Sunday, October 2, 2016

Going Down: "Take It Personal" Undermines Luke Cage!

The Good: Moments of character and performance, The plot moves forward some
The Bad: Awkward direction (especially for the flashbacks), Over-the-top performances, Ridiculous plot and character movements.
The Basics: "Take It Personal" has the story of Luke Cage moving incrementally forward while muddying its purpose and intensity.

It is tough to go back and retcon a character's backstory with a significant change to a relationship and have it be satisfying to the audience. When altering a backstory, the impact of making a change is often more pronounced when the backstory is very well-defined. In the case of Luke Cage, the television series had a lot of ground to cover given that Cage was very much a supporting character in Jessica Jones (reviewed here!). Indeed, in Jessica Jones all the viewer truly comes away with knowing for sure is that Luke Cage is impervious to bullets, he looks amazing with his shirt off, and he still carries a torch for his wife, Reva, who was killed before the series began. So, the love Luke Cage has for Reva was one of the elements viewers expected would be fleshed out through flashbacks in Luke Cage and in the big origin story episode, "Step In The Arena" (reviewed here!), the viewer is treated to seeing how the two met. In "Take It Personal," the bedrock of Cage and Reva's relationship is shattered.

Unfortunately, getting to the retcon "Take It Personal" takes the long way around and it is hardly the most compelling hour of television. Because it picks up exactly where "DWYCK" (reviewed here!) left off, it is difficult to discuss "Take It Personal" without referencing the events of the prior episode.

Opening with Luke Cage in Dr. Burstein's acid bath, Claire Temple manages to restart Cage's heart and comes up with a theory of how to weaken Cage's skin enough to extract the shrapnel in him. Diamondback has Dillard visit his warehouse to prove to her that he is prepared to profit off the fear she can generate. Armed with a pair of power gloves, Diamondback takes to the street and kills a cop, yelling afterward that he is Luke Cage. The police in Harlem take to the streets and bring in every possible person they can, including the child Lonnie Wilson, who knew Cage from Pop's barber shop.

In Georgia, Luke Cage and Claire Temple use the flash drive that has Reva's files and Cage learns the truth about Reva's involvement in his experimentation. When Lonnie is roughed up by the police, Dillard leaps on the opportunity to demonize the police and calls for a hunt for Luke Cage. Dillard calls for the police to be properly armed to bring down Luke Cage. As Misty Knight tries to hunt down Diamondback, Cage and Temple meander through Carl Lucas's past in Georgia before heading back to Harlem.

"Take It Personal" retcons Reva and continues to make Dr. Burstein more important in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Burstein is, essentially, one of the Marvel mad scientists and given that he performed the experiments that made Luke Cage invulnerable and is left standing, it is hard to believe viewers have seen the last of him. As viewers play "villains roulette" to try to deduce who will be an adversary in The Defenders, it is hard to rule out Burstein as having involvement!

There is a very tough sell going on in "Take It Personal" as Misty Knight sees evidence that Luke Cage was Carl Lucas. Viewers have known that fact for several episodes and the music played when Knight comes across proof seems more like a parody of the emotional moment than a genuine emotional revelation.

The police in "Take It Personal," outside Misty Knight, are treated as crazed, bloodthirsty idiots who are unable to remain within the bounds of the law. While exploring police violence in any drama is a great idea and it is a subject virtually untouched until now in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in Luke Cage, the conflict seems incredibly contrived. "Take It Personal" features Diamondback and Dillard's plotline which is essentially a convoluted plan to get police in Harlem armed with bullets that can puncture Luke Cahe's skin. While this is a plan that would completely service Diamondback and could be passed through using the fear of Luke Cage by spineless politicians, it is hard to see how "Take It Personal" could completely neglect the argument that overhauling all of the police's weapons for one suspect is ridiculous, dangerous, and bound to result in more collateral damage than anything else.

Moreover, when Dillard makes callbacks to Jessica Jones and other super-powered people, the failure to reference the Sokovia Accords is glaring.

Mike Colter and Rosario Dawson keep "Take It Personal" watchable, even as the episode meanders erratically. The flashbacks for Luke Cage are presented virtually identical to how Misty Knight sees crime scenes and that is incredibly awkward. Even director Stephen Surjik cannot sell the flashbacks the way he directs them. Moreover, amid the sudden flashbacks that allow Cage to realize that Stryker is his half-brother (though why he never acknowledges him as a half-brother, he only calls him a brother, is a mystery), Cage throws out a lot of additional information, like being the "miracle baby," which is new. The whole "miracle baby" idea seems like an extraneous detail that does not actually add anything to the backstory.

But while the character backstory and the retcon that shakes the foundation of Luke Cage's world, Colter plays the part with a decent balance of coolness and anger, revelation and acceptance. Colter and Dawson have great on-screen chemistry that plays out well in "Take It Personal."

Despite having a comparatively minor role in "Take It Personal," Misty Knight continues to overshadow Luke Cage, in her scenes until the episode's climax. While Cage is moody and has revelations surrounding him, Knight is an active investigator and she is smarter than all of the other detectives and cops in Luke Cage. Because of how fractured the characters and story are in the first season of Luke Cage - "Take It Personal" is episode 10 and there is no clear conflict or plotline and characters are still being introduced without any real backstory of their own - having a protagonist who is not as on top of the machinations of the plots of the villains as another heroic character, it is hard to buy into the protagonist.

Luke Cage is advanced by "Take It Personal," but not in a particularly compelling way.

[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 Jacob Vargas, please visit my reviews of:
Death Race


For other movie and television reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

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