Snap. Crackle. Pop.
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Cottonmouth notes that there are certain codes of conduct that must be observed, certain rules that must be kept intact for legitimacy and honor. It’s an ironic line coming from a man who walks into a barber shop in a nice suit and tries to walk out without paying but it’s significantly more so from someone who has no problem cultivating death as a tool in order to raise their wealth and subsequently power. It’s not a unique trait for Cottonmouth or indeed antagonists in general. It’s a notion that fits neatly with antagonists who draw an imaginary line that gives them the assurance that they’re not crossing it in spite of all of their actions. It gives them a notion that they have a semblance of honor left and as they become further and further drawn into the fabric of reality that composes their antagonism, they often have a tendency to cling tighter and tighter to it and more loudly at that. That tightening is ironically juxtaposed with how that honor thusly becomes more and more diluted. The underlying reality that must also be taken into account is that that imaginary line is shifted and warped constantly, depending on the circumstances and how the antagonist wants to act in that moment. That is notably a fairly general depiction of that specific narrative arc but it holds true to some degree in that antagonists rarely see themselves in the light of an antagonist, regardless of how varied the antagonists in and of themselves may be. Cottonmouth is very much in the wheelhouse of not seeing himself entirely within the confines of being a traditional antagonist, but he is at least self-aware enough to realize that there is a chunk of him that is and the way he realizes that is a unique complexity that several antagonists are often not afforded.
“Code of the Streets” adopts that moral complexity throughout the episode, an impressive improvement over the pilot. Some of the flaws still exist (particularly in regard to the writing afforded Alfre Woodard’s Mariah), but this episode put forth a show that is perfectly at home within its universe while also acknowledging the importance of what it means in the real world. Narratives whose crux hinges upon marginalized groups face considerably greater pressure to not only succeed in delivering a good story but also succeed in addressing the concerns their respective marginalized communities in the real world. Luke Cage is importantly unapologetically black and when some individuals note that there is a great degree of world-building in the show, it’s important to note that Harlem is a predominantly black community that actually exists. Luke Cage may be fictional but its creators are understanding that the black community deserves a narrative that is not specifically enshrined within the confines of slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. The show still relies too much upon the criminal gang element, however, and it’s a cautionary note for a show that means so much to the current cultural paradigm. The black experience in America is more complex and varied than that and far too often mainstream entertainment gets away with ignoring that reality. And I simply can’t emphasize enough how important it is to see in today’s day and age a black man be riddled with bullet holes but standing tall in spite of them.
The black experience forms a considerable crux of what this episode is trying to say about the actions of its characters in relation to their ethnic identity. For marginalized communities, their collective identity is crucial and while that is a generic statement, it holds true in some regard even if it doesn’t hold so for everyone who shares that identity or multiple ones. The writing for Mariah is still arguably the weakest for anyone in the main cast, which is a shame as Woodard is terrific. But she does bring up a point about whether or not Cottonmouth’s gangster life was really what the black community had fought and died for centuries. Cottonmouth takes a moment to consider her question, but he says that the black community in America fought for power and prestige and that’s what he’s bringing. Luke, as one might imagine, has a different perspective. The opening and ending scenes were a terrific narrative device that served to underscore that complexity of perspective. To Luke, as far as his reaction can be read, the n word is one that offends him because of how it has come to be used to define black men. Luke doesn’t want to be the physical representation of how that word is often used nor does he want anyone to perceive him in that way, let alone treat him as they understand the meaning of that word to be. I could be wrong of course, but that was my reading of the scene and if you feel differently, let me know below.
As an episode, this is a fantastic hour that ups the stakes considerably and in the most surprising of ways. There’s a realistic component to Chico’s actions that would lead to a consequential end in some fashion and the show keeps that in mind but in spite of that, I simply didn’t expect Pop to die like that or this soon. Pop was an incredibly complex character and Frankie Faison brought incredible life to a man who felt so authentic in only two episodes, so much so that his death leaves behind a considerable emotional gap that the show may or may not benefit from in the long run. He was changed because of his mistakes and he reached out constantly with nothing but compassion for young men who were going astray, young men whom he could possibly save from learning the lesson the hard way the way he did. Cottonmouth may have killed Tone in response to his murder of Pop, but what he became in spite of his veneer was what Pop wanted to save others from becoming. When Cottonmouth was getting his old-fashioned shave and bashing millennials as if it was an original thing to do these days, he mentions that he likes the old ways of the Bible, the “eye for an eye” code that was in actuality immortalized by King Hammurabi of the Babylonian Empire in approximately 1754 BCE. Pop mentions Jesus’s code of turning the other cheek, but as Cottonmouth notes with astuteness, he isn’t Jesus.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Detective Misty Knight is absolutely fantastic. Her basketball game alone makes her an intriguing character as women rarely get complicated characters, let alone ones that are involved in sports often delegated to the male arena. I like how complex, no-nonsense, and compartmentalized she is. Simone Missick is exceptional.
+Pop dissing Fox News was great
Episode Title: Code of the Streets
Written by: Cheo Hodari Coker
Directed by: Paul McGuigan
Image Courtesy: The Telegraph
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