LUKE CAGE saved up all of its action for one big showdown in “Now You’re Mine,” crossing a gangster shootout with a cop procedural and combining all the suspense from both. It took me a while to write this review because my feelings are basically “oh my god, it’s great! I don’t know what you want me to say!” I’ll try to pick apart what about it I liked so much.
Firstly, at the eleventh episode out of thirteen, it feels like this is the climax of every plot. Not even the high point of an arc, but the traditional apex. Diamondback spends the entire episode in classic taunting villain mode, trying to lure Luke into a showdown. Misty is injured and she and Luke are cornered in the secret room in the club’s basement, finally bringing Misty’s investigation to a head. Meanwhile, Claire is upstairs scheming her way out of the situation and playing all the gangsters against each other.
I like how high the stakes are in every single plotline and how they basically all get mashed together here. Like I said, that’s what you expect for the climax of a story, not the third to last one, so the rest of the series will be spent turning our expectations on their heads as much as possible I imagine. Not only are our heroes in danger, but Misty is shot and bleeding out and she’s now the only one who can corroborate that Luke is innocent of everything he’s been accused of. So there’s the double problem of trying to escape but also in keeping Misty alive. Another part of the story that I thought was really cool was Priscilla Ridley outside running the police response to the shooting. She’s levelheaded and willing to take all possibilities into account and I love that. Rather than shooting up the place or trying to demonstrate her authority, she proves her authority by getting to the bottom of the situation before she escalates anything. I was also tickled when the Assistant District Attorney showed up since he was the same ADA from Daredevil‘s second season. It’s the little details that make me happy. It also further proves it takes absolutely minimal effort to maintain the conceit that all of this happens in the same universe. Seriously, an actor here and a throwaway line there and you’ve got it.
All the shootouts, police protocol, and gangster machinations included, to my mind Claire is the best part of an already great episode. Claire is a nurse who is being held hostage, manages to get the drop on her captors, secure an escape route for her friends, and save Misty’s life. Basically, Claire is the only thing that drives the plot. She’s so smart and savvy. When the waitress Candace is hurt, Claire genuinely wants to help her. Yet when she sees an opening she has no problem using Candace, Diamondback’s cronies, and her medical knowledge to her advantage. I love her. She takes out a gangster by tripping him down a flight of stairs and then bothers to stop and check to see if he’ll be all right. She’s competent and loyal without losing her compassion even for bad guys and that’s what makes her such a pleasure to watch. She sews up Misty with dental floss for goodness’ sake, and then both she and Misty get into a physical scrap with Shades when he finds their hiding place and together they take him out. I’m so happy that Claire is not only in Luke Cage but that she finally has the time and space to show her true mettle. She doesn’t just mop up behind superheroes and give speeches anymore, she’s right in the thick of it and she proves time and time again that she can hold her own even without superpowers.
The other element of this episode is of course Diamondback. He’s a formidable opponent and I like that they took the time to give him some motivation and backstory when he soliloquizes at the politician he captured. It’s your classic “misunderstood villain” justification where the baddy just needs someone to understand the point of it all. Of course, Diamondback straight up kills the guy after he’s listened to his whole explanation but that fits. I did like that most of the flashy conflict of this episode was in the big shootout at the beginning. It’s an interesting way to structure the episode. The actual confrontation between Diamondback and Luke is an equally perfect moment for Luke. It exemplifies his heroism because he doesn’t actually beat anybody up. He rescues all the hostages and tries to talk Diamondback down. Then, rather than settle his grudge with Diamondback, he saves Candace and gives himself up to the police. For having such high stakes, this whole episode is very low on action. It generates its conflict and suspense in quieter ways which befit its hero.
So, in what I’ve come to think of as true Luke Cage style, it’s the moments of relative calm that let the conflict shine through all the better. Claire gets an opportunity to steal the entire show and she takes it. The police stop antagonizing Luke without cause, though they still insist on working by their protocol. It’s refreshing to see police doing their job and protecting citizens when so often real world police shoot black people unprovoked and fictional police are always in the criminal’s pocket. Finally, Diamondback establishes his craziness and a decent chunk of his motivation and yet gets away at the end so that there is still unfinished business to attend to in the rest of the series. This episode is so enjoyable that I’m still having a bit of trouble expressing how and why it works so well. Maybe it’s because they already made me like all of the characters so all of them being in peril provides enough emotional investment to satisfy me. Maybe it’s just that it does its job so well I can’t even see the seams.
Season 1, Episode 11 (S01E11)
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