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Luke Cage Reminds Us Why He's On Top
Power-ranking the players in S01.E05 of Luke Cage.
In this, the fifth episode of Luke Cage, we see the balance of power begin to shift. Cottonmouth is getting more and more desperate, as Luke seems to get even calmer and more in control. So let's take a look at this episode's most significant factors and determine who's on top and who's going to end up the next mystery meat at that recently-reopened gyro place.
Poor Cottonmouth! Okay, not really, fuck that guy. But, still, he's in a bad way, as he's informed that following Luke Cage's Fort Knox invasion, he's effectively broke. And worse than that, talk on the streets regarding Cage's dominance is a detriment to Cottonmouth's brand!
So what does a wise leader do in a case like this? Pretty much the opposite of what Cottonmouth orders, which is demand that his minions violently harass every area merchant. This is so dumb, since by doing that he's turning the community against him...and is opening the door to Cage's supremacy in the process. You can see that power shift in action at Pops's funeral, where Cottonmouth's words fall on a stony-faced crowd.
I really didn't think Koko's suggestion that Cottonmouth manage the Cage situation by "benign neglect" was a bad one!
But Cottonmouth apparently did, and now poor Koko will never finish that book he's been enjoying so much.
- Rafael Scarfe
Scarfe's assassination of Chico Diaz hasn't gone unnoticed by NYPD's Internal Affairs division, which has launched an investigation into his whereabouts at the time of the fugitive's disappearance. Fortunately, he's not the only one on Cottonmouth's payroll: it's Lieutenant Perez who not only warns him of the investigation but lets him know that Knight now knows he's under suspicion.
Is the scrutiny he knows he's facing why Scarfe craps out and fails to move Colon's guns from NYPD's evidence locker to Cottonmouth's hands? Or was it a crisis of conscience? It doesn't matter, I suppose; Cottonmouth is so desperate to resolve the gun deal that he's unlikely to brook insubordination. I suspect Scarfe is not long for this world.
- Misty Knight
While it's cool to see that Knight's captain is played by the great Sonja Sohn, that's really all Knight's got going for her today. She's presumably going to eat that mystery meat gyro, she's clearly out of control (and the loop) regarding crime in her area, and now Scarfe knows that she lied to him regarding his corruption investigation. I assume that next on her plate will be some sort of threat against her to manipulate Cage, a less Bechdel-compliant situation than I'd like. Here's hoping I'm wrong!
- Dapper Dan
Thank god Luke Cage took his jacket off before he started kicking Cottonmouth minion ass, because when Dapper Dan of Harlem outfits you for a funeral, you take that shit seriously.
Dapper Dan is a Harlem legend and arguably one of the most influential figures ever on hip-hop fashion. If you think of any iconic look from 1980s black culture, he was probably the person who created it. It's terrific to see the show using this man -- in many ways synonymous with Harlem's greatness -- in this small but significant way.
- The Judas
My only gripe so far with Luke Cage is the apparent absence of (forgive the cross-universality) a "kryptonite." An incredibly strong man who cannot be killed can get boring really fast, especially if the only ways bad guys can get at him is by (as noted earlier) harming those close to him. Enter the special bullets Shade introduces to Cottonmouth -- Hammer-made projectiles reportedly constructed of metal found at the site of the invasion of New York, a.k.a. the big battle in The Avengers. (So, I guess it's Chitauri stuff?) The bullets blow up moments after they are embedded in their target, they "incinerate forensic evidence," and they cannot be seen by metal detectors. They're called "The Judas" because "if you wanted to kill Jesus, that's what you'd use," Shades says, apparently forgetting that a couple of nails and pieces of wood worked just fine on that guy.
Of course, we won't get to see if that magic bullet works on Cage quite yet -- they're insanely expensive, so first Cottonmouth needs to manage the Domingo Colon gun situation (without Scarfe's help, I guess?), which will affirm his reliability and allow mob boss Diamondback to front him the cash for the weapon.
I've had his "Long Live The Chief" on heavy rotation for the last few months, and it was a thrill to see him performing it at an eerily empty Harlem's Paradise. As the song plays, we go montage: Cage is unreservedly tossing around massive chunks of his building, apparently beyond caring about the spectacle he's creating as he searches for Pops's Swear Jar. He almost crosses paths with Knight, who pulls Cage's photo of Reva from the wreckage. At the same time, we see Netflix MCU throughline Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) as she exits the subway, is robbed, and kicks her mugger's ass. It's a fantastic re-introduction to her character, who deserves to be more of a main course than she's been thus far.
- Luke Cage
Sure, Luke's had a tough row to hoe, but today everything's coming up Cage. Following his Dapper Dan session, Cage gets keys to Pop's apartment, which is at the very least a $2,310/monthly value. Then he gets to go out and smash Zip and company, retrieving the loot stolen in his name. That looks like a lot of fun, and allows him to say things like "I am the gun" and freak out the typically detached Shades.
Finally, he delivers a barn-burner of an oration at Pops's memorial service, cementing in front of Cottonmouth and everyone that there's been an official power shift in Harlem, and Luke's the man on top.