Luke Cage (S01E02) "Code of the Streets"

WARNING:  FULL SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE BELOW
We’re only two episodes in and Luke Cage has brought us on an emotional ride.  Code of the Streets didn’t have a lot of superhero action, but the episode continues the utterly compelling  over-arching story of the show.
Cottonmouth continues his search for Chico, the last survivor of the gun deal robbery.  However, Pop (Frankie Faison) calls in a favor with Luke to find Chico first.  Pop has a special bond with the young man, having run with his father years ago.  While Luke succeeds, Shades (Theo Rossi) and Tone (Warner Miller) close in…along with the police, led by Misty Knight.
As Pop calls for a peaceful resolution with Cottonmouth, Tone thinks differently choosing the “Quentin” route.  Going in with guns blazing, he wounds Chico and kills Pop.  Luke makes Pop a promise:  Always forward.
While Luke is still the central character, Pop is the standout in Code of the Streets.  Frankie Faison continues to charm, as we amusingly discover the origin of his name.  It’s not because of his age…it was the sound a man’s face would make when Pop punched him.   But he also gave us some heart wrenching moments.  That moment when Chico walks into the barbershop, the look on Pop’s face is devastating.  You absolutely feel the anger and joy Pop feels at that moment…it’s all over his face.
And while Pop’s death is not that big of a surprise (He is the “mentor” character), it is a surprise to see him die this early.  And the reasoning is brilliant.  Pop had to call in a favor to get Luke to find Chico.  It seems out of place at first…the night before Luke took on four thugs to help his land lady.  But Luke still believes that not everyone is worth saving.  That you can pick and choose your fights.  Pop’s willingness to put it all on the line sparks Luke’s desire to fight for what is right.
Mahershala Ali continues to impress as Cottonmouth.  We see that he has some sense of honor, telling Shades that there are “rules” in this world.  He agrees to the parlay with Pop out of respect not only for Pop’s position as the “Switzerland” of the neighborhood, but also for the man himself.  A young Cornell Stokes ran with Pop when he was the top guy in the neighborhood.
It is very strange to see that the villain is the one who avenges the death of the mentor character, but it feels earned.  The coolness of the character makes his outbursts of anger that much more frightening.  And while the scene is deadly serious, there are moments of levity that somehow work.  Mostly due to a welcome cameo from Turk (Rob Morgan), the slimy criminal from Daredevil. 
I credit director Paul McGuigan for weaving so many elements together so well.  He continues to shoot Cottonmouth head on and dead center whenever he enters a scene, especially if he is wielding power.  When Cottonmouth enters the barbershop, the scene is so well done.  It’s not only Ali’s performance, but also the way McGuigan shoots him.  He is the center of attention everywhere he goes.
Our first scene with Misty (Simone Missick) is really cool.  We see her recreation of the gun deal robbery as she sees it in her head.  It’s as though Misty is in the middle of the action.  A different director might have simply started the scene with Misty staring at the photos.  Her scene with Luke is great fun.  It’s welcome not only because the two actors do great work off of each other, but I’m also glad the show isn’t going to drag out their relationship.
The themes running through the show should also get a special mention.  It’s not your typical comic book adaptation fodder.  There are themes of manhood, maturity and what they mean in the Black community.  Luke and Pop have a standout scene talking about this.   Honestly, this theme can apply to any community today.
Later, Cottonmouth and Mariah have a talk about what is more important and lasting:  Power or respect.  Cottonmouth believes power and ownership at all costs is the American dream at work for their community.  On the other hand,  Mariah doesn’t want to be known as a criminal.  In her eyes, respectability makes you rise to the top not only in the Black community, but in society at large.  Granted, it’s basically almost every mob film’s conflict of conscience, but it’s an interesting discussion.  Especially now in these highly divisive times.
As we move on to the third episode, does Luke Cage have vengeance or justice on his mind?
SCORE: 10 out of 10