I adore a good origin story, and especially one that is earned, has some answers, some questions and a couple of easter eggs, and that what ‘Step in the Arena’ was all about.
After 4 episodes (and a bit more if you count Jessica Jones) of being around Luke Cage we finally got to learn more about who he is, how he got his powers and how he met, who he considers to be the love of his life – Reva Connors.
Basically the episode is framed around the aftermath of Cottonmouth firing a rocket at Connie and Luke last episode and they are trapped under the rubble (let me just say I find it unbelievable that a whole building came down at night and these two were the only ones there). Misty Knight and her double-dealing partner are trying to find out who caused the incident, while Luke is trying to get himself and Connie out to safety.
During his time trapped under the rubble, Luke has flashbacks to his time in Seagate Prison where he, a former policeman with the given name Carl Lucas, was framed for a crime he didn’t commit. During his time in prison, he makes friends with another inmate called Squabbles and shares a special connection with the prison therapist, Reva.
We watch as he is manipulated by the Albert the guard, along with his two pets – Shades (it’s unbelievable that Shades does not recognize Luke) and Comanche, to join a gladiator fighting ring that he has in exchange for perks such as food and other luxuries. However, Luke intends to find out information about the fighting ring so that he can use it against Albert and his cronies. But before he can do that, Shades and Comanche beat up Luke’s friend Squabbles to death to get information about Luke’s plans, they then beat Luke up and leaves him for dead.
Reva then pleads with her friends, the prison doctor, Dr. Burstein to save Luke’s life, and he puts Luke in a tank that is supposed to heal him, until the evil prison warden Albert comes in and turns the dial to boil which instead of killing Luke, gives him his bulletproof skin and strength. Luke can then punch his way out of the prison and that is why he is introduced to us as a fugitive, and why he gave himself a new name.
It was interesting to see the connection between Luke and Reva, as he runs away with her and we know that he goes on to marry her, we got to see as the relationship progressed and the inevitability of their attraction. At this point, I can kind of understand Luke’s devotion to Reva and why he feared getting close to any other female.
Luke’s transformation was different to the comics, as in the comics Dr. Burstein is more of an amoral character who performed experiments on inmates to make them powered, and it was much more reminiscent of what we saw in Deadpool. Even though this too gave me Deadpool or Wolverine vibes, I could appreciate the uniqueness of the origin story and what it depicted about the character and his journey.
Albert, the evil warden, drew attention to the fact that Luke’s main weaknesses are people that he cares about. They got him to join the fighting ring by attacking Squabbles, and it was Squabbles who betrayed him in the end. It is interesting to note that people is a very real thing that Cottonmouth could use against Luke because even though he might be invincible, he is affected by the pain of others.
This episode showed the greatness of bingeing because it was entirely devoted to a flashback but it was just one hour out of thirteen so did not feel like a waste of an episode. It helped to provide context and fill in the gaps that we were missing about Luke. Although it does also give us more questions:
- What was on that flash drive that Reva had that we first saw in Jessica Jones?
- Why did Killgrave want to kill Reva, does it have something to do with her working at Seagate?
- What was Luke framed for and who framed him?
- How does Shades not remember Luke? Seriously that beard did not hide that much.
Marvel’s Luke Cage is currently streaming on Netflix