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Luke Cage: Diamondback (Episodes 9-13)

Despite trying to live a life of anonymity, Luke Cage can’t turn his back on the forces that are corrupting Harlem.

Episodes 9 – 13:

9: DWYCK
10: Take It Personal
11: Now You’re Mine
12: Soliloquy of Chaos
13: You Know My Steez

Recap

The second half of the season starts with everyone dealing with the fallout of Cottonmouth’s death and the confrontation between Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey). Misty (Simone Missick) is stuck in a counseling/evaluation session with another officer, being forced to relive the traumas and decisions of her past. When the session ends, she and Priscilla are able to get back on working terms. Priscilla isn’t turning her eye away from Mariah, but she still wants Misty to bring Cage in.

Diamondback has now personally taken over Cottonmouth’s operation (although it was always his to begin with). Order of business #1 is finding Luke Cage, who’s body still hasn’t turned up. He sends Shades (Theo Rossi) to get Mariah’s help finding Luke and to facilitate the transition of power following Cottonmouth’s death. Mariah (Alfre Woodard) is still struggling to come to grips with the fact that she killed the boy that she helped raise. Shades has Mariah call a meeting with the other crime bosses in Harlem. Mariah believes that she’s calling the meeting in order to get out of the crime business and become more legitimate. It turns out that the meeting is Diamondback’s ambush for the other crime bosses. He slaughters them, except for Domingo and Mariah, strengthening his control of Harlem’s criminal infrastructure. When her initial plans backfire, Mariah sells Diamondback on the idea of continuing to frame Luke Cage and then selling anti-Cage weapons to the police. The gambit works and Mariah lives, but she’s now locked into business with Diamondback.

Luke is stumbling around the city as reports about him are still swirling around the media. After a brief run-in with some beat cops, Luke manages to make his way back to Claire, who’s been using the data that Reva recovered to try to find out how to help Luke. She manages to track down Dr. Noah Burstein, who also survived the Seagate accident. Using Reva’s recovered data and some unorthodox methods, Burstein and Claire are able to make Luke vulnerable long enough to get the bullets out of him. However, visiting Burstein also brings up new information about Reva and how involved she was with the program that changed Luke to begin with. It turns out that Reva had been monitoring Luke for the program the entire time, meaning that she lied to him almost from the moment that they met. Enraged by this new revelation, Luke destroys Burstein’s equipment in the hopes that he will prevent anyone else from undergoing those experiments.

Having learned one thing about his past, Luke decides to go in search of more answers. He heads back to his home, Savannah, to look for clues about what Stryker told him. He goes to the church that his father used to lead. While he’s there, he remembers how he and Stryker’s mothers were around each other and his father. He realizes that Stryker is his father’s bastard son, born during an affair that was caused, in part, by Luke’s mother’s inability to have a child. When Luke was born, Stryker was shunned by their father. As a result, Stryker had come to hate Luke.

Luke and Claire head back to Harlem to face Diamondback, but things have been happening while they were away. In order to whip the public into a frenzy, Diamondback disguised himself (poorly) as Luke Cage and killed a police officer. Enraged, other officers hit the streets hard. A boy that knew Luke was taken into custody. When he refused to cooperate with the police, an overzealous officer tried to beat the information out of the boy. Mariah jumped on this opportunity to create a public outcry. However, that outcry quickly turned to the idea that the police should be arming themselves to deal with not only Luke Cage, but the slew of super powered individuals that seem to be popping up in NYC. When Luke and Claire arrive, Mariah is holding an anti-Luke rally at Harlem’s Paradise. They head to the club to confront Diamondback. Misty, who has figured out Diamondback’s connection to Carl Lucas, also heads to the rally to try to find Diamondback.

When Misty finds Diamonback, he opens fire on her. Misty is shot in the arm, but Luke is able to get to her and shield her from any further harm. They escape underneath the club, but the rest of the patrons, including Claire, are taken hostage by Diamondback and his henchmen. This creates a tense situation for the city that Mariah uses in order to push the sale of the Judas weapons to the police. While Diamondback tries to smoke Luke Cage out, Luke is trying to hide Misty and keep her from bleeding out. Claire is eventually able to slip away from the guards and find Luke and Misty. She tends to Misty’s injuries while Luke tries to stop Diamondback. While Luke is fighting his way through some of the henchmen Diamondback narrates the death of a local city politician so that Luke can hear it. He uses a power glove to make it look like Luke killed the man. Diamondback escapes, leaving Shades behind to take the fall. With the cops armed with Judas 2.0 bullets, Luke has no option but to also surrender himself into police custody. Misty tips him off that he should try to escape once the transport gets near the station. Luke busts out of custody and is allowed to escape by a cop that used to frequent Pop’s barbershop.

After the incident at the club, the city starts to descend into chaos. Candace comes to Misty and admits that Mariah was the one who killed Cottonmouth. Misty sent her to stay with Claire for protection. Luke has gone underground, but his status as a folk hero has caused many people in Harlem to dress like him in order to throw the cops off of his scent. Domingo tries to take advantage of Diamondback’s recent stumble and ambushes him in a warehouse. Diamondback escapes, using some new weapon and leaves the warehouse rigged to explode. Diamondback also springs Shades from jail only to have Zip try to assassinate him. Shades survives and kills Diamondback’s men. He then goes to Mariah in order to form an alliance aimed at letting Diamondback and Luke Cage tear each other apart. They offer Luke the files that would clear his name in exchange for helping them stop Diamondback. Just as they are about to reach some kind of agreement, Misty shows up to arrest Mariah. That leads to a stand-off before Diamondback throws a grenade into the shop. He comes through the window wearing a power suit.

Luke and Diamondback have their final showdown in the streets of Harlem. With a SWAT team standing by, the two half-brothers duke it out. Eventually, Luke gets the idea to let Diamondback punch himself out before taking him down. When the SWAT team moves in on Luke, Misty takes the heat off of him by arresting Mariah for the murder of Cottonmouth. Even though they have the evidence in hand, Misty takes Luke in so he can give a statement about everything that’s happened. With the paparazzi outside and Claire by his side, Luke finally gives Misty the full run down on everything that’s happened from his side.

It seems like everything’s going to get wrapped up nice and neat. So, of course, things unravel in the police station. Just as Misty lets Mariah know that they have Candace, she’s pulled out of the interrogation room and notified that Candace was killed. Misty lost her phone at the barbershop when Diamondback attacked. Shades picked it up and used it to lure Candace out into the open to kill her. That means that the police have to release her. Before she goes, Mariah implies that they should pin Cottonmouth’s death on Diamondback in order to keep him off the streets. Just as Misty is breaking the news to Luke and Claire, two U.S. Marshals arrive and arrest Luke for his escape from Seagate prison. After Mariah outed him as Carl Lucas, it didn’t take long for the Marshals to track him down. Luke goes with them willingly.

As they drive away the scene cuts to Harlem’s Paradise for a performance of “100 Days, 100 Nights” by Sharon Jones. While the music lays, we recap the current state of everyone from the series. Luke is headed to prison. Misty is visiting the morgue to see to Candace’s body. Claire is back on the streets of NYC and, apparently thinking of taking a self defense class. At the barbershop, Fish finds the folder that proves Luke’s innocence. Diamondback is in medical care, under police guard. He’s under the care of Dr. Burstein, who seems to have plans for someone who shares some of Luke’s DNA. Mariah is at the club with shades. After replacing Cornell’s picture, she gives him a kiss and they walk out to the balcony to see the performance. Misty is already back on the floor, watching them.

As Luke looks at the city he’s leaving, he reworks Pop’s trademark phrase to,  “Sometimes backwards, to move forward. Always”.

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Favorite/Other/Notable Moments

  • “You gotta go big pharma on this sh*t. First you invent the disease, then you sell the cure” – Mariah
  • “What you talkin’ bout Willis?” – Shades
  • “Me medical shi*t. You bullet proof sh*t” – Claire
  • During the back half of the series Priscilla clarifies that she and Mariah are Detlas, not AKAs. I don’t know exactly why I love these references so much.
  • During episode 11, the show flirts with the idea that Mity might lose her arm. This is a reference to the fact that the comic book version of Misty Knight has a cybernetic arm.
  • In episode 12, Luke Cage stops a robbery in a store that Method Man just so happens to be in.
  • A couple of the gangsters make mention of someone named “Romeo”, but we have no idea who that is. Based on Shade’s words, it’s assumed that Romeo (like Zip) is dead.
  • “What are you some kind of pimp storm trooper or something” – Fish
  • After Candace is killed, Misty claims that the system is broken. Priscilla points out that, if Misty had trusted the system, Candace would’ve been in protective custody with the police. I’m with Priscilla on this one.
  • When the show reached maximum coffee innuendo:
    “I hear that Cuban coffee is particularly…robust” – Luke
    “That might be the corniest thing you’ve said yet. It also happens to be true” – Claire

Commentary

So, the back half of Luke Cage didn’t exactly stick the landing. When evaluated as part of a whole, it’s definitely not enough to make me consider the show anything other than a success. However, it’s definitely a bit of a departure from the first half of the season. This reminded me a bit more of the traditional superhero movie formula, complete with a retreat to a remote farm/cabin in order to recover. It’s like what happened during those old Superman movies when it became obvious that having an invulnerable protagonist was, well boring. In order to make him interesting we have to find a way to hurt him. Then, after he’s hurt, we spend 1/3 to 1/4 of the time watching him recover and learn something about himself. Finally, he comes back and lays the smack down on a powered up version of the enemy that hurt him.

Even the enemy got more predictable, right down to his ridiculous suit. I mean, even characters in the show pointed out that his super suit looked ridiculous. Sometimes that can forgive the actual design of the suit, but this wasn’t one of those cases. It didn’t help that he wasn’t as intriguing of a villain as his predecessor. While I didn’t like Diamondback as a villain as much as Cottonmouth, I liked the concept of how he and Luke were tied together. I think what really hurt that part of the story was the execution of the flashbacks. At best they were confusing (see the flashbacks in the church) and, at worse, they weren’t interesting (see the flashback to Luke and Diamondback training in a boxing gym). With Cottonmouth, we saw a lot of his interesting qualities play out in the present day, while most of Diamondback’s character was revealed in those flawed flashbacks or in scenes that tried to connect to them.

I think the two characters that made out the best from the back half of this series where Claire and Misty. Between those two and Mariah, this part of the story was strongly bolstered by the actions of its female characters. The scene in the nightclub were they have to fight off members of Diamondback’s gang was fun and a great moment to really portray the strength of those two characters. Ironically, I thought that both of those characters were great in everything except for the way that they interacted with Luke. After the first half of the season I was already tired of what, I suppose, is supposed to be the sexual tension between Misty and Luke that causes them to just not get along. That continued into this half of the season. It was also layered on top of Luke and Claire’s terrible flirting. It was terrible in that it was corny in a lot of places but, also in that I could barely tell it was happening. I was actually a little surprised when they kissed because I didn’t feel like there was much of a connection there at all.

I also thought Claire’s character was shoe horned into a space she didn’t quite fit in to with this series. I mean, when she first shows up in the series, she doesn’t interact with a single member of the main cast for that entire first episode. Obviously, she serves several purposes and is necessary for the story, she just always felt a little out of place to me. It could have something to do with the fact that she just keeps popping up in these shows so it doesn’t feel like she belongs in any specific one. Personally, I think that character might not’ve been a great fit for this particular series.

I also found it interesting that the show decided to end on a decidedly more dower note than some of the other MCU shows. Obviously, we know that Luke will be back for the defenders series, so he’s not going to be in prison for too long. On top of that, how tough can prison be when you’re a superhero? All of that aside, they basically showed that Harlem is in almost as bad a shape as it was before Luke got involved. I feel like there’s a message there, I’m just not sure what it is. Or, maybe, I just don’t want to pay attention to a message that feels like it’s implying something bad.

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