Marvel’s Luke Cage is a great show; if you’ve seen it, you already know that, and if you haven’t seen it, you should take the time out of your day to watch it. There’s a lot of reasons behind its awesomeness — its casting is spot on, the performances are great, and the music is a big part of its success. Music is felt all throughout the show, from the opening credits to what plays during the action scenes. But it really shines is near the end, which provides more action than most of the action scenes of the 13-episode season.
In the penultimate episode of the season, "Soliloquy of Chaos," Luke (Mike Coulter) is on the run from the cops after Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) frames him for murdering Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali) earlier in the season, along with trying to evade his half-brother, Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), who framed him for the murder of a Harlem cop and a government official. It’s not going well for Luke, and in his efforts to avoid being spotted by a cop car, he winds up walking into a gas station currently being held up.
He stops the two robbers, then switches out his bullet-ridden hoodie with one worn by a gas station customer — who just happens to be rapper Method Man. Lest you think that’s the end of it, Method Man later goes on a radio show to talk about being saved by Cage, how the cops have got it wrong in pursuing him, and has a rap for him as well. While Method raps, scenes are interspersed with cops pulling over different black men wearing hoodies with holes in them, having bought them from the gas station clerk Luke saved. (That song, "Bulletproof Love," was made available to listen to on YouTube as the show dropped.)
It’s a pretty big thing, in terms of Marvel Cinematic Universe, and also in terms of what it represents in the real world. As far as the former goes, it goes a long way into establishing, or rather reaffirming, the relationship that MCU characters have with their music. Even though the bond between character and a musical theme that helps you identify them can be somewhat spotty, there are characters in the universe who have a special relationship with music. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Peter Quill's love for 80’s songs is the sole physical link to his old life and dead mom, and AC/DC is forever tied into Tony Stark’s personality. And, of course, everyone knows how Captain America: The Winter Soldier used Marvin Gaye to establish a relationship between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson the first time they meet.
Luke Cage follows in that same mold, albeit in a bit more direct way. Each of the thirteen episodes was named after a Gang Starr song by creator Cheo Hodari Coker, who wanted the episodes to feel like an album, and the score for the show was composed by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge of A Tribe Called Quest. Coker has said that the music is different than music for Daredevil and Jessica Jones, helping it to "define itself through sound that you can feel when you're watching the scenes." Alongside Harlem, and Luke’s inner turmoil to accept his abilities and superpowers, music is one of the core tenants of Luke Cage, to the point where nearly every episode in the season has its own musical number, perfectly inserted in via Stokes’ nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise. It may be the closest that the MCU has to a musical until they actually get around to making a musical.
The television shows to come out of Marvel’s Netflix deal have always been about characters coming to grips with their own heroism and their ability to protect a city that can only be protected by them, even if the city doesn’t necessarily want that brand of protection. Sure enough, that’s what we get with Luke Cage here, but there’s a wrinkle to it that doesn’t come to Daredevil or Jessica Jones: acceptance from the public. When Daredevil puts the Kingpin away, he doesn’t get much beyond a nifty name in the papers, and when Jessica snaps Kilgrave’s neck, calls for her detective services rise. That’s all there is to it, and there’s no wide reaching consequence for their accomplishments. While that’s part of the overall design — since stopping gentrification is going to be small potatoes compared to blowing up a country in order to prevent global destruction — it can make one wonder if what the street level heroes are doing has any impact. Luke’s relationship with the people of Harlem is a big part of the series; one moment they blame him for Stokes’ men robbing them, the next, they praise his speech at the church during Pops’ funeral.
"a black man in a hoodie isn’t necessarily a threat. He might just be a hero."
As for what it means in the real world, it’s pretty obvious what kind of impact it has. Superheroes are defined by what they wear, as Batman and Superman fans well know. Coker and Luke’s actor Mike Colter have both stated that the reason he wears is a hoodie is in direct reference to the Black Lives Matter movement and Trayvon Martin’s murder in particular, which naturally had a lot of people talking. Colter further expanded on that in an interview, saying it was about "the idea that a black man in a hoodie isn’t necessarily a threat. He might just be a hero." It only makes sense for the show to continue that rationale even further, making every black person who bought the tattered hoodie heroes in their own way.
The various MCU properties have been filled with plenty of unforgettable moments that have people remembering them for years to come — the circle shot in The Avengers, Tony Stark wearing the second iteration of the Iron Man armor. For me, this musical interlude may be the best moment of Luke Cage, because much like how Captain America’s sacrifice was the big and impactful moment of Captain America: The First Avenger, Harlem’s solidarity for Luke shows the impact that superheroes can have on their community when you’ve got the right kind of person behind it. In this case, that person is a bulletproof black man who wears a hoodie when he’s being a hero. I’m good with that, and much like Harlem and Method Man, I’ve got mad love for Luke.