S1:E4 “Step in the Arena”
Synopsis: As he rescues a victim of Cottonmouth’s vengeance, Luke remembers his earlier life and the conspiracy that led to his superhuman strength.
In the aftermath of the third episode, the series flashes back into Luke Cage’s past. Not only do we learn more about how he came to his abilities, we also get an episode that hyper-focuses on the main character, without the multiple arcs in a typical episode. Mike Colter as Luke Cage gives another compelling performance as he continues to portray a reluctant character who must answer the higher call of community and service, regardless of his personal well-being.
This is the origin of Luke Cage, and overall it adheres very closely to the 1972 comic-book story created by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by George Tuska.
Initially, we see Carl Lucas being admitted to Seagate prison under the charge of a crooked guard, Albert Rackham. Targeted by Rackham and other corrupt officers at the privately-owned prison, Carl Lucas is pressed to be part of an illicit scheme because of his size and toughness.
Reva, the prison psychologist, sees the depth of Carl Lucas and seeks to helps him, all the while falling for him. This is the same Reva we remember from Jessica Jones – Luke’s lost wife.
Between the Jessica Jones series and the first few episodes of Luke Cage, it’s fairly clear that all women fall for Luke.
We also get a major reveal that is not part of the comic book canon that explains a little bit about his investigative abilities tracking down Chico earlier in the series.
Tensions continue as Luke tries to negotiate the delicate balance between his own survival, and keeping his friend safe.
As Carl Lucas’ days darken in prison, Reva stays with Luke keeping him from becoming completely lost in Seagate’s underbelly.
Sometimes Survival Costs
At Seagate rumors abound that there are scientific experiments happening to inmates. Reva expressly denies this but the cryptic presence of Dr. Burstein makes Lucas uneasy.
The situation between Lucas and Rackham escalates leading to Burstein attempting an experimental procedure on Lucas. Events conspire to affect the experiment causing Carl Lucas to change. After the fallout, Luke Cage emerges.
It’s a must for the super-hero origin story to be included in the movie or series. Marvel Studios, known for slowly spooning out the details, delivers in the origin story of Luke Cage. It adheres to the original concept, is visually stimulating, action-packed and hyper-focused on Cage.
It’s clear that Luke’s relationships define him. He’ll go to any lengths to protect those that he cares about. Luke’s guarded nature doesn’t protect him from deeply caring about his community and friends. Luke Cage can’t escape the notion that there is a higher purpose for him as well as a calling to serve and protect. He’s well-rooted in his culture and can’t avoid his deeply held values, even if they take him to places he doesn’t really want to go. He’s a reluctant hero that fears that his greater actions might inadvertently harm those he cares for. Cage has to come to terms with that, as most heroes do.
Those viewers that know the comic book character got a nostalgic zinger as Cheo Coker deftly folded in an original costume Easter Egg. This episode was one of the high points so far, and deepens the character’s foundation for the following nine episodes.
So far Luke Cage has lived up to expectations – and maybe a little more.