written by Kiara Williams
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
[EDITOR’S NOTE: We apologize for this review taking so long to come out due to a series of unfortunate setbacks, but we’ve got newcomer Kiara Williams here to step in and help us finish off the series!]
“There ain’t no Iron Man comin’ to save us.”
Method Man, a Staten Island native who plays himself in this episode, spits this line while rapping what I started calling “The Ballad Of Luke Cage”. It’s a line that has many meanings. New York’s most prominent heroes, the Avengers, are always seen in wealthy areas with towering skyscrapers that look good on TV when blown up. They’re not ever seen in smaller towns, and definitely not in a low-income, highly black area like Harlem. For all of Harlem’s problems, superheroes aren’t going to go there. White superheroes aren’t checking to see if Harlem has problems, just like in reality where powerful white people aren’t usually checking to help the less privileged.
Iron Man ain’t comin’ to Harlem. That’s why Harlem needs Luke Cage.
This is why Luke Cage becomes something of a folk hero to Harlem, especially after Method Man spreads the word on him saving his life and stopping the convenience store robbery. The legend of Luke Cage had been well-known up to that point: he’s a hero who protects Harlem, though he won’t claim the title of “hero”. And now he’s been put in doubt after being framed as a cop-killer who is on the run. Method, who not only tells the world about Luke but also gives him his hoodie to help hide him, causes the people of Harlem to stand in solidarity with Luke and believe in his innocence. In this episode, both Misty and Method Man give the same reason for why Luke ran from police. As Method put it, “Bulletproof always gonna come second to being black.”
Black people in America are a lot of times automatically distrusting of the police. With the growth of social media, this fact has become more obvious to the mainstream, but it has been true for centuries. We protect our own because no one else will do it. We protect our own because others actively seek to eliminate our own, whether justified or not. So when Luke’s guilt is cast into doubt, it’s understandable that Harlem rallies around him. We as viewers know it’s not exactly the police’s fault that Luke is being blamed for this, but Harlem doesn’t. Many of our own have been executed extrajudiciously by police with zero consequence and zero justice. So in this universe, it absolutely matters to Harlem that the police are coming after their hero, a black man protecting black people, because the police may eliminate him without anyone ever knowing what actually happened.
So in a move which I’m 100% sure is a nod to Trayvon Martin, black people across Harlem begin wearing bullet-ridden hoodies as a sign of solidarity with Luke and, intentionally or not, they help hide him from police. “There’s something powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof and unafraid.” Luke Cage as a symbol is important to Harlem in this show’s universe, and to all black Americans who watch the show. An unafraid black man is immensely powerful to a people who fear for their lives when being pulled over for a routine traffic stop. As an extra nod to this episode being about racist treatment from the police and the judicial system, Trayvon Martin’s name is even dropped in one of Method Man’s lyrics. Harlem standing up and rallying around Luke Cage is their collective voice saying, “Not this one. You’re not getting this one.”
Even individual characters do their part to protect Luke. Candace, Misty and Bobby all do their best to help clear Luke’s name and get Luke to Diamondback, each of them putting their own lives at risk in different ways. Diamondback ends up finding Luke first, however, powered up with a new weapon that makes him bulletproof as well. All of the main players are here to play. Will Luke be able to clear both his name and Carl Lucas’? What will happen when Misty catches up to Mariah and Shades? And how many more times will Bobby have to fix up Pop’s shop? Can my man catch a break?
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