Luke Cage is a terrible show

I chose this title to make sure I don’t mislead the accidental reader into thinking I’ll turn this review around and end up saying something positive about the new Marvel series on Netflix, Luke Cage. I’ll get the positive things out of the way quickly, because there isn’t that much of that.

If you don’t want spoilers, this is your warning. If you liked the show, this may sour your memories.

I always like a reluctant hero, and at first, Luke looks principled, charming and even sexy. I enjoyed the first two episodes enough that I watched the series all the way to the tragic, boring end. Misty Knight and the Stokes cousins started out as interesting characters that I looked forward to watching. I liked the music in Harlem’s Paradise in the first two episodes.

All right. That’s done.

The first thing that ruined the show for me was the plethora of plot holes and impossibilities concerning the police department. Either the writers think they’ve personally invented a concept called the police, and are freestyling it without realising there actually is such a force, or, more likely, they are trying to bring together a cartoonist’s idea of the police in the 70’s in a modern, urban fantasy series. Detective Misty Knight sleeps with her main suspect, her partner is found to be on the payroll of the influential gangster she’s chasing, and he dies right before her. Of course, the precinct doesn’t force her to take leave and see a psychologist for a little while. In fact, her boss puts her right back on that same case. Really? A cop grabs a 13-year-old off the streets for questioning with no reason or evidence (illegal), questions him alone without his guardian (super illegal), then assaults him while he’s in custody: this is enough to make the nation grind to a halt. Most heads in that police force would have rolled for that, and it wouldn’t culminate in a little gathering in a night club. Finally, they charge Mariah for murder, they have a witness on tape testifying, and that witness is murdered that very night. Somehow, instead of 100% securing Mariah’s arrest and basically ending her life as a free woman, this clears her of all charges. Are we supposed to sit there and believe this horseshit?

Misty Knight is incredibly dense: she’s supposed to have some sort of investigative gift or power, yet she sucks at her job. There’s a scene where she basically tells her new supervisor that she’s the best, and bringing in criminals is what she does. Years of working with him, and she couldn’t tell her partner was paid by a mob boss! She misses every clue that’s hurled at her. I first thought she was going to be a kickass female lead to complement Luke’s cautious demeanor and apparent wisdom, but instead, she wilts like a flower in front of force and authority time and time again, she gets everything wrong whenever her great detective ability comes into play, and when she does have the truth, she’s unable to move anyone in her department with it. She’s held hostage and hurt regularly, goes in alone without backup constantly and gets her only triumphant moment in the last episode, where she and Claire beat up Shades. I’m beyond disappointed to have been forced to follow such a blind, self-righteous and simply useless character.

All the “Big Bad Guy” gangsters in this show apparently show how cool and scary they are by arbitrarily killing people. This was completely unbelievable. Anyone that unstable quickly gets betrayed by an underling who doesn’t want to be the next one getting shot. The “takeovers” once Cornell dies are laughable: when you get to the top, you have people loyal to you, that you can count on. It doesn’t make any sense that Shades can just walk in and proclaim himself the new king without any problems from Cornell’s goons. In fact, Shades is a joke. The only things he actually does in that entire show: kill three goons, steal Misty’s phone and presumable kill Candace. All those things happen in the two last episodes, which left me wondering why this idiot acting tough was even on the screen the rest of the time. Did we really need him to whisper in Mariah’s ear? That spoiled the strong character she could have been: she needed Shades to tell her to take care of her cousin.

As usual for Marvel, they focus on making a cool-looking gang boss with gimmicks and everything around him is air. The gang itself, his illegal operations, are completely uninspiring: so he’s a night club owner who acts as the go-between of arms dealers and real gangs? I’m not impressed. In fact, none of the gang leader characters impressed me. Willis just shows up to a gang gathering and shoots up three bosses without any resistance? Are we supposed to eat that up? Domingo corners him, and he has a dozen guns pointed on him: he manages to pull out his guns, shoot, amble away to a back room  while his flunkies magically appear to trade shots with the attackers. In the back, he takes his time putting on a full suit of armor and goes back out there to punch people to death? By this point my yawns were trying to break my jaw as punishment for making the rest of my face continue watching this thing to the end.

This rant’s gone on longer than planned, so let’s go to the big man himself: Carl Lucas, aka Luke Cage. Are the writers of the show stupid? Surely this character is the most important thing to the series. I don’t understand what the hell they did with him. At first, he’s the honest working man, ex-cop, who believes in living rightly. He’s interesting because he doesn’t resort to violence so easily. All of this goes straight out the window when he starts punching up dozens of people simply for being Cornell’s underlings or employees, refusing to actually solve the problem at its root and making way for all the collateral damage that follows. He steals some hundred thousand dollars of illegal gun money to pay for renovations to the barber shop (which gets forgotten, then smashed up and finally abandoned). Some people might think that’s fair, but it’s still theft, and super duper illegal. The Marvel fantasy in which he assaults so many people, throws them against walls, down stairs, swings a couch at a roomful of them, lets them shoot him (bullets ricochetting everywhere) yet somehow doesn’t kill anyone simply didn’t work for me. In fact, even if he doesn’t kill anyone, if he goes around crippling and severely injuring people without even thinking about it, that isn’t the simple, good man you see at the beginning. This makes any tough moral decisions further down the line moot: he clearly isn’t a paragon of virtue. He’s just some dude, with powers, who isn’t that much of an asshole and can be pestered into beating up people. Boring.

All this is on top of mediocre writing, the feeling that the writers never know what will happen next episode (with shoddy foreshadowing and last minute additions to the story). Netflix releases a season in one bunch, how do they manage to look like they’re making shit up on the spot?  Finally, the inconclusive ending that seems to make this season even worse to facilitate the existence of another mediocre set of 12 episodes: Marvel’s Luke Cage is a terrible show.

If anyone who’s read this far still likes the show, please feel free to comment, and I’ll do my best to take this thing that brought you joy away from you.

-Hotpen

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