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Welcome back to our reviews of each episode of Netflix and Marvel’s Luke Cage. Check out my earlier reviews below:
And, now, as Pops would say, Always forward.
Episode 11: “Now You’re Mine“
With this episode, Marvel’s Luke Cage delivers maybe its most action-packed and suspenseful episode yet. As the series moves into its climax, the storytelling here promises that the final episodes are going to deliver an frenetic action-packed resolution. Which is good seeing as the series has struggled so far with narrative energy that occasionally tended to stall. You’d never know that based on this episode, which never pauses to take a breath and keeps upping the stakes for Luke and his allies, even as Diamondback’s thirst for vengeance overwhelms his plan to consolidate his grip on Harlem’s underworld. The result is a series of events that grow ever more perilous and unstable as the episode progresses, and that’s what you need heading into a finale; the feeling like it’s all been building to an explosion of some kind with an uncertain outcome. In that regard, the episode succeeds brilliantly.
There are some flaws here and there, notably in the response of the police outside the club. I kind of hate scenes that show cops outside a hostage situation arguing about how to proceed, with someone always advocating charging in a getting everyone killed vs the calmer, collected cop arguing for patience and planning. It’s a cliche, and an awful one, mostly because it’s boring and was overused in the 1980s.
Also, while the way Diamondback is spinning out of control is interesting, it does also simplify his character just as he was growing more compelling. He does more biblical ranting here, and he finally does make explicitly clear why he hates Luke as much as he does. I get what the show is doing with him, and I get the temptation of having a character with a personal grudge with the protagonist. But it feels pretty bog standard when it comes to comic books, and we’ve all seen revenge used as a motivation too many times. And frankly, we just haven’t seen these two characters’ actual relationship in enough detail to care about their rivalry and betrayal and conflict. We’ve been told about it. We’ve seen the pain each of them have about it, but we haven’t actually been made to feel that relationship the way that actual scenes between the two of them would communicate. Think back to how effectively the show set up Luke and Cottonmouth’s rivalry. Or how efficiently and strongly they created the friendship between Pops and and Cottonmouth in just a scene or two, which made Pops’ death pay off so well, and you’ll see the difference. I don’t think Luke and Diamondback’s relationship resonates as much. And maybe that’s what happens when you save the introduction of a major antagonist until halfway through your season. Erik LaRay Harvey does his best to give depth and nuance to Willis “Diamondback” Stryker along with a hammy panache, and there’s some good dialogue, but in the end this is a villain we’ve seen many times before. Turning him away from his ambitious take-over of Harlem to settling the score with Luke makes him less compelling rather than more so.
But, back to the good stuff, of which there is plenty. The action of the series and the suspense take centre stage, with Luke, Misty and Claire trapped in the club, fending off assaults from Diamondback’s goons, even as Shades tries to convince Diamondback to play the smart move rather than the emotional one. Meanwhile, Mariah continues her journey towards becoming the true Big Bad of Marvel’s Luke Cage. The episode, written by Christian Taylor and directed by George Tillman Jr., integrates the super-hero action with the character development perfectly, letting the seriousness of the situation in which our heroes find themselves allow for greater honesty, vulnerability and directness to come through in their dialogue. Misty finally gets to ask her questions of Luke, and he answers them honestly, and when she admits her fear of dying on a dirty floor like Scarfe, it’s genuinely moving. The episode continues to set up Claire’s burgeoning role as conscience and protector of the Netflix Marvel heroes (the “Night Nurse” element is now overt) and Luke has by now fully accepted and gown into the role of hero.
The episode is probably the most viscerally exciting of the series so far, and sets up the climax of the first season perfectly. I’ll be reviewing the final two episode in one article, as they will most likely be of a piece, but as an appetizer, even with its flaws, the eleventh episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage certainly whets the appetite. 9/10