PREVIOUSLY: Luke Cage premiere recap
Tragedy strikes Luke Cage in the frustrating second episode “Code of the Streets.” The frustration begins from the first scene of the episode, which is a flash-forward. It’s nighttime and a youngster pulls a gun on Luke Cage, who is standing across the street from the Crispus Attucks Center, Mariah’s base of operations. The youth asks what he’s doing there.
“Young man, I’ve had a long day. I’m tired, but I’m not too tired to every let nobody call me that word. You see a n—– standing in front of you across the street from a building named after one of our greatest heroes?” says a testy Luke. While Luke’s disdain for the N-word is somewhat conservative, it isn’t surprising given the running “swear jar” bit in the premiere (and the fact that this is part the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
The gun-toting youth responds, “Yeah, a dead one.” Cue the opening credits!
Now, we flash back to a few days before and find ourselves in the precinct with Misty Knight, who is visualizing how the weapon-deal-gone-bad shootout went down like she’s Will Graham or something. Apparently, this is her thing. From this little exercise, she’s able to deduce that Chico didn’t have the guts to go through with the shooting and is the one with the money since he’s the only one who hasn’t been accounted for. Now, she needs to find Chico before Cottonmouth.
But, Cottonmouth is already hot on Chico’s trail: He stops by Pop’s Barber Shop with his crew (Shades and Tone) to question Pops about Chico’s whereabouts while he receives a shave. Cottonmouth’s visit leaves Pop even more concerned about Chico, so he asks Luke to find him. Pops wants to get him back to the shop, a.k.a. Harlem’s Switzerland, so they can broker a peace deal with Cottonmouth. Initially, Luke says no, but Pop reminds Luke that he owes him for not asking questions when Reva married an ex-con and for keeping his secret. So, Luke pounds the pavement for Chico and eventually finds him hiding out in some motel. But, Chico refuses to go with him.
This episode also starts to flesh out some of the character relationships and how they relate to the neighborhood. It turns out Misty grew up here and was a pretty legendary basketball player, which is a fun tidbit to know about her. Elsewhere, Pop opens up to Luke about the past and we learn that he used to run around with Cottonmouth and Chico’s father back in the day before he went to prison. Just as Pop and Luke finish chatting, Chico shows up at the shop looking for sanctuary.
NEXT: Death in the family
Misty and Scarfe drop by the barbershop looking for Chico. It’s a fairly awkward meeting for Misty since Luke finds out what she really does. “Looks like you found some better clothes to audit in,” he says. Luke and Pop lie about not knowing where Chico is, and once the cops are done, Luke rushes over to Harlem’s Paradise to plead with Cottonmouth to give Chico safe passage if Chico returns all of the money. Cottonmouth simply agrees to come for a haircut the same time tomorrow.
Unfortunately, Turk — a criminal we met in Daredevil who is now hiding out in Harlem and playing chess with Bobby Fish in Pop’s shop — finds out Chico is in the backroom of the shop and tips off Shades and Tone to his whereabouts because he wants a payday. Tone decides to take matters into his own hands and shoots up Pop’s shop while Pop is giving a little kid a haircut. Luke shields the kid from the bullets while Pop is shot and killed. With his dying breath, Pop makes Luke promise to use his powers for good. “Forward, always,” he says. With Pop’s death, it’s only a matter of time before Luke ditches the boring reluctant hero bit.
Misty arrives at the barbershop to find out what happened and because she was close with Pop. She’s puzzled to see Luke is unharmed even though his shirt is riddled with bullet holes from shielding the little boy.
Tone returns to Harlem’s Paradise to brag about his latest achievement. But, Cottonmouth is far from pleased — Chico broke an unspoken rule by shooting up Pop’s shop. When Turk shows asking for his money, Cottonmouth responds by tossing Tone off the roof and telling him to go retrieve the money from the corpse. Which leads to the funniest and worst piece of dialogue on the show so far:
“You Harlem n—–s are off the hook. I’m going back to Hell’s Kitchen where it’s safe,” Turk says.
Now we return to the opening scene where Luke decides it’s time to lecture his aggressor about Crispus Attucks, “the first man to die for what became America.” Once he’s done, he takes the kid’s gun, shoots himself, and the kid runs away freaked out. He picks up the bullet, whispers “Always forward, Pop,” to himself and heads toward the building. And that’s where the episode ends. Was there a point to structuring an episode like this? Not really. Like I said, frustrating. But, we march onto the next because, forward, always.