05th Oct2016

‘Luke Cage 1×03: Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Bring da motherfuckin’ ruckus.”

This show has a fucking soundtrack. Sixteen Marvel movies hit theaters every year and I’d be shocked if you could find someone on the street who remembered a single bar of original music used in any of them. Three episodes into Luke Cage and not only have we heard Charles Bradley, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Nirvana, Isaac Hayes, Nas, and Ghostface Killah deployed with restraint and familiarity, but the show’s original score is genuinely memorable as well, a collection of noir-ish and Blaxploitation-era tracks that give real life to the city and its goings-on. And that’s before we even get to the colossal set piece at the center of “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?”

In an extended sequence set to the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Bring Da Ruckus”, Luke storms the fortified Crispus Attucks Building by himself. It’s the stuff of pulp legend, an invulnerable hero trashing his enemy’s stronghold, robbing the rich to feed the poor, and throwing a couch out a window like a kid tossing a hacky sack. It looks good, too. “Bring Da Ruckus” is a fucking anthem, man, and every moment of Luke’s progress through Crispus Attucks is distinct. He wraps up a mook in a car door like a human falafel, rips two feet of pipe out of a wall, walks unfazed down a hallway while being sprayed with machine gun fire, and swings the aforementioned couch into a crowd of Cottonmouth’s thugs, scattering them left and right. The Wu-Tang Clan aren’t so much riding piggyback on Luke’s rampage as they are being channeled by him like spirits of righteous destruction. It’s Luke Cage‘s hallway fight, a memorable and thrilling action sequence with a resonant thematic undercurrent from its soundtrack to the hoodie its hero wears, a creator-confirmed tribute to the memory of Trayvon Martin.

Elsewhere, the episode takes time out to show us what makes its supporting cast tick. The most interesting scene on the roster is Councilwoman Dillard’s conversation with her cousin in the park outside Crispus Attucks. Her genuine belief that she’s changing Harlem’s future for the better, despite her connections to gun-running and who knows what else, is both chilling and surprisingly affecting. She’s deluded herself into thinking she can steal the neighborhood’s cake and feed them, too. We don’t learn much about Misty for all the screen time she’s given, nor is her rapport with partner Rafael Scarfe (Frank Whaley) all that engaging. Her hospital run-in with Luke, by contract, crackles with chemistry as the two square off in a flirt/threat showdown. Simone Missick is mesmerizing as Knight, though. Her monologue about learning the theory of basketball from Pop and her father carries a warmth of bittersweet feeling not many actors could pull off.

Her slightly damp connection with Scarfe, though, isn’t anywhere near as tough to take as the suddenness and deranged brutality of Cottonmouth blowing up an entire apartment building to get at Luke. Sure we’ve seen him kill people with his bare hands and order a few hits, but annihilating a building full of innocents threatens to rip apart the careful character work established by scenes like his shedding tears over picture of his old friends. It’s a cartoonishly evil act and detrimental to the show’s positioning of he and Luke as fundamentally human people whose lives and natures have led them down very different paths through the same forest.

Who’s Gonna Take the Weight? is a strong episode buoyed up by stellar performances and a jaw-dropping action sequence, but it shows worrisome cracks where it loses track of one of its main players’ humanity.


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