Luke Cage, Reluctant Hero

luke-cage-1024x380So, I’ve been slowly (very slowly–we’re only on episode 7) watching Netflix’s Luke Cage.  And there are a few things I love about it:

  • the soundtrack
  • the visuals (costumes, SET DESIGN, staging/camera work, that Biggie portrait on Cottonmouth’s wall)
  • the acting, especially by the entire Stokes family
  • Detective Misty! Pop’s swear jar! Charming delinquent youths!
  • the soundtrack
  • the way Scarfe delivers, like, every single line, and also that I’m pretty sure he was the only white person in the first episode
  • pretty sure I actually squeed when Theo Rossi showed up as Shadesshut-up-and-take-my-money
  • seriously though, I tried to buy the soundtrack midway through episode one. WHY CAN’T I BUY THE SOUNDTRACK MARVEL URRRRRGH GET IT TOGETHER PLEASE

Ahem. Excuse me. Sorry about that.

Anyway, despite the fact that there are lots of things to love in this show, I’m struggling with the pacing. Luke’s just… there. Or, as C put it at the beginning of tonight’s episode, “Manifest” (1×07), “Wow. That was definitely the least exciting superhero interaction… ever.” [Gun deal is happening. Luke walks up. Criminals run away. Luke stands still, tells gun dealer he’s taking the guns, it’s over, blah blah blah, that guy runs away too.] Luke just… stands there.

Implacable…

Unmotivated.

Seriously, what does Luke want? Yes, he’s powerful, but he doesn’t want his power. He doesn’t want anything except to be left alone. That’s… kind of a tough sell, yanno?

Spoilers through 1×07 below the cut!

I’m going to write this whole post before I go read Jenny Crusie’s version of it, including why she stopped watching the series after 1×07; I’ve been saving her post until after, so I could avoid spoilers, and I’m pretty sure I know why she stopped watching. I’m going to make a prediction and then go see if I was right. Wanna play along at home? Here goes!

I’m not going to stop watching, but throughout this entire episode, I mentioned more than once that Luke’s constant “but I don’t waaaant powers, I just want to hide” wasn’t working for me as a motivation.

Luke doesn’t want to use his powers. He doesn’t want to get involved. He wants to read books and sweep up hair at Pop’s, and that’s all he wants to do.

I said once or twice that the Stokes family and their backstory was about 1000% more interesting than Luke’s determination to Just. Do. Nothing. The Stokes clan isn’t heroic, but at least they have goals. Conflicting goals that set them in conflict with one another! Motivations that make them take actions that cause reactions!

Luke just has reactions. He just wants to read Invisible Man and sweep up hair and hide.

Okay, fine. I get it. Tragic backstory, blah blah blah, but the thing is–he didn’t act until forced to by Pop. Then he didn’t want to act, but felt forced to by Pop’s loss. Then he resisted action again until he got talked into it by somebody else — Claire, Scarfe, Claire — and it basically makes me wish there was less Luke in the show. If all he’s going to do is alternate between whining about how he doesn’t want to be special and standing still while people shoot him uselessly, then… why watch?

The answer, I think, is the antagonists. The Stokes family backstory is tragic, like Luke’s, but it gives Cornell and Mariah goals and reasons to fight for them. They’re both powerful and terrified of losing their power, making them fascinating to watch. (Doesn’t hurt that both actors are fantastic!)

I’m definitely going to keep watching; the twist in this episode kept Mariah interesting, had great acting from Baby Cornell, and gave me back Shades. Who cares if Luke is still a whiny do-nothing that Claire’s trying her damndest to make into a hero? I’m watching for Mariah’s next move, and to get the reveal on Diamondback that I know is coming. Plus, although she’s down a partner, Misty’s got a frenemy from IA investigating her and is still drawn to Luke’s hot/bulletproof body, so she’s got an interesting problem and I’m eager to see how she tackles it–because unlike Luke, Misty isn’t even going to be tempted to dig in her heels and do nothing.

So, while I love a good Reluctant Hero, I think Luke is teetering on the verge of being WAY too reluctant. Come on, man! Listen to Claire, if Pop and Chico and Scarfe weren’t enough to get through to you!

Thanks to The AV Club’s Luke Cage Binge Watch for great reviews and links to other people’s thoughts about the show. If anybody else is watching–or reviewing–or has links to reviews–I’d love to hear about it.

But for now, I’m off to Argh to see what Jenny said!

Update: I was wrong, it wasn’t the no-goal protagonist! It was that the central conflict (Cage vs. Stokes) has been resolved, and we don’t know enough about Diamondback to care. (I was, in fact, saying something about “Oh, so is that the other snake guy?” while watching this episode. Not super great setup if the viewer doesn’t know the antagonist’s name off the top of her head by episode 7 of 13.)

At any rate–I’m still going to keep watching. I had a similar problem with the first episode of Jessica Jones, and complained a lot that the conflict wasn’t clear until the end of E01. Now it looks like Luke Cage‘s conflict is going to finally turn up in… E08? Hoo boy.

But Cottonmouth was hella fun to watch. Here’s hoping whoever plays Diamondback is half as good!

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