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Luke Cage: Take It Personal

"Get your Sharpton on. Make this moment all about you."

Luke struggles to survive while Claire searches for a cure. Meanwhile, Mariah takes advantage of the tensions in Harlem to scrabble for power.

This episode opens where the last left off: with our hero going through a particularly Marvel Comics extended version of the whole "We Have To Get The Bullet Out" trope. In Westerns, this involves the young cocky hero biting into, say, a belt or some wood, while the sympathetic town doctor digs into his body with scalpel. For Luke Cage, I guess, there's no wood that could stand up to his bite: he can only hold Claire's hand – or make a fist to show he surrenders.

Which he, being the Stalwart Hero, does not do – and neither does our other hero. Claire is extraordinary in this episode, out-sciencing Burstein, instantly recognizing what Burstein can't or doesn't want to: temperature is the stimulant they need for the acid bath to open up Luke's cells and allow for the removal of the bullet shrapnel. Then she goes on to actually perform necessary surgery and just in time to save Luke's life. Burstein looks at her in wonder, and he should: she's wonderful. With Luke's survival, he becomes able to deal with the world and rapidly improves, and we finally learn more about his Seagate experience.

In my last review I mentioned I had a feeling there was something more to Reva's story, and this is part of that, too: but I think I had it backwards. At first we learned Reva had covered up the fact she knew about medical experiments at Seagate; then we saw when Reva begged Burstein to perform the Procedure on Carl Lucas. I wondered if there was more to the story, if there was a deeper betrayal coming and she in fact erased his identity to, for example, do more experiments on him. What I saw in this episode made me feel slightly ashamed of my suspicions. It turns out the truth is sort of the opposite, and I am completely on Claire's side. Yes, Reva betrayed Carl initially as we knew, in terms of keeping the full extent of her knowledge from him. She was even more deeply into the game than Luke knew later. But I think that point where Carl came to Reva and showed concern for her life, which I'm guessing happened after the last vlog we saw from her, was a life-changing experience for Reva, and it seems rather than Reva being malicious or evil psychotic scientist, she was a human being who was slipping morally due to the nature of her job and who was, to some extent, saved by her experience and connection with Carl – which led both to her freeing him and posthumously saving him a second time with the stolen USB drive (which held all the secrets about Luke, so she kept that promise to tell him everything in the end, too, even though she was murdered.) A lot also is proved by what Burstein admitted – that Reva had also erased herself, joined in with Luke. I hope Luke realizes the truth of what Claire said about Reva at some point. I understand that seeing those videos on the computer sucked, but I'm confident we saw an earlier Reva not yet changed by her relationship with Luke.

Willis and Mariah are turning into a fearsome team, with a nice can't-trust-each-other dynamic. Personally, I find Mariah more terrifying than Willis. Willis can go beyond the normal limits of civilization to keep coming and coming and coming. He's ferocious, terrifying and uncontrolled, and because of that Mariah is more powerful than he is. He can punch a cop in a crowd (with super glove technology), bringing random violence into the world. He is completely out of control. She has the velvet glove to put over the iron fist. I loved the moment when he was watching Mariah rouse the crowd in this episode, because that's something he can't do, ever, and I think there was jealousy in his eyes, and a little awe. Mariah has control over her inner evil, and can channel it, and make things happen with it. She's a snake, too. Her bite is poison.

The subsequent events behind her 'bite' – the police becoming furious and attacking young black men – led to an understanding for me of how this show is thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement, and portraying the social issues which underlie and drive it. For me, this show has it exactly right. When Willis and Mariah frame Luke, the system descends on young black men for information. Mariah knows this before it even happens. If it was any x framing any x, the system would descend on those who are easiest to hassle first, and the wealthy and powerful last – and in this society, because of US history, that's very often, in the US, Black lives. That's the problem. The system is set up to support and enable the notion that such a system is not only okay but also the right thing for people to do. Mariah flips this, politicizing the process for her own ends. I only wish people could see through her transparent deal – because the weapons that can hurt superhumans can definitely hurt humans, and it's the same policemen who are handling more powerful guns. But Mariah pulls it off. She's turning into Mama Mabel, whether she admits it or no, and I think if she ever admitted it, she'd also admit she enjoys the process. I liked Lonnie who stuck up for his cool Mom, and I'm sorry they got stuck in the middle of all this. I'm not too sure about the cop who hit him – you'd think after what happened with Misty, the department would be a little leery of hitting suspects.

Speaking of Misty. I think she went some way towards redeeming herself tonight. I've been confused about her since she attacked Claire, but here she manages to see through the politics, focus on the important thing – Willis Stryker who mistakenly revealed himself to her – realizes there's some connection between him and the bigger case, and sees through Mariah, heading to Harlem's Paradise. She realizes there's a connection between that and the disappearance of all those other mob bosses.

I feel the weaker parts of the episode center, actually, on the later parts. Luke goes to his father's church, which is abandoned – to hide out? Not entirely sure. He heads to Harlem's Paradise – and nobody recognizes him in the entrance? The dude kind of stands out! And finally, I'm honestly not sure what Luke thinks he's going to do when he confronts Mariah and Stryker with all those people there, and it seems too much like potential collateral damage for it to be in character with Luke. I think he just feels he has nothing to lose and would rather be the actor than the acted on: and I get that. But I forget all of that once the shooting starts and Luke and Misty, there investigating Mariah's part in the whole thing. Because without him, Misty would certainly be dead: and even with his arms around her, protecting her from the glass flying around Harlem's Paradise, it's not entirely certain she won't be.

Bits and Pieces

Burstein offering to train Claire – and Claire turning the offer around on him.

The moment when Luke destroys Burstein's barn in rage.


Burstein: You are about to do something completely stupid. I wouldn't be a good scientist if I let you do it alone.

Ridley: We can't let this get out of hand.
Smith: Goddam right. One of our own is dead. Cage is gonna pay for what he did. We're gonna hit the streets hard. We're gonna shake the ground. Smoke him out. That's how you find a roach. You fumigate.
Ridley: You're talking about a community of people, not pests.

Patricia: You'd think a sister in charge would change things. But you're blue, which makes you just as white as anybody else!
Ridley: Luke Cage is a suspect at large for murder, a number of other crimes.
Patricia: Luke Cage may be bulletproof, but my boy isn't.


This has been my favorite episode so far. And now my review's done, I get to watch the rest! Five out of five Burstein-salvaged hard drives.


  1. Mariah, Cottonmouth Shades and Diamondback..Whichever your preference i thought they where all amazing villains in there own ways.
    Claire and Misty are absolute goddesses.

  2. My least favorite episode so far.

    Two things stick out. First, Luke finding out about his relation to Stryker. It was really cheap. I can get him going to that church — he wants to know more about Stryker, he doesn't exactly knows what there is to know, so, he looks around. Makes sense. But him suddenly "remembering" — that's what I don't buy. If it was so close to the surface, he should be able to realize that at least in the previous episode. Strike that; he should be able to realize that while still being Carl Lucas. Doing time in the Seagate.

    Second is Mariah manipulating the crowd. Certainly, people are generally easy to manipulate. But when there is another, easier target for the public anger, it should take much more effort to convince people otherwise. I'm sure Mariah could pull this off. But here she did it on the spot, basically just saying "you hate cops, but you should hate Luke Cage instead", and boom — everybody forgives the cops and hates Luke. BTW, Luke recently was a hero for all this people, and cops, I imagine, were never really trusted there.

    Also, I don't understand where this "how can I trust you" comment comes from. Claire just saved Luke's life — not to mention drove him all the way to look at Seagate, which was exhausting for sure — and that's what he says to her? Even if he feels that way — although she gave him exactly zero reasons to — and wants to be honest, at least he could have a common decency to phrase this differently, making it less her fault and more his own.

    And I still like Burnstein. They tried to make him look bad, but I think never succeeded.

  3. The Frankenstein boiling acid stuff was so over the top that I simply couldn't take it seriously. The framing stuff didn't work for me, either -- let's frame Luke Cage this way, no that way, this is the bad guy, no, this is the bad guy. I'm not liking Stryker at all.

  4. Stupid question time (and spoilers for Jessica Jones below):

    Kilgrave wanted Reva dead. Was that related to the Seagate experiments?

  5. I loved the first half of the season, but it's taking me a while to get through the remainder of episodes. The good news is I liked this episode a lot, even with the obvious flaws (the ones Joseph and migmit pointed out). I still don't like Stryker as a villain, though.

    Do they ever answer the question Josie asked? I keep asking myself why that person wanted Reva dead.


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