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Recap / Luke Cage S1E1 "Moment of Truth"

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Luke Cage, bulletproof ex-con, is laying low while taking cash jobs to pay the rent. His life starts getting complicated again when Cottonmouth, the criminal who owns the club where he washes dishes, gets robbed during a gun deal.


Tropes in this episode include:

  • Asshole Victim: No one sheds a tear for Dante or Shameek considering how they're petty criminals involved in the hijacking of a million dollars.
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  • Big Applesauce: Just to make clear the series is set in Harlem, it opens with an extended discussion about the New York Knicks.
  • Bitch Slap: The crime lord Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes has Shameek, a young thug who stole a lot of money from him, captive and tied up. While asking where the rest of the money went, Cottonmouth repeatedly slaps Shameek's face, then rubs it in by saying he's not the sort of man to hit a "girl" with a closed fist. Shameek says nothing, and spits on him. Cottonmouth says, "Good. Now I can hit you like a man," and proceeds to beat Shameek to death with his bare fists.
  • The Cameo: R&B and soul musician Raphael Saadiq is featured in Cottonmouth's club.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Pops brings up the time Luke's rebound chick shot him point blank with a shotgun. Luke remarks that he still gets the occasional headache.
    • One of the street vendors Luke walks past is selling DVDs of clips of The Incident.
    • As Cottonmouth himself mentions, the guns he's dealing to Domingo are "top of the line... that grade-A, military, Justin Hammer–level shit". Indeed, the gun cases are marked with Hammer's logo. Much like Hammer's top-level arms, the deal backfires on Domingo as the enterprising Dante, Shameek and Chico make short work of the dealers.
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    • Mariah Dillard reminds Cornell and Domingo about what happened to Wilson Fisk when they're making the deal at the club, pointing out that Cornell and Domingo shouldn't be seen together in public. Mariah doesn't like being seen in public with Cornell either.
    • Nate, the supervisor of the kitchen staff in Harlem's Paradise, pushes Luke into bartending due to Dante calling in sick to participate in the gun heist. He asks Luke "When was the last time you made drinks?" to which Luke says "I know the drill." He spent Jessica Jones living as a bartender.
  • Corrupt Politician: Mariah Dillard, Cottonmouth's cousin and Harlem's councilwoman, made it clear that she used the donation money to fund Cottonmouth's nightclub.
  • Dramatic Irony: Misty, a cop working undercover in the club, asks Luke, "What are you, a cop?" when he casually offers her directions to the bus stop. Also, Luke is an ex-cop, since he used to be a deputy before he went to Seagate.
  • Foreshadowing: Shades shows up in the nightmare Luke has during his one night stand with Misty, a few scenes before he makes his proper introduction striding into Cottonmouth's office. Furthermore, the flashbacks Luke has of Shades are given context in the fourth episode.
  • Glasses Pull: Shades does it for effect when walking into Cottonmouth's office.
    Shades: I ain't here to spank you. But I do need to look you in your eyes. [takes off his glasses] Was it an inside job?
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: When Shades shows up to grill Cottonmouth for answers about the robbery, he speaks in such a threatening way that Cottonmouth asks "Why is this feeling like a takeover?" Shades smiles and says, "It's not. If it was, you would never even see Diamondback coming. He wants you to win. How can I help?"
  • In-Series Nickname: Cornell Stokes is referred to as "Cottonmouth" by outsiders, and it's a name he despises to hear from others. Future flashbacks establish why.
  • Inside Job: Shameek kills Dante after Dante, terrified, fears that Cottonmouth will think it's an inside job. Shades makes his intro paying a visit to Cottonmouth's office to ask him the same thing, as Diamondback also suspects the hit to be an inside job.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted. Shameek shoots Dante, but after he and Chico depart, Dante isn't quite yet dead. Once they're gone, he's able to grab his Android and make a dying call to Tone to rat his buddies out.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: Mariah needs Cottonmouth to repay the funds she embezzled to fund the renovations of his club, so that the IRS doesn't audit her.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The men in Pop's Barber Shop are skeptical about the newly drafted New York Knick Kristaps Porzingis' ability to help the team win. Porzingis, of course, was runner-up for Rookie of the Year and is now one of the team's biggest stars.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Pops mentions this trope verbatim, saying it's necessary to convince young boys to get the help they're too proud to ask for.
  • Lady in Red: Mariah sports a red dress during the intro scene at Harlem's Paradise.
  • Mugging the Monster: The thugs who think that messing with Luke Cage is a good idea soon find out that it isn't.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • "I'm not for hire, but you've got my word ma'am, I've got you." This alludes to Luke being a Hero for Hire in the original comics and the series he was a part of, Heroes for Hire.
    • Pops calls Luke "Power Man," his code name in the comics.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Cottonmouth gives one of these to Shameek for stealing his money, pounding him until past the point of death.
  • N-Word Privileges: Cottonmouth makes use of his by referring to himself as a "nigga." Mariah says she hates that word, but Cottonmouth likes it because he believes it makes people underestimate him.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Dante is scared out of his wits after Shameek guns down Domingo's dealers at the junkyard, knowing full well that Cottonmouth will notice him absent from the bar and assume it's an inside job. Shameek promptly shoots him.
    • Luke is working in the kitchen when he sees Tone escorting Shameek through. Just as he's about to shrug that off, he sees Shades striding through the kitchen and immediately has flashbacks from their encounters in prison. While Shades doesn't notice Luke, Luke is scared enough by just seeing him that he quickly returns to his apartment.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Cottonmouth says to Mariah that Harlem's Paradise "might as well be the new Cotton Club." This is actually a pretty whack thing to say considering the Cotton Club’s history. The Harlem club was opened and operated by a white mobster during Prohibition and its whole thing was that it offered a black musical revue for a whites-only crowd. Some of the most incredible entertainers of the time performed there but the atmosphere was one that glorified Jim Crow racism. If Cottonmouth had wanted to evoke the black elegance and integrated spirit of the best of Harlem in that time, he could have perhaps called it “the new Savoy.”
  • Playing Sick: Luke is pressed into being a backup bartender as Dante is calling in sick to participate in the robbery.
  • Precision F-Strike: Tone mutters "Shit, fuck!" under his breath upon getting a phone call from the dying Dante.
  • Russian Reversal: Shades does one on Cottonmouth.
    Cornell: Well, you tell Diamondback it's about time—
    Shades: Uh-uh-uh. Diamondback tells you.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After Luke delivers a beatdown to Zip's gang as they try to shake down Genghis Connie's, the last thug standing decides to run for his life.
    Sugar: I don't even like these niggas, man!
  • Shout-Out:
    • Sugar's line of "I don't even like this niggas, man!" after Luke beats down Zip and the other goons sent to Connie's is similar to a line from a Mandarin henchman in Iron Man 3.
    • Pops references the Jedi Mind Trick.
    • Three Harlemites robbing organized crime (and turning it into a bloodbath) and how Shameek was found parallels the blaxploitation film Across 110th Street.
    • When Luke sees Shades striding through the kitchen like an emotionless automaton, the slow-motion of the cinematography makes Shades look like a Terminator.
  • Sideboob: Misty provides a bit of this during her one-night stand with Luke.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Dante Chatman, the bartender in Cottonmouth's club, is responsible for the stolen money from Cottonmouth's gun deal. After his crew members double cross him, Dante makes one final phone call with his dying breath to inform Tone that Shameek and Chico are the ones who killed him, thereby kickstarting the plot.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Luke's conversation with Misty at the bar.
  • Tempting Fate: When Cottonmouth gloats to Mariah, he says "That's the thing about niggas, you never see them coming". He was referring to himself more than anyone else, but the scene shifts to Dante, Chico, and Shameek killing Domingo's men and stealing his money.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Shameek, having just stolen a fortune from Cottonmouth, goes to a local strip joint and throws money around. Sure, he didn't know that Cottonmouth already knew he was the thief, but a more prudent man might have realised that the day after a mob boss had been robbed would have been a very bad time to look like you were suddenly and inexplicably flush.
  • Villain Respect: Of a decidedly undesirable form. When Cottonmouth is questioning Shameek, he at first restricts himself to slapping him because he's not the sort of man who'd hit a "girl" with a closed fist. When Shameek refuses to talk, Cottonmouth thanks him for proving his manhood and thus leaving Cottonmouth free to really cut loose.

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