If you haven’t seen Luke Cage (2016), which came out on Netflix this past Friday, then you’re already behind. The show continues in New York City and references Netflix’s previous shows that take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Daredevil (2014) and Jessica Jones (2015). Iron Fist (2017), the fourth show, is set to come out in 2017, with the crossover show The Defenders (2017) to follow.
Critics and fans are praising the show’s creativity, titular hero, supporting cast (and many villains), popular culture references, and grade-A soundtrack. There’s a lot to like about Luke Cage, but we put together our favorite fifteen moments from the first season. There were many moments to choose from, thanks to the show’s excellent writing and performances.
In case it wasn’t clear, there are spoilers for season one of Netflix’s Luke Cage to follow. The moments on this list appear in chronological order and are marked by episode, so if you have only watched the first half of Luke Cage, you could still read the first half of the list.
Here are the 15 Best Moments from Luke Cage Season One:
15. “You like my Biggie photo?” (Episode 1)
As soon as Mr. Stokes, or Cottonmouth (excellently played by Mahershala Ali), is introduced in the first episode of Luke Cage (2016), it is made clear that he is a man to fear. As it turns out, before the episode is over, the audience sees why everyone is afraid of Cottonmouth firsthand. After three young men steal Cottonmouth’s money, he tracks down one of them, Shameek Smith. Cottonmouth begins to interrogate Shameek, saying, “You like my Biggie photo?” referencing the large print of rapper The Notorious B.I.G. that is hanging on his wall. As Cotttonmouth moves closer to Shameek, Biggie’s crown becomes Cottonmouth’s own, saying that the photo is a reminder that, “Everyone wants to be a king.” Cottonmouth proceeds to beat Shameek to death, cracking his skull on the ground, as his associates watch. The scene is carefully executed and beautifully shot – and it shows just how dangerous and deadly Cottonmouth is.
14. “I don’t even like these n****s, man!” (Episode 1)
When Connie’s Restaurant is being hit up by a group of thugs trying to get money for Mariah Dillard, Luke Cage intervenes. The four thugs can’t believe that Luke would try to take them on four on one. At first, a thug named Amos tries to punch Luke on the side of the face; he breaks his hand and wrist on impact; Luke then throws the screaming Amos out the window. Next, a thug hits Luke with a bat; the bat breaks, and Luke doesn’t even flinch. Finally, a thug shoots a bullet at Luke, which bounces off of him. With three thugs down, the fourth looks at Luke and says, “I don’t even like these n****s, man!” before running away.
The scene is the ideal way of showing the immense powers of Luke Cage’s abilities, including his super strength and resilient skin. It also injects humor into an action sequence, helping to capture the perfect balance of comedic and dramatic threads that make up the show.
13. “Forward. Always.” (Episode 2)
The second episode opens with Luke Cage being held up at gunpoint by a teenager; the scene ends unresolved as the credits role. But it isn’t until the end of the episode, when the scene is repeated, that the viewers understand the real significance. Pops is dead, and Luke isn’t only tired – he’s frustrated, he’s angry, he’s done. Luke turns around, and tells the teenager about Crispus Attucks, the free Black man who was the first casualty of the American Revolutionary War. He says that Crispus Attucks fought for something, and was willing to die for it. The teenager is so shocked by Luke’s behavior, even as a gun is pointed at him. Luke urges him to shoot him, and after the teenager refuses, Luke takes the gun and shoots himself in the stomach. The bullet bounces off, and the teenager runs away.
12. Bulletproof (Episode 3)
When Luke Cage raids the Crispus Attucks Building, he pulls a door off of a car that he uses as both a battering ram and a shield. A number of henchmen (and their weapons) are protecting Cottonmouth’s money in the Crispus Attucks Building, but they look like an army of ragdolls as their blows knock off of Luke and he hits them easily to the side. If four men and one gun in the first episode never stood a chance, it turns out that twenty men with guns aren’t much of a match either. Luke uses a large couch as a weapon, which goes flying out the window.
The cherry on top is that over the whole sequence, the perfect score – Wu Tang Clan’s “Bring Da Ruckus” – plays. Of course, the music throughout Luke Cage is one of its strongest assets, but this number in particular carries an incredible punch.
11. Violent Surprises (Episode 3)
There were not one but two violent surprises in the third episode. First, Detective Scarfe, Detective Misty Knight’s partner, is revealed to be a double agent for Cottonmouth. Scarfe is with Chico, one of the robbers who stole from Cottonmouth. When Chico tells Scarfe that he wants to talk to the police, Scarfe very suddenly strangles Chico, killing him. While Scarfe’s defection may not have been surprising (As Wash from Firefly would say, “Curse your sudden, but inevitable betrayal.”), his suddenly violent action was still jarring.
The episode ended, however, with another shocking, violent twist. Just as Luke shared a quiet moment with Connie, it turned out that Cottonmouth was on the building across the street, perched on the roof with a rocket launcher. He shot off the rocket, which Luke saw coming towards the window and ducked. The episode ended with a massive explosion. If Luke Cage wanted war, Cottonmouth knew how bring war.
10. Luke’s Original Costume (Episode 4)
While escaping from Seagate, Luke has longer hair and a beard. Because of the experiment that gave him his superpowers, he is wearing metal arm cuffs and a metal circlet around his head, accessories of the larger apparatus. He is only dressed in his boxers until he discovers a bright yellow shirt and blue jeans on a clothesline. His makeshift outfit is a reference to the character’s original outfit in the comic books. Of course, the 1970’s superhero costume doesn’t really translate to the modern Netflix adaptation. The outfit is ridiculous – but Luke recognizes that. He looks at his reflection in a car and mutters, “You look like a damn fool.”
In a playful nod to the source material, Luke Cage once again finds humor to balance the high stakes and heavy themes that persist throughout the show. Despite the rather elaborate set-up, the joke still lands, and Luke runs to freedom.
9. Luke’s Speech at Pop’s Funeral (Episode 5)
Pop’s funeral is a central event that brings together people from all walks of life, from Detective Misty Knight to Cottonmouth himself. In his life, Pop touched a lot of people, and in his death, many are filled with regret and blame themselves for his death. Cottonmouth regrets that his associate took violent action that led to Pop’s death; Luke regrets that the bullet may have ricocheted off of his bulletproof body onto Pop and that he couldn’t save Pop. When Cottonmouth offers his condolences, it becomes a tactic to gain power in the community. However, Luke Cage’s speech follows Cottonmouth’s, and in it, Luke presents himself to the community as a hero and an alternative to Cottonmouth’s violence. “I don’t believe in Harlem. I believe in the people who make Harlem what it is.” The scene helps to cement a number of themes that continue through the series, which is a celebration of Harlem and New York’s black communities.
8. Mariah Faces Cottonmouth (Episode 7)
Mariah and Cottonmouth’s tragic past with their abusive Aunt Mabel and Uncle Pete is explored in Episode Seven. It is revealed that Uncle Pete sexually abused Mariah for years (which Mabel passively allowed); eventually, Mabel was frustrated with Pete’s operations, and forced Cottonmouth to kill him. The repercussions of both Mabel’s and Pete’s abuse are seen in their current lives. When Mariah and Cottonmouth discuss their frustrations – present and past – their disagreement devolves into a shouting match about Mabel and Pete. Cottonmouth taunts Mariah, saying that she wanted Uncle Pete’s advances. Mariah, horrified and frustrated, grows angry, striking Cottonmouth and pushing him out of the window in his office. If the impact of the fall didn’t kill him, Mariah wasn’t finished beating him. Cottonmouth dies, not because of Luke Cage’s vendetta and not because of his illegal entanglements, but because of his cousin.
7. Luke and the Beat Cops (Episode 9)
What should be a seemingly understated moment in Luke Cage is incredibly tense. A black man in a hoodie is stopped by two beat cops who are looking for a man accused of a crime. The cops point their guns at the man. Of course, in the scene, that man is Luke Cage, and even while these images call to mind a number of real-life stories, the audience knows that the police’s bullets will bounce off of him.
In the news, variations of this scenario seem to appear again and again. There is currently a great deal of political strife in America regarding police violence, especially against unarmed men of color.
Luke Cage resists arrest, but in the world of superheroes, the story has a different ending. In fact, Cage disarms one officer and then uses his own bulletproof body to shield that officer from the bullets of the other officer. This scene could be easily overlooked, but given its context within 2016, it is emotional and raw.
6. Lemonade (Episode 9)
After her near-death experience with Diamondback, Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) has a violent outburst at Claire. This causes her to be taken off of the active investigation; she is forced to see the police psychologist. While at first Misty isn’t interested in sharing, the psychologist offers her a lemonade (and a sly Beyoncé reference?). This prompts her to tell the story of why she became a police officer. When she was a girl, she left her cousin to get some lemonade, only to have her cousin be brutalized, raped, and murdered. After that, Misty devoted her life to fighting crime.
Simone Missick turns in a brilliant performance as Misty, capturing a complicated portrait of a woman who could have done anything, but chose to be a police detective in Harlem, where she was raised. The role gives Missick the opportunity to explore a wide range of emotions: Misty’s rage, self-doubt, sorrow, and determination.
5. The Night Nurse to the Rescue (Episode 11)
Not all heroes are super, and Claire has saved the day so many times in Luke Cage (and Daredevil… and Jessica Jones…) that she may just be the MVP of the show. While being held hostage, she lies to a thug with a gun in order to talk to Candice. She develops a story (and enlists Candice’s help) to get out of the room. She knocks an armed thug down the stairs, and after checking his vitals, sighed, “You’ll live.” Then, she found Luke and tended to an injured Misty. While Claire might not have superpowers, she has amazing instincts, intelligence, and skill that make her an ally to all of the supers out there – and will surely make her a key player in the Defenders.
But Claire wasn’t done for the episode. She and Misty had to face off with Shades. The two women worked as a team to take him down, and after he was knocked out and cuffed. “You’ve got skills,” Misty says, out of breath. “Likewise,” replies Claire.
4. Shades Shows Off His Skills (Episode 12)
Shades begins as a henchman for Diamondback, seemingly the James Wesley to Diamondback’s Wilson Fisk. However, over the course of the show, Shades becomes so much more than that, becoming a threat to Diamondback in the end. Viewers also see a number of hits and murders carried out on villains over the show, from Scarfe to Cottonmouth, which has come to prove that no one is safe. When Diamondback puts out a hit on Shades, it seems as if he has walked into a trap – but fans would be happy to discover that after they try to murder him, Shades still gets the upper hand and shoots all three of the men sent to kill him. Not only does he live another day, but he learns that Diamondback put out the hit, meaning that he needs to retaliate.
Over the who series, Theo Rossi as Shades has delivered, from saying, “Lawyer” repeatedly when the police have him, to having the audacity to say, “Whatchu talking about, Willis?” to Diamondback himself.
3. Bulletproof Love (Episode 12)
Music is an integral part of Luke Cage, but the song “Bulletproof Love” was written with the show specifically in mind. Method Man (of the Wu-Tang Clan) wrote and performed the song. Before performing on a radio show, Method Man discussses his support for Luke Cage, saying that he ran from the police because, “Bulletproof always gonna come second to being black.” In the lyrics of the song that follows, many of the themes of the show that are otherwise unstated are made explicit, including a reference to Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was shot by George Zimmerman and caused a murder trial that made national headlines. Luke Cage’s hoodie is a nod to Trayvon Martin, and the song helps to cement this relationship between the television show and current events: “And now we got a hero for hire and he a black one / And bullet-hole hoodies is the fashion.”
2. Winners & Losers (Episode 13)
In the last episode, the “final showdown” between Luke Cage and Diamondback seems to be over too quickly, leaving a solid half hour of storytelling. That isn’t to say that a lot of material isn’t covered in that time, but the show comes to a slow and mysterious end that leaves many open opportunities for the next season. Perhaps in what feels too close to reality, Mariah is able to evade the legal consequences after Shades murders Candace, the witness who could put Mariah away. Luke and Claire reach a new point in their relationship only to have federal marshalls come to take Luke back to prison. While Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings sing “100 Days, 100 Nights”, a montage shows where the characters are going – while Misty is heartbroken looking at the dead body of Candace, Mariah and Shades take over Cottonmouth’s club, and Diamondback gets a surprise visitor in the form of the Seagate doctor.
1. Sweet Christmas! (Episodes 4, 9, 12, 13)
Luke Cage’s catchphrase appears five times in the show. In episode four, viewers hear it for the first time as Luke discovers his newfound powers while in jail and uses them to escape. In episode nine, Luke says, “Sweet Christmas!” in a local bodega that he stopped from being robbed.
At the beginning of episode thirteen, a young Diamondback tells Luke that he sounds like his (their?) father when he says, “Don’t start saying that ‘Sweet Christmas’ shit!“. Finally, in the last moments of the final episode, as Luke is taken off by the marshalls, he realizes that he is missing out on “coffee” with Claire, he utters for the last time of the season, “Sweet Christmas.”
Fans of Jessica Jones might also remember Luke’s exclamation after his first night with Jessica, and later when they come upon a massive grow op.
What was your favorite moment from Luke Cage season one? Let us know in the comments!