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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Luke Cage finds its footing leading into the finale

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage finds its footing leading into the finale
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I fully understand that there are some among you in the comments that disagree with my hot takes on Luke Cage this season. My main struggle is that Luke Cage wants to be two different shows. It wants to be a plot driven intrigue, but it also wants to elevate itself from other entries in that genre. It wants to be a piece of prestige television. It wants to imagine it’s doing something IMPORTANT and it is. Unfortunately, it wants to tell you how important it is rather than taking advantage of its talented group of actors and writers. The material can’t always support the weight of the responsibility it puts on itself, especially when there is a show in here that’s much more fun. Luke Cage really shines when it’s action packed and our characters are motivated toward a real tangible goal. “Can’t Front on Me” is one of those episodes.

Yes, this episode is plot heavy. Yes, this episode is all about Mariah. Yes, this episode features a very boring Tilda monologue. But it’s giving me something! It’s an exciting episode with a few fun twists and turns. “Can’t Front on Me” has figured out how to deliver an episode that’s full of plot but doesn’t feel like the characters are reading off cue cards. Also, at this point in the season, we should have all the pieces laid out before us and the conflict going into the finale should feel inevitable.


The episode centers around actually taking Mariah down. Mariah has introduced a “Bushmaster” strain of heroin that has immediate and severe side effects to draw Bushmaster out. This episode continued the thread from the first episode with the “Luke Cage” strain of heroin. It took me a moment to remember the “Luke Cage” heroin from the first episode and that’s just another example of how these seasons are too long. We could have used a little reminder of this theme or imagery in the middle of the season to set us up for this reveal.

It’s easy to forget the criminal mastermind Mariah has been since most of her focus this season was on going legitimate. Shades laying out her criminal past was a fun device throughout the episode. Theo Rossi made the most of sitting in a chair while he gleefully recounts his criminal past knowing he’s got immunity. He also played Shades’ discomfort and regret about Comanche’s death well. The scenes lead to Mariah’s arrest well and felt like a good use of Misty Knight and Shades’ in the episode. Similarly, it was an effective use of Simone Missick and Theo Rossi.

Luke’s emotional arc in this episode is about the pressure of being a superhero. People keep coming to him in this episode and demanding his help. Mariah even tells him that his greatest weakness is that she can always count on him. It’s a distillation of the theme of the entire series but hearing it again so explicitly in this episode isn’t something new or special. It’s also a pretty standard superhero’s internal conflict or motivation. We’ve also only seen Luke show up when trouble approaches so we don’t feel the conflict in him. Luke just keeps saying he feels conflicted. The show tries to emulate the plainspoken feel of a film noir or a western but sometimes it goes too far, and the dialogue becomes obvious.

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage finds its footing leading into the finale

The only thing that felt strange for me in this episode is that the show is starting to neuter the terror that surrounds Bushmaster. It doesn’t seem like we’re shifting away from Bushmaster as the villain of the season He’s less imposing and scary in this episode. He’s almost pitiful. He’s almost a different character from the beginning of the season and I’m questioning how he’s going to fit in the finale. The show also can’t decide if Luke and Bushmaster are going to team up or not. Make a decision, Luke Cage.

This episode before the finale has shed all the pressure of delivering a social commentary and just focused on delivering a well-paced and fun episode. Seeing Mariah finally being arrested on charges that might stick feels like a change in the status quo and it’s good to have things shaken up on Luke Cage.


Stray Observations:

  • Any scene that wasn’t a fight scene in this episode was impossibly quiet. I’m not about to turn off my air conditioner in this 90 degree heat so I’m gonna need Luke to SPEAK UP!!
  • Okay, so Netflix changes the grammar of the Jamaicans in the subtitles and censors the subtitles on Queer Eye but they put an excessive amount of lyrics complete with “nigga” in the subtitles during fight scenes?
  • Take a drink every time Misty says: “The gun” with way too much intensity.
  • Shades’ attorney walking out when she found out he was there at the attack on Pop’s barbershop was preposterous. Wouldn’t you have gone over some of this?
  • List of characters I am completely over: Tilda, DW.
  • Live from New York, it’s Luke Cage! Featuring Special Musical Guest: KRS-One and jarring gunshot sounds!

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

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