Welp, this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. By the end of LUKE CAGE’s ninth episode “DWYCK” I had tears of joy dripping down my cheeks and I was making weird whale noises. This not only hit all my particular buttons, it was also a fantastic episode that furthered every plotline and allowed the characters space to deal with their issues in a satisfying way. This episode runs sixty five minutes and I didn’t even notice. It never drags and everything feels necessary. “DWYCK” is very full but somehow not overstuffed.
I’ll go in ascending order from things I love to things that threw me into paroxysms of delight. Let’s start with Mariah, Shades, and Diamondback. First of all, I’m glad Diamondback actually showed up after all that talk about him. Second, you could kind of guess, but it took two episodes for them to say this dude was Diamondback. Third, he’s completely crazy and I love it. It’s not even that he has more motivation than Cottonmouth, it’s that he’s unpredictably violent and I believe that he’s wholeheartedly into whatever criminal dealings he pursues. I never really believed Cottonmouth when he was being bad. In particular, I adore that Mariah tried to get out of organized crime altogether and Diamondback showed up, killed all the gang leaders, and basically forced her to be in charge of the whole operation. It’s like she wants to convince herself that she’s on the right side of the law but everything in her life is forcing her to be crooked. I love her way too much. Like, way too much.
Mariah is technically doing two things here. She has the shady business of trying to distance herself from Cottonmouth’s criminal activity by meeting with all the gang leaders, but she also has her public political career in focus. She solidifies a political platform that’s anti-powered people and that fits so well into the rest of the MCU right now. Luke’s dashcam footage gives us a date of December 1st (and so does the snow in Georgia), putting this all during the first half of Agents of SHIELD‘s third season and concurrent with the last episode of Daredevil‘s second season. That’s before the Sokovia Accords but while people are freaking out about powered people enough that the President forms the ATCU. I promised myself I would stop obsessing like this but they made it fit so well I can’t help picking at it. I remember blasting the first season of Daredevil for being totally nebulous on its timeline. Now the Netflix shows are so tight I can put them on an actual calendar. Earlier, Luke said he’d been hiding out in Harlem for five months which works since Jessica Jones takes place in the first half of 2015. Bringing my tangent back around, I’m so excited about someone opposing powered people for political gain. It probably only feels real-world relevant because it’s an election year and the world is losing its mind, but it goes with the rest of what’s happening in the MCU as well. Everything is coming apart at the seams and the most visible difference is all of these powered people coming out of the shadows. They’re the easiest target and hence get all the proto-fascist rhetoric heaped on their heads. Also, come on, the dashcam footage of a black man’s confrontation with the police? Where the black man is bulletproof and lays out the cops and survives? How could you not love that? It’s perfect.
I rewatched this episode to write my review and the second it came on I was like “you mean they crammed the science and Misty’s psychiatric evaluation into the same episode?” It was immediately clear to me why I was a mess the first time I saw this. Misty is one of those people who will just keep going no matter what happens because life goes on. All of that unspoken crap accumulates on top of her and in the last episode she cracked. Here she has to take a good hard look at why, and I love that they even paused long enough to give her that moment of self-evaluation. I also really liked the psychiatrist. Representations of mental health professionals (and nuanced presentations of mental health in general) tend to get screwed up 95% of the time. This guy was just trying to help Misty tease out what had happened, not “fix” her or force her into prescribed modes of “normalcy.” For her part, Misty was written so well in this episode. She gets to keep her strength and independence even as she comes to terms with her own weakness and mortality. She’s incredibly present in the episode even while she’s sequestered from the rest of the plot. It’s well done.
And then there’s Luke and Claire driving from New York to Georgia (speaking from experience, do not try this thing—especially with a gunshot wound) and sciencing the bejesus out of this thing. I’m not talking vague “I could use this made-up metal to power these thrusters” kind of science. I’m talking “we used Crispr to fuse your DNA with abalone” science. That is legitimately possible in the real world (except for, you know, international standards of ethics.) Pardon me while I go sob. I have no idea how Luke got his powers in the comics, but this is a perfect update on the anxieties of modern science expressed outwardly. There’s a reason why basically all 1960s superheroes get their powers from radiation exposure. Top that with Dr. Bernstein’s refusal to help until his curiosity gets the better of him, the fact that he somehow smuggled huge vats of acid off an island in the middle of a cover-up, and Claire figuring out almost the entire experiment using deductive reasoning and you’ve got every element of good and mad science thrown together in a slurry guaranteed to melt me down. It’s even got moments of appropriate body horror when they have to stab Luke’s throat for a blood sample and then soak him in boiling acid. That is crazy gross and also perfect. I completely believe that it’s both necessary and that it might work. It’s one thing to have superpowers and go around bashing people’s heads. It’s entirely another when the world-building explains to me how and why those powers work and does it so well that you couldn’t pick apart their logic with tweezers. That’s when I start driving the train instead of just being on-board.
This episode is legitimately one of my favorite things in the whole MCU. It’s up there with Agent Carter‘s first season, the first two Captain America movies, and the two most FitzSimmons-y episodes of Agents of SHIELD (“Purpose in the Machine” and “The Singularity,” the latter of which I’m not sure anything will ever beat.) It brings together all of its own plots while furthering our knowledge of the whole fictional universe. It explains itself well and deals with the political, emotional, and scientific fallout of what people running around with superpowers would mean. It’s suspenseful, personal, and aesthetically pleasing all at once. They couldn’t have made me happier if they had one of my checklists in hand and were actively trying to tick all the boxes.
Season 1, Episode 9 (S01E09)
Luke Cage is available to stream on Netflix
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor