Episode two of Marvel’s Luke Cage – ‘Code of the Streets’ – focuses on what turns Luke Cage from a hair sweeper/dish washer into a hero as Pop urged him to become in the first episode.
There are two significant moments that happen in this episode – the first was when he helped Pops find Chico and he first became aware of the illegal happenings of Cottonmouth and Mariah, and the second was the death of Pop.
The search for Chico
We knew the stakes were high with Cottonmouth when we saw him kill Shameek with his bare hands in the last episode, and this episode he was out for Chico’s blood as he (along with his entourage) came to Pop to ask for info on Chico. Which prompted Pop to get Luke to attempt to find Chico so that Pop could parley for him with Cottonmouth.
At the same time, Misty Knight and her partner Rafael were also searching for Chico in order to question him about the robbery/murder of Dante seeing as he was the only one of the three still alive. Her methods included challenging some boys to a game of basketball (which she beats them at) and then questioning Pop – with an awkward encounter with Luke.
These three people searching for Chico represent three different viewpoints, ways of thinking – we have the ‘bad’ Cottonmouth with Tone, Shades and Mariah who simply the money that Chico stole; there is the ‘good’ as in the police such as Misty who wants to help Harlem and it’s people because it is where she is from and what she cares about. Then there is Luke, an outsider, an ex-con who was framed but who has a deep respect for Pop who takes on his role of being Switzerland in this whole debacle.
The death of Pops
Being Switzerland is what changes everything however as when Luke finds Chico and he comes to Pop for help, Turk spots him at the barbershop and alerts Tone and Shades to his whereabouts which makes Tone take matters into his own hands and shoot down the barbershop – killing Pop, injuring Chico but luckily Luke managed to shield the teenage customer that was in the store.
Threaded throughout the episode, Pop told the story of his youth when he was not that innocent that he, Cottonmouth and Chico’s dad Frido were thugs on the street and it landed him in prison. Pop hadn’t even seen his own son since the child was thirteen, which prompted him to open the barbershop and provide a sort of haven for other children in the community.
The death of Pop affected Luke obviously as Pop took him in when he needed a place to work but it also affected Cottonmouth who in anguish threw Tone off the side of the roof and we see a range of emotions go through Mahershala Ali in the rooftop scene and later when he is crying about the death that you can almost feel his pain through the screen.
The making of a hero
I was shocked that Pop, who seemed like such a pivotal character, died in the second episode already but it seems that his death was important in setting up the series going further. Not only did we get to see another side of Cottonmouth and learn a bit about his history but we finally have some motive for Luke to become a hero in Harlem.
The episode was framed by a scene whereby a guy with a gun holds up Luke in front of a building named after Crispus Attucks, who was the first black man killed in the Boston Massacre in 1770. Luke questions the gun holder calling him ‘nigga’ and gives him a lesson about the importance of Crispus Attucks and others like him before he uses the man’s gun to shoot himself and the man runs away. This is an act of defiance by Luke that he would no longer sit by and let the thugs run Harlem, he will step up like Crispus Attucks, like Pop, and use his power for good.
Marvel’s Luke Cage is currently streaming on Netflix.