For your reading pleasure, please enjoy this excerpt from Backstory’s interview with Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker from the upcoming Backstory Issue 33.
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***NOTE: This excerpt is SPOILER HEAVY – please only read if you want SPOILER SPECIFIC insight***
Season two of Luke Cage ends on a shocking note and leaves the title character in a very disturbing position. In the wake of Mariah Stoke’s (Alfre Woodard) death and Bushmaster’s (Mustafa Shakir) defeat, Luke (Mike Colter) believes only he can step into the void created by those two losses and decides he will be the facilitator for all the rival gangs and mobs trying to infiltrate Harlem. His reasoning is that he is incorruptible and thus can do the thing that’s most important to him—keep the neighborhood safe. But while his heart is in the right place, his actions prove not to match his words. In the closing moments of the season-two finale, Luke takes over Harlem’s Paradise and is seen surveying his city on the same balcony from which Mariah and Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) had peered down. And the look on his face shows he likes his new position. “When you see him up there enjoying it, we want the audience to go back all the way to season one, episode one, when you see Cottonmouth standing in the same place with that same look on his face,” showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker says. “We want that feeling of Luke really might have turned to the dark side.” To further hammer home the point, he added a shot cribbed directly from his favorite film of all time: The Godfather. In the same manner that Kay (Diane Keaton) has the door shut on her while looking at her husband, Michael (Al Pacino), as he takes over the family business, Misty has the office door shut on her as she peers in at what Luke has become.
Perhaps the best scene of the entire season precedes that moment. Luke is sitting in Pop’s Barbershop, the place from which he operates, and is talking about his decision with D.W. (Jeremiah Craft), a young man he has taken under his wing. “I’m bulletproof,” Luke tells D.W. “You can’t burn me. You can’t blast me. You can’t break me, and most importantly, you can’t buy me. I’m the only person that can make Harlem great again, D.W.” D.W. recoils, disgusted, and retorts, “Luke Trump. I’m sorry to say this, but if you’re going to be the boss of crime, then you’re a crime boss.” It’s a stunning scene that walks a fine line of calling attention to the politics of today while not hammering the audience over the head with the allusions. “In my mind, the most effective songs manage to be political while being entertaining,” Coker says of his guiding light. “Bob Marley was a master of that. Even if you were the oppressor, you wouldn’t feel like you were the oppressor while listening to it. He’s deeply political, but it’s so beautiful and relaxing and compelling at the same. My aspiration for the show is we’re able to be political but at the same time disarming, because people have such a good time.”
When Coker originally scripted the season’s closing moment, he wrote that Luke has a conflicted expression on his face as he looks down from the balcony. But on set, Colter decided to enjoy the moment as Luke, and Coker agreed that in the moment, such a choice made more sense for the story, so it stayed. “His enjoyment of it made it so much more chilling,” he says of the scene. “It was the absolute perfect choice.” It’s a risky, bold move to have Luke make the turn he does—even if it may be temporary as the series goes on—but Coker took cues from one of his favorite shows, Game of Thrones, not to worry about making story choices just to please the viewers. “It’s an easy decision for me because I hate it when people predict what we’re going to do. I always want to keep the audience uncomfortable. I want the audience to feel the way I felt when Ned Stark got beheaded. I want the audience to wonder if they knew Luke Cage and say they can’t wait for season three.”
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