Saturday, October 1, 2016

REVIEW: 'Luke Cage' - Luke Disrupts Cottonmouth's Criminal Operation in 'Who's Gonna Take the Weight?'

Netflix's Luke Cage - Episode 1.03 "Who's Gonna Take the Weight?"

In the aftermath of a chaotic event at a favorite Harlem hangout, Luke heeds the call to action - and hits Cottonmouth where he'll feel it most.

Luke Cage certainly isn't wasting any time trying to get vengeance for Pops' untimely death. It is slightly problematic that it takes the death of another person close to him to motivate him into using his powers for good. Reva's death forced him into action on Jessica Jones. And now, Pops' death forces him into action here. But it still makes for quite an entertaining hour in "Who's Gonna Take the Weight?" Luke is trying to move forward like Pops wanted him to. He swore that he would honor Pops' memory. He's trying to do that in a number of ways. Most prominently, he's trying to destroy Cottonmouth's criminal operation so that he can't hurt anyone else in this community. It's just as important though that Luke is trying to restore the legacy of Pops' barbershop. It was always seen as a safe space throughout the neighborhood. The gunfire from Tome ended that. Now, it's completely abandoned and in shambles. But Luke wants to do right by Pops and restore the place to its original glory and not have it be corrupted by the rest of the world.

These are some lofty ambitions for Luke. Sure, he has superpowers. He has unbreakable skin and super-strength. But he has to be smart about what comes next as well. The world is already starting to look at him with suspicion. Both allies and foes know who he is and are keeping their eyes on him because something isn't quite adding up yet. Misty is still incredulous about how he survived the shootout when everyone else died or was seriously injured. She's forming all of these connections. She sees that Luke is an important player in all of this. It's just taking her awhile to put it all together. Meanwhile, Cottonmouth is aware that Luke is a loose end left open who could cause problems in the future. He knows the truth about Pops' death. Cottonmouth wants to absolve himself of the blame because he killed Tome who actually pulled the trigger. And yet, Luke still sees Cottonmouth as responsible. He simply didn't do enough to keep the shootout from happening. He didn't have control over his men as well as he thought he did. He's a very hands-on gangster but he's not in control as much as he thinks he is. He thinks he can just pay for Pops' funeral and all will be forgiven. It most certainly is not.

Plus, it turns out that Chico survived the shootout as well. He was critically injured. But he's up and talking to Misty, Scarfe and Luke throughout the episode. He is even able to leave the hospital. So, the shooting didn't even do its primary purpose of killing Chico. That makes Pops' death even more personal. Plus, it allows Luke to get all the inside information about Cottonmouth's operation. Apparently, Dante told his friends more about the inner workings of this criminal enterprise than just the arms deal. It's more than enough for Luke to form a solid plan to take down Cottonmouth and Mariah. He wants to disrupt Cottonmouth's operation and then take him out as revenge. Because Domingo and his gang are still upset with Cottonmouth over how the deal went, it creates an opening for Luke to exploit as well. It's fascinating to see Cottonmouth struggle throughout this episode. He feels like he is being the most pragmatic out of anyone else. He sees the world with eyes wide open unlike his cousin. She still holds onto the idea of turning the community around with her project. Cottonmouth knows it's just a front for all of his drug money. It's the central hub of this operation. He has it fortified and secured. But that's not enough to withstand Luke Cage.

The sequence where Luke storms the center and takes on dozens of men is the most action-heavy moment of the series so far. It's somewhat similar to the action sequences on Daredevil. Of course, this isn't a crazy one-shot that highlights the hero's skills and the technical proficiency of the production. But it's still very impressive. However, it too suffers a little bit from the same problems as these scenes on Daredevil. It's literally Luke just beating up a bunch of nameless criminals. It's not the same as Daredevil battling hundreds of ninjas that appear out of nowhere and at random times. It's more grounded than that. Cottonmouth knows he has a big problem right now with all of his stash houses being hit. He puts the majority of his money in the center and has it heavy guarded and locked up. But again, that's nothing Luke can't handle. It is a lot of work. But he's capable of penetrating all of the security. The majority of these criminals use guns to try and stop him. That's not an effective strategy at all. They don't know that yet. So they just keep shooting bullets at him while Luke uses a car door, a pipe and a couch to beat all of them up. He breaks bones too but he doesn't kill anyone. That's a key part of this sequence as well. He creates such chaos just so the police can swoop in and seize all of this allegedly illegal money. Luke does it to make a point and collect only as much as he needs to keep the barbershop running and give back to the Lins for their hospitality.

Luke's actions are noticed though. He's not a masked vigilante protecting the streets from harm. He's not Daredevil who prides himself on concealing his identity. All Luke has is a hoodie that is destroyed because it isn't bullet proof. More importantly though, Misty and Scarfe are called in to clean up the mess. It's another chance for Misty to work her "super power" of being able to analyze crime scenes and picture what happened. It's because of this extreme amount of destruction that she is able to connect the pieces about Luke being the man behind all of this. She doesn't know everything. But it's great that she is a detective who is actually capable of connecting the dots and understand what's really going on. That's a breathe of fresh air for these Marvel shows on Netflix. Of course, that's not as big a deal as the reveal that Scarfe is actually working for Cottonmouth. That twist happens after he kills Chico upon learning that he will come forward and testify because Luke wants him to. Scarfe hasn't been an important character so far. This twist basically plays out the same way Jessica Jones used Simpson. At first, he presents as a friend and trusted ally only to eventually become a huge threat that needs to be dealt with. The twist with Scarfe happens early enough in the season though. He'll be working on the side of the criminals for the majority of the season. It's something the show easily explains with his big monologue about feeling powerless and unnecessary as a police officer in a world following the Battle of New York. That moment first plays as sympathy for vigilantism but later on becomes character defining backstory.

Scarfe being a mole within the NYPD is important because it makes Cottonmouth a formidable adversary. He didn't realize that Luke was the man disrupting his business right now. He just thought he was a dishwasher and nothing more. And now, he knows the truth. Because of Scarfe, Cottonmouth knows exactly where to find Luke. He knows what he needs to do. So, he simply fires a rocket launcher into the Lins' restaurant. It's an outrageous moment to end the episode on. It shows that Cottonmouth doesn't need powers in order to be a lethal and dangerous villain. He's capable of more devastation than just beating a man to death or throwing another off a roof. He's willing to take down an entire building if it means taking out the man who wishes him and his business harm right now. He doesn't care about any innocent casualties. He just wants Luke out of the picture. He doesn't know the full truth of Luke's abilities. He knows it will take a lot to take him down considering the guys at the center weren't enough. That's why he uses the rocket launcher. But it's incredibly doubtful that that's enough to take down Luke Cage. It will more than likely only fuel this conflict even further.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Who's Gonna Take the Weight?" was written by Matt Owens and directed by Guillermo Navarro.
  • Mariah takes great offense when Cottonmouth refers to her as "Black Mariah." It's a nod to the name she takes on in the comics. But it's clear she's not ready to turn down the criminal path like her cousin is.
  • Shades is noticeably absent. His organization, Diamondback, does get a mention though. Domingo knew who Cottonmouth's gun supplier was. And now, he's curious what they think about Cottonmouth given everything that has happened. 
  • Bobby is more than just a loyal friend of Pops who would always be hanging out in the barbershop playing chess. He was also the accountant who knows all about the finances and how difficult it could be to keep the place running without Pops.
  • Neither Bobby nor Luke know enough about cutting hair to run the barbershop themselves. They will need someone else to do that if they reopen the place to the community. Someone who gets that the building needs to be a safe space in the neighborhood. That's a problem for a later time though.
  • There was definitely the feeling that something bad was about to happen when Scarfe and Chico met. But it was surprising when it was Scarfe who choked Chico to death. Another brutal display of violence. Scarfe is just so casual about it afterwards too.
  • Luke is going to need a new place to stay. Probably not his highest concern right now. Taking out Cottonmouth probably is. But it's still something he should worry about.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.