The Soul of a Musician
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Mariah notes to the press amidst a quiet, dark evening that Cottonmouth was a complex man. He was a man who, underneath all of his bluster, truly had the soul of a musician. The dark humor in that moment hits the ironic nail on the head in a way that perhaps was unintended. Cottonmouth’s legacy, at least in that moment, serves to be the legacy he always wanted but the legacy he was never able to achieve. How long that will stand remains to be seen, but until the season finale looks like a safe bet. The death of Cottonmouth provided the series with a moment of true narrative power and shock that felt earned and inevitable, the best kind of twist for any type of story, regardless of the genre. What that twist does, however, is open up a pathway for a new antagonist to rise to the top by using Cottonmouth’s ashes as a stepping stone. It seemed quite clear that Mariah was going to be the one to use the ladder with Shades acting as an active right-hand man. The shadow of Diamondback, however, seemed to creep up in various corners from time to time with the presumed intention of reminding the audience who the actual big bad of the first season was. The inherent expectation was that Diamondback would command the screen in a way that would eclipse Cottonmouth, which in and of itself is a tall order considering how thoroughly the cameras on Luke Cage rightfully worshipped Mahershala Ali. Diamondback would have to be a threatening man who was effective and delivered on those threats but he would also have to be a presence whose sheer aura would feel inescapable. That doesn’t happen and it thusly continues to make the decision to include Diamondback in the fashion they did all the more questionable.
The primary problem is that Diamondback doesn’t fulfill the requirements that the Big Bad was supposed to have acquired. When I pictured Diamondback, I imagined a man whose presence would fill an entire room, no matter how small or large. I imagined a man whose voice would create an aura of instant fear and trepidation. I imagined a man who would make Cottonmouth tremble on the floor of Harlem’s Paradise. Perhaps that’s a fault of my own imagination, but that’s how the show sold him. It’s the fatal mistake in a story that is seen so often with miscasting and unfortunate writing decisions. A character is built up and the end result just seems to be significantly more disappointing than anything else. In all fairness, it has only been an episode since Diamondback had any dialogue, but the dialogue is delivered in such a cheesy, slick humor sort of fashion that it instantly loses any semblance of threat. The threat of the Judas bullet is evident enough and the only way that I know Luke will be alive by the end of the season is because he’s the titular character and there will be a season two. But the threat of the man holding it is nonexistent. Erik LaRay Harvey, previously of Boardwalk Empire fame, acts out a character that is one to watch but not the right one to follow Cottonmouth. Diamondback’s cheesy, snarling lines serve to take the tension out from underneath everyone and even the final confrontation where he snarls that he is in fact Luke Cage’s brother is devoid of any tension. There’s no history between the two and Diamondback is a character so thoroughly removed from the person we know Luke Cage that the placement of the twist at that particular moment feels more like a twist for the sake of having one, not one that logically works here.
The women of Luke Cage continue to be the most fascinating aspect of a series built around a male hero. Misty’s unraveling here makes sense, even if it is difficult to see her do so. When she accosts Claire in an interrogation room, it’s Misty at her lowest, embarking on the pathway of the abuse of power so readily available to her (albeit temporarily). That she’s rebuked is surprising, but less so in the remembrance of the soror bond between Priscilla and Mariah. Mariah herself continues to note to a picture of Mama Mabel that she is not in any way like her, but her cold calculation of what would happen if one of her pawns spoke out about Cottonmouth’s murder proved that she was more like her than she perhaps could ever admit to herself. That quiet, cold calculation of multiple murders is so effortlessly chilling that it continues to make the decision to portray Cottonmouth as they have done so far even more questionable. Her blaming of Luke for the murder of Cottonmouth is especially inspired, even if it does come off as a bit suspicious. Alfre Woodard finally received the material that was worthy of her talents and I hope the show won’t squander that going forward. Claire is the one, however, who continues to be the most fascinating addition to the series and makes me hope for a Claire Temple series. She is astute, intelligent, and ferocious in a way no one else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe really is. When she stands up to Misty, there’s a fierceness and invincibility that even makes Misty cower. That she resorts to a physical confrontation only serves to prove how powerful Claire’s words and intuitions are. She’s not invincible or perfect, but Nurse Temple is arguably the truest superhero Marvel has yet to offer.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“That’s the least time you will ever call me a bitch.”
+“Who the hell is Luke Cage?”
+“You never really know what anyone is capable of.”
+“It would be a shame to bring the market value down.”
-“Not even a little bit?” Ugh.
-“He’ll suffer more that way.” Oh, for the love of…
Episode Title: Blowin’ Up the Spot
Written by: Aïda Mashaka Croal
Directed by: Magnus Martens
Image Courtesy: TV Guide
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