Monday, October 3, 2016

REVIEW: 'Luke Cage' - The War Between Luke and Cottonmouth Hits Its Climax in 'Suckas Need Bodyguards'

Netflix's Luke Cage - Episode 1.06 "Suckas Need Bodyguards"

After Cottonmouth and Scarfe's bloody clash, Luke realizes that saving the community may turn former allies into enemies, and enemies into allies.

The war between Luke Cage and Cottonmouth is seemingly over with at the end of "Suckas Need Bodyguards." The episode ends with Misty putting Cottonmouth in handcuffs. That happens after Scarfe produces a notebook detailing all of his illegal dealings with Cottonmouth over the years. It shows the widespread corruption of the police force. Plus, it's a tale that ends with murder as Scarfe dies before being able to testify against Cottonmouth. It's a climatic story beat for the show. This war has been so important for the first half of the season. And now, it is seemingly over. That can't be the case though. The show still has seven more episodes of material to fill. Plus, this is the same kind of story trajectory the Marvel shows at Netflix have done before. On Jessica Jones, Kilgrave was captured around the halfway point to answer for his crimes. On Daredevil Season 2, Frank Castle was arrested at the halfway point to stand trial for his crimes as well. It's part of a predictable pattern. The villain is arrested to show that the heroes are capable of finding justice without committing murder. But then, everything falls apart later on due to complications from other characters. It's a spiral that leads to more death and destruction. But right now, things are suppose to be hopeful for Luke and Misty. They've finally got what they wanted all along.

Honestly, it's not surprising that Scarfe dies by the end of this episode. It's the classic case of a show giving a character a tragic backstory moments before killing him off. It's a way to establish more importance than is really justified. Scarfe has been a part of this season from the very beginning. Sure, Misty is the main focus of the investigation stories. But Scarfe has been along for the ride too. Plus, the reveal that he was working for Cottonmouth was a solid twist. And yet, his sudden turn back to being a detective and wanting to put this criminal away was less effective. It played as something that needed to happen in order for this massive plot development to occur now. Scarfe did some horrible things for Cottonmouth. He killed Chico and gave Luke's location to Cottonmouth just so he could blow it up with a rocket launcher. Those are some despicable acts that can't suddenly be forgotten about just because he is now overcome with remorse. He wants to do the right thing. But that only comes after Cottonmouth refuses to pay him an extra $100,000 for the guns from Hammer Industries.

Cottonmouth shooting Scarfe with his own gun is the action that leads to Cottonmouth's fall from power in Harlem. It's not anything that Luke does. It's his own impulsivity and reckless need to kill anyone who stands in his way. He has the connections to make all of this possible. He can kill and not have to deal with any of the consequences. He can make bodies disappear because he has half the police force on his payroll. That's a pretty formulaic twist that doesn't add a whole lot to the actual narrative. It's important because it's enough to delay Misty's own investigation into what happened to Scarfe. She has trouble tracking him down because her new partner, Perez, also works for Cottonmouth and is still loyal to him. That's something that was previously established but doesn't amount to a whole lot here. It largely just provides the one piece of backstory to seal Scarfe's fate. He had a son who died because he didn't lock up his gun one night. Again, it's such a tragic detail. It provides a new context to the man dying throughout the hour. But it's still more important that he is a killer who has stood in opposition to what Luke and Misty have wanted to do this entire time.

Plus, it's a huge plot contrivance that Claire is there to help Luke try to save Scarfe's life. She just happens to run into him again because he's eating at the diner where her mother works. She follows him back to the barbershop where Scarfe is waiting for Luke. It's a good thing Claire is there because she has the medical knowledge to help Scarfe survive long enough to provide details about his treachery. But it's once again Claire being used for her medical knowledge and very little else. It's up to her to keep Scarfe alive long enough for Luke to get him to One Police Plaza to tell the world the truth about Cottonmouth. She doesn't succeed in that venture because Cottonmouth puts a hit out on Scarfe. Claire's mom provided a getaway van but the gangsters of the streets soon track it down and force the trio to flea on foot. It's a tense sequence because the heroes are racing against the clock to put away a criminal. But it's mostly just Luke once again being able to easily defeat a bunch of random gangsters because they don't know that he is bulletproof. He can stop a car trying to run Scarfe and Claire over but he can't save Scarfe's life. At least the evidence he produces is enough to get Cottonmouth arrested.

Claire is there for Luke in whatever comes next for him as well. She recognizes him from the news and knows just how powerful he really is. She knows that he is special and could really do some good in Harlem. But he's determined to see Cottonmouth go to jail and then leave town. He's in the spotlight right now. He's making a stand for his community. He's protecting it from the forces who wish it harm. But it's still a conflict that ends in death. Misty is there to say goodbye to her partner despite how crooked he really was. She's facing an uncertain future at the precinct as well. But it's much more important that Luke is looking to skip town and return to being a nobody. He doesn't want to be a hero. The world has seen who he is. The episode opens with Luke listening to the latest episode of Trish Talk where Trish Walker is moderating a conversation about what Luke is doing in Harlem. He's seen as a generous and caring person to the people who actually know him. While people who just know of him have questions about his methods and what he actually wants from all of this. It's a delightful surprise to at least here Trish's voice. That's a connection from Jessica Jones that was unexpected. It shows that the world is aware of Luke. He can't be hiding right now. He may make his peace with that by asking Claire to coffee. As we know, he hates coffee. So that's a big deal. But it probably is just an excuse for him to stick around as everything else goes awry again.

All of that could be starting with Mariah. As a character, she has been defined through her connection to Cottonmouth. She has wild ambitions about the future of Harlem. She believes in legitimacy. She doesn't want to be a part of a criminal operation. And yet, she is. She shows her vicious side a little bit in offering Cottonmouth a number of different ways to potentially kill Luke. He's bulletproof but that doesn't mean he's immune to drowning or poison. She's much more creative in that regard. Cottonmouth and his crew are still determined to use bullets against him. That will more than likely continue to be the case considering the previous episode introduced the alien bullet that may actually kill Luke. But that's not really a story that's mentioned here because Shades has just disappeared again. It's more important to see Mariah have a sit-down interview where the interviewer tries to expose her as the criminal see really is. Mariah would never say she's a criminal because she deliberately avoids any of the details of Cottonmouth's business. But she has still reaped the rewards of his actions. And yet, it's a little odd to take this story seriously. Did the media really not know that Mariah's grandmother was an infamous criminal? The neighborhood knows that but still elected her somehow. So, that's just a little weird. It's great that she'll have to deal with the consequence of Cottonmouth's arrest. This could derail her entire political career. She cares about family. But right now, it's the one thing that could lead to her destruction.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Suckas Need Bodyguards" was written by Nathan Louis Jackson and directed by Sam Miller.
  • Does Trish know about Luke Cage and his powers? I want to say yes. That seems like something she learned at some point during Jessica Jones. But I'm not entirely sure now. Either way she seems like a supporter of his work.
  • How in the world did Scarfe get to the barbershop without anyone seeing him along the way? Plus, wouldn't he have left behind a trail of blood for anyone to easily find?
  • Misty also tells a story of how Scarfe was the only detective who took her seriously after her promotion on the force. Most didn't think she was ready to be a detective. But Scarfe saw something special and became her mentor. Too bad their relationship was never really about him being a mentor.
  • Does someone always have to make a comment about Misty staring at pictures while she's recreating crime scenes in her head? It's a way to break her train of thought but it's already starting to feel predictable and formulaic.
  • And yet, Misty is very smart in tricking Perez into revealing himself as a mole working for Cottonmouth. She suspects that something is off. He's just a little too shifty. And then, she just confirms her suspicions by trapping him in a lie. It works because the audience believes a shootout near One Police Plaza could really be happening in that moment.
  • Mike Colter and Rosario Dawson have some fantastic chemistry. That final scene between Luke and Claire is phenomenal. It's just the two of them sharing some witty banter while walking down the street. Even she knows that he dislikes coffee and that such an offer is just to have sex. She's learned her lessons from Matt and how complicated it can be to sleep with a vigilante.
  • Claire also has some theories about new ways to test Luke's powers. That's a promising tease for the future. 

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.