Saturday, October 1, 2016

After The First Luke Cage Casualty, "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?"

The Good: Moments of character, Moments of performance, Moments of tense mood
The Bad: Stretches of boring exposition, Very limited and basic plot
The Basics: "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" raises the menace of Cornell Stokes while undermining his street credibility at the same time.

The ironic difference between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its connonically connected Marvel Television Universe is that the Cinematic Universe cops out completely on the issue of casualties. For sure, defeating the villain ought not to mean slaying the adversary, but given how no one seems to die and stay dead in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a pragmatic intensity to the Marvel Television Universe where characters die and stay dead (though in Daredevil there have been a couple of recent resurrections which is part of the build-up to the inevitable adaptation of Shadowland for the television series). Luke Cage follows in the tradition of the Marvel Television Universe and by the time "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" begins, the first major character has met a memorable, permanent, on-screen death.

"Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" starts the morning after “Code Of The Streets” (reviewed here!) and given that the episode is preoccupied the the consequences of the prior episode, it is impossible to discuss "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" without some spoilers to the episode that preceded it. "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" illustrates well that the death of a character in Luke Cage will not simply be swept aside.

The morning after Pop is killed by one of Stokes's goons, Harlem is reeling and in mourning. Luke Cage is thrown when Stokes joins him at the morgue, where Stokes informs Cage that he will pay for Henry's coffin. On the streets, Domingo's people start attacking Stokes's shipments, attempting to recover some of the weapons Stokes owes him. While Cage learns from Bobby Fish the secret to keeping the barber shop from getting snatched up by the bank, Knight and Scarfe interrogate the wounded Chico in the hospital to try to get him to turn on Stokes. While the detectives come up emptyhanded, Chico confesses to Cage that all of Stokes's organization has a fallback banking position at Crispus Attucks.

To get Stokes to engage the fallback, Luke Cage starts to attack the various drop points for Cottonmouth's organization. Misty Knight believes that Luke Cage is personally responsible for the escalating violence in Harlem, though Domingo visits Stokes and promises more violence. Luke Cage brings the violence himself by busting into Dillard and Stokes's stronghold to swipe enough of their bank to keep the barber shop open. While Scarfe makes a clandestine rendezvous with Chico, who is willing to confess, Stokes realizes he has been robbed and reacts violently to the new information.

"Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" is notable for the first truly direct conversation between Misty Knight and Luke Cage. Having hooked up for sex anonymously, it is interesting to see the two attempt to have an honest conversation with one another. Simone Missick has a force she projects with her eyes when looking up at the hulking Mike Colter that gives her a similar level of gravitas. As such, despite their very different methods and physiques, Misty Knight and Luke Cage have similar screen presences and that works to the benefit of Luke Cage.

In "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?," Frank Whaley seems like he is doing a David Caruso impression to portray Scarfe. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but some of his deliveries are instantly reminiscent of Caruso in a way that anyone who is a fan of early NYPD Blue is likely to get sucked out of the narrative. Despite that, Misty Knight and Detective Scarfe play off one another to appear to be a well-tailored pair of detectives. For such a limited time together as actors, the chemistry Missick and Whaley have on-screen for working together is fairly impressive. The frank and funny conversation between Knight and Scarfe over basketball is fun and develops both characters well.

Cornell Stokes is characterized in "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" as a thug who is a lot of talk, but very little substance to back up his tough talk. Domingo walks into the Harlem Paradise Club and starts littering just to show how little respect he has for Stokes and Stokes is barely able to do anything about it. Mahershala Ali plays the part well for how it is written, but the role of Stokes in "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" is supposed to puff up the character without him genuinely delivering on the character's implied menace.

Luke Cage's abilities are muddied in "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" Cage has invulnerability, but his super strength is supposed to be dwarfed by the uncanny strength of Jessica Jones. In "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?," Luke Cage's abilities seem vastly evolved beyond where they were in his appearances in Jessica Jones.

Guillermo Navarro directs "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" well. The montage that cuts Charles Bradley's musical performance opposite Luke Cage's door-busting is entertaining. More than that, "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" includes the highly-promoted attack Luke Cage mounts on the Crispus Attucks center. The sequence is well-executed, even if it was largely spoiled in promotional clips before the episode aired.

Ultimately, "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?" is a remarkably average episode that advances the story of Luke Cage incrementally with a few cool sequences and reversals situated around surprisingly boring stretches where virtually nothing happens.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Luke Cage - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!

For other works with Mahershala Ali, please visit my reviews of:
House Of Cards - Season 4
The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 2
House Of Cards - Season 3
The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Part 1
House Of Cards - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 1
The 4400 - Season 1


For other television season and episode reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for a listing of all my television reviews!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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