A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The pacing of Luke Cage is a unique beast. At times, Marvel’s latest television offering feels languid in its narrative exposition and at other times the effect is of a nice surprise when consequences arrive in quick succession. A little before the halfway mark of the season, Luke Cage throws down the gauntlet in more ways than one, shifting the narrative considerably forward as the inevitable consequence hit several characters before they often even have time to realize what is happening to them. That those shifts occur at the moments when the characters least expect it is just the cherry on top. “Suckas Need Bodyguards” is the best episode yet of the show for that primary reason, eschewing the feeling that the show in large fashion was spinning its wheels (that feeling might arise later, considering that there are still seven episodes to go in the show’s freshman season). The episode is impressive especially when one considers that Luke Cage’s two primary weaknesses are pacing and a sense of a lack of characterization. While both of those worries are not entirely assuaged, they’re mitigated to enough of a degree to where the series is able to create a sense of real urgency for perhaps the first time so far.
The greatest beneficiary of this episode is Alfre Woodard’s corrupt Councilwoman Mariah Dillard. Woodard is an actress of a caliber where she can create a mesmerizing performance with seemingly little effort, but the writing up until this episode didn’t do her many favors. She was largely the one-note corrupt politician constantly telling Cottonmouth to get his act together. Her one burst of true emotional heft was when Cottonmouth made the mistake of calling her “Black Mariah.” Luke Cage laying down the gauntlet seems to have brought up that figure from her past, the one who sees a bulletproof man and immediately thinks of drowning, burning, and or poisoning him. Her interview after that opening is a fascinating one-eighty, her appearances to appear clean and only invested in the future of Harlem and not her own failing to convince the intrepid reporter interviewing. The slipping of that veneer, which is painfully obvious fairly quickly to everyone except Mariah, creates a sense of palpable frustration as she struggles to maintain it in spite of the mounting evidence of corruption being presented in front of her face. The Crispus Attucks attack from Luke is seemingly the final straw before Mariah learns of Cottonmouth’s arrest. The veneer has slipped at least in part and for the first time so far, I’m excited as a viewer to see where her pathway takes her now that she finds herself in her toughest position yet.
Cottonmouth’s arrest itself was thoroughly surprising. That Cottonmouth would continue to evade the police in spite of the general information floating about in regards to his criminal behavior was believable, in part to how generally true those circumstances are and how he was able to take advantage of having two police officers in his pocket. His shooting of Scarfe, whom he saw as pushing his luck, was the first mistake that took Cottonmouth in a downwards direction. Shooting a police officer wasn’t going to help him in any regards, especially if he lived to tell the tale. Scarfe did end up surviving, if only long enough to find himself in the care of Claire and Luke. He confesses that he was the one that killed Chico to serve Cottonmouth, a reveal that Luke understandably doesn’t take too kindly to. After Scarfe made the decision to not hand over more advanced weaponry over to Cottonmouth, I was worried that the series would take the route of having Scarfe saddest discover a conscious. That isn’t exactly what happened, as he still retained his streak of self-interest till the very end. His death was unsurprising in the aftermath of him being shot and his confession, but it was handled relatively well with his last words being an apology to the women he had let down the most.
Misty’s attachment to Scarfe, her refusal to believe that he was in any way corrupted seemed to be more than simple partner loyalty. She reveals that Scarfe was the only guy who really stood up for her when she joined the force, the only one who truly saw something in her, something she still wasn’t able to explain. That trust in turn gave birth to her ferocity of keeping a belief in him until the last minute. She’s alone in that department, the object of an odd sense of fascination as everyone is seemingly wondering why she’s still so fiercely loyal even though Scarfe’s loyalty was under a considerable amount of scrutiny. That isolation in part fed her ferocity, a ferocity she was able to use to get the truth out of Perez. That scene was written oddly, with an unbelievable fake phone call Perez should have seen right through if he was able to use any of his intelligence. It’s a good move on Misty’s part but the writing doesn’t take advantage of that clever moment to display it with an equivalent cleverness, instead espousing the bluntness the show so often resorts to. The episode springboards that questionable piece of writing into the moment Misty was waiting for. Perez’s confession may not be all of the evidence required to push the case against Cottonmouth to its logical conclusion, but for now it’s enough to place handcuffs on the man and that is a moment of triumph in and of itself.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Mariah wanting parental validation
+“I don’t care how bulletproof you are.”
+“I’d rather be a smart-ass than a dumb-ass.”
Episode Title: Suckas Need Bodyguards
Written by: Nathan Louis Jackson
Directed by: Sam Miller
Image Courtesy: Nerdist
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