Luke Cage is a fascinating TV show for a key reason: it seems to pay more attention to its surrounding characters than its titular hero. This is a consequence of the show’s meticulous world building, but it’s still a bizarre experience to see two police detectives feature more heavily than the main character.
For the first two episodes, Mike Coulter’s Luke Cage is seen as a character that reacts rather than acts. He is content leading a quiet life of solitude, but is becoming more and more aware of the fact that there’s no such thing as a peaceful existence for a man with his past. The world around him continues to present him with challenges, and following the death of a close personal friend, he is ready to take the fight to the streets.
The show’s decision to focus more on world building than character building is a double edged sword. In one way you feel more connected with the world our characters live in, but at the same time you don’t really care about the characters themselves. Mahershala Ali’s suave villain “Cottonmouth” is a continuous highlight, and Coulter does a good job embodying Luke Cage, despite getting surprisingly little material to build on. Most of the other characters that survive past episode 2 feel like cut-outs of more interesting archetypes, and the plot that’s being presented feels rather cliched. The slow build-up works well in the Netflix format, and the few action sequences within the opening episodes are handled with style.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between Cottonmouth and Luke Cage develops. The ending of the second episode teased a more hands-on Cage, which should bring more action sequences to a dialogue heavy show. Hopefully the writers tones down the prominence of the detective duo, as their appearances feels more like C.S.I.: Harlem than anything particularly interesting to watch.