthwell is a wearer of fine lipstick and fine hosiery.