Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Last Great Season 1 Episode Of Luke Cage Is "DWYCK!"

The Good: Decent acting, Good character study of Misty Knight, Decent direction, Plot development
The Bad: Details that fail to tie the episode to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Basics: "DWYCK" mixes fleshing out Misty Knight's story and the effects of the assault on her with Mariah Dillard's new ascent and Luke Cage fleeing Harlem in a surprisingly compelling hour of television.

When it comes to truly great television, some of the best episodes are simply two people sitting and talking with one another. My all-time favorite hour of television, "Duet" (reviewed here!) is essentially two people sitting and talking with one another. In a similar fashion, The West Wing episode "Noel" is one of the best episodes of the series and it is a psychoanalyst sitting and talking with one character with flashbacks intercut into it. Even the Netflix Marvel Universe has gone there with the Daredevil episode "New York's Finest" (reviewed here!), which was a perfect hour of television. Luke Cage heads in that direction with "DWYCK." "DWYCK" is the peak of Luke Cage and deepens the characters in Luke Cage without undermining any of them.

"DWYCK" is essentially an episode that explores the characters of Misty Knight and Willis Stryker without undermining either one. More analogous to "Noel," "DWYCK" does not neglect the current predicament that Luke Cage is in in order to take time to stop and explore Misty Knight. While dealing with the ramifications of "Blowin' Up The Spot" (reviewed here!), "DWYCK" manages to tell a pretty solid story on its own and add depth and shading to all the characters, save Luke Cage himself.

Misty Knight is compelled to meet with Dr. Gabe Krasner, a psychologist used by the police department, after she lost control and attacked Claire Temple. While Krasner questions Knight, Diamondback visits the Harlem Paradise Club and puts Shades Alvarez in his place and Luke Cage stumbles around, trying to find some safe refuge. Dillard visits the morgue to talk to Stokes's body. Alvarez joins her and informs her that she is now in control of Stokes's empire and she has to step up, lest Diamondback take her out. When two cops find Luke Cage, Cage incapacitates them, which is caught on a dashcam, which leads Cage to flee once again.

Mariah Dillard visits Domingo's gym and arranges a meeting where she intends to give up Stokes's business and move out of organized crime. While Temple researches Luke Cage's condition and past, Cage finds her and the two make a plan to leave Harlem to find Dr. Burstein. Misty Knight deals with her trauma finally, while Temple gets Cage where he needs to go. Burstein works to save Luke Cage's life by devising a treatment for him while Knight is given the chance to return to duty. Alvarez and Dillard attempt to get Dillard out of the organized crime business . . . only to have Diamondback come and crash their meeting and change everything.

Alfre Woodard earns her pay as Mariah Dillard early in "DWYCK." Dillard speaks over Stokes's corpse and Woodard is given a scene where she simply delivers a monologue. Such scenes are difficult to make into compelling television, but Woodard is captivating as she subtly emotes and quietly speaks in that scene. Dillard and Alvarez are now the most constant villains in the first season of Luke Cage and Woodard's performance makes the viewer feel like her talent has been wasted in the prior episodes. Dillard has hardly been a compelling villain as she has been treated as a front for Stokes and manipulated - like Stokes - by external influences, like Diamondback and Stokes.

Woodard creates a minor issue within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in "DWYCK" it becomes hard not to acknowledge that issue. Woodard appeared in Captain America: Civil War (reviewed here!) and that film is set in the same continuous universe as Luke Cage. But Luke Cage seems desperate to avoid any comparisons or questions about Woodard's dual roles within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The thing is, in "DWYCK," Mariah Dillard sees evidence of Luke Cage's abilities first hand. Dillard is a politician; she would be well aware of the Sokovia Accords and they are not mentioned in "DWYCK." This becomes a bit of an issue because now Dillard has just cause to go after Luke Cage by the established laws of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The only reason for Dillard to not use this tactic is because the producers did not want to have viewers look too closely at Woodard's character in both Luke Cage and Captain America: Civil War where the Sokovia Accords are ratified!

At the other end of the spectrum from Mariah Dillard is Misty Knight. Knight is characterized as a woman who sees everything and remembers everything. Despite her losing her cool on Claire Temple and being shellshocked after Diamondback turned her own weapon on her, "DWYCK" continues to characterize Misty Knight as strong, resourceful and professional. "DWYCK" has Misty Knight, like Mariah Dillard, telling stories to give her character's backstory and while the episode simply tells her backstory - instead of flashing back to it to show it - Simone Missick presents the stories Knight tells Krasner with an emotional inflection that makes the viewer believe she lived through all the past she relates.

Missick cannot be held responsible for the issue with Knight's character in "DWYCK." Knight is shown the edited footage from the dashcam from the cops who try to stop Luke Cage. The three or four seconds that go viral of Luke Cage throwing a cop (which is an odd clip for someone to leak - it would have made perfect sense for Dillard to leak that edited clip!) would have been preceded by the moments that exonerated Cage; him shielding one officer from being shot. That Knight doesn't even try to get access to the full footage seems very out of character for the brilliant detective.

Diamondback's presence in "DWYCK" solidifies him as the true villain of the first season of Luke Cage. While Mariah Dillard is able to manipulate him to keep herself alive, Diamondback is characterized well in "DWYCK" as truly psychopathic. Erik LaRay Harvey makes the viewer absolutely believe when Diamondback says that no one can bargain or negotiate with him by the way he coldly delivers his lines after having a very reserved physical performance that had Diamondback killing multiple people.

Theo Rossi gives another brilliant and subtle performance as Shades Alvarez and yet again the viewer finds themselves wishing there was more backstory for Alvarez. Rossi makes great use of his brief time as a supporting character in "DWYCK" and he makes Alvarez vital to watch. Both Michael Kostroff and John Scurti credibly portray medical professionals in "DWYCK."

Director Tom Shankland does an excellent job with finding the balance in "DWYCK" between long, slow shots where people talk to one another and action shots filled with activity to draw the eye. While the slower scenes are frontloaded in "DWYCK," the technique draws the viewer in and makes the transition in the episode from a tight character study to a desperate medical show feel organic.

"DWYCK" is an episode of Luke Cage where a lot happens, but virtually nothing is resolved. It is a rare thing for an episode to, objectively, be a transition episode that holds up incredibly well on its own, but "DWYCK" does almost everything right to hold up incredibly well on its own.

[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 John Scurti, please visit my reviews of:
House Of Cards - Season 2
The Amazing Spider-Man
War Of The Worlds


For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

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