When Jessica Jones premiered, it took audiences by surprise. It not only featured a complex woman as the lead but also introduced Luke Cage (Mike Colter)—the indestructible, black ex-con. Besides the spectacular writing, fans were also raving about this mysterious man. Fortunately, Marvel delivered and Luke Cage got his own Netflix show.
“Moment of Truth” is the first episode of the series, and spends its time more on exposition than the punches. It opens up with a shot of Lenox Avenue, showing that we’re no longer in Hell’s Kitchen anymore. It pans into a barbershop where we see Pop argue with his clients—Shameek and Chico—about basketball. It’s one of the most real moments in the Marvel television universe. In Jessica Jones and Daredevil, the grim tone starts at the very first minute. However, for one second, we get to see people living their normal lives.
We see Luke sweeping up hair and dodging the advances of other women (because who would resist that?). When he’s not cleaning up, he’s in the back pacing back and forth—a habit that he learned while in prison. Pop has also been in and out of the grinder, so he understands Luke’s struggle. But he’s also aware of Luke’s abilities and even calls him Power Man, an allusion to one of his comic identities. He encourages Luke to use his powers to help the neighborhood, but Luke just just wants to run away from them; he feels like they’ve ruined his life.
In addition to sweeping floors, Luke also washes dishes in Harlem’s Paradise, Harlem’s biggest nightspot owned by the primary villain, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes. However, Luke is in for a change of scenery when Dante, the bartender, calls in sick. He gets to enjoy Raphael Saadiq’s soft tunes and make cosmos for a beautiful woman.
Above the club, Cottonmouth is meeting with his cousin, Mariah Stokes, a councilwoman who is trying to make Harlem great again. But she isn’t so great herself; she used federal money to help build Harlem’s Paradise and needs the money back to replace it. To do so, Cottonmouth arranges a deal with weapon dealers. Unfortunately, the deal goes south when Shameek, Chico, and Dante murder the dealers and take the money for themselves. Shameek tries to kill Dante because he’s afraid he’ll snitch but fails. Dante manages to let Cottonmouth know that Shameek and Chico stole the money before he dies from blood loss.
While the night might not be going great for others, Luke gets to have a one night stand with the beautiful woman from the bar. Unlike Jessica Jones, we don’t get a raw, animal-like show, but rather a sensual scene. The next morning, the woman gets called in early for “auditing” work and tells Luke that she’ll find him again at the club. Well it turns out, her auditing story was bullshit. She was really an undercover cop named Misty Knight. We’re not sure why she was undercover at the club, but most likely it had something to do with either Cottonmouth or Mariah.
In the wake of the sour deal, Cottonmouth’s partner Diamondback has his guard,Shades Alvarez, go down to Cottonmouth’s office to investigate the situation. He asks if he had anything to do with the incident and gleefully says that he’s at his disposal. Shades is probably the most interesting side character so far. We don’t know much about him except that he loves Ray-Bans (He gets called a “fake-ass Ray Charles”) and that Luke knows him from prison. At the San Diego Comic Con panel, actor Theo Rossi called him the Littlefinger of Luke Cage so it will be interesting to see where his allegiances lie.
Meanwhile, Shameek is being very subtle with his money, spending hundreds on strippers. It doesn’t take long for Cottonmouth to find and drag him into his office. After a “calm” confrontation, he beats him to death with his own fists and disposes him on the streets. The scene was chilling in different ways, but the camera work really helped illustrate how powerful Cottonmouth is. His portrait of Biggie Smalls perfectly aligns so that his crown rests atop of Cottonmouth’s head. It’s a vivid picture of his influence in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Luke starts to have flashbacks about prison and Reva. He remembers his prison counselor and the books he read to pass the time. He looks at his picture of Reva hidden in his cupboard and simply says, “I’m ready.”
On his way out of his apartment, he sees his landlord getting harassed by Mariah Stokes’ goons. After “politely” asking them to leave, Luke finally accepts who he is and kicks major ass in the process. He gave us us a taste of what he could do as a little tease for the rest of the season. Even though it took 52 minutes to get there, it was worth the wait to see him cut through people like butter. When his landlord gratefully asks if she could hire him, he declines but says, “you have my word, ma’am. I got you.”
What did you think of the first episode of Luke Cage? Yes, it was a slow buildup but necessary to catch everyone up on Luke’s life. Cottonmouth had a great introduction and has a lot of potential to be one of the most compelling villains so far. And what’s up with Shades? Is he going to be Cottonmouth’s accomplice for the whole season or could he possibly help out Luke for his own benefit?