[Review] Luke Cage Episode 1×04: “Step In the Arena”

written by K.C. White


The blackness of Luke Cage is upon you with another episode that picks up right where we left off last week. Episode 3 runs around the concept of trust and how it can both hurt and help you. Luke’s problem is that trust is a slippery slope. Every time he chooses to let those walls down, it comes back to bite him in the ass (sound familiar?). It goes hand-in-hand with the previous episode, when Misty and (pobre) Chico both chose to confide in someone and it led to necktie strangling and rockets being launched through windows.

We open with the remains of Luke’s building which, thanks to Cottonmouth’s flair for the dramatic, will be in need of some remodeling. Detective Knight and her partner Detective Corrupty McCrooked are on the scene as always, while Luke and his landlady Connie lay inside the wreckage. We barely have a second to process this before we’re taken away for a flashback to Luke’s first day in prison. We’re introduced to a few new characters: Reva finally appears, as well as Shawshank reject Officer Rackham, and finally Squabbles, spouter of infinite prison wisdom. You know that one friend you have who says “Man, I wouldn’t do that shit if I was you”? Well, that’s Squabbles, who constantly stops Luke from doing things that would lead to more beatings and prison time.

Luke is hounded by different instances of trust in this one, y’all. He’s attacked early on by Shades‘ fine ass and a couple of Rackham’s minions, which probably made him re-think that lone-wolf “trust sets you up for failure” speech from the day before. Because maybe if hadn’t rejected Squabble’s attempt at friendship, he wouldn’t be getting his ass beat now. Rackham is impressed (as impressed as Rackham can be, anyway) and tries to recruit Luke for his underground boxing ring (which is a direct violation of Rule #1 of Prison Fight Club, but I digress), but Luke calls out Rachkam’s Bill O’Riley mentality with a hell of a quote: “Slavery was always a good offer. To a master.” SAY WORD, LUKE!

Luke works more on his (justifiable) trust issues by challenging Reva to open up to the prisoners, and in turn starts to confide in her more. They develop a relationship, and this gives us two people in prison who Luke cares about. But Luke realizes that even as opening up takes him out of harm’s way, it places the people he’s opening up to in danger. Once Rackham forces Luke into Prison Fight Club, we watch him go from reluctant fighter to straight-out beast. He walks through prison serving Grizzly Adams realness, and once again keeps his distance from the people he cares about.

By the time we get to Luke’s transformation, Squabbles is dead (R.I.P. Squabbles, we hardly knew ya), Reva has been forced to fly the coop, and Rackham…is still an asshole. Everyone Luke trusted in prison, all two of them, have been taken out of the picture. Once again, Luke has no one but himself, and his decision to reveal his entire plan has led to this moment. He was betrayed again, but unlike the last time, he knows it was not malicious – it came at the cost of his friend’s life. Luke knows that Squabbles only gave Luke up because they beat him until he talked.

So onto the transformation, and what a transformation it is, y’all. Rackham has one last thing to say, because villains always have to get the damn last word in. Then Luke is strapped into the extreme tanning bed, and we’re off. The best part of this scene is that it’s straight out of a Hype Williams video (Blackness alert!). From the flashing lights, the futuristic setting, and the beats in the background, I almost expected Luke to start rapping when he popped out of the wreckage. I. LIVED!

Luke’s crawling out of the wreckage in prison, and it’s interspersed with shots of him crawling out from under what used to be his favorite place to get a combination plate with fried rice and extra duck sauce. The past is coming full force to meet the present. For the third time, he’s had to pick up the pieces and move on because of who he chose to trust. The end gives us a flashback chuckle, as we watch Luke learn that shaving is hard, and a huge “oh shit!” moment when we find out that Reva did know about the experiments at the prison. Et tu, Reva!?

We end our journey with Luke brushing off the haters, the rubble, and Detective Knight. When the media dares to ask his name, he replies “Luke [Motherfucking] Cage” before walking off into the night.

*Shout-Out Section*

  • Shout-out to everyone who channeled their inner Mufasa after hearing the line “remember who you are”.
  • Shout-out to Connie the Landlady, who probably wishes she had a different tenant.
  • Shout-out to the “Sweet Christmas” comic reference.
  • Shout-out to the Kung-Fu conversation. Its impact on the black community is so deep!
  • Shout-out to the “don’t call me nigga” line. It needs to be said.

Luke Cage is available now on Netflix. K.C. can be reached on Twitter @evil_kinegro.

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