Week of July 23, 2023:

Take It Personal (Luke Cage s1 e10) released September 30, 2016 (where to watch)
Now You're Mine (Luke Cage s1 e11) released September 30, 2016
Scott Hardie | November 7, 2023

Take It Personal: This episode frustrated me because it felt too manipulative. I did not buy that the police would believe a guy who loudly and spontaneously announced "I'm Luke Cage!" after killing a cop on the street, I did not buy that Harlem would blame Luke Cage for the police beating them (WTF?!) or turn against him so quickly, I did not buy that Patricia Wilson would hold Luke responsible for the beating of her son Lonnie after Luke saved the kid's life during the shooting at Pop's barber shop, I did not buy that Luke and Claire Temple would be able to return to Harlem without knowing anything about the turmoil in the neighborhood (which would be national news and the subject of at least one call from Claire's mother), I did not buy that Misty Knight wouldn't have told her commanding officer about Luke's true name or the identification of Willis Stryker, and I definitely did not buy any of Dr. Noah Burstein's arguments in favor of his science experiment. (Oh, the prisoners willingly signed up, in exchange for reduced prison sentences? That logic is unimpeachable.) Terrible writing throughout the hour didn't help, especially in the scene at the water's edge as Luke and Claire Temple looked at Seagate; human beings do not talk like that at all, not even in comic books. And all of this is ignoring various technical errors, like Claire sticking her hands in boiling acid and forgetting to remove the shrapnel from Luke's other wound. Ugh, what a lousy hour of TV. (Did Claire or Burstein bring up the possibility that the Judas bullet fragments were magnetic and thus extractible with a strong magnet? I kept waiting for the show to dismiss that possibility.)

I liked some parts of this hour, most of all the tension in the city; I just didn't like the contrived plotting that it took to manufacture that tension. Mariah Dillard's speech is a good scene and a reminder of why she's so dangerous. The church flashback scene was well shot, maybe the best scene of the hour, with the cutting between past and present and the reveal of Luke in the mirror. I'd have been happier if the whole hour had been that smart. (3/10)

Now You're Mine: I haven't worked in a nightclub's kitchen. Are they usually that expansive? I thought most nightclubs either served nothing at all or just appetizer food like nachos and wings. Also, how large is that secret Prohibition-era space with full electric lighting and modern stainless-steel kegs and no visible mold or mildew? Luke seemed to be walking around under half of New York after he decided to re-surface.

I assumed last episode that Damon Boone was signing his own death warrant by accusing Mariah of crimes, since she's not the kind of character that you accuse with impunity, and I assumed that the telegraphing of the danger that he was needlessly putting himself in was intended to be obvious. I was wrong, since he wound up dead for other reasons (I forgot his fate in the time since I last saw this), but I still think Boone's problem is that he didn't know that he was a minor character in a TV show and shouldn't go around threatening to expose one of the homicidal antagonists of the show. That's a joke, but the thing is, *we* know that he's in a TV show, so shouldn't the plot work harder not to be so routine and predictable to us viewers? Having Boone attempt to throw his weight around and then get killed by the real tough guys on the streets, despite arriving at that outcome in a different way than I expected, lacks novelty.

I've written before about the choice to downplay Luke's emotions, rarely letting him show feelings. But in this episode, it goes too far. Stryker has sent Luke to prison, had him beaten there, funded the crew who killed Pop, shot Luke twice, turned the city against Luke, shot Misty, captured Claire, framed Luke for killing a hostage, and even called Luke's mother a bitch. And yet Luke seems mildly annoyed at most, the same response he'd have to someone taking too long in front of him at an ATM. There's a bizarre lack of emotion from Luke, and it sets the tone for the episode; if he doesn't care, neither do we. On the flip side, Stryker is far too emotional! Is the lack of love from his daddy really enough to inspire this epic avalanche of revenge upon his baby brother? It seems more than a little disproportionate. I appreciate that Erik LaRay Harvey continues bringing the intensity, but Luke should be the most exciting and dynamic character on this show; that's the MCU way, or at least it was until now.

Misty was my favorite part of the episode. Her "your family is jacked up" line made me laugh, and I thought it was darkly funny the way that the blood loss made her loopy and bemused. I don't know what to make of the scene where she bonds with Claire after knocking out Shades Alvarez; I'm not a woman, so I can't evaluate that conversation for authenticity (Kelly gave up on watching the Defenders shows with me), but I appreciate that it's there.

I guess my biggest problem with this episode, and the series at this point, is that it's wasting time trying to fill in an episode order without having more to say. Plenty of plot events happen in this hour, but they amount to nothing. No one makes any notable decisions, no one grows or changes as a person, no story is being told here. I guess the turning point is that Luke decides to fight back and stop hoping for peace with his brother, but wasn't his return to Harlem implicitly a choice to fight back already? This whole episode could have been condensed into less than ten minutes with no effect on the overall series. (4/10)

Scott Hardie | November 7, 2023
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