Season 1, Episode 3 – Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?
It’s been three episodes now and Luke Cage is still moving at a glacial pace. While “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight” provided more plot progression than its previous two episodes, it’s still moving at such a slow pace that leaves me both confused and frustrated. Confused because there’s very little reason as to why this series is taking its sweet time moving the paper-thin plot. Frustrated because there are still ten more episodes to go before the season is finished, and if the rest of them are as slow paced as what’s been presented so far, then finishing the season doesn’t seem worth it.
It’s not exactly a show that’s full of depth and complexity, which makes its meandering pacing even more frustrating. Whereas something like The Wire packed each of its hour-long episodes with so many characters, plot threads, and social commentary, Luke Cage does almost nothing. It tries very hard to be deeper than it is, but it ultimately falls short. Cottonmouth and Mariah have done nothing but get their money stolen, our detectives are still playing catch-up, and Luke Cage gets shot multiple times without a problem. That’s basically it. Only three episodes in and things are already getting repetitive and less interesting. There are only four main characters in the show right now, which is barely enough to sustain a 21-minute sitcom, much less an hour-long crime drama.
Not even the action scenes in this episode are enough to make its long running time feel shorter than it is. After finding out that Pop’s barbershop needs $80,000.00 to keep it open, Luke Cage devises a plan to cripple Cottonmouth’s illegal business deals by storming his numerous stash houses, forcing Cottonmouth to keep all his cash in a “central bank” that Luke Cage can then target. I was initially excited about this development because it’s the first time that Luke Cage does something proactive in the series. Unfortunately the result is more of the same; just in bigger quantities. We are treated to numerous scenes of Luke Cage punching thugs and getting shot without a problem. When your superpowered hero is so powerful that he can just storm in a building full of people with guns without much difficulty, then the action scenes become devoid of any tension or excitement.
The action scenes of Luke Cage also serve to highlight a big problem. Adding in the element of a bulletproof superhero feels off in a serious crime drama. It’s not like Daredevil where a blind, acrobatic superhero in a red outfit looks right among the grim, dark streets of New York. Despite his super abilities, Daredevil is very much human and can get killed by getting shot or stabbed. Luke Cage, however, feels unnatural among the show’s overall tone because his abilities belong in a more fantastical setting instead of a grounded reality.
This clashing of tones also becomes a problem when the show inevitably embraces its comic book roots. At the end of the episode, Cottonmouth shoots a missile at a restaurant where Luke Cage is eating, destroying everything around him in a fiery explosion. The scene is more hilarious than shocking because it feels so out of place. Luke Cage tries so hard to be this gritty drama, but when the silliness comes it feels like we’re watching a completely different series. It’s so easy to forget that Luke Cage is actually a superhero comic book show, because the filmmakers have rejected this whole aspect of it by making everything in the show feel like you’re watching the latest episode of The Shield.
It’s a delicate balancing act when you want to have the more unbelievable aspects of a comic book show while still grounding it in reality. Daredevil and Jessica Jones succeeded because the characters feel like they belong in the dark and grimy streets of New York. Watching them do heroic things is exciting because they’re not invincible heroes. Luke Cage, however, is almost cartoonish with how strong he is. Fighting street thugs is not a problem for him at all. There’s a scene early in the episode where Luke Cage plainly states that he can’t touch the king, but he can touch his knights. This, of course, is complete nonsense. It seems to me like the main conflict of the show can easily be solved by him, and the only reason Luke Cage doesn’t storm into Cottonmouth’s club and take care of the source of the problem is because the scriptwriters don’t want him to.