written by Sabra Schirm
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
Trouble is brewing in Harlem, and Luke is confronted with the choice between stepping back and stepping up when Chico’s life becomes collateral in Stokes’ bid for power. With Harlem’s power structure in the balance, it becomes a waiting game between Luke, Pops and Chico, and Stokes and his men to see who can outmaneuver the other. It’s a deadly game, and one move could decide between victory or defeat.
This episode honestly killed me a little bit.
(In a good way, I promise.)
At the heart of it, you have the struggle between the Hero and the Antagonist over the chaotic chessboard that is Harlem.
Layered on top of that is the contrast between two contenders for Ruler Of All – Stokes and Mariah – and their contrasting ideologies and methods. Each has their own agenda and moral code, and though they are not always ethical and good, they are paving their roads to Hell with good intentions: a new beginning for Harlem and its citizens.
On top of that, you see the human cost of these good intentions, and what is allowed to happen when the Bigger Picture is given more value than the life of the individual. Piggybacking off of this issue, you see the contrast between those who’d play by the so-called “code,” like Stokes and Shades, and those who don’t, like Turk and Tone, and how these various ideologies share a fundamental brutality at their most basic levels.
…and on top of that, you have Luke struggling between stepping back and stepping up, as Chico becomes collateral damage in Stokes’ and Mariah’s various bids for power.
Luke: “…I’m tired of running.”
Pops: “Boys run. Men stand. You’re a man.”
Luke: “I am who I am. Or maybe I have a chance to find out who I could really be.”
With tension growing between the various factions, Harlem is at a boiling point. The tension is palpable; it grows with every power play, every act of violence, every death. So, it is not really surprising so much as it is a GODDAMN ROUNDHOUSE KICK TO THE HEART that Pop ends up caught in the middle of the mess and dies as a result.
I mean, I’ve read things before. I write. I know how the Hero’s Journey Thing works. I get that the loss of a parent/friend/mentor is usually a part of that character arc. In this case, I get that this is going to be a huge motivator to get Luke Cage to move from being a reluctant hero to part of the Heroes For Hire broship with Iron Fist. I get it.
That still didn’t stop this from hurting.
…and, in this case, the hurt was the point.
Before we, the audience, can internalize the seriousness of the situation and the risks involved, someone whom we care for deeply has to pay for their sins. This isn’t a new trope. That doesn’t make it any less effective. It is very effective, in fact, as it is clearly Luke’s turning point. No longer can he turn the other cheek, or step back, or refuse to stand. Too much has been lost and too much is still at stake. If he doesn’t take a stand, there is no guarantee anyone else will.
And take a stand he does, bringing us full circle from the start of the episode to its end, where we see his evolution from tired and sad to tired, sad, and incensed.
Honestly, this show…it is so beautiful and heartbreaking and layered; a visual feast with great music to boot. If I don’t die of the feels first, I am confident I am going to enjoy every minute of this series.