In the beginning, Netflix’s Luke Cage is a phenomenal watch. Mike Colter is carrying the show, but he’s getting amazing support from Mahershala Ali as Cornell Stokes, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, Theo Rossi as “Shades” Alvarez, and Simone Missick as Misty Knight. We have Cage as an escaped, bulletproof convict on the run, Cornell as a crime lord loyal to Harlem, Mariah as a crooked politician also trying to keep Harlem relevant, Shades as an ambassador to Cornell on behalf of a mysterious “Diamondback,” and Misty trying to keep an eye on each and every one of them as an officer of the law.
As you’ve already heard from those far wiser, the entire premise of a “bulletproof black man” has never been more relevant. Cage has a heart of gold. He wants to do the right thing. He needs to do the right thing. Colter emits an innate sense of nobility. In fact, let’s be honest – Mike Colter is Luke Cage. He’s got the size, the build, the look, and the personality. He’s also got the undeniable, understated charisma the character has utilized for the past ten years or so. I think maybe more than any other Marvel actor, Colter fully embodies the character he is playing.
And while the first several episodes are not perfect, they are so entertaining to watch! Colter’s simmering hero, Ali’s unpredictable temperament, Woodard’s brilliant scheming, Rossi’s utter coolness, and Missick’s authenticity kept the show rolling forward with each actor shining in every scene.
Sure, it’s got some problems in the beginning. Cliches abound. The dialogue can sometimes make you cringe. The story isn’t necessarily fresh when compared even to Cage’s fellow Defender, Daredevil. But, though the story isn’t fresh, the show most certainly is. Virtually every actor in this series is a person of color. I’ve never seen such a diverse cast! I love that Netflix had the bravery to treat Luke Cage’s world respectfully, authentically, and hired the right actors to enrich it even more. In my mind, Luke Cage is groundbreaking in that regard.
Unfortunately, bad things can happen to great intentions, and the bad thing happened in Episode 7 that detracted and ultimately ruined the entire series.
When Ali’s Cottonmouth died, the show effectively ended. It became painfully obvious that Ali could not be replaced as a vital component of Luke Cage, and when he left the show, it suffered. The actors previously mentioned worked in perfect harmony with each other to create a mood, an atmosphere, a vibe on the show that simply no longer worked without Ali’s Cottonmouth.
Soon after Cottonmouth’s demise, Diamondback appears, and that’s when Luke Cage became almost unwatchable. In fact, had it not been for Rosario Dawson doing her best to keep the show aloft, I may have completely thrown in the towel.
Without Cottonmouth, each and every character lost his or her way. The show lost its way. Diamondback introduced every terrible trope and cliche imaginable. For example, he uses alien tech from “the incident” to mimic Cage’s strength, though it never explains how he acquired the technology nor how he has enough prowess to adapt it. Diamondback also uses the alien tech to create “magic” bullets capable of piercing Cage’s skin. Oh, and for good measure, he’s Luke Cage’s heretofore unknown half-brother. You know what, let’s go ahead and make him spout passages from the Bible as well, because, you know, why not? Super suit at the end of the series? Sure thing, even if it does look ridiculous. And that’s just the beginning, folks.
Furthermore, Diamondback has no investment in Harlem, not like the other main characters, and so when he arrives spouting crazy and using super bullets, the other characters have no choice but to sink to his level. It’s no longer about their personal stories and how they each must coexist within Harlem, now it’s about dealing with a “super villain” who lives up to just about every awful stereotype you can imagine.
Cage became wishy-washy with an unnecessary backstory way too similar to Wolverine’s. Misty Knight became a complete contradiction. Dillard became a nutjob. And Shades. Cool, smart, composed Shades. When with Cottonmouth, Shades was the voice of reason. He kept Cottonmouth calm, reminding him that Diamondback wouldn’t like Cottonmouth disturbing the natural order of the streets too much. But when Diamondback actually shows up, he does nothing to make us believe Shades would ever follow such a juvenile lunatic, nor does he match the intellect and competency Shades previously described.
I think Luke Cage went about six episodes too long. Ending on episode 7 or 8, using Cottonmouth’s murder as the season’s climax, would have been a good idea. Introducing Diamondback completely altered the soul of the show and, ultimately, ruined it.