This article contains spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage season 1, episode 2, 'Code of the Streets'.
As we continue our recap and review of season 1 of Marvel's Luke Cage prior to the premiere of season 2, this episode starts with Luke (Mike Colter) standing across from the building Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) refurbished and is using as the center for her Harlem Renaissance program. He gets a gun pulled on him by one of the guards, and then we get the credits.
We come back to see Misty (Simone Missick) visualizing the crime scene of the gun-deal-gone-bad and realizing that Shameek's murder was too violent and too personal for Chico (Brian Marc). We cut back to the barber shop, where Pop (Frankie Faison) uses the Donald Goines character of Kenyatta to try to push Luke into helping people. While Luke tries to brush him off, Pop brings up the word on the street that three thugs got beat down at Genghis Connie's the night before. Luke corrects him — there were four thugs.
Pops gives him the rundown on how Mariah shakes down the business in the area and how she and Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) are cousins. He talks about how he's certain that Cottonmouth would come looking for Chico, when a moment later he shows up with Shades (Theo Rossi) and Tone (Warner Miller). Cottomouth gets Pop to give him a shave with a razor, all the while Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones) is in the corner playing chess with Turk Barrett (Rob Morgan). Luke is stressing, worried Shades will recognize him and how to take out them out when he breaks the broom handle by accident.
Shades starts talking to him about having just gotten home and asking about Chico. Luke tells him that folks come and go. He then offers to take out the dirty towels, but Pop says he's okay. Cottonmouth recognizes that Luke also works at Harlem's Paradise. He goes to leave, and Luke reminds him he hasn't paid. He tells Tone to pay Pop and they leave. Pop tells Luke that they got Shameek; that Cottonmouth did it personally. Pop wants Luke to find Chico so he can set up a parlay with Cottonmouth. Luke tries to turn him down, but Pop reminds Luke that he's in Pop's debt and he aims to collect.
Misty and Scarfe roll up on a basketball court and ask about Chico. One no one is willing to talk, but Misty challenges one of the guys to HORSE for the information. Luke hits the street as well, and he sees Cottonmouth going to visit Mariah. Cottonmouth is there to deliver the part of the money he has gotten back. She says it's not enough, and he doesn't like being told what to do. A bit of tension brewing between them.
Luke finds Chico and tells him to come back with him, but he refuses. Luke goes back to tell Pop, and we get a flashback to how Pop used to be. We find out he got his nickname because of the sound his fists made when he was beating someone. He ran the streets with Cottonmouth and Fredo before going to jail. Chico is Fredo's son. Luke tells Pop that he's done running. When they go back inside, Chico has come in the back door and swears to Pop that he's sorry. Turk walks in the back and sees him, which is exactly why Turk has been camped out at the barber shop the whole time. As he's leaving, he runs into Misty and Scarfe. She tells him to get back to midtown, which he is more than willing to do.
It turns out Pop knows Misty, as he knows everyone. Luke sees her from the backroom, but she doesn't see him. Luke walks out and Misty tries to play it like she doesn't know him, but he calls her on having found better clothes to audit in. They ask Pop to call them if he hears from Chico and they leave. Once they're gone, Pop doesn't believe that Luke and Misty just got coffee, and he wants Luke to go see Cottonmouth for him. His rationale is that you can't just call and people will be watching the shop, but Luke works at Harlem's Paradise.
He goes to talk to Cottonmouth and gets him to agree to a parlay, and he quits the club. But Tone gets a message at the same time telling him where Chico is. Tone tells Cottonmouth, but he tells him to let it go, he'll handle it in the morning. But Tone and Shades meet with Turk, who tells them Chico's at the barber shop. Mariah talks to Cottonmouth about how he should be more than just a gangster, while Tone and Shades head to the shop, which is still open and Pop is cutting a kid's hair. Tone chambers his gun and Shades asks if he's going to at least wait until Chico comes out, but Tone doesn't answer.
Luke returns and Chico walks out of the back just as Tone opens fire and shoots up the whole place. Luke protects the kid and tells him to play dead. Both Chico and Pop are riddled with bullets. Shades is stunned, telling Tone he should've waited as they retrieve the money. They leave and Luke checks on the kid then goes to Pop, who is dying. His last words are "always forward." Chico is alive but not doing well. Misty stares at Luke's torn-up shirt and is in disbelief at the story of how he shielded the kid. The cops have nothing to go on, and Cottonmouth has been at the club all night. Luke is angry, sitting in one of the chairs, holding the swear jar.
Cottonmouth meets Shades and Tone on the roof, and Mariah comes with him. Tone tells how he went in, lit up the place, and got the money back. Cottonmouth isn't happy, but he figures Pop can rebuild and he'd donate some money. Then he finds out that Pop is dead. Tone calls him a casualty of war. Turk shows up asking for his money for finding Chico. Cottonmouth throws Tone off the roof and tells Turk to collect his money downstairs. Turks says they're crazy and he's going back to Hell's Kitchen. Cottonmouth then gives Mariah the rest of the money. She's not happy with him murdering people, but the money is still green. Shades gives his condolences, and you see that Cottonmouth is really upset at Pop being dead.
We cut to Misty, who is getting drunk with Scarfe and trying to figure out how Luke didn't get shot. Luke is sitting in his apartment, holding the bullet-riddled swear jar and the Harlem Renaissance flyer. Then we see Cottonmouth holding the picture of the younger version of himself, Pop, and Fredo with a tear rolling down his cheek. Then we cut back to the beginning, where Luke has the kid holding the gun to his head outside Mariah's building. He turns on the kid, takes his gun, and shoots himself, which scares the kid into running off. Luke then sees Mariah show up carrying Chico's backpack, and Luke is determined. "Always forward."
This was a fascinating episode in that it pulled all the strings together into one story and tied it into a single person's actions. If Tone had listened to Cottonmouth and waited until the next morning, they could've parlayed with Pop and Chico and gotten his money back without anyone dying. It would've been over. Chico would disappear. Mariah would have her money, and Pop would keep on cutting hair. All Cottonmouth would have to do is square things up with Domingo and things would be back to normal. But Tone took matters into his own hands, shot up the place, and woke the sleeping giant. You almost feel sorry for Cottonmouth. He really cared about Pop and was going to take the peaceful route. Everything after falls on Tone's shoulders, even though he's now dead. And now Luke is angered and pointed at Cottonmouth and Mariah.
For a character that only lasted two episodes, they did a really good job of developing Pop and making us care about him. Not an easy thing to do. And we can see that Misty is going to be obsessed with Luke and him not being shot. She's a detective and doesn't like the unknown. And you have to love that Turk doesn't care who he's dealing with; he's always looking out for Turk.