WARNING: FULL SPOILERS IN THE REVIEW BELOW
Who’s Gonna Take the Weight? is the first episode of Luke Cage that has some noticeable flaws. While it’s action is entertaining and features an important character reveal, some ridiculousness nearly derails the episode.
An “always forward” Luke decides to hit Cottonmouth where it hurts most: His money. He wisely stays away from straight up robbing Cottonmouth…two dead men taught him that. Instead, Luke targets the club owner’s various satellites, hurting the men inside and allowing the police to shut them down. This draws the attention of Misty and her partner Scarfe (Frank Whaley).
Cottonmouth is bombarded on all sides. Mariah chastises him for his setbacks, revealing an honorable side. The Latin gangs led by Domingo Colon (Jacob Vargas) seek recompense for the blown gun deal from the first episode. But a cornered snake is especially dangerous, and Cottonmouth lashes out the moment he finds out that Luke is the one behind his problems.
Who’s Gonna Take the Weight? is the most action oriented episode so far. Luke’s raid on Crispus Attucks, a low income housing complex serving as a stash for Cottonmouth’s money, is very fun. It’s the complete opposite of the infamous one-take hallway fights from the Daredevil series. Luke simply charges in, slaps a few thugs around and leaves. However, the sequence does employ a lot of shaky cam work that makes some of the sequence come off as a bit clunky. It’s not nearly as good as the concluding fight in the series’ first episode and that’s disappointing. This should have been a showcase action scene.
The rest of the episode seems to drop the somewhat darker tone the previous episodes had. I know I pointed out that the whole series is lighter in tone, but here it’s much more noticeable. It could be that most of the episode takes place during the day. Or that Luke decides to wear different colors. Whatever the case, it’s pretty jarring to see the change. This may be due to Who’s Gonna Take the Weight? being the first episode not directed by Paul McGuigan.
However, there is an outstanding sequence that pays off visuallly. As Charles Bradley’s “Ain’t It a Sin” plays, Luke begins his crusade to take down Cottonmouth’s establishments. Luke is shot mostly in shadow as he takes out men in single takes. A shot in a stairwell pans to a junkie and “cuts” to a later time as we hear (And later see) Misty questioning the girl. Her “He was fine” answer to Misty’s questions then uses an audio cut to Mariah chastising Cottonmouth in the park. The sequence is a truly creative and fun alternative to a typical montage. And the show continues to utilize its soundtrack beautifully.
Mariah has some outstanding moments here, taking Cottonmouth down a peg. The conversation in the park reveals that Mariah believes in a “greater good” for Harlem. While Cottonmouth is the cynical one, Mariah reveals herself to be more than a crooked politician. How much of that is genuine care for others or simply caring about her own image is yet to be seen.
This is also the first time Mariah seems to be the more powerful of the two antagonists. Cottonmouth is reeling for nearly the whole episode. It’s no coincidence that those centered shots that I loved so much in the previous episodes are gone here. He is a man barely keeping that rage under control, making his rocket launcher attack on Luke at the end of the episode a little more believable. But only just.
The rocket launcher moment is not the only “WTF” moment in this episode. When Domingo Colon confronts Cottonmouth, he eats candy and throws them on the floor to show his disrespect. It comes off very weird and almost comical. I couldn’t help but remember that infamous Jolly Rancher scene from Batman v Superman. That is not a good thing.
This is the most we have seen of the relationship between Misty and Scarfe. While Misty great as usual, Scarfe is the real focus in the episode. He always came off as a very likable jerk and Frank Whaley seems to be having fun with the role. As I watched, I thought one of two things was about to happen: The show is either about to kill him or he’s going to turn out to be crooked.
While the latter turned out to be true, Scarfe’s reveal as Cottonmouth’s mole is telegraphed so badly in this episode. It’s cool that he will be a true villain, but if the audience can see it coming, it’s not that great.
All of that said, the episode ends strongly with a solid cliffhanger. Obviously, Luke is fine in the rubble, but getting out may reveal an inhuman to the world.
SCORE: 7 out of 10
WARNING: FULL SPOILERS IN THE REVIEW BELOW