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Series / Luke Cage (2016)

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"This city is supposed to represent our hopes and dreams. You have to fight for what's right every single day."
Luke Cage

Luke Cage is an original series adaptation of the Marvel comic book property Luke Cage: Hero for Hire released on September 30th, 2016, developed by Cheo Hodari Coker. It is the third entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's The Defenders (2017) original series franchise, after Daredevil (2015) and Jessica Jones (2015), and preceding Iron Fist. The series originally premiered on Netflix in 2016.

The show stars Mike Colter as Luke Cage, a bartender from New York City who gained Super-Strength and Nigh-Invulnerable skin from an experiment to save his life turned murder attempt. After the resulting explosion gives him the chance to change his life, he goes on the lam, hoping to live out his life as a normal person in Harlem. When Luke's past begins to catch up with him, he finds himself at war against the gangs that control organized crime in Harlem, which are led by Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali), Madame Councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), Hernan "Shades" Alvarez (Theo Rossi) and Willis "Diamondback" Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey), while also being at odds with Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick).

A second season was released on June 22, 2018. A year after the events of season 1, Luke has become a celebrity on the streets of Harlem with a reputation as bulletproof as his skin, and Mariah is preparing to retire from the criminal business. But when John "Bushmaster" McIver (Mustafa Shakir) shows up to exact war on Mariah over a past family grudge, Luke is forced to confront the fine line that separates a hero from a villain. Season 2 also adds Gabrielle Dennis as Mariah's daughter Matilda "Tilda" Johnson, and Reg E. Cathey as Reverend James Lucas in what was his final role prior to his death at the age of 59. In October 2018, Netflix announced that it was canceling the series due to creative differences. In February 2022, the series, alongside the rest of the Defenders franchise, exited Netflix's platform, moving to Disney+ the next month.

Previews: SDCC Teaser, Trailer 1, "Streets" Trailer

As Luke Cage is part of The Defenders, spoilers from that series are included in some of the examples, and they are marked as such.

Luke Cage contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • Rafael Scarfe, played by Frank Whaley, discusses his favorite burgers before killing Chico. In Pulp Fiction, his character Brett is killed after a lengthy discussion with Jules and Vincent about various types of hamburgers and the differences between burger styles in different countries.
    • There's one scene where Cottonmouth and Mariah have a discussion/argument about the comparative merits of money versus political power, with Cottonmouth arguing that money is better than (or at least critical to) power. In House of Cards (US), Mahershala Ali plays Remy Danton, who has the same ongoing argument with Frank Underwood throughout the show's entire run.
    • Faith Evans cameos in "Code of the Streets" performing her song "Mesmerized" on the stage at Harlem's Paradise. She is the widow of Christopher Wallace AKA the Notorious B.I.G., whose portrait hangs on the wall in Cottonmouth's office.
    • There's a shot of Shades washing blood off his hands in a bathroom sink right after being forced to throw Councilman Damon Boone's body out the entrance to the club. Theo Rossi had a similar scene with "Juice" Ortiz in Sons of Anarchy.
    • When she first meets Tilda again in season 2, Mariah says to her, "I could be the mother you always wanted me to be”, a very line that Alfre Woodard previously used in Empire.
    • D.W. makes a Game of Thrones reference shortly before Danny Rand appears and a few episodes after Colleen Wing showed up. Danny is played by Finn Jones, who played Loras Tyrell on Game of Thrones and Jessica Henwick played Nymeria Sand.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the comics, Cottonmouth is both Cornell's "code name" and his actual surname. In the show, his legal name is Cornell Stokes. "Cottonmouth" is now a nickname that he absolutely hates.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Compare what Cottonmouth and Mariah Dillard look like to their comicbook counterparts; the former was older and had More Teeth than the Osmond Family, while the latter was morbidly obese.
  • Adaptational Badass: Diamondback was just a knife-wielder who died too early to become a recurring threat. Here, he is a far more formidable foe that all other Harlem crime lords are unwilling to cross as he is capable of killing multiple people in rapid succession, wields all kinds of weapons and becomes a constant thorn in Luke's side, actually going to go blow-to-blow with him while wearing a Powered Armor. His threat is so great that he ends up pushing his own allies to side with Luke just to get rid of him.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the comics, Luke was definitely still a hero, he was initially Only in It for the Money and even later on still wasn't shy of trying to turn a profit. Many older comics also presented Cage as something of a downplayed Angry Black Man. Here, Luke discards both of these qualities and is actually just a Gentle Giant and helpful Nice Guy, to the point that Cottonmouth at one point calls him "Harlem's Captain America".
  • Adaptational Personality Change: In the comics, while Luke Cage could fit the "Angry Black Man" Stereotype, he also radiated Spider-Man levels of cockiness and brash shit-talking, to the point he once said, "Where's my money, honey?" to Doctor Doom after the evil overlord refused to pay him for services rendered (He even uses this exact line in season 2 when he is trying to hide Piranha from the Stylers). In the first season, however, he's much more taciturn and reserved and, as commentators have pointed out, seems overly concerned with respectability politics. This starts slipping in the second season, though, as Luke falls under the burdens of being a public celebrity as well as his war with Bushmaster and Mariah.
  • Adaptational Skill: In the live-action series, Luke is a trained military veteran and ex-cop, and is further trained in rudimentary combat while fighting in an underground prison ring. By the time he actually receives any superpowers, he is already a competent fighter capable of beating ordinary humans one-on-one. This contrasts his comic book version, who only learned how to fight in the streets, and only received informal training much later on.
  • Adaptational Villainy: This show loves this trope:
    • Rafael Scarfe in the comics was an honest police officer, except for one story arc, who helped Luke and Iron Fist on a number of cases. Here, he is a Corrupt Cop who kills Chico and sells Luke out to Cottonmouth.
    • Dr. Noah Burstein was a supporting character and ally of Luke Cage during his early days, but here, he is a bit of a Well-Intentioned Extremist scientist.
    • Reva was more or less a decent person, even if she didn't live very long during Luke's origin story in the comics, and up through at least Jessica Jones (2015), that seemed to be true of her for the MCU. We learn that she was aware of Seagate's experiments the entire time and was manipulating Luke.
  • Advertised Extra: Annabella Sciorra's role in season 2 as Rosalie Carbone was advertised early on, despite the fact that she only turns up in the last two episodes. Though, seeing as this is setup for her later appearance in Daredevil season 3, it is somewhat justified.
  • Aesop Amnesia: Luke thinks he's invincible due to his bulletproof skin and strength. Luke does this even after nearly getting killed from a point blank shotgun blast to the head by Jessica and nearly dying from a Judas bullet after later finding out they don't work on him anymore.
  • Affably Evil: While Piranha is a corrupt businessman with mob ties, he's also very chipper and friendly, especially with Luke Cage. Even when Luke makes aggressively statements to him, Piranha just laughs it off.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • "Power Man", a sometimes codename used for Luke in the comics, is used by Pop as a nickname for Luke when he effortlessly lifts a washing machine.
    • Subverted with Pop. We're led to think "Pop" got his nickname from his father figure tendencies. Actually it's because it was the sound his fists made when he was a younger street brawler. Snap. Crackle. Pop.
  • Afro Asskicker:
    • Misty Knight, a capable and tough cop, boasts long, curly locks of hair. In the finale, this is taken even further, where she has a massive afro that wouldn't have been out of place in The '70s.
    • And Luke Cage, in prison, grows an afro due to his general neglect of his physical appearance.
  • Afrofuturism: Takes a comic book setup (superpowered hero defends his hometown from evildoers) and uses it as a springboard for exploring police brutality, racial identity, and fighting white supremacy.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Mariah and Hernan are a couple with at least twenty years between them. This reflects the actors' age difference, which is twenty three years.
  • The Alcoholic: Mariah Dillard is rarely seen without a drink in her hand or a half-empty bottle of booze somewhere nearby. There are even some scenes in which she is slurring her words as if drunk. It's implied that it's her way of coping with the stress of working with Cottonmouth, and even moreso when working with the more bloodthirsty Diamondback.
    • In season 2, Shades is quick to take issue with Mariah's morning drinking when being told about Luke turning in Arturo.
      Hernan "Shades" Alvarez: It's not even 9:00 am. Do you really think you oughta lay off?
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Bushmaster's plans in season 2 involve completely obliterating Mariah's operation as retaliation for her family's murder of his parents.
  • Amoral Attorney: "Big Ben" Donovan has been the Stokes' family lawyer for over 25 years. Mama Mabel put him through law school, and he's been managing the Stokes' finances as well as handling all of their criminal defenses. He also even has time on the side to do work for Wilson Fisk.
  • Anachronic Order: Season 1 of Luke Cage partially overlaps with season 2 of Daredevil (2015), which starts in Summer and ends in Christmas of 2015. This is established by the fact that in the fifth episode, Claire mentions the Hand's attack on Metro-General in ".380", and her tone implies that the attack just happened.
  • And Starring: With Rosario Dawson, and Alfre Woodard.
  • Animal Motifs: Willis Stryker's is the rattlesnake. His nickname "Diamondback" is derived from the western diamondback rattlesnake, he takes pride in Luke calling him a snake, and compares himself to one when cornered by Domingo at gunpoint. In addition, his fight suit vaguely resembles a snake.
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: A few examples.
    • Cottonmouth, Diamondback, and Bushmaster are named after types of snakes, so they count as Animal Aliases.
    • Subverted when it comes to Luke himself. It is revealed that the process that created Luke's invulnerable skin was based around infusing his DNA with abalone DNA. He obviously doesn't base his superhero identity around it and doesn't even know about this portion until much later, but his powers are still based at least partially on an animal.
  • Anyone Can Die: In season 1, Dante, Shameek, Pop, Tone, Chico, Scarfe, Cottonmouth, Zip, Domingo, and Candace are all killed by the end of season 1. In season 2, it's Nigel Garrison, Arturo Rey, Cockroach, Mark Higgins, Comanche, Thomas Ridenhour, Stephanie, Anansi, Alex, and Mariah herself.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: When Luke teams up with Danny to hunt Bushmaster, Danny briefly mentions fighting a dragon to D-W. At the end of the episode, Luke asks Danny if the dragon is metaphorical. Danny asks him if he's serious about being able to accept being bulletproof and Danny's glowing fist, but draws the line at a dragon. Luke confirms that he is.
    Luke: So, this dragon you fought, that was metaphorical, right?
    Danny: I can't believe you.
    Luke: What?
    Danny: Okay, you can accept that you're bulletproof, right?
    Luke: Sure.
    Danny: And you accept that my hand, it... it glows?
    Luke: Yeah.
    Danny: But you can't believe in a dragon?
    Luke: Hell, no.
  • Arc Words:
    • Variations on "Forward, always," and "Always forward."
    • "Back in the day."
    • "Always" figures into many people's goodbye rituals. It gets used so much that they start lampshading how corny it sounds by the end of the season.
    • "Keep his/her name out of your mouth."
    • In Season 2, "Family first, always."
  • Artificial Limbs: Misty gets a robotic right arm partway through season 2, after some Tough Love from Colleen prompts her to take up Danny's offer.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • Claire and Luke drive from New York to Georgia in what seems to be a single day and drive back in about the same amount of time. That's at least 12 straight hours of nonstop driving on Interstate 95, assuming they never stop for gas, sleep, food, or restroom breaks, and barring traffic congestion in the metropolitan areas along the way (Philadelphianote , Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington DC and Richmond).
    • Cottonmouth's main stash house is the Crispus Attucks Community Center. While there are many schools, parks, theaters, playgrounds, and community centers have been named in honor of the Boston Massacre victim, none of those various establishments are located in Harlem like the series suggests. Justified, as the center is Mariah Dillard's pet project.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: The Jamaican characters speak Patois to everybody regardless of the other person's background. In real life, most Jamaicans speak to outsiders in plain English to avoid being The Unintelligible. Even in Jamaica, standard English is the official language used in any kind of formal context.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Cockroach uses a six-barreled shotgun to blow Luke Cage through a window and dislocate his shoulder. But the kickback on a firearm is exactly equal to the force of its projectiles, so Cockroach should have been hurled backward and his own shoulder dislocated by the very same shot.
  • Arm Cannon: Diamondback sports a special metallic glove with repulsors in it, which when used to punch a victim is strong enough to cave in the victim's chest and throw them backwards through the air. He uses it first to kill a police officer, and later uses it to kill Councilman Boone.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • With Misty Knight being the female lead and secondary protagonist (and only character besides Luke to appear in every episode), the NYPD plays a much bigger role here than it did in Daredevil or Jessica Jones.
    • Claire Temple finally plays a much larger role in the plot here than she did in either of her runs in Daredevil, or her one appearance in Jessica Jones. She first appears five episodes in, and aside from "Soliloquy of Chaos", she appears in every episode from there to the end of the first season.
    • Mark Bailey is introduced in season 1 as a fellow cop and friend of Misty's from the Crime Scene Unit. There, he's a recurring character, with just seven episodes across the season. In season 2, he's been promoted to Detective, and is partnered with Nandi Tyler for the first half of the season. Later, after Nandi goes rogue, he returns to being Misty's right hand.
    • While Mariah and Shades are among the villain ensemble of season 1, they play second-fiddle to Cottonmouth and Diamondback. Cottonmouth and Diamondback being out of the way puts them as the face of the Stokes-Dillard crew for season 2.
    • Comanche only appears in one episode of season 1, where he works with Shades as co-enforcers for Rackham. In the present-day scenes of season 1, Shades is all on his own, and there's no Comanche. Comanche then is a main character in the first half of season 2, up until his death upon Shades learning of his betrayal.
    • In season 1, Sugar only appeared in a few episodes as one of Cottonmouth's henchmen, then disappeared after a non-fatal shot. In season 2, he has a Heel–Face Turn and plays a larger role, particularly in the final episodes of that season.
  • The Atoner:
    • When Pop was young, he ran around in a gang alongside Cottonmouth, which was how he acquired the name Pop to begin with (it was the sound his fists made when he knocked a fool out). He retired from that life and tries to be a mentor figure for the young men in the area so they don't go down the same path he went down.
    • Bushmaster's uncle Anansi used to be in the criminal game, but retired from it and along with his wife Ingrid, opened up a restaurant in Crown Heights named after Bushmaster's mother.
  • Audience Surrogate: Though Luke is devoted to Pop and views him as a father figure, he's not a Harlem native, being an immigrant from Savannah, Georgia, on the run from the law. This means that other people get to explain local history to him and, by extension, us.
  • Badass Boast:
    • When Luke confronts Cottonmouth in the funeral home:
      Luke: I'm just gettin' started.
    • When Luke threatens to drop Zip off a bridge if he doesn't give Luke information on Cottonmouth.
      Luke: And when water is filling your lungs, you'll ask yourself, "Why didn't I just give Luke Cage what he wanted?"
    • During another meeting between Luke and Cornell:
      Cottonmouth: You wanna go to war? I'll take you to war.
      Luke: You don't have enough people.
    • When Turk Barrett unexpectedly shows up during a tense moment on the Harlem's Paradise rooftop to demand the money Tone had promised him for snitching on Chico:
      Cottonmouth: How'd you get up here?
      Turk: I'm Turk Barrett, baby. The door ain't been built that can hold me back. Now where's my money?
    • When Luke goes to talk to Domingo, and Domingo's thugs try shooting him:
      Luke: I guess you guys haven't heard about me yet.
      [Domingo's men empty their guns into him, only succeeding in riddling his jacket with bullet holes]
      Luke: ....I'm about sick of always having to buy new clothes.
    • Shades and Comanche share one.
      Shades: Rivals—
      Comanche: —We got none.
  • Bad Guy Bar: Harlem's Paradise serves as this, with the person in control of it (at various points, Cottonmouth, Mariah, Bushmaster, and Luke) being synonymous with whoever's in control of Harlem. Luke points this out at the end of Season 2, remarking how everything flows through the Paradise. This makes his taking control of it at the end of Season 2 so shocking.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work:
    • Cottonmouth kills Tone after he shoots up Pop's barber shop.
    • Cottonmouth later kills Scarfe after he tries to double cross him.
    • Mariah kills Cottonmouth in the heat of the moment (and it turns out that Shades had the same idea).
    • Shades kills Zip after the latter was sent to kill him by Diamondback.
    • Diamondback kills Domingo and his men.
  • The Bad Guy Wins:
    • At the end of season 1 Mariah has everything she ever wanted: good publicity, a clean record, all threats to her power gone, Luke arrested, and even a Last-Minute Hookup with Shades.
    • Played with in Season 2. At the end of the Season, Mariah loses everything: The last bit of her reputation, Shades, her daughter, and she finally has a case against her that sticks. However, she makes one final play, she wills her entire empire to Luke Cage, including the club. She does this believing that Luke will try to do good, but will eventually become corrupted and turn evil like her. It becomes her final act as she gets poisoned to death by her own daughter.
  • Base-Breaking Character: In-Universe, at the start of "Suckas Need Bodyguards", the callers on Trish Walker's show have differing opinions on Luke, with some advocating that he's a necessity where the cops are handicapped and others who think he needs to have oversight.
    Trish: If you're just joining us, this is Trish Talk and we are discussing the recent events that have the residents of Harlem confused, and some even frightened. Line one, Sophia, you're on the air.
    Sophia: Luke Cage is turning the neighborhood upside down and giving it a good shake. Trust me, no one wants to see what falls out.
    Trish: Are you suggesting we turn a blind eye to the problems in our city?
    Sophia: No, but I've seen the news. The man is so strong, he doesn't have to answer to anybody. Can you trust a person like that? Let the police do their job, that's what I say.
    Trish: Some would argue the boys in blue don't exactly have a sterling reputation these days.
    Sophia: Oh yeah missy? Well the next time trouble comes bangin' at your door, maybe you should call Luke Cage instead of 911!
    Trish: You know what Sophia? I just might. Let's take another caller. Line two, hi Amir.
    Amir: Hey Trish, I want to respond to that lady, 'cause she's got it all wrong. I know Luke, comes into the fish shop, always treats my wife and me with respect. Last week, two kids started a fight, Luke took care of it and nobody got hurt.
    Trish: I think it's noteworthy that the only people I've spoken to who criticize are the ones who don't know him personally. So many others have merely read about him or saw him on the news and jumped to conclusions.
    Amir: Trish, Luke is good people, and he belongs right here in Harlem.
    Trish: And I think it's important for all of us to realize something. We're witnessing a massive shift in the boundaries of possibility, but what is scary to some, inspires hope in others. I for one would like to thank Luke Cage for all the work he's doing in Harlem. Those of us below 110th see the good work he's doing, and we hope he's doing well.
  • Bastard Bastard: Willis Stryker, aka Diamondback is actually Luke's half-brother that their father had with his secretary.
  • Batter Up!:
    • When Luke breaks up Cottonmouth's thugs while they're shaking down Genghis Connie, Zip tries to swing his baseball bat at Luke. Luke casually blocks the blow with his fist, and the bat splinters apart on his knuckles. Luke's hand doesn't even move.
    • Cottonmouth smashes things with his bat after Luke hits Crispus Attucks and 80% of his money gets seized.
    • In Season 2, Luke and Bushmaster's third rematch, implied that Bushmaster is running low on his Super Serum, he takes an aluminum baseball bat to Luke to try and even the odds. It helps, but not much, especially when Luke grabs a steel pipe.
  • Battle Strip: Bushmaster surprises Nigel and kills him. After slicing Nigel's eyes out, several of Nigel's men attack him and try to shoot him. Immediately after their guns run out, he rips his shirt to reveal that the bullets only embedded themselves in his skin and didn't penetrate at all.
    Bushmaster: Anyone else want to leave, now is the time! Oh, you stay? Good. Then we have work to do.
  • The Beard: Mariah's marriage to her late husband was purely one of convenience. Jackson Dillard was gay and married her so he wouldn't be disowned by his own family, and so Mariah could claim that Jackson was her daughter Tilda's father. Despite this, Mariah claims that the two of them loved one another as much as a straight woman could love a gay man.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Cornell Stokes absolutely hates being called "Cottonmouth". The police know that, and thus use the Cottonmouth name to intimidate people into talking.
    • Mariah Dillard does not like being called "Black Mariah".
    • Luke has a minor one: he doesn't like even another black person calling him a "nigga".
    • After Cottonmouth tells Mariah she wanted her uncle to touch her, she flies into a rage and kills him. Understandable that Mariah reacted this way, given Tilda exists as a reminder of this.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes is the head of the organized crime groups that Luke ends up in a war with in season 1; his cousin, Mariah Dillard, is a local politician campaigning against the gentrification of Harlem. The pair seem to be working together, albeit with some tension between them.
    Cottonmouth: Harlem's about control. Power.
    Mariah: Politics is where the power is.
    Cottonmouth: It's niggas like me that let you hold on to what you got.
    • After Mariah kills Cornell halfway through Season 1, Diamondback (who up until then had been a Greater-Scope Villain) takes over the latter's role. However, he's clearly shown as the dominant figure in the partnership.
    • Mariah and Shades are this for most of Season 2, until Shades turns on Mariah after she crosses too many lines.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Cottonmouth, Mariah, Diamondback, Bushmaster, and, to a lesser extent, Shades, have claim to the lead villain role. Despite all of them working together against Luke Cage, their personal motivations bring them into conflict with one another as well.
  • Big Bad Slippage: Mariah Dillard starts with a legit dream and goal and becomes the criminal and killer she never wanted to be but embraces at the end. It's even reflected in her wardrobe: at the beginning of the season she is dressed like a proper politician, someone who took inspiration from the Obamas. By the end of season 1, she is wearing that flashy, all black coat and sports an "in your face" demeanor. Alex, her right hand man, becomes a more and more competent Dragon for her, something even she's pleasantly surprised about.
    • In season 2, she begins making plans to retire from gang life. However, Bushmaster shows up to ensure she doesn't based on her grandparents having killed his parents. It leads to Mariah massacring a restaurant of innocent people trying to smoke out Bushmaster. Subsequently, she ends up having falling outs with both Tilda and Shades. The latter proceeds to work with the cops to run a sting that gets Mariah arrested, and then she's killed by Tilda in jail while awaiting trial.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Some of the gangsters get shades of this when they're up against foes that greatly outmatch them in invulnerability or firepower.
    • Cottonmouth kicks off the plot by indirectly causing Pop's death. But he is still a regular mob boss facing off against the superpowered Luke Cage, and doing so with no previous real experience against super-powered people, so he is severely outmatched. Even his attempts to turn the public against Luke fail spectacularly. He does eventually find Luke's weakness through his true identity and the Judas bullets, but he gets killed by Mariah before he gets the opportunity to truly use either. Shades even warns him that Diamondback could have him killed anytime he wants and Domingo is ready to declare war against him.
    • Domingo acts as if he owns the town and, after the hostage situation ruckus at the club, tries to upstage Diamondback, which ends with Diamondback killing him and his entire gang.
    • In season 2, Mariah greatly underestimates Bushmaster and is easily subjected to a bunch of attacks from Bushmaster without much of an effort to fight back.
  • The Big Board:
    • Misty doesn't have corkboards, but her use of the walls around her desk to tack up crime scene photos from her open cases is pretty much the same effect.
    • In season 2, Luke uses corkboards in Pop's Barbershop for similar effect.
  • Big Guy Rodeo:
    • When Luke is beating up a bunch of Domingo's gang at Colon's Gym, one of them hops on his back to try to take him down. It doesn't end well for him.
    • This also happens when Luke infiltrates the Crispus Attucks Center to take down Cottonmouth's guards. One of them hops on Luke's back, but soon finds himself being shrugged off.
  • Blaming the Victim: When she was a young girl, Mariah Dillard was molested by her Uncle Pete. During an argument with her cousin Cornell, he accuses Mariah of bringing her abuse on herself by "flirting" with their uncle leading to her killing him in a fit of rage.
  • Blasphemous Boast:
    • Shades tries to convince Cottonmouth into using the bullets made from Chitauri metal. Hammer Industries even gave it a name based on what it can do:
      Shades: If you wanted to kill Jesus, that's the bullet you'd use. That's why they call it the Judas!
    • Diamondback has a habit of doing this regularly, quoting relevant Bible passages to threaten someone.
      Diamondback: "When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but terror to evil doers."
      Mariah: [disgusted] You quote the Bible like you actually believe in God.
      Diamondback: And you speak to me as if you're not actually in the presence of death.
    • Rackham, during his orientation speech to the new class of Seagate inmates:
      Rackham: Rule number one: You will obey every rule I say after "rule number one". Rule number two: None but the righteous shall see God. And since we ain't got no righteous people in here, God ain't gonna have to worry about your shitty prayers. So that means I'm His mean, shitty substitute.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Misty sees through the fabricated statement that Mariah and Shades coerce Candace into giving to the police about Cottonmouth's murder.
      Misty Knight: Candace, look me in the eye. You were too scared to go upstairs and serve Cottonmouth without Luke. Table number 7, right? And then you started sleeping with him? But you still call him "Mr. Stokes" and you can't even tell me about his private entrance? What do they have on you? Huh? Is it money? How much are they paying you?
    • Whenever a character says "I give my word", they're not. Like when Cottonmouth conceals his source for the arms deal, or when Reva claims to know nothing about the experiments at Seagate.
  • Blaxploitation: It draws from the genre without indulging in the stereotypes. Luke looks like a Scary Black Man (with in-universe comment on it from people) but he never exploits it, groovy music (more songs with lyrics and imposing beats than in Daredevil), many characters speak Jive Turkey to look tough streetwise like Shameek and Chico, the first episode has sex and nudity between Luke and Misty but not that much different than from other Netflix series. The Man (Seagate's researchers) and the Mob (Cottonmouth) are antagonists to Luke Cage and of course, problems must be solved by violence and intimidation (that's half of a hero's job description). Subverted with Mariah Dillard's "keep Harlem black" slogan, as she just wants Harlem's Afro-American heritage to be preserved and prefers legal and nonviolent means to reach it.
  • Bookends:
    • In the first episode, Mariah gives a speech about Harlem, what it is and what it represents. In the last episode, Luke gives a similar speech, minus Mariah's self-serving rhetoric.
    • Misty's first and last scenes are in the club, scoping out a crime boss.
    • The first and last episode have Luke "going for coffee" with one of his leading ladies. Though the Feds interrupt before the "coffee" can actually be gotten in the last episode. Fortunately, they do get it in The Defenders (2017).
  • Bond One-Liner:
    • Cottonmouth throws Tone off the roof for killing Pop, right after Turk shows up on the roof to request his payment for selling out Chico:
      "You can collect your money from Tone DOWNSTAIRS, Mr. Barrett!"
    • Diamondback does a One-Hit Polykill on two of the Harlem crime bosses, then immediately quips, "Two for the price of one."
  • Both Sides Have a Point: A running theme in the first season is "justice" versus "order". Luke Cage and his close allies represent "justice" in that they don't believe in the system and so do whatever it takes to survive and protect their own. Misty Knight and the NYPD (except Scarfe) represent order, as they believe vigilantes (especially superpowered ones) are dangerous and should not be left untouched. In a way, they're both right. The police are sometimes in way over their heads and gifted vigilantes can really be a boon for them. However, since Luke Cage has a code against killing, at some point he's going to need the system again or else the criminals he beats up will just come back. This is best highlighted in the final episode, where Diamondback is off the streets, but Misty Knight's only witness against Mariah Dillard ends up killed because no one trusted the system enough to make sure she was protected.
  • Brick Joke:
    • In Jessica Jones (2015), Jessica and Luke had a conversation over who could stop a moving car. In this show, we see Luke indeed use his body to stop a car driven by some of Cottonmouth's men from running over Claire and a dying Scarfe.
    • Claire doesn't want to have "coffee" with Luke. At the end, she can't wait to have some with him.
    • Luke listens to the Wu-Tang Clan song "Bring Da Ruckus" while attacking Crispus Attucks. Several episodes later, Method Man shows up.
  • Bring It: When faced with a hallway of several dozen gang members in Crispus Attucks, Luke silently motions with both hands for them to come at him all at once.
  • Broken Aesop: One of the big themes of the second season is that Luke needs to reconnect and reconcile with his father, an admittedly common theme in film and television. Problem is that Luke's father is a piece of shit who has done nothing to deserve that. He fairly openly kept a woman on the side and had a son with her while his wife was believed barren, then raised the two boys together when his wife had a legitimate son. He was physically and emotionally abusive to both boys. When the two were caught joy-riding in a stolen car, he pulled strings to get the legitimate son away from the prison and into the military and let the illegitimate son rot in jail for grand theft auto. When the illegitimate son framed the legitimate son, he cut off all contact with the latter to the point that his son learned his mother had died from the warden. He only reached out after it was very publicly revealed that his son had been framed. Finally, when approaching Luke for reconciliation, he doesn't come as a penitent father asking forgiveness for his failures, but is confrontational, aggressive, and condescending, even attempting to get physical with him at one point. Luke has shit to work out regarding his father, but with a therapist, not with the man himself.
  • Broken Pedestal: In Jessica Jones (2015), Luke held Reva in high regard, to the point where he severed all willing contact with Jessica upon finding out that she killed Reva on Kilgrave's orders. Here, Luke finds out that Reva was not only aware of the experiments performed on Seagate prisoners, but condoned them, tarnishing his view of her.
    • Luke is repeatedly subject to this over the course of Season 2. First Claire, who leaves after an argument ends with Luke losing his temper and punching her wall. Then the public, when Luke is defeated by Bushmaster. Then finally Misty and D.W., when Luke accepts ownership of ‘’Harlem’s Paradise’’, becoming the new “King” of Harlem
  • Bullet Time:
    • Used during the Crispus Attucks raid at one point when a henchman tries firing an automatic rifle at Luke, with the slo-mo showing each bullet ejecting and hitting Luke, but not slowing him down.
    • Used in season 2 when Bushmaster is launching an attack on Mariah and Shades. Shades draws a revolver and tries to shoot Bushmaster, and we see the bullet leave the gun in slo-mo and appear to head for Bushmaster's left eye, that is, until he just shifts a little bit out of the way, causing the bullet to harmlessly fly past him.
  • Bury Your Gays: Apart from a minor character, an employee of Mama Mabel's in a flashback in the first season, and another who never appears on-screen in the second (because he died years ago) we only get one character in the second season confirmed not straight, Shades's former partner and prison lover Comanche, who dies near the end of the second season.
  • Cain and Abel: Discussed by Diamondback, due to Luke being his younger half-brother, who was perceived as the favorite son. Both he and Luke quote Cain's question "Am I My Brother's Keeper?" a few times.
  • The Cameo:
    • Method Man in a scene where Luke stops a convenience store robbery:
      Method Man: It's you!
      Luke: Nah man, it's you. P.L.O. Style was my jam back in the day.
      • Meth later appears on Sway in the Morning to talk about Luke with Sway and Heather B., then raps about him.
    • The Stan Lee poster appears in the Method Man cameo.
    • Local Harlem tailor Daniel Day aka "Dapper Dan" appears in season 1 to get Luke a suit for Pop's funeral. In season 2, we see him cameo again, this time tailoring a suit for Bushmaster.
    • This show also has artists coming on to do musical numbers at Harlem's Paradise:
      • D-Nice
      • Faith Evans
      • Raphael Saadiq
      • Charles Bradley
      • Jidenna
      • The Delfonics
      • DJ Reggie Reg
      • Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings
      • Gary Clark Jr
      • Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
    • On the Marvel side of things:
      • Luke listens to Trish Talk on his morning jog in one episode.
      • Fisk's lawyer Donovan shows up to defend Cottonmouth. Whether this means the two are actually connected has yet to be seen.
      • Blake Tower assists in Diamondback's hostage crisis.
      • For season 2, Danny Rand and Colleen Wing come over from Iron Fist, the former getting a one-episode team-up with Luke, while the latter tries to provide Misty with emotional support as she copes with the loss of her arm from Midland Circle.
      • Foggy Nelson appears to represent Luke after he's sued for assaulting Cockroach. He even accompanies Luke to a party being thrown by Piranha.
      • She doesn't appear on screen, but Karen Page gets mentioned a few times by Priscilla Ridley in the aftermath of the Rum Punch Massacre, and a reporter citing her as a source during a press conference about the murders, ends up tipping off Mariah to the fact that Ingrid has survived.
      • After the Rum Punch Massacre, we see Mariah arrange a deal with Hai-Qing Yang of the Yangshi-Gonshi from Chinatown, who had made the acquaintance of Danny Rand in Iron Fist season 1, allowing Yangshi-Gonshi run their drugs in Harlem.
  • Canon Foreigner: A lot of the supporting cast, like every NYPD cop in the show outside of Misty and Scarfe, plus Bobby Fish, Pop, Chico, Squabbles, and others, have no comics equivalents.
  • Catchphrase:
    • As in the comics, "Sweet Christmas!" and "Sweet sister!" for Luke. Being the son of a preacher man, he's not one for excessive swearing.
    • "I've got you."
  • Category Traitor: A number of Harlem's residents view the black NYPD officers as such.
    Patricia Wilson: [to Inspector Ridley] You'd think a sister in charge would change things. But you're blue, which makes you just as white as anybody else!
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    • In the season finale, the US Marshals mention Michael Connelly and his Harry Bosch series. Titus Welliver, who plays Harry Bosch in the TV series adaptation of those books, is SHIELD agent Felix Blake in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
    • Tone compares his use of two submachine guns to light up Pop's Barbershop to the Candieland massacre in Django Unchained. Thing is, the house slave Stephen is played by Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury in the MCU. And Jackson's wife LaTanya Richardson Jackson plays Mama Mabel here in Luke Cage. The fact that Quentin Tarantino's films exist in the MCU is already a paradox, as Frank Whaley (Rafael Scarfe) played Brett in Pulp Fiction and Tim Roth (Blonsky in The Incredible Hulk) was in a number of Tarantino films including Pumpkin from the aforementioned Pulp Fiction.
    • When Pop is telling Luke about his backstory, he says to Luke "I thought you was innocent, Shawshank," obviously comparing Luke to Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption. That movie's cast includes Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown (Leland Owlsley and Colonel Ray Schoonover in Daredevil (2015)) and William Sadler (President Matthew Ellis in the films).
    • Misty does a reference to Ghostbusters (1984) when she first arrives at the junkyard shootout. Sigourney Weaver, who plays Dana in the original two movies, would later turn up as Alexandra in The Defenders (2017).
      • Later, in season 2, Misty makes a reference to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from Alien when she and Luke are gearing up to raid Bushmaster's base in Brooklyn. Luke doesn't comment on Ripley's resemblance to the late Alexandra.
    • In "The Main Ingredient", Luke is accosted by Harlem residents who feel he's not doing enough to stop Bushmaster, with one of them suggesting that he go "Dracarys" on Bushmaster, to which Luke replies, "State Property and Game of Thrones do not mix." Presumably Luke has noticed how much Loras Tyrell resembles Danny Rand, and how much Nymeria Sand resembles Colleen Wing. Minutes after this reference is made, Danny shows up at Pop's Barbershop.
    • Shades is a fan of This Is Us. He probably cries watching the show because he's noticed how one of the characters is played by Ron Cephas Jones (Bobby Fish), and another character added in season 3 is played by Rob Morgan (Turk Barrett).
    • Ghostface Killah makes an appearance in season 2. Ghostface has drawn inspiration from Iron Man throughout his solo career, starting with Ironman in 1996, which introduced his alter-ego Tony Starks. His reverence for the source material scored him a cameo in Iron Man, which, had it made it into the film, would have created the additional minor paradox of him resembling an arms dealer seen briefly in Dubai.
  • Cerebus Retcon: In Jessica Jones (2015), Reva had been painted as an angel and the one saving grace in Luke's world, and he was devastated when Jessica killed her on Kilgrave's orders. As it turns out here, not only was Reva aware of the experiments at Seagate, but complicit in the cover ups when prisoners were killed as a result of them.
  • The Chain of Harm: Played with. Aggravated by Luke Cage busting up his operations, and interfering with his business dealings with other gang leaders, Cottonmouth orders his men to extort money from across Harlem to recoup the losses that Luke caused, but it also serves as an attempt to force the people to turn on him and put Luke back in hiding or run him out of town.
    Cottonmouth: And when they ask you "Why? Why?", you tell them to go talk to Luke Cage down at the barbershop.
    • Further played with in that while he needs the quick cash infusion, Shades says it also makes Cottonmouth look weak, which is a problem in and of itself.
  • Character Development: Luke Cage accepts the burden of his powers and the responsibility that comes with it. On the villains end, Mariah embraces her role as a crime boss, and takes over Cottonmouth's operation.
  • Chess Motifs:
    • Luke envisions Cottonmouth's criminal empire using a chess board, planning to bring down the enforcers who serves as the rooks and knights, as well as Mariah, his queen.
    • Played for Laughs when, at Pop's funeral, Bobby Fish ponders seating for the different women Pop was involved with romantically and/or transactionally.
    • Season 2 continues the theme, with specific named characters being likened to specific pieces. Luke himself corrects one person who calls him the new "King of Harlem" stating he's just a rook.
  • Child by Rape: Mariah Dillard was regularly raped and molested by her uncle Pete, and in the process, ended up giving birth to a daughter, Matilda Maybelline "Tilda" Johnson. Mama Mabel wouldn't let Mariah get an abortion, so Mariah passed Tilda off as the product of her marriage to her late husband Dr. Jackson Dillard and had Tilda raised by her cousins, the Johnsons (explaining Tilda's different surname). Although almost every one in the public believes this is the truth, those more intimately connected to Mariah, like Cottonmouth and Captain Thomas Ridenhour, are aware of what actually happened.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Averted; Luke's dad was a preacher, sect unknown but definitely Protestant, and Pop's funeral is not led by a Roman Catholic priest.
  • Clear My Name: A deconstruction, especially since "Let's Frame Luke Cage" seems to be a favorite pastime of Diamondback and his forces; Officer Carl Lucas was framed for heroin possession and sent to Seagate prison. Shades and Mariah frame Luke for Cottonmouth's murder, and he is caught on dash-cam beating two cops senseless trying to escape. Another cop is killed by what appears to be Luke's superhuman strength (actually Stryker's power glove). Luke is able to prove his innocence of the two murders, and prove extenuating circumstances for attacking the two cops; he'd been seriously wounded by Judas bullets and needed to seek special medical attention he wouldn't have gotten in police custody. However, his identity as Carl Lucas is revealed, and he not only goes back in for the heroin possession charge, but is doubly punished for his prison escape. Foggy Nelson then gets all of the charges against Luke dropped before the start of The Defenders.
  • Clothing Damage: Luke is constantly getting his clothes shot up with bullet holes. Lampshaded at one point, where his response to two of Domingo's men emptying their guns into him is an annoyed "I'm about sick of always having to buy new clothes".
  • Clothesline Stealing: After escaping the experiments that gave him his powers at Seagate prison, Luke Cage steals a change of clothes off a clothesline, which just happens to (combined with the restraints from the procedure he's still wearing) exactly replicate his original comic book costume.
    Luke: [to his reflection] You look like a damn fool.
  • Color Motif: Luke is associated with the color yellow, and the series uses plenty of yellow objects, filters and natural sunlight with it's cinematography. Yellow also typically represents hopefulness and the show actually avoids going very bleak like the previous two Netflix shows before it as it's mainly The Hero's Journey for Luke Cage.
  • Color Wash: The opening credits are composed of various photos of Harlem cityscapes processed through a sepia filter.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When one of the US Marshals asks if Luke wants something to drink before the ride back to Georgia, Luke complains that he was already about to get something "hot and dark" before they showed up. One of the Marshals suggests they could stop at Dunkin' Donuts on the way, and Luke just sighs and says, "It's not the same," nicely tying in with the "coffee" running gag.
  • Comic-Book Movies Don't Use Codenames:
    • Luke himself and Misty Knight barely had code names in the first place. Luke does have an infrequently-used name of "Power Man" in the comics. It appears in the show as Pop's Affectionate Nickname for him. We also hear his comic-book's subhed, "Hero for Hire", in Method Man's rap about him. In season 2, "Power Man" is used by Claire once, and D.W. Griffith is even printing the name on T-shirts.
    • In an aversion, the criminals who have supervillain codenames have said names repurposed as street gang nicknames: Hernan "Shades" Alvareznote , Willis "Diamondback" Stryker, John "Bushmaster" McIver, etc.
    • Played with though for "Cottonmouth", even though that was his real surname in the comics. Here, his name is Cornell Stokes. And he absolutely hates being called "Cottonmouth" (he got that nickname when he had a couple of teeth knocked out as a young man).
    • Played with for Raymond "Piranha" Jones. In the comics, he gets his name from the sharp metal spikes he used to replace his teeth. In the show, it's a nickname he got because he considers himself to be the kind of Wall Street financier that no one sees coming.
    • "Black Mariah" is now an insult that people directed at Mariah Dillard when she was growing up. When Cottonmouth does taunt her with that name once during an argument, she chucks a martini glass at him.
    • In an interesting example, while everyone's still calling it "The Incident", people are a lot more likely to casually throw out the word "alien" in connection with it. Claire's mom mentions "aliens pouring out of a hole in the sky" once, and the big selling point of the Judas bullet is that the metal it's made from isn't from this world (which also makes it very expensive on the black market).
    • In the hostage crisis in Harlem's Paradise, Sugar refers to Claire Temple as "the night nurse".
    • Tilda Johnson doesn't go by "Nightshade". Instead, nightshade is the main herbal ingredient in the formula she creates that gives Bushmaster his healing powers.
  • Continuity Nod: Has its own page.
  • Combination Attack: When searching for Bushmaster, Luke and Danny Rand have a special move that the latter refers to as "patty-cake" where Danny uses the Iron Fist to strike at Luke's hands, causing a shockwave that can knock down over a dozen foes at once.
  • Composite Character: Willis "Diamondback" Stryker is a composite of two characters from the comics: Willis Stryker, who framed Luke for drug possession to put him in prison; and Coldfire AKA James Lucas Jr., Luke's brother with a bone to pick and who got experimented on by a scientist to gain powers.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The reason Mariah is able to cover up Cottonmouth's death is because Shades just happens to appear right after she finishes bashing in Cottonmouth's head with the microphone stand. It's in the penultimate episode that Shades reveals that he had in fact gone there to kill Cottonmouth himself, but Mariah beat him to it.
    • Scarfe comes to Luke for protection after being shot. He survives because Luke just happened to have bumped into Claire Temple and was still with her.
  • Contrasting Sequel Antagonist: Bushmaster in season 2 is a whole new ballgame compared to Cottonmouth and Diamondback. He doesn't have any direct antagonism over Luke, gunning for the Stokes over a personal vendetta, while the previous were willing to destroy their criminal empire to get rid of Luke Cage. He relies on drugs to keep up with Luke instead of Diamondback's powersuit and his criminal powerbase is in Brooklyn instead of Cottonmouth's foothold in Harlem, making him and his crew Ruthless Foreign Gangsters to Harlem instead of a local kingpin.
  • Cop Killer:
    • Cottonmouth shoots Rafael Scarfe after Scarfe gets cocky and tries to squeeze him for money. Scarfe survives long enough to give Luke and Misty information on Cottonmouth before he dies. However it can't be used without a living Scarfe, so Cottonmouth walks.
    • Willis Stryker attempts to frame Luke for murder by walking up to a random police officer, then punches the officer with a powered glove on his right hand that throws him backwards twenty feet through the air ("like he was shot from a cannon or some shit," as one witness puts it), caves in his chest, and kills him instantly. Willis then walks away shouting "I'M LUKE CAGE!" It helps that Luke has already been seen on a viral police car dashcam video overpowering two other cops in spectacular fashion. The police respond with relentless force, and Mariah exploits the backlash of one kid who got beaten up in custody (and had no information) as part of her scheme to sell Judas bullets to the NYPD.
    • Comanche kills Captain Ridenhour when Shades catches the two meeting for an informant drop, and tries to fib...until Shades kills him with Ridenhour's gun and makes it seem like the two killed each other.
  • Cops Need the Vigilante: Deconstructed to a greater degree than Daredevil (2015). Whether or not the NYPD can trust, let alone need, the "gifted" people is a discussed plot point between Misty and Scarfe. Scarfe is a Dirty Cop in Cottonmouth's pocket, but he celebrates a Vigilante Man helping cops out when years of investigation have no satisfying payoff, especially when corruption is rampant in city government (from the D.A.'s office to the city council to the cops on the street) and "gifted" people exist everywhere. Misty, though, believes vigilantes (especially superpowered ones) are dangerous and should not be left untouched, which causes tensions between her and Luke. The show goes to great lengths to show that both sides make good cases: the NYPD are sometimes in way over their heads and gifted vigilantes can really be a boon for them. However, since Luke Cage has a code against killing, at some point he's going to need the system again or else the criminals he beats up will just come back. This is best highlighted in the final episode, as Diamondback is taken off the streets, but Misty's only witness against Mariah Dillard gets killed because no one trusted the system enough to make sure she was protected.
    • In season 2, Misty enlists Luke to work with her when she finds herself alienated from her fellow cops who make a mockery of her for her disability and her past affiliations with Scarfe.
  • The Corrupter: After she's finally locked up and about to die, Mariah attempts to play this to Luke by willing him Harlem's Paradise, remarking that a King can't rule from a barber shop. When the season closes... you can't say for sure that she succeeded, but you can't say that she failed, either.
  • Crapsack World: How Harlem is portrayed. Much like Daredevil before this show, organized crime is rampant.
  • Crimefighting with Cash: After Luke and Danny Rand take down an underground nursery, they burn it to the ground. Danny casually quips that he had Rand Corporation buy the building and the property it's on, and he definitely won't file a complaint against himself.
  • Crossover: Naturally, with the other Netflix heroes in The Defenders (2017), with Luke, Misty, and, of course, Claire all appearing prominently.
    • In addition to minor cameos or mentions of characters from the other Netflix series, this series begins to share characters with Iron Fist in both shows' second seasons, with the latter's two main characters themselves, Danny and Colleen, both having one-episode team-ups with Luke and Misty respectively, and Misty being a major character in half of the episodes of Iron Fist's second season.
  • Cultural Posturing: During season 2, the cultural differences between the African Americans descended from Southern slaves and the more recent Jamaican immigrants is a running theme, with characters from both backgrounds extolling the virtues of their own group over the other.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check:
    • If a real-life club could pull the headliners that Harlem's Paradise hosts, the owner would be a multi-millionaire. But Cottonmouth doesn't seem to notice or care that he has, without a shade of competition, one of the best nightclubs in all of Manhattan. Mariah even points out that his legitimate business interests are successful enough on their own that he doesn't need to run drugs or guns in order to be one of the most powerful men in Harlem.
    • In Season 2, Mariah makes $350 million off an investment in Atreus Plastics stock, yet remains committed to getting into the dirt of the local Harlem underworld.
    • Ben Donovan acts as Mariah's consigliere while she is in jail, delivering her orders for assassinations on people who know too much and being relieved when she spares him. But Donovan is already doing many of these same things for Wilson Fisk and will still be doing them in Daredevil season 3, and even if he wasn't, he's a skilled and high-power attorney who could easily make millions defending criminals while also keeping his hands clean.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Scarfe had one when he accidentally forgot to lock up his off-duty gun and subsequently, his son Earl shot himself with it.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • As with the other Netflix series in the MCU, this series is set to be grittier and more violent than the movies or other TV projects thus far. Mike Colter has described the series as the MCU's version of The Wire. In fact, if it weren't for Luke's powers and the Judas bullets, Luke Cage would a straightforward crime drama.
    • The Judas bullet was developed by Hammer Industries. Diamondback took the Ex-Wife and made it actually work.
    • Season 2 is this in comparison to Season 1, with Bushmaster's more brutal tactics, Mariah's vicious responses, and Luke's ever growing moral ambiguity. It closes with Luke in charge of Harlem's Paradise as Harlem's de facto King, and the door shutting on Misty and Claire.
  • Death as Comedy: Cottonmouth abruptly kills Koko during a meeting for suggesting that Luke Cage be left alone. This would be a dick move if it weren't so funny in the abruptness with which he does it, and the fact that Koko genuinely thinks Cottonmouth is interested in advice on dealing with a guy who's causing their money to get seized.
  • Death by Origin Story: Squabbles doesn't make it out of Seagate prison.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Bushmaster's M.O. for putting his enemies on notice is to kill their associates and send them the severed heads. He first does this with Nigel, putting Nigel's head in the satchel bags of money he hands over when Shades drops by. Later, after Mariah dismisses his thinly veiled threats, Bushmaster puts the severed heads of Mark Higgins, Cockroach, and Ray-Ray on display when Mariah is doing a ribbon cutting for a new clinic. And after getting Piranha to empty Mariah's bank accounts, Bushmaster leaves his severed head in a fish tank.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: A lot of tropes, both of the superhero and Blaxploitation genres, are played with or outright deconstructed over the course of the season.
  • Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: The Judas, a bullet invented by Hammer Industries and derived from metal not from this world. It's a composite, invisible to metal detectors, and incinerates forensic evidence of itself on impact, rendering it untraceable. It is capable of penetrating most materials and exploding immediately afterwards due to a built-in amount of explosive compound; a rifle round capable of blowing football-sized holes in pre-stressed concrete. As one would expect, they're more than capable of overcoming Luke's bulletproofing, though luckily his internal tissues are every bit as tough as his skin, enabling him to survive being shot with two of them long enough to get exotic medical attention.
  • Destination Defenestration:
    • Luke employs throwing people through windows when possible, such as with Cottonmouth's henchmen at Genghis Connie's or Domingo's gang.
    • Cottonmouth kills Tone by throwing him off the roof of Harlem's Paradise.
      Cottonmouth: You can collect your money from Tone DOWNSTAIRS, Mr. Barrett! I assume that concludes our business.
      Turk Barrett: You Harlem niggas are off the hook. I'm going back to Hell's Kitchen where it's safe.
    • Mariah also shoves Cottonmouth out the window of his personal office in Harlem's Paradise, which he barely survives, so she beats him to death with a microphone stand.
      • During season 2, Bushmaster throws Luke through the same window, temporarily incapacitating Luke.
  • Deuteragonist: Misty.
    • Tritagonist: Claire takes this seat for the second half of the first season before being Put on a Bus for most of Season 2. Throughout Season 2, the seats for tritagonist or tetragonist could go to Bushmaster, Shades, Mariah or Tilda, depending on the viewer's perspective.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: At the end of season 1, almost everything seems to be working out for the heroes. They've cleared Luke's name of wrongdoing, taken down Diamondback, and gotten a witness who can testify against Mariah. And then, Misty loses her phone during the final battle, it gets found by Mariah, and the end result is that their witness is killed and Mariah goes free.
  • Dirty Cop:
    • Rafael Scarfe is in Cottonmouth's pocket, as is Lieutenant Perez, and a property sergeant. While dying, Scarfe seems to imply that there may also be more.
    • Thomas Ridenhour is ambiguously dirty, meeting with Mariah off-the-record, and not exactly being the most ethical in his handling of Comanche as an off-the-books confidential informant.
    • Nandi Tyler decides to sell Mariah out to Bushmaster to collect his multimillion dollar bounty and get back at Misty.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Cottonmouth, who somewhat shockingly dies at his own cousin's hands at the midpoint of the first season.
  • Disposable Superhero Maker: It's impossible to replicate the exact circumstances of the experiment that gave Luke his powers for several reasons:
    • Rackham screwed with the temperature of the chemical bath in a last-ditch attempt to kill Luke, so it became an unknown variable.
    • The chemicals used in the experiment reacted to some unique but unidentified aspect of Luke’s biology to result in the super-strength, unbreakable skin and healing factor.
    • Reva stole all the data on the experiments when she and Luke went on the run and then wiped it all clean.
    • And even then it might get subverted since Diamondback, Luke's half brother, is about to get treated by the doctor responsible for the experiment but who also found a temperature similar when Luke was wounded and needed medicine.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Luke's costume of a hoodie and jeans is a reference to Trayvon Martin. Mike Colter confirmed this in an interview, where he says the costume was a choice he made exactly for this reason. It even becomes a citywide icon after Luke is forced to go on the run to go after Diamondback, since the NYPD are so focused on Luke that they're not looking for anyone else. Not only that, but hundreds of black men don hoodies with bullet holes after being inspired by Method Man's song, making the manhunt an absolute joke.
  • Don't Answer That: Benjamin Donovan's go-to response whenever he's summoned to the 29th to bail out Stokes associates.
  • Downer Ending:
    • Season 1's ending: Luke is going back to prison for his original sentence, though this is thankfully mitigated by The Defenders, where Luke is introduced getting out of jail thanks to Foggy Nelson's lawyering. Mariah Dillard and Shades walk free after killing Candace and nullifying the only evidence against them, and even Diamondback's arrest is soured by his being set to get Luke's powers himself. And Candace's brothers are about to be recruited into The Hand.
    • Season 2 (and the series itself) ends more bittersweet, but more towards the "bitter": Harlem, while in the end safe, briefly turns into a war zone from the power vacuum left by Mariah's incarceration; practically all of Bushmaster's family is dead at Mariah's hands and he never gets to truly avenge them by killing Mariah, leaving him a broken man; Claire has left Luke; Tilda appears to, as much as she tries to avoid it, be growing into the Stokes legacy as a ruthless woman of her own; D.W. basically evicts Luke from the barbershop; Mariah is murdered by Tilda though a poisonous kiss (which also robs Misty of the closure of seeing her sentenced, but to compensate, she does get to arrest Shades for Candace and Comanches' murders), and Mariah dies in Luke's arms; and Luke finds out his powers can only protect Harlem so much, and starts making truces with crime bosses for peace and he becomes the de-facto protector of Harlem after Mariah dies, which could possibly put him down the same dark path Mariah went down.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Misty and Scarfe are shown leaning against their car sharing a bottle of whiskey after Pop gets killed, and Misty tries to convince Scarfe that Luke might be one of those gifted people.
    • In season 2, a flashback establishes that when they worked together, the whiskey bottle was stored in a cabinet under Misty's desk.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Stokes family was one big ball of messed up family dynamics. Tilda was the product of Pete's raping his own niece Mariah, Mama Mabel basically groomed Mariah and Cottonmouth into being criminals, and Buggy had turned on his own business partner Quincy McIver when the Italians tried to drive them out of business.
  • Early-Bird Cameo:
    • Luke Cage had a major role in Jessica Jones (2015) before getting his own series.
    • In the final episode Claire takes a number from a flyer advertising Martial Arts training by Colleen Wing. In Iron Fist (2017), Claire is introduced in the midst of taking solo lessons with Colleen.
    • Rosalie Carbone makes her debut in two scenes in the last two episodes of Season 2, before going on to play a more prominent role in season 3 of Daredevil.
  • Elevator Action Sequence: Zip tries to kill Shades in a freight elevator. "Try", as he decides to try strangling him from behind rather than just shoot him in the head. After a lengthy struggle, Shades is able to get his hands on a henchman's gun and kills both of Zip's men, then marches Zip out onto the roof and kills him as well.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Luke is an ex-Marine Force Recon.
  • Embarrassing Nickname:
    • Cornell Stokes hates being called "Cottonmouth", a name he got because he often had gauze in his mouth from when he got beat up.
    • Mariah Dillard hates being called "Black Mariah" though, as of Season 1, the origin of this nickname has not been revealed. In Season 2 she states she was the victim of colorism as other black kids teased her for being so much darker, calling her "Black Mariah."
  • Enemy Civil War: In season 1, Harlem's gangsters are as much at war against each other as they are at war with Luke Cage.
    • In season 2, the main conflict is the result of Bushmaster wanting revenge for the deaths of his parents at the hands of the Stokeses.
  • Enemy Mine: In season 1, Mariah and Shades seek a truce with Luke when they believe Diamondback has gone too far off the rails for them to do business with him.
    Mariah Dillard: You know, sometimes you have to reach across the aisle to get things done.
    Hernan "Shades" Alvarez: You're talking about Luke Cage? It's incredible how much you and I think alike. We're at war. And right now, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
    Mariah Dillard: Maybe. But it might not take. You did beat his ass and give him his powers. And Cornell's flunky killed Pop. You think he really is gonna jump? Just jump on our bandwagon?
    Hernan "Shades" Alvarez: Absolutely. 'Cause we have something that he wants more than anything. [he pulls an official looking manila envelope out of his bag] His old life. A chance to clear his name. Right here.
    Mariah Dillard: If we send Luke after Diamondback and they kill each other, all of our problems are swept away, no matter who wins.
    Hernan "Shades" Alvarez: Even better.
    • In Season 2, everyone basically decides Mariah has to go. Shades turns himself in to Misty to get the police to take her in since she's broken rules even he wouldn't, Sugar goes to Luke because he thinks she needs to be take out, Tilda gives Bushmaster a drug to make him even stronger and show him how to infiltrate Harlem's Paradise, and when the attempt fails, proceeds to poison Mariah in jail.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Shades is introduced by confidently strolling into Cottonmouth's office, wherein he proceeds to control the entire conversation just by mentioning his higher connections.
    • Mariah is introduced glad-handing with kids in her district, remembering specific details about each of them. When she's done, her smile turns to a scowl and she spritzes her hands with disinfectant, showing that her public face is just a front.
  • Erotic Eating: Claire suggestively licks a pair of chopsticks while making sexual advances towards Luke in the last episode.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Shades is a true believer in the Gangster's Code, an unwritten set of rules that determines how organized crime should do business. While any other gangster is fair game (especially if they snitch), this means strict limits on how you interact with "innocents" or those merely connected to other gangsters. While intimidating them, harassing them, robbing them, and even to some extent roughing them up is fine, severe violence or killing them is supposed to be unthinkable. Wanders into the realm of Blue-and-Orange Morality when Shades can laugh about killing Candace, who he considered part of "his world", but merely remembering the horrible death he witnessed of Anansi, who wasn't, sickens him and almost brings him to tears.note 
  • Everyone Owns a Mac: Practically every character in season 2 owns an iPhone, while we also see Mariah using a rose gold Macbook. Justified in the case of the cop characters, since season 2 is set in 2017, at a time when the NYPD was starting to issue iPhones to all of its cops at a department-wide level.
  • Evil Counterpart: Just like Luke is estranged from his father, it turns out in season 2 that Mariah has an estranged relationship with her daughter Tilda.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: The moment Mariah gets locked up, a gang war breaks out as different factions try to take her place. Even Luke can't cover all the bases on his own and the police are working overtime. Eventually, he takes up the position as "King" to fill in.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Shades and Cottonouth are disgusted by Tone's willingness to shoot up Pop's barbershop with two submachine guns, especially since Pop is killed by a stray round, and his barbershop is neutral territory for a reason. Shades is both distressed and disturbed, while Cottonmouth is offended enough by Tone's casual dismissal of Pop's death as "a casualty of war" that he throws Tone to his death.
    • Mariah and Shades rebel against Diamondback's needlessly bloody methods, which periodically endanger their own ambitions. The two even try to bargain with Luke Cage as a result.
    • Mariah reacts with outrage and disapproval when Cottonmouth shoots Scarfe and later when Diamondback kills a police officer, seeing that as unwanted heat she can't afford.
    • Momma Mabel refused to sell drugs, and when one of her henchmen broke this rule, she had Pete kill him for it. She also eventually had Pete killed when she found out he'd been molesting Mariah, which had been what resulted in Mariah giving birth to Tilda. Lampshaded by Hai Qing-Yang when Mariah approaches him in season 2 to propose a deal with the Yangshi-Gonshi to bring Chinese heroin into Harlem, and he points out that drug-dealing goes against the Stokes' creed.
    • When Mariah kills an entire restaurant full of innocent people, even Shades thinks that she's gone too far since "there are rules" in his own words and she broke them without so much as blinking.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Old residents of Harlem all met each other in their youth.
    • Mariah was a junior that Ridenhour took care of in high school, was in the same sorority as Mark Higgins' wife and Priscilla Ridley, and knew Piranha since he was fifteen.
    • Cottonmouth was one of Pop's lackeys, ran gang with Shades, Zip and Comanche when he was younger and used to chill with Domingo when their older relatives were doing business.
    • Misty and Nandi met each other since high school.
  • Evil Makeover: Tilda gets one of these in the final scene, showing up to Harlem's Paradise looking quite the vamp after killing her mother.
  • Evil Matriarch: For good or ill (mostly ill) Mama Mabel Stokes's influence over Harlem was so widespread that it is still affecting the area, decades after her death. Many who grew up in Harlem back in the day remember her, and she was at least maternal enough that Shades and Mariah gratefully remember her. Others, like Pop and Cottonmouth, have less fond memories of the terrible violence she forced them to commit.
    • Season 2 establishes that Mama Mabel funded the education for Piranha Jones and Ben Donovan.
  • Eye Scream:
    • When crashing the meeting at Colon's Gym, Diamondback kills Jacques by throwing a knife into his eye.
    • Bushmaster kills Nigel Garrison by slicing a knife across his face and through his eyes, before breaking his neck.
  • Failed a Spot Check: When Tone and Shades enter Pop's barbershop after Tone shot up the place, they walk right by Luke, who's playing dead but completely fail to notice that despite Luke's shirt has holes in it, he's not bleeding and doesn't have any bullet holes in his skin.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: The residents of Harlem regard Luke like a great celebrity when he's doing good. But when he falters, they treat him as an undefeated champion just taken out by someone bigger and stronger, as happens when D.W. sells viral video to ESPN of Luke being ambushed and curbstomped by Bushmaster on the street. D.W. is a great example, as he has no shame about selling videos of Luke even when it's making things harder for Luke to get privacy.
  • Fake Guest Star:
    • Frank Whaley doesn't get main credits billing even though Rafael Scarfe appears in as many episodes as Cottonmouth does.
    • Even though Inspector Ridley and Diamondback both are introduced in episode 7 and appear in every episode from there to the end of season 1, only Erik LaRay Harvey gets main credits billing, while Karen Pittman is relegated to guest star billing.
    • Zip appears in nine episodes, which is more episodes than Cottonmouth (six) or Diamondback (seven), but Jaiden Kaine is credited as a guest star.
    • Justin Swain isn't given main credits billing in season 2 despite Bailey being in 9 of 13 episodes.
    • D.W. Griffith is in just over half the season 2 episodes, yet Jeremiah Craft isn't given main credits billing.
    • Nandi Tyler is in eight episodes of season 2, although Antonique Smith is not given main credits billing.
  • Fanservice: Misty Knight's large breasts are prominently displayed in the first episode, while in a low-cut dress, a bra, and naked from the side after having sex with Luke.
    • In Season 2, the West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn provides ample equal-opportunity fanservice by parade-goers in outfits as colorful as they are skimpy.
  • Fashion-Victim Villain: Bobby's opinion of Diamondback when he sees him clad in a powered suit that gives him enhanced strength on par with Luke's. invoked
    Bobby: What the hell kind of Jean-Paul Gaultier shit is this? What are you, a pimp stormtrooper?
    Diamondback: No, I'm the angel of death.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mariah Dillard is able to turn on and off her charming political face at will.
  • Fingore:
    • Luke interrupts Zip's gang shaking down Genghis Connie's, and one of them, Amos, punches him in the face. We're treated to a close-up, slow motion shot of Amos essentially punching a human-shaped brick full strength and breaking not just his hand, but also the rest of the bones in that arm.
    • During Cornell's flashback, we get to watch Momma Mabel cut off a mouthy subordinate's finger with pruning shears, as easy as breathing.
    • In Season 2, to convince Rosalie Carbone to leave Harlem alone, Luke combines this with a form of Punctuated Pounding, breaking her bodyguard's fingers one by one:
      Luke: What [crack] part [crack] don't [crack] you [crack] understand? [crack]
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Luke met Reva when she was a counselor at Seagate.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Domingo, Cottonmouth and Mariah first are introduced, Domingo comments that Cottonmouth's uncle Pete was "good people". There's a disgusted reaction from Mariah, foreshadowing the reveal that Pete had raped her as a child.
    • Cottonmouth is confirmed to run Hammer armaments supplied by Diamondback in the very first episode. This comes back later in the season when Shades introduces him to "the Judas", an exclusive high-tech bullet made from scavenged alien metal and based on Hammer prototypes.
    • In the first season finale's montage, Claire tears a phone number off of a poster for self-defense lessons from Colleen Wing. Claire is then re-introduced in Iron Fist while taking self-defense classes with Colleen.
    • Mariah's capacity for explosive violence is foreshadowed when, following Crispus Attucks, a relatively mild goad from Cornell (calling her "Black Mariah") is met by a martini glass flung at his head.
    • Misty is shot in the right arm by Diamondback during the hostage situation at Harlem's Paradise, and almost loses it, but Claire manages to save it just in time. This foreshadows her losing her right arm for real in the finale of The Defenders (2017) when rushing to save Claire and Colleen from Bakuto.
    • In the first episode, Mariah expresses to Cottonmouth her discomfort with him having some of his henchmen be bodyguards for her while she's doing a public event outside Cripsus Attucks. Cottonmouth counters, "They pass out flyers, get contributions, tributes. Just like in Jamaica, you know?" This foreshadows their connections with the McIvers in season 2, especially since Bushmaster is running a more violent faction of the Yardies known as the Stylers.
    • Mariah suggests alternative methods to Cottonmouth of killing Luke, like drowning him, poisoning him, burning him, etc. In season 2, we see criminals actually try these sorts of methods. Arturo Rey tries blowing up one of his trucks with Luke inside, but Luke survives with a very singed hoodie. Later, during their fight on the bridge, Bushmaster uses a special powder to paralyze Luke's muscles before pushing him into the Harlem River below, where he nearly drowns.
  • Foil:
    • Misty Knight and Claire Temple. Both are potential Love Interests for Luke and tough-as-nails women. When Luke first meets Misty, he sweet-talks her into a one-night stand in a matter of minutes. When he meets Claire, he tries to sweet-talk her the same way, but she doesn't bite. When Misty finds out who Luke is and what he can do, she immediately assumes the worst while Claire, who has had experience from her time with Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones, is in Luke's corner every step of the way. Eventually, the two women have a moment to bond after Misty gets shot during Diamondback's hostage situation at Harlem's Paradise, and they both defeat Shades in a fight.
    • Mariah and Cornell. Mariah is ashamed of the dark side of herself and, similarly to Wilson Fisk, tries to argue that everything she's doing is for the good of the neighborhood rather than merely power for power's sake. Cornell, however, thinks she's full of herself and takes an At Least I Admit It stance to being a criminal. Despite trying to deny that side of herself, Mariah is in fact far more competent and ruthless than Cornell ever was. And she admits to Shades in "Soliloquy of Chaos" that Cornell saw things in her that she had been avoiding her whole life.
    • Tone and Zip. Both are more gangster than they are mobsters. Unlike Tone, though, Zip is smarter than he acts (as Diamondback even points out) and is good at knowing exactly what his current boss wants.
    • Zip also has a lot in common with Shades, but he chose sadism over pragmatism during most decisions taken and his ambition only stops at being Number Two, while Shades is being The Creon. Diamondback even sends Zip to kill Shades and takes his place in Diamondback's organization, which fails since Zip tries killing him in style (strangling him while his goons act indifferent) than simply shoot him.
    • Luke and Diamondback. Best shown when Diamondback gives his Motive Rant during his hostage situation at Harlem's Paradise, explaining everything that he and his mother went through simply because Luke existed. One of the first things Luke says once he's face-to-face with Diamondback is to give sincere condolences for Dana's death, stating he really liked her. Diamondback immediately snaps back that he hated Luke's mother, calling her a bitch. It's also in the actors' appearances, as Mike Colter (Luke) is bald with a short goatee and mustache, while Erik LaRay Harvey (Diamondback) is clean-shaven with a short cropping of hair on his head.
    • Diamondback and Cottonmouth. Both have the same straight-forward, complete overkill approach to violence and their joy from the unnecessary and impulsive destruction, and have snake-based nicknames. The one difference is in their visions: Cottonmouth at least stood for a vision of Harlem. But Diamondback isn't from Harlem, and therefore, has no vision for it, and only wants to torture and destroy Luke Cage. He's completely willing to put himself in a terrible position if it means putting Luke in an even worse position. He doesn't plot for the intricate downfall of his enemy, he just goes on the warpath and throws everything at them.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Though cousins and not siblings, such a dynamic is present between Cornell (the foolish) and Mariah (the responsible).
  • Framing the Guilty Party:
    • Diamondback decides to turn up the heat on Luke by going out and murdering a random police officer in public, making sure everyone hears him yelling "I'M LUKE CAGE!" as he flees the scene. The police easily buy the frameup, since Luke did actually assault two of them on tape in the previous episode.
    • Flashbacks in season 2 suggest Scarfe was a regular user of this. Cockroach, who definitely committed other murders, was framed by Scarfe with a planted gun for one that he didn't commit. Another flashback shows Scarfe suggesting to Misty that they plant drugs on a guy scamming little old ladies out of their social security checks, which he promptly laughs off as a joke when Misty gives him an appalled look. Misty realizes in hindsight that he was trying to test her to see if she'd be as willing to break the rules to produce results.
    • After Cockroach beats up his girlfriend and puts her in the hospital, Misty considers planting Judas bullets in his apartment. After breaking into his apartment, she has a crisis of conscience and decides not to go through with it. And it turns out the frameup would've been all for naught as Cockroach had just been decapitated by Bushmaster.
  • Funetik Aksent: Bushmaster and his associates in season 2 have this for their subtitles.
  • The Gadfly: When Misty returns to duty in season 2, almost every cop in the 29th Precinct save for Bailey subjects her to cruel jokes about her missing arm for no other reason than to get under her skin. Bailey tells her that this probably has to do with a combination of the cops being uncomfortable with Misty's disability, as well as them still being very angry about what Scarfe did.
  • Game Changer:
    • Luke finds himself in real danger once Diamondback shows up with the Judas bullets, which are capable of penetrating Luke's skin.
    • On the side of the villains and heroes alike, there's what happens when Bushmaster arrives in season 2, as he's perfectly capable of taking on Luke in a fight without mechanical aids.
  • Generation Xerox: One generation gives us the trio of violent Pop leading Fredo and Cottonmouth. The next gives us the violent Dante leading Chico (Fredo's son) and Shameek.
  • Generic Ethnic Crime Gang: The show explores the sheer variety of criminal organizations present in New York City. So far Luke has tangled with Italian, Chinese, Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Korean, Haitian and Jamaican criminal syndicates; while the Stokes family could be considered an African American variation on this trope.
  • Glasses Pull: Shades pulls off his signature Ray-Bans for emphasis when something serious is happening.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Mama Mabel took this view, forbidding Mariah from having an abortion when she'd got pregnant due to Pete raping her. Thus her daughter Tilda was passed off as the child of Mariah's husband, then given to another family, the Johnsons.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Luke, being the son of a preacher-man, doesn't swear very much. His catchphrases are "Sweet Christmas!" and "Sweet sister!" In a flashback, he tells Willis to stop swearing at him, and Willis notes his minced oaths.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Lieutenant Perez says at one point that some of the cops are calling Misty a curandera because of the thing she does with crime scene photos. A curandero/a is a witch doctor, a faith/spirit healer. Better connotations than bruja, but not really connected with what Misty does.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Bushmaster and his men in Season 2 sprinkle some Patois into their otherwise English dialogue.
  • Guns Akimbo:
    • Tone fires twin Heckler & Koch MP5K submachine guns one-handed into Pops' Barbershop trying to kill Chico. Chico is hit nonfatally and shielded by Luke from the bullets, while Pop is hit in the neck and killed by a stray. The last part earns him Cottonmouth's wrath, and he's thrown to his death.
    • Diamondback fires two Walther PPKs in this pose when taking Harlem's Paradise hostage, and later when killing Domingo.
    • Domingo likes to wield duel Berettas in gunfights
    • Cockroach sports duel guns when Luke crashes Mariah's meeting with the crimelords in Harlem's Paradise in the first episode of season 2.
  • Gut Punch: At the end of episode 3 of season 2, Luke goes for a walk after his breakup with Claire... then Bushmaster abruptly sneak-attacks him on the street and demonstrate that he is capable of delivering attacks that can put Luke on the ground despite his Next Tier Power-Up.
  • Gushing About Guest Stars: In "Soliloquy of Chaos", Luke meets Method Man while foiling a robbery and is quite thrilled about it. Method Man is equally in awe of Luke and recounts the story on a radio show.
  • Hallway Fight: Luke storms Cottonmouth's stash house in Crispus Attucks, using his Super-Strength to bulldoze his way through mooks in three different hallways before finding his money.
  • Handicapped Badass: Even with her new right arm, Misty is still as much a badass as ever.
  • Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: In prison, Luke had a full beard and an afro (and looked like a mountain man after a period of lengthy neglect). After his escape, he shaves both, giving him his current look of bald with a short goatee.
  • Headbutting Heroes: Misty regularly clashes with those who are on the same side as her, including Luke (due to misunderstandings) and her superiors.
  • Healing Factor: Claire finds out that the experiments that gave Luke his Super-Toughness also improved his cells lining his organs, as they reconnect to each other when separated. However, this actually works against him when he's hit by Diamondback's Judas bullets; the cells force the bullets deeper into his body.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Deconstructed. Mariah runs a pretty effective smear campaign on Luke Cage, but there are still people (mostly ones who know him personally) who don't fall for it, and a wider segment of the population who hear about the good he's done and stand by him, even when the police are actively hunting him as a cop-killer.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Season 2 is one long exploration of this with Luke, about whether he'll let the violence and brutality of the criminals he's fighting make him more violent and brutal in return, or if he can hold on to his sense of self, his morality, and his soul in the face of increasingly depraved adversaries.
  • Hollywood Healing:
    • Misty's arm heals surprisingly fast from getting shot. She seems to have ditched the sling within a day or two of the shooting at best. In reality, she would've probably had to wear the sling for a couple of weeks before any doctor would allow her to remove it. Somewhat lampshaded by Inspector Ridley, who comments to Misty that she really should be in the hospital instead of staying out on the streets. Of course, given she loses the arm for real when fighting Bakuto in Midland Circle, it's rendered moot...
    • Discussed in regards to Luke. Claire mentions on more than one occasion that no one normally recovers from a shotgun blast like the one that Jessica Jones gave him. The experiment that Luke was subject to was also meant to accelerate his healing, but due to Rackham's last-minute sabotage, ended up giving Luke his durable skin.
    • During Turk Barrett's second appearance, you would never know he nearly had his foot cut off by the Hand, not even so much as having a limp when he's interacting with Zip and Diamondback, and later when Luke interrogates him for information on Diamondback's base. And the whole thing with the Hand seemed to have occurred fairly recently, as Claire came to Harlem immediately after the attack on the hospital.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • Every time a suspect asks for a lawyer, the interrogator continues asking questions, hoping to pressure the suspect into talking. Even Inspector Ridley, who is characterized by her belief in following the system, does so. In reality, the police must end an interrogation the moment a suspect asks for legal counsel, and can only resume once a lawyer has arrived. While there ARE instances where cops try to skirt around this, they usually try to do so by changing the subject or asserting that their past or present questions weren't part of any "official" interrogation, not by simply ignoring the request as seen in this show. If they do, and it's recorded, anything they get after this isn't usable in court.
      • Only once has this actually played realistically. In the second episode of season 2, Misty lets herself into the interrogation room to question Arturo Rey, after he's already lawyered up. After Donovan shows up to bail out Arturo Rey, Ridenhour calls Misty out on this.
    • After the Candace interrogation in "Blowin' Up the Spot", Mariah leaves, telling Misty, "You know what, I'm not under arrest, and I change my mind: you wanna talk to me, you call my lawyer." The statement "contact me through my lawyer" does NOT apply to police officers, meaning the cops could still call Mariah back for questioning if they had any reason to without having to go through her lawyers. "Contact me through my lawyer" only applies to other lawyers, as they have ethical rules stating, for instance, that a lawyer may not contact an opponent who has retained their own counsel (to stop a lawyer browbeating the other side into confessing, or in a civil case, stop them from coercing concessions etc. from them).
    • Shades making bail is treated as if he skated on all criminal charges he was facing. Posting bail is not the same thing as "cleared of all charges." Bail is a guarantee of a later appearance in court. If you don't appear, it means you'll be tracked down and arrested, then put in jail until your trial, plus faced with a bail-jumping charge too. Furthermore, people on bail tend to be subject to various other restrictions on what activities they can engage in, meaning Misty would've had grounds to rearrest Shades when she, Luke and Claire caught him and Mariah at Pops' barbershop.
    • During Shades' interrogation, Inspector Ridley says that as a participant in Diamondback's hostage situation, Shades is facing multiple kidnapping with a weapon charges. In real life, as one hostage was killed during the course of the hostage situation, he (and every other participant) would also be charged with Felony Murder for the murder of Damon Boone. In fact, it's amazing Shades even was granted bail in the first place, as there are multiple witnesses who would have seen him holding the hostages and he came at a police officer and a civilian while armed with a gun, which is two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. (It's implied that a judge may have been paid off, seeing as Shades and Mariah pay off another judge in order to get Arturo Rey bailed out)
    • In real life, Misty would probably be forced to recuse herself from the case once Luke became a suspect/person of interest in the Cottonmouth crimes. Her one-night stand with him generates a conflict of interest.
    • Luke's backstory plays fast and loose with human research ethics (which have been codified into law since WWII). FDA regulations explicitly forbid the use of prisoners in research providing no direct benefit, except in very specific cases (most of which require that the research have no or minimal risk). They also forbid using reduced sentencing as an incentive toward consent—that's textbook coercion. That said, it is established that Seagate is a very corrupt prison, so they may be fully aware that they are breaking the law.
    • The NYPD doesn't have a 29th Precinct. The 29th Precinct is a fictional establishment created because the NYPD requires films and TV shows to use fictional precinct numbers to tell film cars apart from in-service patrol cars. The 29th happens to fall within the numbers of the actual police precincts for Harlem: the 23rd, 25th, 28th, 30th, and 32nd.
    • Misty mocks Shades for dismissing his lawyer halfway through his confession, causing him to be unaware of the terms of his deal. But his lawyer would have had to make the terms of the deal clear to him before he decided to take it and make his confession, not after. Unlike real property or the hearsay rule, legal ethics is fairly straightforward.
  • Homage: The second trailer is set to Isaac Hayes' "Walk On By" and Run the Jewels' remix of "Heart is Full" by Mike Snow, which itself sampled Marlena Shaw's "Waiting for Charlie to Come Home". Hayes' composed the soundtracks of Blaxploitation films that the Luke Cage comics were originally based on, and both Run the Jewels and Shaw began their careers in New York.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The show does not shy away from sexuality, even compared to other Marvel shows. The very first episode features Luke and Misty having a one-night stand, and Shameek is seen blowing money in a strip club (though the strippers' nipples are dimed). We get flashbacks in "Manifest" to Mama Mabel's brothel.
  • Hypocrite:
    • For all of Mariah's stance about Harlem and not liking the n-word, when Misty has her on the ropes she shows that it's just a front and not only does she call people the n-word, she also isn't above using stereotypes to get away as she says it's common for black workers to steal inventory when Misty asks why the microphone stand that she used to kill Cottonmouth mysteriously vanished.
    • During her rally at Harlem's Paradise, Mariah suggests that Jessica Jones lied about Kilgrave's powers and his raping her, which is the exact kind of skepticism that led to Mariah herself snapping and killing Cottonmouth.
    • Luke's father was the "do as I say, not as I do" type of guy, who preached a high standard of morality from the pulpit, all the while keeping a mistress on the side, employed by his church and having sex in his office there (siring Willis Stryker in the process).
    • Diamondback tells Mariah "You should never talk about murder on an open line," right after blatantly talking about dispatching Shades and Damon Boone on an open phone line.
  • I Am Spartacus: When Luke goes on the run hundreds of black men in Harlem start wearing hoodies matching his description, inspired by Method Man's song, keeping the police from identifying him and showing their support.
  • I Call It "Vera": The Judas bullets are called this because, as Shades puts it, they're what you'd use if you wanted to kill Jesus.
  • I Have No Son!:
    • Luke's father disowned him after he got thrown in Seagate. Season 2 sees the Reverend Lucas trying to atone for his past actions and try to make amends with Luke, which Luke is hesitant to do until a conversation with Piranha.
      Claire Temple: What did your father say when he saw you?
      Luke Cage: Nothing. He doesn't know I'm alive. He wouldn't want to see me anyway. I'm his... shame. The last thing my father wanted to do was raise a black criminal. He did everything in his power to give me the kind of life so that wouldn't happen. And yet, I still went to jail.
      Claire Temple: That wasn't your fault.
      Luke Cage: He didn't see it that way. I tried to explain. I made calls. I sent letters, and he returned every last one of them.
      Claire Temple: Then why let your father's last memory of you be as a criminal? A dead criminal? I think he'd be very proud to know who you are now.
    • Piranha was the son of one of Mama Mabel's prostitutes as a result of one of her clients, a banker. The banker was never there in Piranha's childhood, and the one time Piranha tried to meet him in adulthood, his father had him escorted out by security. Whereas Piranha has been financially successful, his biological father lost everything in the 2008 mortgage crisis, and Piranha was just glad to have him escorted out by security when he came to his son begging for a handout.
    • Mariah disowns her own daughter late in Season 2, after revealing to Tilda that she was actually a product of Mariah's constant rapes at the hands of Uncle Pete.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Luke harbors a grudge against his powers, regularly commenting that he just wants to live his life without being forced into using them and let people come to harm without him. Luke later defies this ordeal and embraces his powers in the first season finale as Harlem itself supports him so that he can take Diamondback in a Powered Armor head-on.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming:
    • Each episode in season 1 is named after a Gang Starr song: Moment of Truth, Code of the Streets, Who's Gonna Take the Weight?, Step in the Arena, Just to Get a Rep, Suckas Need Bodyguards, Manifest, etc.
    • For season 2, every episode is named for a Pete Rock & CL Smooth song.
  • Implacable Man: Invoked by Luke to freak out criminals. It's best shown when he storms Crispus Attucks, unaffected by three locked doors, several dozen armed thugs, a high powered assault rifle, and a security gate made of solid steel bars.
  • Immune to Bullets:
    • Luke Cage, of course, walks through hails of automatic gunfire like nothing, with the damage being primarily his shirts and hoodies being riddled with bullet holes.
    • Played with in Bushmaster's case in season 2. He is immune to bullets, in the sense that they just lodge in the outer layer of his skin.
  • Improvised Weapon:
    • Mariah uses a champagne bottle and a microphone stand to kill Cottonmouth.
    • As he goes through Crispus Attucks, Luke uses an SUV door as a ballistic shield / battering ram, then pulls a piece of rebar straight out of a wall to use as a club. At the climax of the fight, he uses an entire 3-seat sofa as a club.
  • Irony: When Inspector Ridley is introduced in season 1, Misty jokes about how she's nicknamed "Inspector Gadget". By season 2, it's Misty who might as well be the Inspector Gadget of the 29th Precinct.
  • In-Series Nickname: Henry Hunter, proprietor of the neighborhood barbershop, is known by everyone as "Pop".
  • Insistent Terminology: It's Mariah Stokes, not Dillard. Bushmaster will repeatedly correct you on this.
  • Insult Backfire: Luke says that Willis Stryker's preferring to be called Diamondback is because he's a snake, just like Cottonmouth. Willis considers it before saying "I am a snake! I shed my skin for something better. Stronger.."
  • Invented Individual: Misty finds it suspicious that the only photo of Luke Cage outside her photo board is the photo from his New York State-issued driver's license. He has no credit cards in his name, no email address, no bank account, no Facebook page, no porn. In other words, "Luke Cage" is the figment of someone's imagination, as his real name is Carl Lucas and he's a fugitive.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: It's played both straight and averted.
    • Luke has them thanks to his Super-Toughness.
    • It's averted with Cottonmouth, though. When he beats Shameek to death, his fists have visible cuts on them, which Pop later notices at the barber shop.
    • Subverted when Luke's father punches out a goon who attacked his church. Later, Tilda sees him nursing his scraped knuckles and makes him a salve which does miraculously heal him.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Luke accosts Mariah outside her brownstone while she's filming a piece on her viewpoints.
    Luke: New VH1 show? Criminal Spinsters?
    Mariah: Who you callin' a spinster? I'd wear your narrow ass out.
  • Ironic Echo: In the first episode, Cottonmouth muses about how he's fine with people being condescending and dismissive towards him, as it means they underestimate him, and never see him coming. Later when Luke vows revenge for Pop's killing, he blows off Luke's threat, refusing to see him as anymore than an out of work dishwasher.
  • It Gets Easier: After Mariah kills Cottonmouth in a fight, Shades calmly reassures her that the first kill is always the hardest. This is seen with the ease by which she orders a hit on Candace for snitching, or heads the Rum Punch Massacre.
  • Just Giving Orders: After Black Mariah crosses the Moral Event Horizon and embraces her Godmother persona in Season 2, she makes the claim that all of the murders she has ordered are not her problem because she did not pull the trigger (even Anansi).
  • Just Hit Him: Luke rarely punches any of the opponents he comes across, since a single punch from him would be more than enough to kill a normal person. Luke Cage crosses the Godzilla Threshold when he makes a fist.
  • Karma Houdini: Bushmaster escapes back to Jamaica after killing a number of people and blowing up three cops. Downplayed, however, in that he's badly crippled from his Nightshade abuse, his gang largely dismantled, and his beloved uncle was brutally murdered because he insisted on a more drawn out revenge spree against Mariah.
  • Killed Offscreen: The decapitations of Nigel Garrison, Mark Higgins, Cockroach Hamilton, Ray-Ray Jackson and Piranha Jones all happen offscreen, due to strict guidelines on the level of tolerable onscreen violence, and these are manual decapitations as opposed to the swift clean ones the Hand Fingers got in The Defenders. The decapitation process happens offscreen.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Shades has a moment of this in season 2 when he comes to Bushmaster's base to pick up the money that Nigel had promised them. Ever practical and diplomatic, Shades only hesitates for a moment before kneeling and does so to open the duffel bag without any discomfort...that is until he opens the first bag and finds Nigel's head, causing him to do a "What the hell did you do to him?" face to Bushmaster.
  • Klingon Promotion: Zip gets set up for one, getting dispatched by Diamondback to kill Shades and take his place as Diamondback's Number Two. Unfortunately, it backfires as he decides to try strangling Shades rather than just shoot him. Shades fights back, grabs ahold of a henchman's gun, kills both of Zip's henchmen, then after pistol-whipping a confession out of Zip, shoots him in the head.
    Shades: Sorry, Romeo. He had to go....
  • Kryptonite Is Everywhere: Preventing this is actually a plot point at the end of the series. After the Judas bullet is introduced that can harm or even kill Luke, Mariah leads a campaign to have those bullets issued to the NYPD Emergency Service Unit — after which, it would be almost assured that they would wind up on the streets in the hands of criminals. She succeeds, but the series ends before we can find out just what this means for Luke and the rest of the MCU heroes. Ends up averted in season 2 after Luke discovers his second treatment made his skin even tougher, so the Judas bullets can't penetrate. Possession of Judas bullets by civilians has become a federal crime with a hefty prison sentence.
  • Last-Minute Hookup: Mariah invokes this with Shades in the first season finale after successfully escaping charges pinned to her by ratting Diamondback out.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Misty floats the idea of fighting alongside Luke in season 2:
    Luke Cage: Just so we're clear, I'm not in the market for a sidekick.
    Misty Knight: Who says you're not my sidekick?
    Luke Cage: Me. It's my show.
  • Left Hanging: Since the show was cancelled after the second season, it is unlikely we will ever see a resolution to Luke turning into a crimeboss.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste:
    • Mariah Dillard embezzled Chitauri invasion reconstruction grant money to fund the renovation of her cousin Cottonmouth's club.
    • Hammer Industries created the Judas bullet by reverse-engineering Chitauri metal.
  • Lighter and Softer: While still gritty like the other Netflix shows, season 1 of this show is much lighter in tone, with the main antagonists here being regular gangsters, a step down from the themes of rape and abuse that were present in Jessica Jones (2015), or the violence of Frank Castle and the mystical nature of the Hand in Daredevil (2015) season 2. Then hard-reversed in season 2, where Cage confronts his screwed-up family life, the limitations of his abilities to keep Harlem clean, and his own frustration and anger at those limitations. It's every bit as gritty as Daredevil season 1.
  • Logical Weakness:
    • At first glance, Luke has a fantastic superpower; his tissues are tough enough that not only do bullets bounce off of him, he can laugh off a circular saw — yet he retains enough skin sensitivity to enjoy sex. He even has a Healing Factor. However, that very toughness and rapid healing makes any and all internal injuries not only life-threatening but all but impossible to treat; in Jessica Jones (2015) he took a shotgun blast from to the head at contact range, and the resulting brain swelling nearly killed him. When Diamondback shoots him with a Judas bullet — that explodes inside of him — his tissues can't be cut to extract the shrapnel and the healing process continuously drives the fragments deeper — into tissues that are much less resilient. This actually turns out to be a benefit as Claire was able to treat his brain swelling by inserting a steel needle through the orbit of his eye to relieve the pressure, and later draw blood from the back of his throat; like Achilles' Heel, his powers came from bathing in a solution with strange properties but it never reached his innards and his mouth was closed. His healing factor is also useless on dislocated shoulders since he needs to set the joint in place first.
    • Mariah brings up other logical weaknesses that ought to harm Luke, such as poison and drowning, but no one in the first season tries anything other than shooting at Luke. Incidentally, these methods do get used in season 2: Arturo Rey tries to blow Luke up, Bushmaster uses a paralytic powder during his fight with Luke on the High Bridge before throwing him into the Harlem River below, etc. It's established in the season 2 premiere that gangbangers like to shoot at Luke because they just want to validate the tales of his invulnerability (and consider being beaten up by Luke as a "rite of passage").
    • Bushmaster's enhancement comes from nightshade's consumption, since his body grows accustomed to what is basically a toxin he needs to take stronger dose to keep the same effect and over use of it can ruin his body.
  • Loophole Abuse: A young boy whom Luke knows is being questioned about Luke's whereabouts since Luke has assaulted two cops and been framed for killing another cop (who happened to be the interrogator's training officer). but the boy knows his rights and immediately demands for his mother (a Law student). This is supposed to end all interrogation and make any further statements inadmissible in court. However, because the boy isn't under arrest, the cops aren't "interrogating" him, and because the cops aren't using his statements for evidence, the interrogator feels bold enough to continue asking questions. This is actually a tactic used often in Real Life police work. It backfires when the boy grows annoyed that his rights aren't being respected, causing the interrogator to lose his temper and try beating answers out of him.
  • Lost Aesop: A common complaint made about the show is that while racism is brought up, most of the conflict is still black-on-black. For example, "Black Lives Matter" and police brutality get mentioned, but white supremacy has nothing to do with the incidents shown on-screen and these issues are brought up by criminals who are hoping to smokescreen other agendas. Also, Rackham is stated after death to have mistreated Carl due to racism, but there's no indication Carl was treated any worse than inmates of other ethnicities. Also, in the aforementioned cases, Diamondback (a black man) is revealed as the underlying cause of both the increased police violence and Carl's prison abuse. Further, despite Word of God stating that show has the message of "a black man in a hoodie isn't a threat", Luke Cage is the ONLY person that applies to; many other black characters are henchmen or criminals wearing hoodies. Thus, the issues of police brutality and prison corruption have nothing to do with an accused system of white supremacy, which is the primary complaint of their detractors in Real Life, and a person could easily warp the show's aesop into "Yes, every black man in a hoodie isn't dangerous, but why take a chance?"
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: In episode "Blowin' Up the Spot", Diamondback is revealed to be Luke Cage's brother. The line is spoken fairly similarly to the Star Wars version, though the exact quote is, "Nigga, I am your brother."
  • Man Behind the Man: Diamondback, who spends the first half of the series acting through an intermediary, threatening Stokes's business if he fails. His real name is Willis Stryker, and he has a hell of a grudge against Luke.
  • Master Poisoner: Tilda is a doctor who now specializes in herbal remedies, which includes nightshade. She uses her skills to murder Mariah with poisonous lipstick.
  • Meaningful Echo: Whenever Bushmaster hears someone refer to Mariah by her married surname, he ALWAYS insists that her name is "Stokes. Mariah Stokes." When he addresses Mariah by her birth name, she responds with a death threat, which only incites him to kill a few of her associates as a message. After Mariah embraces her villainy at the Rum Punch Massacre, she starts doing the same thing.
  • Megaton Punch: Any punch from Luke Cage can do this, with the ability to throw the victim a great distance and cause massive internal damage.
    • Diamondback's power glove invokes this. When he uses the glove to kill a police officer, and later Damon Boone, the impact force throws the victim backwards about twenty feet and caves in his chest.
  • Memento Macguffin: In the first season, Pop's swear jar serves as one for Luke. He even digs through the rubble of his apartment building until he finds it.
  • Men Don't Cry: Averted. Some of the toughest men on the show (Luke and Cottonmouth, specifically) cry at emotional moments, with Luke even averting Manly Tears and frequently being reduced to an incoherent, blubbering mess.
  • Midseason Twist: "Manifest", the midway episode of season 1, is the first time all main cast members appear in an episode. It's also the last, as Mariah kills Cottonmouth. Also, Diamondback both finally appears and shoots Luke with the Judas.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Several times, generally towards Luke. Part of Luke's origin involves being framed for a crime he did not commit, going to Seagate, and later being subjected to an experiment. In the present, Luke is framed for several of the villains' actions in order to turn him into a Hero with Bad Publicity.
  • Mook Chivalry: Zip's men all stand by silently, some even with their backs turned, as Zip tries to strangle Shades in a freight elevator. As a result, Shades manages to get one of their guns, kills Zip's men, then shoots Zip in the head after getting him to confess to being sent by Diamondback.
  • Mook Horrorshow: Luke single-handedly storming Crispus Attucks and effortlessly dispatching Cottonmouth's guards was filmed to look like the police station scene in The Terminator, except with a good guy being the unstoppable force.
  • Mouth of Sauron: For the first part of the season, Shades is Diamondback's mouthpiece to Cottonmouth.
  • Mr. Fanservice: As with most male MCU heroes, the ladies really like Luke Cage.
  • Mythology Gag: Has its own page.
  • Named by the Adaptation:
    • Shades has no real name in the comics. Here, his name is Hernan Alvarez. Alvarez is his wife's last name in the comic.
    • Black Mariah receives the surname Dillard, which had appeared in a Marvel comic only earlier in the year, but after the series was well into production.
    • Comanche had no legal name in the comics. Here, it's turned into a nickname and his legal name is Darius Jones.
  • Nerves of Steel: Diamondback decides that Mariah is of more use to him as an ally than as a corpse because, as he points out, she doesn't even flinch as he brutally kills four gang bosses in front of her.
  • Next Tier Power-Up: In the first episode of season 2, Arturo Rey tries to use a Judas bullet to kill Luke... and it barely hurts him. Claire speculates that Luke's acid bath at Dr. Burstein's place made his skin even tougher, so the Judas bullets can no longer penetrate it. They spend the second episode doing some experiments under the guise of a PR crossfit, and discover that effect extends to all his abilities. He used to be able to pick up a washing machine one-handed. Now he can effortlessly throw a 400-pound monster tire that normally requires six men to be moved. He can run 40 yards in 3.7 seconds (which makes him faster than Usain Bolt) and make a standing jump of twenty-four feet (which later comes in handy when stopping Bushmaster's men from driving off with Piranha at the start of episode 6). Where before he was "Harlem's Captain America", he's now more like "Harlem's Incredible Hulk" — complete with a Hair-Trigger Temper and overconfidence that culminates in his near-fatal beating of Cockroach.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Misty Knight in the last episodes of season 1, decides to break the rules that she always followed by taking a witness under her own protection instead of the police. It ends in Candace being killed by Shades after he steals Misty's phone and lures her out of hiding, thus losing the only witness to the fact that Mariah killed Cottonmouth. This is emphasized in Inspector Ridley's "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    • In season 2, she considers skirting the rules in planting a Judas bullet in Cockroach's place, but backs out at the last minute, and then finds Cockroach dead.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Had Rackham not interfered with Luke's experimental treatment as a last ditch attempt to kill him, it's unlikely he'd have ever developed super powers in the first place. And as Luke comments at one point, had Willis not framed Luke and put him in Seagate, even the experiment wouldn't have happened.
    Luke Cage: You ruined my life.
    Willis "Diamondback" Stryker: I gave you wings! I sent you to hell and you came back with superpowers. Ain't that a bitch.
  • No Party Given: While it's never mentioned what political party Mariah or Damon Boone are from, the viewpoints that Mariah tends to use in public speeches, Damon Boone being called "Diet Obama" by Diamondback at one point, the fact that Mariah is an elected councilwoman from predominantly liberal Harlem, and Piranha having a picture of himself posing with Obama and with Bill Clinton, all tend to suggest she is a Democrat.
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Discussed, and works in Luke's favor. When Misty is reminiscing about the night she spent with Luke, she tells the therapist that, even though she was wearing a very tight, very low-cut dress, from the very first time he saw her, he looked at her eyes, not her breasts.
  • Not His Sled: Misty Knight gets shot in the arm and is bleeding fast. Claire ties off the blood vessels to stop the bleeding, but warns that this may cause her to lose the entire arm. However, Misty soon receives proper medical care and her arm — famously replaced with a prosthetic in the comics — remains fully intact and functional. Double subverted then in The Defenders (2017), when she loses the arm below the elbow for real courtesy of Bakuto.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Hammertech used to be a joke in Iron Man 2 showing that the weapons are useless compared to Stark Industries former weaponry. Now Hammer has built the Judas, a bullet that's not only lethally effective on superhumans, but very lucrative among gangsters. By season 2, though, it's also worthless against Luke Cage.
  • Not So Invincible After All: Luke getting laid out by Bushmaster in a fistfight is treated this way, especially since it comes a few days after a video where he comes out of an explosion and being shot by a Judas bullet without issues saying he can't be broken.
  • N-Word Privileges: Attempts are made to exploit and defy this. Cottonmouth doesn't mind people directing the word "nigga" at him, feeling it makes people underestimate him as uneducated and uncultured, giving him a chance to deal with them in an intelligent and elegant manner. Luke Cage on the other hand, gets pissed off, stating that he doesn't like anyone who says it to him, no matter their skin. He reads the riot act to a mugger who accosts him while he's casing the Crispus Attucks Center, saying it's unforgivable for someone to say such a thing in front of a place named for the man. Mariah also has a dislike for the n-word but will use it when she drops the councilwoman act ("does the nigga have gills?").
  • Off on a Technicality: Dontrell "Cockroach" Hamilton in season 2 is out because Scarfe tainted his conviction.
  • Off with His Head!: Bushmaster kills associates of Mariah's then cuts off their heads and sends them to her as messages. Nigel is the first to go out this way, being decapitated post-mortem and his head placed in a duffel bag of cash that Bushmaster gives to Shades. Next to go are Higgins, Cockroach and Ray-Ray, who get their heads placed on pikes in the entrance to Mariah's new complex. And lastly, there's Piranha, who has his head placed in a fish tank of piranhas.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Shades almost always wears his sunglasses, even at night. When he takes them off, though, it's to indicate that he means business.
  • Once per Episode: In season 1, each episode save for episode 4 has at least one scene that takes place at Harlem's Paradise, and each episode save for episodes 1 and 11 has at least one scene that takes place at the 29th Precinct.
  • One-Hit Polykill: Diamondback kills off two of the Harlem bosses during the meeting at Colon's Gym by shooting one through the back of the neck, with the bullet going through that guy and into the forehead of the guy across the table from him.
    Willis "Diamondback" Stryker: Two for the price of one....
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted in season 2, where there's Mark Higgins and Detective Mark Bailey.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: This is the one show where it's heavily averted. If someone gets shot, it's a big deal and massive amounts of medical attention are needed to save their lives. And sometimes, as Scarfe shows, they die anyway.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: Luke consistently rejects the idea of having a lawyer until the last moments of the series, foreshadowing Claire hiring Foggy Nelson to defend him, while Shades spends his entire time while under arrest requesting a lawyer. Notably, when the cops pick up a teenage kid who knows Luke (from Pop's barber shop) he says he wants to call his mom (who's in school to become a lawyer) and that he doesn't want to answer questions without her present, even though the cop questioning him keeps telling him he's not under arrest (this is actually exactly what you're supposed to do whenever the police want to talk to you, whether they consider you a suspect or not). Unfortunately, the kid has a bit of an attitude, Luke has just assaulted two police officers and has been framed for killing another police officer (who happened to be the interrogator's training officer), and tensions in general are too high, and thus the interrogator snaps and tries to beat answers out of him.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Bobby Fish, with his cool demeanor, comes up as this in several situations, including when Luke and Diamondback are about to battle inside the barber shop.
    • Shades is probably the only criminal in Harlem who doesn't let pride or personal grudges get the better of his instincts. Compared to Cottonmouth, whose pride and short temper do him in, and Diamondback, who is so consumed by his vendetta against Luke that Shades and Mariah cut all ties with him after the Harlem's Paradise standoff.
      • In season 2, Comanche becomes this as he feels that Shades is letting his loyalty to Mariah blind him. It motivates Comanche to turn informant for Ridenhour in hopes of getting both him and Shades out of the criminal life. It doesn't end well for Comanche. Following his death, Shades once again reclaims this trope, and Mariah's massacre of an entire restaurant of innocents to smoke out Bushmaster, which is topped off by her setting Anansi on fire, culminates in him cutting ties with her.
    • Mariah is the only one of the senior criminals who is calculating in her plans to go after Luke Cage, rather than acting on impulses.
  • Outside-Context Problem:
    • Neither Cottonmouth nor Mariah have any idea that Luke exists, let alone what he can do, until he simply appears one day and causes all of their plans to come crashing down. In fact, Luke not even being a native of Harlem makes the two criminals even more angry and scared, because to them he's just an outsider.
    • There is Luke himself, who is fighting regular criminals while being a super-heroic Implacable Man. Even Cottonmouth's attempts at turning Harlem against him fails since Luke is having a too good reputation and can help more than Cottonmouth's supposed help. Then Diamondback shows up with high-tech weaponry that can hurt Luke, and more traditional comic book schemes that even the playing field between heroes and criminals.
    • Bushmaster is not a Harlem native, but his parents worked with Buggy and Mama Mabel. He's this for Shades since Bushmaster's beef is all with Mariah.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Scarfe outlived his infant son Earl, who accidentally killed himself after Scarfe failed to lock up his off-duty pistol.
  • Posthumous Character: Reva died in flashbacks in Jessica Jones (2015), so her appearance in flashbacks to Luke's time at Seagate makes her one here.
  • Police Brutality:
    • When Diamondback kills a random cop by punching him with his power glove, so as to frame Luke, the police, who've had this and a viral incident of Luke throwing two cops like ragdolls, respond with brutality. One of them (for whom the dead cop was his training officer) goes so far as to try and beat answers out of a teenager who clearly knows nothing, which ends up even worse. Ridley puts a stop to this soon afterwards and suspends the officer indefinitely.
    • Downplayed with Misty, whose frustration at being almost killed by Diamondback on top of others' refusal to work with her causes her to snap and take her anger out on Claire. Inspector Ridley immediately breaks it up, pulls Misty off active duty and makes her do sessions with a department shrink.
  • Popcultural Osmosis Failure: Diamondback makes his presence clear to Luke by shouting The Warriors quotes in his direction after using a rifle to take out the ambulance, much to Claire's confusion. It's unclear if it's because Claire doesn't get that reference, or is incredulous that someone would use Warriors quotes as taunts.
  • Pop-Up Texting: Used in a couple of episodes, like when Misty's CO is getting texts from Cottonmouth while he and Misty are parked outside Scarfe's building.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The show drops many of the Blaxploitation trappings of the comics. In fact, hearing this was the case convinced the previously reluctant Mike Colter to take the role without reading a single script from either this show or Jessica Jones.
    • In the comics, Misty resigned from the force rather than take a desk job after she lost her arm. Here, she remains an active cop for season 2 after losing her arm, partnered up with Bailey.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Season 2 is Luke's, as his efforts to protect Harlem drive him to steadily become more and more violent, making deals with the other criminals and gang leaders.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: By the end of Season 1, Luke Cage has been sent back to prison for escaping Seagate, but not without having Harlem respect him as innocent and a hero. Misty Knight fails to put Mariah Dillard and Shades behind bars, but manages to gain her revenge by getting Diamondback arrested. Mariah gets out of Harlem's precinct without charges, but with Harlem realizing her criminal activities. Nobody wins.
    • By the end of Season 2, Bushmaster is barely recovering from nightshade OD, having failed to kill Mariah and take everything he felt he was owed, has lost almost all his family, but he's been forced to flee to Jamaica with his Aunt to heal. Mariah dies in prison awaiting trial, robbing everyone of the chance for her to get convicted in a court of law and proven for the evil woman she is, though on the bright side, they're able to arrest Shades instead. Mariah's daughter, Tilda, has broken free from her mother and the sins of her family by poisoning her, but may be going down a dark path of her own making, and seems to be genuinely pissed that Mariah didn't leave her Harlem's Paradise in her will. Luke gets it instead, having brokered peace agreements with other organized crime groups to leave Harlem alone, but has basically set himself up as Harlem's new crime boss, which is part of Mariah's ploy to destroy Luke with the temptation of power. Once again, nobody wins.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Shades is constantly advising pragmatism to his more emotional, distracted and irrational associates. Except for Mariah, none of them listen to him, or try to kill him for it.
  • Product Placement: For a cash-strapped man who has to constantly replace hoodies because they keep getting shredded by gunfire, you'd think Luke would keep it cheap and generic, rather than the fairly expensive Carhartt jackets he frequently wears. Unless he was using some of that money he stole from Crispus Attucks.
  • Put on a Bus: Claire and Bobby Fish leave sometime in the early to middle of the episodes in Season 2, for various reasons.
  • Quick Draw: Diamondback is the first to shoot in two situations where everyone but him have already drawn their guns.
  • Race Lift: Shades was African-American in the comics. In the series, his name is Hernan Alvarez and he is played by the Italian-American Theo Rossi.
  • Rank Up: Inspector Ridley is promoted to Deputy Chief in season 2, while Bailey is promoted to Detective and partnered with Nandi Tyler, then re-partnered with Misty after Nandi goes dirty and sells out Mariah to Bushmaster.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • Luke and Claire's breakup early in season 2 was in part because of Rosario Dawson having to leave for California to film her part in Jane the Virgin.
    • Bobby Fish's departure for San Diego in the middle of Season 2 was because Ron Cephas Jones had to leave for Toronto to film his role in Shazam!, so he was given a heartfelt character beat to go out on.
  • Red Herring:
    • When Cottonmouth tells Mariah about Luke's bulletproof skin, she suggests a few other ways to kill him, such as drowning or poison. Nothing more is made of those ideas, but seeing as Mariah is still around for season 2, and we've seen Luke get incapacitated by Stick's incense...
    • The Swear Jar in Pop's Barber Shop. Pop refers to it with his dying breath and Luke makes an effort to recover it after his apartment is destroyed, but nothing more comes of it.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Detective Knight is hot-blooded and highly intuitive, and frequently butts heads with authority, including the rational, analytical Inspector Ridley. They are able to set aside their differences toward the end of season one, and the audience gets to see how their dynamic versus calculating approaches to investigative work can compliment one another.
  • Reformed Bully: Pop was a gangbanger in his youth, and what little we see of him interacting with a young Cornell suggests he wasn't the nicest even to those in his crew. Come the present day, however, and he's the legitimate cornerstone of the community making an honest living in his barbershop, and a caring father figure to boot.
  • Refusal of the Call: At first, Luke is reluctant to use his powers to fight crime, until Pop gets killed by Tone. Even then, he continues to insist that he isn't a hero and just wants a normal life. Then Claire uses her dealings with Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones to persuade Luke to take up the mantle.
  • Related in the Adaptation:
    • Mariah and Cottonmouth were completely unrelated in the comics. Here, they're cousins.
    • Mariah and Nightshade also had no connection in the comics. Here, Tilda is Mariah's daughter as a result of Uncle Pete.
    • Luke and Diamondback, while childhood friends in the comics, were not related at all. Here, Diamondback is Luke's half-brother, giving him traits from Coldfire, Luke's half-brother in the comics.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Tilda, Mariah's daughter, is introduced in season 2, yet wasn't even so much as mentioned or alluded to in season 1. In season 2 episode 9, it's justified by the reveal that Mariah doesn't want to remotely even associate herself with a reminder of her Uncle Pete's constant rapes of her.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Mariah and the other underworld bosses call a secret meeting at Colon's Gym to discuss the transfer of Cottonmouth's assets from Mariah to everyone else...except for Diamondback, who controls the weapons supply. This backfires by guaranteeing Diamondback's appearance, and he promptly kills all of the bosses except for Domingo just to Make an Example of Them.
    Peter: ...Why do I find that hard to believe?
    Willis "Diamondback" Stryker: [enters, grinning] Because you're smart and STUPID at the same time!
    Jacques: Diamondback, what are you doing here?
    Willis "Diamondback" Stryker: You invited me. By not inviting me.
  • Revision: The first season flashbacks to Mariah and Cornell's youth were heavily implied to be set in The '70s due to their aesthetics and fashion. The second season instead places those events specifically in the second half of The '80snote  making all those characters far younger than previously thought.
  • Revolvers Are for Amateurs: As a child, Cottonmouth used a revolver to kill Pistol Pete for betraying the family and molesting Mariah. As an adult, he uses semiautomatics whenever he needs to use a gun. Mariah later takes up the same revolver, symbolizing her rise as a crime boss.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Bushmaster seeks revenge on Mariah because her grandfather killed his father in a dispute over their split ownership of Quincy's distillery and Buggy's nightclub, and Mama Mabel later killed his mother Gwen by burning down their house.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The series deals with a lot of issues affecting the black community in 2016, including Police Brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, incarceration and private prisons.
  • Rogues' Gallery Transplant: Rosalie Carbone in season 2 is borrowed from the Punisher comics.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • Cottonmouth and Luke have dueling ones at Pop's funeral. Luke's is better.
    • Luke gives one to Misty at the precinct, causing all the cops nearby to stop what they're doing and listen.
  • Rule of Symbolism: In the first episode, when talking to Shameek, Cottonmouth stands in front of the Biggie poster, with the cinematography staged such that it looks like Biggie's crown is sitting on top of Cottonmouth's head. Later, in "DWYCK", Diamondback sits in front of the poster in a similar way... but is positioned too close to it, so he doesn't completely block the view of Biggie and the crown looks too big for him, marking him as unfit to rule. This is also a reflection of the differences between the two men and their styles: Cottonmouth had a certain amount of good PR and respect for local neighborhood traditions and rules, and as a result he methodically controlled Harlem for years prior to Luke's arrival. Cottonmouth could even show up to Pop's funeral, even though it was his own henchman Tone that killed Pop, make a Rousing Speech, and get some people in the community to applaud him. Diamondback, on the other hand, attempts to control things by sheer fear, brutality, and intimidation, openly admitting to Shades that he's improvising on the fly to do whatever seems advantageous at the moment. As a result, he's brought down within weeks at most once he goes beyond being Cottonmouth's supplier and starts operating in the open. The crown really is too big for Diamondback to wear.
    • Season 2 later shows Mariah doing the same pose in front of the Biggie photo, and at the end, after Mariah's death, so does Luke, briefly, to underline his status as King of Harlem — though it is made ambiguous by the fact that the picture is immediately replaced with one of Muhammad Ali, which symbolises his position not as a ruler but as an In-Universe cultural icon.
    • In the season 1 finale and throughout season 2, Mariah has a Basquiat painting, "Red Kings", hang in place of the Biggie poster. She clings onto it, repeatedly refusing to sell it despite numerous financial setbacks, claiming that it is a family heirloom; she explicitly decides to have it hanging on the wall in the panic room they have built into the club. The painting represents Mariah's two primary obsessions: black culture and her family's legacy in Harlem.
  • Rule 34: In the second season Luke had become (against his wishes) a celebrity, and there's even a cell app that follows him. And, according to an answer he gave by phone, someone has already proposed for him to make porn.
  • Rule of Three: A Stokes can only be killed by another Stokes, as happens thrice. Cottonmouth kills Uncle Pete. Mariah kills Cottonmouth. Tilda kills Mariah.
  • Running Gag:
    • Misty's insistence that she wants to trademark the phrase "I didn't see shit!"
    • The swear jar at the barber shop.
    • Using "you want to get a cup of coffee" as an analogy for you want to have sex. This becomes even more and more rampant in season 2 where it's done by everyone from old black ladies like Cockroach's neighbor to Italian mafia women like Rosalie Carbone.
    • While Luke is at a crossfit early in season 2, a reporter claims Luke is faster than Usain Bolt. Every Jamaican that Luke crosses paths with subsequently gives him shit about it as if Luke said it himself.
    • People offering Luke money in exchange for his superheroics, or telling him he could charge money for his services, and Luke refusing. Especially funny given Luke's "Heroes For Hire" past in the comics.
    • Luke asking about hoodies from other people to replace his after they get shot full of bullet holes. His reaction to Domingo's men emptying their guns into him? "I'm about sick of always having to buy new clothes."
      "You got this in a Double XL?"
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters:
    • Diamondback is a non-foreign variant. He's as much an American as Cottonmouth, but he's not a Harlem native. Which means he doesn't care at all about the chaos he causes.
    • Harlem has several minor gangs made up of Haitians, Koreans, Dominicans, and Cubans. Their four bosses are among those Mariah has Domingo summon for a secret meeting regarding the sale of Cottonmouth's assets. However, Diamondback crashes the meeting and kills all four of them, sparing Domingo to send a message to everyone else.
    • Bushmaster is Jamaican (although he was born in Brooklyn), and his crew make up a new chapter of the Yardies, better known as the Stylers. As Detective Tomas Ciancio puts it, "If the Yardies are Al-Qaeda, the Stylers are ISIS."
  • Save the Villain:
    • In season 1, when coming upon the aftermath of the shootout between Diamondback and Domingo's men at the warehouse, Luke finds Domingo barely hanging onto life. Finding a bomb set to go off, he hoists Domingo into a fireman's carry and rushes to get him out of the building before it explodes. Domingo dies seconds later, but not before warning Luke about the new powered armor that Diamondback is wearing.
    • In season 2, Bushmaster and some of his men attempt to murder Mariah by tying her up to a chair in her living room and then burning down her brownstone. Luke is the one to pull Mariah from the flames, though when he gets her and Tilda to the police station, he makes clear that he's only doing it to find out why Bushmaster wants her dead.
    • Luke later has to save Bushmaster from Mariah's goons. They fight side-by-side, but Luke prevents Bushmaster from killing anyone.
  • Scary Black Man:
    • Averted with Luke, despite his size and power. Diamondback and Zip, on the other hand, play it straight, which is helped by the fact that Erik LaRay Harvey and Jaiden Kaine have deep, raspy voices. Diamondback casts an aura of dread over every scene he's in, especially since he's a One-Man Army capable of wiping multiple opponents out without breaking a sweat.
      • Luke almost name-drops this in his argument with Claire in season 2. She calls him out on his rage, he responds that rage is almost the only thing a black man is allowed in this time and place.
    • Mariah becomes one as she gets more and more unhinged as a result of Bushmaster's attacks. Best seen when she finally strikes back by massacring his uncle's restaurant and caps it off by setting Anansi on fire, then shoots him when he refuses to die quickly. Before this, Bushmaster himself is an example.
  • Secret-Keeper: Whereas the public at large thinks Tilda's father is Mariah's late husband Jackson, Thomas Ridenhour is the only person who is aware that it is actually Uncle Pete, as he was Mariah's confidant in high school.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: In addition to the numerous conversations about black history and culture, characters frequently engage in banter about movies, music, boxing, sports and other aspects of pop culture, with varying degrees of relevancy to what's actually going on.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Tilda ends up poisoning her mother Mariah.
  • Sequel Hook:
    • Luke is taken back to Seagate, and Claire says she knows "a good lawyer" he can talk to, seemingly setting up Luke to meet with Matt (something she'd tried to do a few more times before things went south). Subverted as The Defenders reveals that Foggy Nelson was the good lawyer Claire was talking about.
    • Mariah and Shades avoid prosecution and seem to have plans for Harlem, especially after she manages to get rid of Luke for a while.
    • Diamondback is beaten by the end of the series. But Dr. Burstein takes an interest in him.
    • Claire sees an ad for self-defense lessons, taught by Colleen Wing. This sets up Claire's appearance in Iron Fist (2017) and her meeting the last of the Defenders.
    • Misty is continuing to investigate Mariah and Shades.
    • At the end of Season 2, Luke is established in Harlem's Paradise as the "King" of Harlem, and D.W. has taken over Pop's Barber Shop, on the grounds that it has to remain Switzerland.
  • Series Continuity Error: Several characters namedropped President Barack Obama during the first season, but Iron Man 3 and Agents of SHIELD established that Matthew Ellis was the then-current President in the MCU. While explanations could be made for how Obama references could exist,note  it's most likely that the writers just wrote in Obama because the MCU is Like Reality, Unless Noted and they forgot that this is one of the places where the MCU differs from real life.
    • Season 2 similarly makes references to Donald Trump, as Mariah uses an "alternative facts" quote when expressing her frustration to Shades about Arturo Rey getting locked up, and D.W. outright compares Luke to Trump when Luke says in the season 2 finale, "I'm gonna make Harlem great again." However, this ceases to be an error as there's no reason to believe that Ellis is still in office (or that another fictional President replaced him).
  • Sherlock Scan: Misty Knight's detective ability is depicted with a special "Misty vision" effect where she reconstructs a crime scene from pictures to find out what happened. Misty stares at the photos, while the camera inserts her into the crime scene as the deed is happening, as if an invisible observer.
  • Shooting Superman:
    • Lampshaded by Luke when he concludes that a couple of Domingo's henchmen haven't heard of him yet when they bother pointing guns at his bulletproof skin. Then it actually happens with the Judas rounds.
    • The first scene of season 2 sees Luke attack a lab manufacturing "Luke Cage" heroin. When the thugs point their guns at Luke, Luke says:
      Luke Cage: Really, guys?
      Thug: We gotta know we tried, man!
      [Luke does the "Bring It" gesture]
  • Shout-Out: Has its own page.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift:
    • In episode 8, Shades gives Zip and the rest of Cottonmouth's old crew money to buy new clothes, telling them "We're first class all the way," as part of the regime change. It's best seen with Zip, who goes from wearing a leather jacket and baseball cap to wearing a fine blazer.
    • Shades starts wearing three piece suits and neckties as he firmly becomes Mariah's right hand in season 2.
    • Luke wears a flashy black and gold suit in the season 2 finale, showing that he's starting to become a big-shot kingpin.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Willis Stryker was born because Luke's father slept with his secretary, owing to his wife's apparent infertility.
  • Small Steps Hero: Deconstructed Trope. A lot of characters (such as Pop and Claire) believe that Luke is wasting his special gift by not having higher heroic aspirations aside from the immediate takedown of Cottonmouth. Other Harlem residents encourage Luke to be their champion also, since every act of good he does might be quickly undone unless he makes it clear that messing with his people will bring his wrath down on his enemies. This struggle continues in Season 2, with Luke complaining that he's like a fireman — every fire he puts out, drug dealer he chucks out, another pops up — and ultimately accepting the position of Harlem's 'King', taking over Harlem's Paradise.
  • Small Role, Big Impact:
    • Tone is dead by the end of the second episode of season 1, but his accidental killing of Pop in shooting up the barbershop is the impetus for Luke to go to war with Cottonmouth.
    • Rosalie Carbone only shows up in the last two episodes of season 2, and even in those two episodes, she gets a single scene. Despite this, she plays a large role in the climax of season 2 when she tries to take over Harlem, forcing Luke to take control of Harlem's Paradise. It also sets her up to be an associate of Wilson Fisk upon his release from prison in Daredevil season 3.
  • Smug Snake: When Mariah thinks she's gotten away with something, she likes to gloat.
    Luke: What about my file [of exonerating evidence]?
    Mariah: [playfully slaps his chest with her gloves] What file? Buh-bye! [waltzes out of the police station]
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Amusingly played with. Diamondback makes a reference to Greek Mythology when discussing Shades' apparent disloyalty that Zip struggles to understand once he's asked about it. Fortunately, Turk is there to help him out:
    Diamondback: Never outshine the master. That was the mistake Shades made. He questioned me, doubted me. He tried to reach too far. He was on some Icarus shit! Do you know who that is?
    Zip: [puzzled] Yeah. Yeah, the verse with Kendrick, right?
    Turk: [exasperated] No. Icarus was the boy who flew too close to the sun with fake wings.
  • Starter Villain: Cottonmouth, set up to be the Big Bad, is killed halfway through the first season, replaced by Diamondback and Mariah.
  • Start of Darkness: Through flashbacks, we are shown glimpses of this for Cornell Stokes, aka Cottonmouth. As a young boy he wanted to be a piano player, and his great uncle Pete supported him. Unfortunately his grandmother Mama Mabel forced him to become a street thug, and had him kill Pete for making deals behind her back and molesting Mariah Dillard. This what turned him into the hardened criminal he is now.
  • Steel Eardrums: Averted in one notable instance in season 2 when Bushmaster and Luke are attacking the Chinese at one of their docks. A shooter operating a mounted machine gun from the back of a van is seen wearing headphones as he shoots at Luke.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: Averted when the cops that confront Luke only aim at him while ordering him to surrender. It isn't until Luke knocks one out and shields him (from the other cop's perspective, looking like he might've killed or was currently trying to kill him) that he opens fire.
  • Stupid Crooks:
    • Three Young Guns, Dante, Shameek, and Chico, attacking an arms deal between Cottonmouth's and Domingo's crews. Shameek doesn't last even a few days before being spotted blowing his money at a street club, and is beaten to death by Cottonmouth. Chico doesn't last much longer, managing to survive a shooting attempt at Pop's barbershop, but not 24 hours after that, he's strangled to death by Scarfe just as he's about to turn state's evidence against Cottonmouth.
    • Tone, upon seeing Chico at Pop's barbershop, decides he's some kind of Frank Castle and take him out with two submachine guns. He fails to kill Chico and only succeeds in killing Pop. For the latter, Cottonmouth throws him off a roof.
    • Two robbers assault Method Man inside a store, and one of them not only removes his mask to speak directly to him and apologize for the robbery, but they also refer each other by their real names!
  • Superhero Movie Villains Die: Cottonmouth and Mariah die, though Shades is only arrested and Bushmaster escapes back to Jamaica.
  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham:
    • Claire tells Luke on several occasions that she has a lawyer friend who could help him, hinting that Luke might want to ally with someone from Nelson & Murdock, but Luke doesn't take up this offer until he's taken back into custody for his escape charges. We see Foggy then greeting Luke on his release at the start of The Defenders.
    • There have been some arguments that SHIELD should have taken an interest due to the alien nature of the Judas bullets, and Luke Cage's invulnerability, especially since Luke has made the news several times (especially after the viral dashcam footage of him throwing a police officer onto a squad car). However, at this point in time, SHIELD was operating without sanction and need to get government approval and funding, so if any agency outside the NYPD were to take interest in the activities going on in Harlem, it would be the ATF (due to the criminals being gun runners) if not the FBI.
    • Given how much news coverage was dedicated to Luke, including getting discussed on Trish Talk, one would think Jessica Jones would make a trip up to Harlem to check in with him. The Defenders suggests that Jessica was deliberately blocking all things Luke Cage out, given how she's surprised at the Royal Dragon to learn that he did a stint in prison since they last saw each other.
    • Averted in season two. Danny Rand becomes the first main hero of the Defenders to show up in another show after starring in his own. Danny simply swings by and insists on helping Luke for an episode.
  • Super-Strength:
    • Luke is superhumanly strong due to the chemical bath. This allows him to easily backhand a man across a room, punch through concrete, rip the door off a car with his bare hands, and so on.
    • Bushmaster is what happens when you combine the superhuman strength of Luke Cage with the martial arts prowess of Danny Rand.
  • Super-Toughness: The experiment performed on Luke granted him inhumanly tough skin, the result of Rackham's sabotage. Thanks to this, Luke has so far been completely unfazed by: trying to cut into his own abdomen with a circular saw, being attacked by a pack of guard dogs, being hit by an SUV, being shot with handguns, taking several dozen rounds from an assault rifle, being hit in the neck by a glass bottle (which shatters), blocking a machete with his bare forearm, blocking a baseball bat with his forearm (which also breaks), and being lit on fire. Even being shot in the head with a shotgun at point-blank range only causes a concussion rather than blowing his head clean off. This also means he can use his super strength to its full potential (like punching through walls) without worrying about hurting himself in the process. However, his toughness applies to things like surgical tools as well, making anything that actually does manage to harm him nearly impossible to treat.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After Scarfe is killed, Inspector Ridley is introduced to fill Scarfe's role as a cop who clashes with Misty's views. The main difference is that she's not corrupt.
  • SWAT Team: A major plot point is Mariah and Diamondback conspiring to sell the Judas to the NYPD, with the NYPD bulk-purchasing Judas and giving them to their ESU teams.
  • Swear Jar: Pop has one in his barber shop. After he's killed, Luke takes it as a keepsake and still deposits money in it.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Played With. Luke is legitimately saddened to hear about Willis Stryker's mother dying from cancer, but that is because he knew her personally and had always liked her.
  • Take Our Word for It: Shades tells Cornell that he has one of two options when it comes to acquiring the Cage-busting "Judas" ammunition: he can pay for it, or let Diamondback handle it. Cornell asks Shades how much the ammunition would cost in cash, so Shades writes down a number on a notepad and hands it to him. We don't see the number, but based on Cornell's response of "Per bullet?! For real?" the bullets are pretty damn expensive. (The fact that they utilize Chitauri scrap metal is probably part of it).
  • Take It to the Bridge: In episode 6 of season 2, Luke challenges Bushmaster to a one-on-one fight atop the High Bridge at noon, like in the Westerns. Luke has the upper hand for most of the fight, until Bushmaster cheats by throwing a dash of a special powder in Luke's face that paralyzes his muscles and allows Bushmaster to push him over the railing, with Luke falling 140 feet to the Harlem River below.
  • Tap on the Head:
    • Luke repeatedly slaps, flicks, and basically cherry-taps people on the head to knock them out. Given the amount of strength he has, anything harder would kill them.
    • Discussed in season 2, when Claire criticizes Luke for brutalizing Cockroach when he could have just tapped him on the head to "konk him out."
  • Taught by Experience: One of the ESU cops that is assigned to guard Luke during his arrest doesn't bother chasing Luke on foot like his younger, fitter partners. Due to being very experienced, he figures out where the path Luke is running leads and beats him there, ambushing Luke when he arrives. Luckily, this cop also happens to be on Luke's side, having been one of the regulars at Pop's for the past few years, and lets him go when cornering him.
  • Theme Naming: Though only coincidental, all the main villains' gang nicknames are those of venomous snakes: Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes, Willis "Diamondback" Stryker, and John "Bushmaster" McIver.
  • There Are No Therapists:
    • Averted in Misty Knight's case. After roughing up Claire after her near-death at the hands of Diamondback, Inspector Ridley makes her sit down with a competent police psychiatrist, and he gets her to admit her problems and deal with them.
    • The second season plays this straight regarding Luke's past with his father. Luke's response to Cockroach's physical abuse of his girlfriend and her son, his father's treatment of Diamondback in the past and abandonment of Luke in prison, the fact that his father gets physical with him when he gets angry... Luke clearly suffered emotional and physical abuse as a child. Nevertheless, Claire insists he needs to confront his father (to the point that Luke goes into a rage and punches a wall) instead of seeing the therapist he clearly needs.
  • Token White: In season 1, Scarfe and Shades are the only prominent white people amongst the main characters.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: This show plays it straightest of all the MCU works. The movie heroes and SHIELD agents have no issue killing their enemies, Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones work to avoid killing but angst about it, Danny pulls his punches to avoid killing, but Luke just plain does not use lethal force.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Tone shoots up Pop's Barbershop with two submachine guns trying to kill Chico. He only succeeds in killing Pop. That's unforgivable, but what also may have gotten him killed was his decision to call Cornell Stokes "Cottonmouth" to the guy's face, even knowing that the guy really doesn't like it when you call him that.
    • Zip is ordered to assassinate Shades on Diamondback's orders. Rather than keep things simple and say, just shoot him in the head, he tries to do so by garroting Shades from behind while he has three other thugs accompanying, who just stand around and do nothing. Shades, who grew up as a street thug and brawler, manages to fight back enough to grab a gun and kill all of Zip's men. He then pistol-whips Zip, makes him confess to being sent on Diamondback's orders, then shoots him in the head.
    • When Domingo makes the decision to confront Diamondback, he gives no indication that he plans to leave anyone alive. Given that, you would expect him to walk in and just shoot the guy. Instead he gets into some sort of Mexican Standoff for some reason, allowing Diamondback to arm himself and kill Domingo and his entire gang.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Luke in season 2. A mixture of his celebrity and anger towards his father being in town cause him to act more arrogant and brutal. It eventually drives Claire away, when in a fit of anger Luke punches a hole in her wall.
  • Trading Bars for Stripes: When Luke was young, he and his friend (actually his half-brother) Willis stole a car for a joyride. Luke's father, an influential preacher, talked the judge into sending Luke into the Marines to straighten him out. He joined Force Recon and later went into law enforcement. Willis received no such aid from his father and was sent to juvenile detention, his Start of Darkness.
  • Tragic Villain:
    • Cottonmouth Used to Be a Sweet Kid with a talent and love for music, and if he had been raised by someone who actually cared he could have been another great Harlem musician.
    • Growing up, Willis Stryker was very close to his half-brother, but when they were both arrested for grand theft auto Carl, the legitimate son, got the chance to join the Marines instead of going to juvie like the illegitimate Stryker did.
    • Bushmaster's father Quincy was a business partner with Buggy Stokes and Mama Mabel. When the Italian mafia wanted in, they told Buggy they'd let him keep his club if he killed Buggy. He chose money over his friend, and fatally shot Quincy, but Quincy was able to shoot him before dying, the bullet killing him five months later. Later, Quincy's widow Gwen tried to collect her share of her husband's estate, which prompted Mama Mabel to kill her by burning down her house, leaving her son John an orphan. Mama Mabel later tried sending Pete to kill the young John, which failed and caused John to become Bushmaster.
  • Trespassing to Talk:
    • Criminals tend to like waltzing into Mariah's brownstone through the back door with impunity to speak with her. Diamondback does it once, and Shades does it twice. The second time Shades does it, coming by after foiling Zip's attempt to kill him, he says, "You really need a security system."
    • In the first episode of season 2, Nigel is the victim of this from Bushmaster, who proceeds to kill him and then take control of his men.
  • Truce Trickery: The entire series happens because Tone—one of the triggermen of Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes—decides to shoot up Pops' Barber Shop, which was considered a Truce Zone by the Harlem underworld, once he noticed that a kid who stole from Stokes was in there. Noticeably, Stokes abided by the rules of the truce and kills Tone when he finds out what he did, but Tone is an Overzealous Underling who thinks it makes his boss look weak.
  • Truce Zone: Pop's Barber Shop. To the point of just about everybody in Harlem respecting his "no profanity" and Swear Jar rules, and his repeated insistence that his shop is "Switzerland". Pop is a respected figure on the streets, with even Cottonmouth (his former associate) leaving him alone (and killing Tone for breaking this rule).
  • True Love Is Boring: After spending the second half of Season 1 establishing the great chemistry between her and Luke, Claire abruptly dumps him and leaves the show at the beginning of Season 2.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Misty is first introduced undercover as a customer in Harlem's Paradise, flirts with Luke, and then has sex with him. Her status as a cop is not revealed to the audience until after she leaves Luke's place, and she's shown with Scarfe at the junkyard, while Luke doesn't learn she's a cop until a few days later when she and Scarfe come by Pop's while hunting down Chico.
  • Ungrateful Townsfolk: While many people in Harlem treat Luke like a celebrity, they also start making demands of him when he passes by in the street, criticizing him for not taking care of various problems fast enough for their taste as if he's their employee. To top it off, many seem to take pleasure in Luke getting beaten up by Bushmaster rather than get offended or be empathetic to their protector getting hurt.
  • Villainous Virtues: Unlike the villains of many other MCU properties, the primary antagonists of this series almost all work within some kind of code or loyalty, and it's treated as serious when they don't.
    • The Stokes-Dillard family are all loyal to one-another and actually treat each other as family. Even after being betrayed, or killing another member of the family in a fit of rage, they are haunted by the decisions afterward. They're also loyal to Pop, and spare him even when he actively hinders their plans. Even Tone, who goes against his boss's wishes and shot up Pop's Barber Shop (to fatal results) only acts because he thinks it's what Cottonmouth need (but unfortunately, turns out to not be what he wants).
      • In the family's backstory, "Pistol" Pete Stokes was not a nice guy even by their family's standards. He wanted to diversify into drugs, something Mama Mabel was morally opposed to, and he molested Mariah, siring Tilda in the process. However, he was the only one who took Cornell's musical ability and aversion to violence seriously and tried to give him opportunities to put his talent to use.
    • Shades tries everything he can to be the Honest Advisor to Cottonmouth and Diamondback, but neither listen to him and opt to kill Luke Cage at all costs even as their empires collapse. Shades only decides to kill Cottonmouth after it's gotten so out of hand that he feels he has no choice (only to be beaten out by Mariah) and betrays Diamondback only after being betrayed first. However, he is utterly loyal to Mariah, whom he's not only sexually attracted to, but because as a kid, Mama Mabel took care of him. And that ends when he's disgusted by Mariah massacring innocent people and burning Bushmaster's uncle alive just to draw Bushmaster out of hiding.
    • The primary exception is Diamondback, and it's for this reason that everyone teams up to take him down at the end. Diamondback has no loyalty to anyone, has no lines he won't cross, and rules by fear rather than loyalty.
    • Bushmaster also has very little interest in killing anyone other than the Stokes family — and with what they did to him and his family, you can't really blame him — and their immediate associates, ultimately spares Tilda (Mariah's daughter) when it becomes clear that she hates the rest of her family and is horrified by what they did to him, and expresses genuine respect for Luke.
  • Villain Episode:
    • "Manifest" dedicates a fair amount of its screentime towards Cottonmouth and Mariah's backstory.
    • One of the trailers for season 2 revolved entirely around Mariah and Shades, with Luke barely being featured in the trailer at all.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Cottonmouth's henchmen can sometimes be found throwing dice in the park on their lunch break.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Also deconstructed. Mariah (and Cottonmouth to a lesser extent) try to be this, but it takes a lot of effort on their parts to keep their criminal activities out of public consciousness. Except Mariah is very effectively ambushed by a reporter asking about her ties to her cousin's crime ring, and all Mariah can really do is end the interview immediately and have the reporter and her crew removed from the house. From there on, the entire second half of the season sees Mariah trying to regain the good publicity she's lost. Even after managing to get Luke ousted as Carl Lucas, it's pretty clear it will be a long uphill battle.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Observed. As part of his plan to manipulate the NYPD into buying Judas bullets, Diamondback kills a police officer by punching him across the street, then shouts "I'M LUKE CAGE!" at the top of his lungs as he flees. For a surprise, the cops buy it, and Misty spends the rest of the season calling them out for not considering the possibility of a frame up happening. As she points out right away, it's a blatantly obvious frameup given that the eyewitnesses never got a good look at the guy's face, and states that it would make more sense for the killer to be associated with Cottonmouth's former gang than for it to be Luke proper.
  • Visionary Villains: The Stokes-Dillard gang's main goal is to keep Harlem black (and most importantly, theirs) with Cottonmouth trying to pass as a friendly gangster looking for his neighborhood and Mariah using her political campaign.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Rackham, Seagate Prison's warden, ran an underground fight club and tried to kill Luke when he attempted to expose it.
  • Waxing Lyrical: During her session, Misty's shrink offers her Country Time lemonade, calling it a "popular drink," to which Misty responds, "Still is." This is a direct quote of the famously baffling lyric of Gang Starr's "DWYCK," which is also the title of the episode.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • When Mariah first buys off Candace, she tells her assistant that if Candace talks they'll have to kill not just Candace, but everyone in Candace's apartment building on the chance she talked to someone else. At the end of the series, Candace does talk, and Shades finds a way to have her killed. Whether or not this also dooms that entire complex worth of people is never said, but given the fact that Mariah and Shades are keeping low profiles when Luke returns to Harlem in The Defenders (2017), and Misty never makes mention of Candace's neighbors when asking Luke to handle Cole, it seems this isn't the case.
    • Lieutenant Perez is never seen or mentioned again after Misty tricks him into admitting to being in Cottonmouth's pocket. This complicates Cottonmouth getting released because Perez almost certainly knows of everything Scarfe knew about.
  • Weirdness Magnet: In the course of season 1, Harlem's Paradise ends up being the location of several shootings, three murders, and one hostage situation, and yet people still go there.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!:
    • When Diamondback shoots Luke with a Judas bullet, he and Claire are forced to go to extreme lengths to remove the shrapnel; the process of his body healing the wound makes things worse by slowly driving fragments of metal capable of penetrating his skin into his organs. By the time they can get started, he's spitting up blood.
    • In a more mundane example, Claire does this to Scarfe, to remove a normal bullet lodged in his thigh.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Season 1 episode 3: Scarfe kills Chico, and sells Cottonmouth out to Luke. Cottonmouth proceeds to blow up Genghis Connie's.
    • Season 1 episode 7: Mariah kills Cottonmouth and Diamondback makes his introduction.
    • Season 2 episode 5: Bushmaster makes his war on Mariah official by putting three severed heads on display at her new Shirley Chisholm Complex, and also launching an attack on Piranha's party.
    • Season 2 episode 7: Over the course of the episode, Piranha, Comanche, and Ridenhour are all killed. Bushmaster also succeeds at bankrupting Mariah and burns down her brownstone.
  • Wham Line: Towards the end of "Blowin' Up the Spot," Diamondback confronts Luke before shooting him for the second time.
    Luke Cage: Willis, I'm sorry. You don't have to do this. I loved you like a brother.
    Diamondback: Nigga, I am your brother.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: "Step in the Arena" takes place with Luke and his landlady trapped under rubble after Cottonmouth blows up the place with a rocket launcher. Most of the episode therefore is in flashbacks of Luke's time in prison, his meeting with Reva, enduring the brutality of the corrupt guards and inmates like Shades, his experimentation, and his escape.
  • A Wizard Did It: The weird properties of the Judas bullets is explained as they are made from Chitauri metal picked up from "The Incident".
  • Worf Had the Flu: Luke spends much of Season Two punch-drunk and concussed after Bushmaster gives him a trick shot to the head — twice.
  • Worst Aid: Luke's superpowers protect him from most injuries but if he does get injured, they make it impossible to give him normal medical treatment. Hard to hurt, hard to heal. To help him, Claire has to resort to some very extreme treatment methods that should never be used on a normal human being. If you thought what Claire did to help treat that shotgun blast to the neck in Jessica Jones (2015) was the worst possible treatment (draining fluid through his eye), you're wrong: when Diamondback shoots him with a Judas bullet, it not only pierces his skin, it explodes inside of him. Claire has to seek out the doctor who ran the original experiment, just to figure out how to begin treating him. The treatment includes lowering a needle down his throat to draw blood and cooking him in boiling acid to soften his tissue enough to remove shrapnel, like soaking in a hot bath to remove splinters from calluses. On top of that, it's traumatic enough to stop his heart and she throws a toaster into the acid bath as a quick-and-dirty Magical Defibrillator.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Cottonmouth goes back and forth with this with Luke. Half the time he's so angry at him he can't even think straight, the other half he seems delighted to have the chance to rise to the challenge Luke represents.
    • Bushmaster considers Luke to be one.
  • The Yardies: One of the gang bosses summoned to the meeting at Colon's Gym is Neville Barnwell of the Yardies. After Diamondback kills Neville in the meeting, control of the Yardies passes to Neville's brother Nigel Garrison. That progresses until Bushmaster comes in and kills Nigel. Bushmaster himself runs a much more violent faction of the Yardies known as the Stylers.
  • You Are Not Alone: Method Man's song:
  • You Can't Thwart Stage One: Luke comes extremely close to defeating Diamondback in their first battle, only for him to escape. If Luke had taken care of him right then and there, so many problems later on would have been solved.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Mariah finds this out the hard way when Shades tells her that she is now in charge of Cottonmouth's illegitimate business. Diamondback reiterates it later in the episode.
  • You Will Be Spared: When Mariah starts cleaning house by killing all her former subordinates, she only spares Sugar because his wife gave her clothes when she lost everything else prior.

"You might be bulletproof, but Harlem ain't."


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Luke Cage


Luke Cage

After being put through an experiment, Luke Cage was given super strength and indestructible skin.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / NighInvulnerability

Media sources: