The latest in an awesome line of Marvel-Netflix collaborations dropped on Friday and I have devoured the show, mostly thanks to obsessed friends who wanted to binge on it and also thanks to a weekend with very little in the way of plans. We started watching early Saturday and then finished up at 1am this morning, with interruptions for sleep, food, shopping, and gaming. So, what did I think of it?
It was an impressive use of a diverse cast and I wish that such casting was less of an exception to the status quo. I’m white, but damn am I tired of seeing shows full of pasty white people when there are so many ethnicities that are underrepresented. Luke Cage, which is set in Harlem, is blissfully free of more than a few token white people and I love that. Mike Coulter is amazing as Luke Cage. His presence is like a wall, strong and powerful, just like the character is supposed to be. You can bash yourself against that wall all you want, but it won’t move and it won’t break. Rosario Dawson is brilliant and a sweetheart as Claire Temple. She’s definitely my favorite female character, though the side character Aisha came across strongly for me. I could see Aisha dawning spandex to fight crime with a baseball bat, being as bad-ass as anyone else on the streets.
You want to root for the villains. Shades is probably my favorite character, though I feel like he shouldn’t be because he’s the villain, but he’s just got such amazing charm and style. He’s smooth and slick and you really want to see him succeed, not because he’s done anything to deserve it, but because he just has the kind of presence that makes you root for him. The other villains—Diamondback, Cottonmouth, Mariah, and sometimes even Detective Misty Knight—all have huge flaws. Like, giant cracks down their backs that make you go “bitch, you cray”, though by the end of the season you have to feel sympathetic for Cottonmouth because he’s just trying to succeed in a position he was forced into and Misty has redeemed herself from pseudo-antagonist to protector. (Mariah and Diamondback are both crazy and need to be put down for the betterment of the Marvel Universe, though of course they won’t be because PLOT!)
You get the sense that this is just one piece in a larger whole. There are references everywhere to other Marvel properties. Jessica Jones and Daredevil are referenced heavily, though I haven’t watched either but I know enough of each’s story to go “that’s a reference to something I haven’t seen.” (They’re both up next on my watch-list.) The “incident in New York” is mentioned, with one side character hawking DVDs of the Avengers’ exploits and the alien invasion of the first Avengers movie. HammerTech is all over the place, being sold on the street in shady side deals that’s all Justin Hammer’s MO.
Losses hurt. I’m not going to say who dies, but even for the ones you can see coming, it still hurts. (Okay, so there’s one character that I cheered when he went out a window…) You know that the show’s going to kill off certain characters but it’s still a jolt when it happens. You want them to survive, somehow, and it’s heart-breaking watching the other characters react to the sudden loss.
It makes a statement. You have a bulletproof black hero running around the inner-city in a hoodie. You have police violence on screen. It’s relevant in today’s climate of kids being shot because walking home from the convenience store and wearing a hood is somehow threatening and where cops shoot first and ask questions later. Detective Knight, despite being a main character and a cop is seriously, seriously flawed and the audience gets a good view of just how bloodthirsty the cops can be when they’re out for vengeance and afraid. The cops are not in the right when they’re going after Luke Cage and the audience knows it. Even though Misty ends up a sympathetic character, she doesn’t start that way. She has to earn it, and she’s still got a lot of work to do even after the series has ended. The show takes a hit at for-profit prisons and disproportionate conviction rates and gang culture. It says a lot, all in the guise of a superhero show.
One of my coworkers criticized the show for having a slow open. It didn’t jump right into Luke smashing face, but the show isn’t about that. Luke, as he says repeatedly, is not a superhero. He’s just a guy who got a bad rap, just trying to make it by until circumstances force him to act. That’s what makes him the hero that he is. He just wants to make the world around him a better place, not because he has to but because he can. Because, as a different superhero’s mentor once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” It took Luke a bit to realize the truth of those words, but by the end of the series, he’s there. He’s ready to shoulder the responsibility and I can’t wait to see what happens next.