Luke’s journey towards becoming a Hero for Hire continues in the second chapter of Season 2, as money and family take center stage.
Luke Cage – “Straighten It Out”, Season 2, Episode 02
Airdate: June 22nd, 2018
Director: Steph Green
Writer: Akela Cooper
Based on Marvel Comics Characters by: Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, and John Romita Sr.
What You’ll Find Out:
Popularity has commodified Harlem’s Hero, as we watch Luke arrive at a publicity stunt to work out for New Jets Head Coach, Todd Bowles in front of ESPN cameras, merchandising scouts, and the world. While Luke grandstands for the camera, Arturo is released on bail thanks to Mariah’s lawyer, but not before he can be used further alienate Misty, newly returned to the job but not to the warm welcome she may have anticipated for a wounded hero. Instead, Misty is met with pity, scorn, and sideways cast glances from her colleagues.
With Arturo now free, Mariah continues her scramble to offload her guns in the attempts to make enough money to “get clean” as she pursues her political endeavors. Caught in the tsunami of Mariah’s ambition is her estranged daughter, Tilda. A doctor running a holistic clinic in Harlem, it is revealed that Tilda has not spoken to her mother in twelve years, and time does not heal all wounds. Tilda is eventually visited by Bushmaster, who seeks nightshade and other items to create the medicine that grants him his powers. In an earlier sequence with a man named Anansi (also the name of an African trickster god), who has ties to Bushmaster’s past and family, it is revealed that Bushmaster believes Harlem to be his birthright and that Mariah, and now Luke, are his largest barriers to regaining that birthright. There is something in the way that the character carries himself, with charm, grace, mixed with just enough menace, that is extremely disarming (no pun intended, Misty).
The race to find a buyer for Mariah’s guns leads Shades and Luke in opposite directions, bringing Cockroach into Luke’s orbit, while Shades attempts to confront Arturo. As Arturo mocks Shades for his relationship with Mariah and threatens to snitch should the lawyers not manage to keep Arturo out of prison, Shades draws his gun and kills him in a fit of uncontrolled rage. Luke, on the other hand, confronts Cockroach and is reminded that, while he may be bulletproof, he is not invulnerable. The injuries received in the Cockroach confrontation bring everything boiling between the surface of the Luke and Claire relationship to the surface. While Bobby is trying to ensure Luke’s financial well-being through his negotiations with potential sponsors, Claire seems responsible for Luke’s soul, pressing him to reconcile with his father and reminding him of what is at stake for him physically if he does not keep his wits about him.
As Claire listens to a sermon by Luke’s father, set to a Gary Clark Jr. soundtrack, Luke is informed of Cockroach’s location, at the home of the mother of his child, where Cockroach has been abusing the both of them. Luke crashes through the door and nearly fumigates Cockroach before having a moment of seeming clarity to end the episode.
What Just Happened?
There are two distinct narrative themes developing at this point in the season, with potentially a third beginning to form by the end of the episode. The first of these themes is linked to what I referred to last review as “money culture”. We know from the comics that several of the characters in Luke’s story will eventually work for a company called Heroes for Hire. To this point, Luke has been almost indifferent when it comes to money, preferring the nobility of his work over compensation, but with the barbershop in transition and fame on the rise, we are seeing that situation slowly turn towards one in which Luke could potentially over-compensate towards greed.
The second, and more crucial narrative turn this season is the focus on family, and more accurately, family estrangements. This notion is, in a way, a continuation of the latter part of last season, when Luke discovered his half-brother, Diamondback, was the product of an affair his father had, cast-out by his father, and becomes the man that framed Luke, sending him to prison. As we witness Luke’s reluctance to reconcile with his father, however, we also see Mariah eventually reunited with hers. With these two stories overlapping the way in which they are, Mariah’s dubious motivations for reconnecting certainly cast a shadow of a doubt over James’. Claire is trapped in the middle of a potentially tragic plot in which Luke will be harmed with or without reconciliation. As if an echo of these two plots, we also see that somewhere along the way, Bushmaster’s mother was killed, possibly by Mariah or something she did, further reinforcing the centrality of family, and also calling to the final sermon by James and the notion of the two wolves in need of feeding.
The music continues to be stellar this episode, as the latter third of the episode is set to a Gary Clark Jr. soundtrack as he performs at Paradise. I have heard complaints about the lengthy musical sequences, but in a sense, I see these as a form of connective tissue, joining various narratives under a single, unifying musical narrative. As Clark sings that if trouble were worth anything, he’d be a millionaire, we watch as Mariah and Luke both struggle with financial issues. As Luke and Claire both embark on a battle for Luke’s soul, Luke continues to feed the vengeful wolf while Clark cries “bright lights, big city going to my head,” a refrain of mental turmoil and anguish attributed to the careful machinations, not of an individual, but the city herself.
Final Thought: During the fight between Luke and Claire, we see the most obvious attempts to tie the various Netflix series together, as Luke questions Claire’s proclivity to be surrounded by powered individuals. He recaps his role in the Jessica Jones series, as well. Thanks to spoilers, I know that there will be more connectivity between the series to come, which is a welcome reminder that these characters are a part of a shared universe. The movie references, though, are still few and far between.
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