Luke Cage (Mike Colter) last appeared in Marvel’s Jessica Jones as a super hero and now his backstory is revealed. He was previously Carl Lucas, a police officer wrongly incarcerated in Seagate Prison where he undergoes medical experimentation by Dr. Noah Burstein (Michael Kostroff, The Black List). After an experiment on Luke goes awry, he becomes endowed with superhuman strength and impermeable skin, helping him to escape from Seagate. It is also revealed that he was the son of a preacher who fathered another boy with his personal assistant Dana Stryker (Natalie Paul, Boardwalk Empire). Tying up more of Cage’s loose ends, his half-brother turns out to be mob boss, Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey, Boardwalk Empire). With his new name, Luke Cage, the big man is working two menial jobs: by day, a sweeper at the barbershop owned by former gang enforcer, Henry “Pop” Hunter (Frankie Faison, The Wire) and, by night, a bartender at Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes’s (Mahershala Ali, House of Cards) exclusive Harlem night club. After a torrid one-night stand with police detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick, Wayward Pines), Cage realizes that some very bad stuff is going down at Stokes’s Harlem Paradise.
As the series progresses, we get to witness a number of complex relationships in a very troubled New York where law enforcement, and the drug and arms trade determine status and stability. A guns-for-money deal involving Cottonmouth goes bad, jeopardizing the housing project of Cottonmouth’s cousin, Harlem councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard, How to Get Away with Murder). When Pop is killed and Luke emerges unscathed from a drive-by shooting by Cottonmouth’s men, the temperature of this series quickly begins to rise.
Luke singlehandedly goes after Cottonmouth’s criminal organization. After some stash house break-ins, Stokes receives a visit from rival Latino boss Domingo Colon (Jacob Vargas, Sons of Anarchy) who wants his money back for the failed arms shipment but when Cottonmouth stiffs him, the bad blood between the two men presages inevitable gang warfare. The nightclub owner gets Cage’s present location from Misty Knight’s crooked cop partner, Rafael Scarfe (Frank Whaley, Gotham), and comes very close to taking Luke’s life.
Nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson, Jessica Jones) has reconnected with Luke (she saved his life in Jessica Jones) and comes to aid Luke after he is seriously wounded by Stryker’s skin-penetrating “Judas Bullets.” Mariah’s relationship with cousin Cornell is harming her political career and during a violent argument, she inadvertently pushes him over the club’s balcony to his death. With the assistance of Hernan “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi, Sons of Anarchy) who becomes her partner in crime, Mariah succeeds in pinning the murder on Cage.
Diamondback begins to eliminate his competition and a damaged Luke seeks out the rogue scientist Dr. Burstein to revive his superpowers. All right already, there are improbable strokes that stretch our credulity (particularly the resurrection of Luke Cage) but, in true Marvel tradition, all of this is just business as usual.
Given the large numbers of directors (12!) and scriptwriters (11!) involved in this Netflix series, there is an astonishing cohesiveness between most of the episodes. Luke Cage is an ultra-dark show that rocks out as it careens through the usual assortment of increasingly violent situations, culminating in epic showdowns and a conclusion that virtually assures us of a Season 2. Creator Cheo Hodari Coker (Notorious) has taken an iconic comic book hero and, thanks to Mike Colter, has endowed him with his signature scowl. Following in the giant footsteps of the Fox Broadcasting Company’s Empire, this is another successful television series created by a very talented African-American writer/director/producer and featuring a top-flight, largely African-American cast with nary a weak link. Certainly one of the best Netflix Marvel Originals that has come my way.
Luke Cage: Season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix.
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