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Luke Cage needs to rely on its more interesting characters instead of the well-trod plot

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage needs to rely on its more interesting characters instead of the well-trod plot
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Even a mediocre episode of Luke Cage feels like a really good episode of any police procedural. It makes sense that the most satisfying moments to be had here involve watching Simone Missick as a solving crime and kicking ass. She’s consistently one of the strongest players on Luke Cage but it still often feels like the series doesn’t know what exactly it wants to do with its characters. The series did a lot of work in the early episodes to create interesting and nuanced characters but over the past few episodes, character development has stalled while the show focuses on much less engaging plot. It feels like the show isn’t serving its characters that can save a middling episode and, instead, focusing more on characters or storylines that are boring or poorly executed.

The character that baffles me most at this juncture is Tilda. We are supposed to believe that her relationship with her mother is one of the most important emotional threads of the season, but it feels like we missed a piece of information or a character beat shared between Tilda and Mariah to explain how close their relationship is now. When it comes to Tilda specifically, I can’t tell if the writing or the performance by Gabrielle Dennis is the problem. Tilda spends much of this episode wildly veering between shell-shock and wide-eyed confusion. Any trace of the savvy, seductive, and intelligent woman we met earlier in the season is gone.


The writing infantilizes Tilda. She keeps referring to Mariah as “Mommy” when there had been so much tension and anger around the language the two used to refer to each other. The pleading performance from Dennis feels juvenile. It doesn’t help that Dennis is playing against Alfre Woodard for most of her scenes. Even when you feel like Woodard is playing it more casually, her stately charisma & poise are unmatched. She is electric to watch. Dennis is in her mid-thirties and so is Tilda, but everything about the character plays like a woman under the age of twenty-one.

Then there’s all the stuff with the herbs. There’s just no way to make that cool.

Illustration for article titled Luke Cage needs to rely on its more interesting characters instead of the well-trod plot

Shades has the most interesting character arc by far at this point in the season. He just killed his best friend and former lover and feels abandoned by Mariah. The scene between Shades and Comanche’s mother is very well done, but more time spent exploring Shades’ vulnerability apart from his relationship with Mariah would benefit the character and this show greatly. An episode focused on Shades attempting to heal from this trauma or a flashback to his teenage years with Comanche would be spectacular. Instead, we’re treated to scenes like Shades and Mariah arguing in her burned-up brownstone before furiously making out. It feels tired, it feels played out, and Shades deserves better (not to mention Theo Rossi, consistently delivering stellar work despite less-than-stellar material).


Watching Misty slink around an interrogation room in Shades’ shades is fun and she elevates the “long suffering and noble detective” trope. Theo Rossi plays Shades with considerable restraint. It would be easy for either of these characters to become clichés. Unfortunately, any character development or exploration is always sidelined for the intrigue. The thirteen episode seasons tend to stretch out the plot for longer than necessary and a few diversions into the characters would be more than welcome. Fortunately, this episode moves at a quick pace and we finish with a big action set piece that can carry us into the next episode.

Stray Observations:

  • There has been conversation on Twitter about Netflix changing the captions on shows like Queer Eye. Fans are saying that Netflix is removing swear words from the captions. Can we get a deep dive on Netflix caption policies?
  • I feel like if Luke Cage and Bushmaster just agreed to leave each other alone, this would all be over.
  • No special musical guest this episode. The heightened style of the musical performances are another element that can help out a mediocre episode.
  • Let’s play a drinking game for the rest of the season: Drink every time Mariah says that Tildais all she has left.
  • James saying “you can’t be shooting my baby” made me full body cringe.



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

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