The war between Luke Cage and Cottonmouth turns into a battle of words
PREVIOUSLY: Luke Cage episode 4 recap
Watching this episode, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that Ultron quote from Avengers: Age of Ultron (which happens far too often): “Everyone creates the thing they dread.” It feels quite applicable to Cottonmouth, whose impulsive action to get back at Luke Cage for the siege on Crispus Attucks turns Luke into an even stronger figure in Harlem.
Needing to restore his coffers, Cottonmouth sends his goons out to hit up all of the businesses between 110th Street and 155th Street. Cottonmouth instructs his men to make the good people of Harlem know they’re being taxed because of Luke Cage. This is Cottonmouth’s attempt at turning the neighborhood against him and showing the price of trying to be king.
However, Cottonmouth’s action only galvanizes Luke. When all of Harlem’s residents come to Luke’s doorstep with their complaints, he steps up and goes after Cornell’s men to get their stuff back. He’s being the hero they deserve. He also pays Cottonmouth a visit to make sure he knows who he’s dealing with, i.e. someone who is impervious to bullets. Shades finally recognizes Luke Cage as Carl Lucas and gives Cottonmouth the low down on him, including finding a gun that could potentially take him down. But, Cottonmouth can’t afford to buy it and has two options: Pay for it himself or ask Diamondback to handle Luke Cage. Shades warns him that if Diamondback fronts him the money, he’ll take Harlem from Cottonmouth.
The episode climaxes with Pop’s memorial service, which both men attend and is probably one of my favorite scenes so far in the show’s run. First, Cottonmouth steps up to deliver a eulogy where he calls Luke Cage a “stranger with arcane abilities” as a way to turn the neighborhood against him. At first you’re worried Luke won’t be able to sway them, but he comes through with a rousing message. He admits his actions so far have been rather selfish, but now he’s going to try something different to honor Pop’s memory.
“I don’t believe in Harlem. I believe in the people who make Harlem what it is,” he says, declaring he’s no longer just out for revenge. He’s standing up for them.
NEXT: A familiar face returns to Harlem
I found this episode interesting because of the parallel tracks Luke and Cottonmouth are on. While Luke becomes more heroic, Cottonmouth becomes a bit more human as his insecurities are laid bare. At the first sign of trouble, his hard exterior falls down and he starts acting recklessly — using a rocket-launcher in the middle of Harlem, killing an associate for no reason, harassing the neighborhood — because he’s desperately trying to hold onto his empire. This episode felt like the show was really showing us what Mariah told us in the third episode: “You’re a strong asset whose reckless actions are often a liability,” she said to her cousin.
The real mark of a hero is also his ability to inspire others, and you definitely get a sense that both Luke Cage (and the Hell’s Kitchen heroes) are having an effect because small acts of heroism are peppered throughout “Just to Get a Rep.” Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) makes her Luke Cage debut when she returns home after the zombie nonsense at the hospital in Daredevil season 2. As soon as she gets off the train in Harlem, someone snatches her bag, but she doesn’t take it lightly and runs after him to get it back. “If you don’t fight back, they make you into a doormat,” she tells her mother, reminding her she taught her that.
Then, there’s Detective Scarfe, who is starting to have second thoughts about being under Cottonmouth’s thumb. An optimist like me would like to attribute this slight change of heart to Luke Cage, but it’s also driven by self-preservation, because someone tips him off he’s being investigated by the Internal Affair Bureau. Cottonmouth asks him to steal some weapons from IAB for him, and Scarfe goes through with it, but he decides not to turn them over to Cottonmouth and ignores his text.
As the episode ends, Misty Knight serves Luke a reality check. Yes, those inspirational words at the funeral were great and all, but he needs to really remember that normal people’s lives are stake right now. “You just started World War III in there. And your ass might be bulletproof, but Harlem ain’t. Harlem is gonna suffer,” she says. Luke lets her know he’s staying put to take Cottonmouth down because he doesn’t have faith in the system and doesn’t want him getting out on some plea. Yes, there’s reason to worry Luke is becoming arrogant, we have to remember his experience as a cop who was framed is definitely shading his perception as well.