Week of June 25, 2023:

Code of the Streets (Luke Cage s1 e2) released September 30, 2016 (where to watch)
Who's Gonna Take the Weight? (Luke Cage s1 e3) released September 30, 2016
Scott Hardie | October 20, 2023

Code of the Streets: This is another good episode, if ended a little strangely, with the anticlimactic feeling that the credits rolled not because the story was complete but because this was a 13-hour movie chopped arbitrarily into segments and this one's running time was up. Pop (or is it Pops? the dialogue goes both ways) is the biggest surprise to me upon re-watch, because I forgot how immensely charismatic he was and how good Frankie Faison was in the part; we spent maybe 20 minutes with him but I wish he was my pop. I'm also impressed by the tragedy of Cornell Stokes, who restrained his ambitions out of respect for the neighborhood, and still managed to unleash hell. Seeing Simone Missick make those shots herself on the basketball court is also a treat.

I feel bad criticizing Mike Colter's lead performance, because I've seen him in interviews and know him to be both a serious actor and a dynamic personality, but it's a little hard to watch him play Luke Cage because the character is wound up so tightly that he's practically wearing an invisible straitjacket. That he's surrounded by a such an incredible cast* is not doing him any favors. Luke's grief during Pop's death scene is the first time on either series that we've seen Colter really emote (unless you count intensely staring at Kilgrave to be emoting) and he finally comes alive and shows us the pain within Luke instead of bottling it up. It's a hard scene to watch, especially with the sound of Pop's gurgling death rattle, but a really good performance by Colter in my eyes. (8/10)

Who Will Take the Weight?: So his name is Scarfe and his deal is strangling people with neckwear? I was successfully surprised by the reveal about Scarfe the first time I watched this, but of course it made immediate sense, and added another much-needed layer of complexity to the story. That's a twist well planned and executed. After my prolific writing about implicit and explicit considerations of morality in other MCU productions, it should be no surprise that I loved the debate between Detectives Scarfe and Knight over vigilantism, which sounded nothing like how real cops talk (I assume) but sounded pleasantly like Matt Murdock and Karen Page having a debate in another series that takes the subject seriously. Of course, I side with Knight that it's essential that the criminal justice system be allowed to work (excepting abuse of power obviously), but Scarfe's argument that could be paraphrased as "I'm not going to mind if someone else wants to take out the trash" does hold a certain appeal in a hypothetical city overrun with crime. Where do you stand?

This episode's well done A-plot is Luke's day-long terrorizing of Cornell Stokes to get inside his head, then the assault on the Crispus Attucks Complex. The show has clearly been holding back on big action sequences for its hero, and finally it doesn't have to hold back any longer, bringing a satisfying climax to the plot to punish Stokes. I was amused at the moment when Luke is about to fight several enemies in a narrow hallway and instead lures them into a room, which felt like a slight dig at Daredevil. I also liked the symbolism of Luke kicking down the door made of steel bars in an act of self-liberation. The only part of this whole mission that I didn't like was the financial justification: Bobby Fish says that institutions such as the bank and the I.R.S. won't care that Pop is dead as long as someone keeps paying the barber shop's bills, but that's not even remotely true, and for a guy who doesn't want to go back to prison, Luke is quick to commit financial felonies. But then, he seems to have resigned himself to committing assault felonies too, so I guess a little more won't hurt.

R.I.P. Genghis Connie's new front window. You lasted less than a day. (8/10)

Discussion topic: How evil is Cornell Stokes? He beat Shameek to death, but that was after Shameek betrayed him and killed someone loyal to him. He threw Tone off of a roof, after Tone broke the code of the streets and murdered an untouchable elder. He fired a rocket at Luke and Connie, after Luke wiped out most of his fortune in one night. Most of his evil actions seem to be in response to the actions of other people. Unless I've forgotten something, the worst thing we've seen him do is sell weapons illegally. (I don't know if he told Scarfe to eliminate Chico or if that was just Scarfe seizing an opportunity, so I'm not counting it.) Obviously Stokes bears responsibility for all of the above and more, but re-watching the series, I'm struck by how not evil Stokes is, as Marvel street villains go. Compared to Wilson Fisk and the Hand, he's much more modest in his ambition, and compared to Kilgrave, he's nowhere near as depraved, and he seems happier than all of them, even if some of his laughter is fake to conceal pain or embarrassment. If anything, Luke's one-day crusade to ruin Stokes financially feels disproportionately punitive; I'm not saying that Stokes deserved to keep any of that money, just that TV shows like this usually do more to make us root against the villain before he gets his comeuppance. It's an interesting choice for the series. Am I wrong to see it this way?

Scott Hardie | October 20, 2023
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