Film Crit Hulk Smash: LUKE CAGE, Netflix And The Death Of Episodic TV

Whatever happened to telling stories within stories?

1. STORIES WITHIN STORIES

HULK WORRIES WE'RE WITNESSING THE DEATH OF EPISODIC TV.

NOW, WHEN HULK USES THE PHRASE "EPISODIC TV," A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS PROBABLY COME TO MIND. YOU'RE PROBABLY PICTURING THE RESET FORMULA OF THE SITCOM WHERE BARELY ANYTHING CHANGES OVER THE COURSE OF THE SHOW. OR MAYBE THOSE 22 EPISODE BY-THE-NUMBERS PROCEDURAL DRAMAS WHERE THEY CATCH THE BAD GUYS EVERY WEEK. OR MAYBE EVEN WITH SOAPY SERIALIZED STORIES YOU'RE PICTURING THE CHEAP TRICKS, ENDLESS CLIFF-HANGERS, AND ALL THE OTHER HALLMARKS OF "DISPOSABLE" WEEKLY ENTERTAINMENT. IN TOTAL, YOU'RE JUST PICTURING ALL THE THINGS THAT SUDDENLY SEEMED ARCHAIC WHEN H.B.O. BROKE THE DOORS DOWN AND STARTED MAKING "CINEMATIC TELEVISION" WITH THE SOPRANOS BACK IN 1999. BECAUSE SUDDENLY, WE HAD THE ABILITY TO TELL LONG, NUANCED STORIES FILLED WITH FLOURISH AND HUMANITY. STORIES THAT DIDN'T HAVE TO INSTANTLY RELY ON GOTCHA NARRATIVE TACTICS TO HOLD AN AUDIENCE'S ATTENTION THROUGH COMMERCIALS OR EVEN WEEK-TO-WEEK. SUDDENLY, YOU HAD REAL NARRATIVE FREEDOM TO DO SOMETHING THAT WAS REALLY DIFFERENT. AND IN THE 17 YEARS THAT HAVE PASSED, MANY SHOWS HAVE GONE ON TO USE THOSE ARTISTIC FREEDOMS FOR GREATNESS (THE BEST EXAMPLE MIGHT BE THE WANDERING PATHOS OF AMERICANA IN MAD MEN). BUT LIKE MOST FREEDOMS, THERE CAN BE A REAL COST TO BEING UNDISCIPLINED.

BECAUSE CONCURRENT TO THE RISE OF "PEAK TV," HULK ALSO FEELS LIKE, NARRITIVELY SPEAKING, WE'VE ALSO ENTERED THE SLOPPIEST AGE OF PULP TV YET.

THERE'S A LOT OF REASONS FOR THIS, BUT IT PROBABLY STARTS WITH THE DVD/DVR BOOM WHICH ALLOWED US TO DEEP DIVE ALL AT ONCE. TO "BINGE WATCH" AS IT WERE. KEEP IN MIND, THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM IN AND OF ITSELF. IT'S A GREAT WAY TO GO GET LOST IN A GIANT SPRAWLING NARRATIVE AND SEE THE SEAMS, TO PROPERLY ABSORB EVERYTHING A SHOW HAS TO OFFER. BUT ONE OF THE THINGS WE GENUINELY LOST IN THE LAST DECADE-PLUS OF RITUAL BINGE-WATCHING IS THE APPRECIATION OF WHAT "AN EPISODE OF TV" ACTUALLY MEANS. FOR WHEN WE YOU ENCOUNTER A LACK-LUSTER EPISODE OF TV THAT STALLS OR DELAYS, IT BECOMES MUCH EASIER TO FORGIVE NARRATIVE LAPSES WHEN YOU'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A RAPID MARATHON RUN. THERE'S JUST SO MUCH LESS INCENTIVE TO STOP. AND CERTAINLY SO MUCH LESS WORK YOU HAVE TO DO TO KEEP GOING. REALLY, WE JUST SORT OF HAVE TO LIKE THE CHARACTERS AND BE INVESTED IN THE GENERAL ENDPOINT TO SEE IT THROUGH TO THE END. SO THE MODEL ISN'T WHAT'S CREATING THE PROBLEM. IT'S JUST MAKING IT MUCH EASIER FOR US TO FORGIVE.

PLEASE UNDERSTAND, HULK IS NOT KNOCKING THE HUMAN INCLINATION FOR THIS, EITHER. IT'S A PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE CHOICE AS VIEWER. NO, HULK IS SQUARELY SETTING HULK'S SIGHTS ON THE STORYTELLERS WHO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS BY SEEMINGLY NOT EVEN BOTHERING WITH THE CONCEPT OF "EPISODIC STORYTELLING" IN THE FIRST PLACE. BECAUSE HULK THINKS IT IS HAVING A TERRIBLE EFFECT ON OUR DRAMATIC APPROACHES TO CREATING STORIES WITHIN A LARGER STORY.

WE'LL GET TO THE MAIN OFFENDERS IN THE NEXT SECTION, BUT IT'S KIND OF AN EPIDEMIC WITH NO REASON TO EXIST. SOMETHING THAT SEEMINGLY IGNORES A PLETHORA OF GREAT STORY TV HISTORY TO LEARN FROM. BECAUSE WHAT YOU PROBABLY DIDN'T PICTURE WHEN HULK TALKED ABOUT THE YESTERYEAR OF "EPISODIC TV" WAS THE INSANE AMOUNT OF PROFESSIONALISM, CRAFT, AND STORY KNOW-HOW THAT WENT INTO CREATING IT. THERE'S A DELICATE ART TO A CLIFF-HANGER. TO A COMMERCIAL BREAK. TO CRAFTING A SOLID HOUR. AND IT'S A SHAME BECAUSE OF HOW INCREDIBLY HELPFUL THOSE LESSONS WOULD BE TO SO MANY OF THESE WHEEL-SPINNING TELEVISION SHOWS THAT ARE OUT RIGHT NOW. WE'RE MISSING THE STORIES WITHIN STORIES.

BUT INSTEAD OF MAKING POINTS ABOUT THE STRUCTURE OF THESE CLASSIC SHOWS, HULK WILL INSTEAD ILLUSTRATE THIS POINT BY CITING THE BEST EPISODIC SHOW OF THE LAST DECADE:

THAT WOULD BE BREAKING BAD.

YOU PROBABLY WOULDN'T THINK TO CALL IT THAT, BUT LOOK AT THE WAY THEY CONSTRUCTED THAT SHOW. EVERY EPISODE FELT CONTAINED IN SOME CONCRETE STORY-DRIVEN WAY. A PROBLEM WOULD ARISE, THEY WOULD TRY TO SOLVE IT, DANGER/HILARITY ENSUED IN TANDUM, A RISKY SOLUTION WOULD OFTEN BE ARRIVED AT, BUT OFTEN WITH GREAT COST AND THE CREATION OF A NEW PROBLEM. THEN EVERY EPISODE WOULD SEEMINGLY END ON AN INCREDIBLE GESTURE SIGNIFYING THE WAY THINGS WILL MOVE FORWARD. IT WASN'T ALWAYS A CLIFF-HANGER. SOMETIMES IT WAS A CHARACTER MAKING A LITTLE STATEMENT, OR HINTING THAT THEY KNOW MORE THAN THEY LET ON.

YES, HULK KNOWS THIS WAS A SHOW THAT WAS GOOD AT SOOOOO MANY THINGS: DRAMATIC CLARITY, CHARACTERIZATION, RESONANT THEMES, PITCH-PERFECT CINEMATOGRAPHY, BUT SOMEHOW ITS MOST UNDER-REPRESENTED QUALITY WAS HOW VINCE GILLIGAN AND HIS TEAM COULD PLOT NEAR-PERFECT EPISODIC TV WITHIN A LARGER ARC. IT'S WHY THEY COULD SO OFTEN GET AN ENTIRE EPISODE OF TENSION OUT OF A SIMPLE ACTION, LIKE GETTING RID OF A BODY, OR HAVING TO ERASE A HARD DRIVE. WHAT WOULD BE A QUICK COUPLE OF SCENES IN OTHER SHOWS BECAME ENTIRE ADVENTURES FOR WALTER AND JESSE. PUT SIMPLY: THEY KNEW HOW TO MAKE THE SMALL FEEL EPIC. AND ULTIMATELY, WITH EVERY EPISODIC ACTION, THEY MOVED THEIR CHARACTERS FORWARD INCH BY INCH, EPISODE BY EPISODE, UNTIL YOU REALIZED JUST HOW FAR THEY HAD COME. THIS EPISODIC PLOTTING IS WHY BREAKING BAD WAS ONE OF TV'S BEST SHOWS EVER AND ALSO THE MOST ENTERTAINING FOR GENERAL AUDIENCES. THE WORTH WAS ASTRONOMICAL.

SO WHY IS NOBODY PAYING ATTENTION TO HOW THEY DID IT?

THIS IS SERIOUSLY ONE OF THE BIGGEST HOLLYWOOD MYSTERIES FOR HULK OF THE LAST TEN YEARS. HULK KNOWS WRITING SOMETHING THAT GOOD IS INSANELY HARD, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO SHOW MODELS THEY LAID OUT ONE OF THE BEST STRUCTURAL APPROACHES TO A SERIALIZED SEASON OF TELEVISION THAT HULK'S EVER SEEN, AND EVERYONE JUST SEEMED TO COPY THE SURFACE DETAILS INSTEAD. THEY TRIED TO MIME THE INTENSITY AND VAGUE CONCEIT, BUT REALLY, MOST ONLY SEEMED TO APE THE  FLASH-FORWARD TEASE STRUCTURE AS IF IT WAS THE ONLY THING THAT SHOW DID OF ANY MERIT. SOMEHOW, THEY NEVER LOOKED AT THE GOSH DARN BASIC FUNDAMENTAL APPROACH OF HOW TO TELL STORIES AND DRAW OUT MICRO-CONFLICTS WITHIN AN EPISODE. AND IT'S A SHAME BECAUSE THAT'S SO MUCH OF WHAT THE BEST CLASSIC TV DOES.

AND YOU KNOW WHAT? IT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF OTHER SHOWS DON'T GET RESPECT ON THIS EPISODIC FRONT EITHER. WE'LL TALK ALL ABOUT THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, BUT AT LEAST IT KNEW HOW TO GO ABOUT MAKING GREAT EPISODIC TV. NOT JUST WITH THE BIG ACTION ONES THAT WOULD REVOLUTIONIZE THE SHOW, BUT EVEN THE LITTLE "ISSUE OF THE WEEK" EPISODES. PERHAPS LOST GOT SLIGHTLY MORE CREDIT WITH IT'S CHARACTER-CENTRIC EPISODIC APPROACH OF MOVING PEOPLE TOWARD DRAMATIC CATHARSIS (EVEN WITH IF THEY HAD TO TREAD WATER IN OTHER WAYS). EVEN RIGHT NOW, SO MANY PEOPLE DON'T GIVE SHOWS LIKE THE 100 ENOUGH RESPECT. PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY LOOK AT THE SURFACE DETAILS AND SEE CUTE CW TEENS AND WRITE IT OFF, BUT THAT FIRST SEASON HAS SOME OF THE MOST DRAMATICALLY SOUND WRITING ON TV (THAT'S NOT A KNOCK ON THE LATER SEASONS, HULK JUST HASN'T SEEN THEM YET). HECK, THE CW IN GENERAL HAS THE STRONGEST FUNDAMENTAL DRAMATIC WRITING ON TELEVISION RIGHT NOW AND IT'S THE REASON THEY ARE ENGAGING THEIR CORE AUDIENCES. BUT IF YOU'RE NOT LOOKING FOR IT, YOU WON'T SEE IT. YOU'LL ONLY SEE THE SURFACE.

...THERE'S AN OBVIOUS LESSON HERE ABOUT BOOKS AND COVERS. BUT WE REALLY DO SEEM TO LAVISH OUR ATTENTION ON A DRAMATICALLY INERT WHEEL-SPINNERS THAT HAPPEN HIT OUR PRIME INTEREST ZONES.

FOR INSTANCE, THE BIGGEST OFFENDER IS PROBABLY THE WALKING DEAD. NEVER HAS A SHOW FELT SO STRUCTURED LIKE CLASSIC PORNOGRAPHY. THE ZOMBIE SCENES AND DRAMATIC USE OF VIOLENCE ARE FREQUENTLY GREAT AND VISCERALLY COMPELLING, BUT EVERY DIALOGUE SCENE JUST FEELS LIKE VAGUE CONVERSATIONS WITH NONSENSICAL PHILOSOPHICAL UNDER-PINNINGS. SERIOUSLY, THE BIGGEST TOPIC IS HOW THE CHARACTERS ARE WAITING AROUND TO BE EATEN. HECK, THE ONLY TIME IT MINED ANY NON-ZOMBIE THREAT-BASED DRAMA WAS WHEN THE HUMAN CHARACTERS WERE MORE CARTOONISHLY EVIL THAN THE ZOMBIES THEMSELVES. AND THE PLOTS WOULD JUST WADE ON FOREVER.

AND IT'S THE REASON HULK COULDN'T MAKE IT THROUGH THE FIRST THREE SEASONS OF THAT PARTICULAR SHOW. BUT IT'S EMBLEMATIC OF THE WHEEL-SPINNING OF SO MANY OTHER SHOWS TOO. THERE WERE ENTIRE SEASONS OF SONS OF ANARCHY THAT JUST SAT AROUND UNTIL THE FINALE, BUT EVEN GENUINELY GREAT SHOWS LIKE JUSTIFIED AND BOARDWALK EMPIRE WERE GUILTY OF THIS TO LESSER DEGREES. HECK, GAME OF THRONES BASICALLY HAS ONE SCENE PER CHARACTER EACH WEEK IT'S USUALLY JUST A "CHECK IN" UNTIL THE BIG STUFF GOES DOWN LATER IN THE SEASON. SO INSTEAD OF FINDING CONFLICTS WITHIN CONFLICTS, WE'VE GOTTEN USED TO EXPECTING "THE DELAY." WE'LL WATCH MICRO VERSIONS OF CONFRONTATIONS BEFORE THE BIG ONE GOES DOWN AND THERE SEEMS TO BE NO OTHER REASON THEY FINALLY HAPPEN THAN "IT'S THAT TIME IN THE SHOW TO DO IT."

THERE'S THE GREAT LINE FROM JOSS WHEDON (CHIEF ARCHITECT OF SOME OF THE BEST 22-EPISODE DRAMATIC PLOTTING EVER) WHERE HE SAYS "PLAY YOUR CARDS EARLY. IT FORCES YOU COME UP WITH NEW CARDS." AND HE'S SPOT ON. SO MANY SEASONS OF BUFFY HAD AN ENDGAME IN MIND, BUT THERE WERE SO MANY TWISTS, TURNS, AND MISDIRECTIONS BEFORE YOU EVER UNDERSTOOD WHAT THAT ENDGAME WAS. NOW, WE GIVE ALL THE INFO UP FRONT AND THEN JUST... WAIT. THE CUT-THROAT TRUTH IS THAT IF YOU DRAGGED PLOTS LIKE THAT IN THE EARLIER DAYS PEOPLE WOULD TUNE OUT. BUT NOW THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO WORK AROUND IT IN THE BINGE MODEL, WHETHER IT'S THE VISCERAL APPEAL OF THE SHOW ITSELF OR THE RELIANCE ON TEASING THINGS OUT, THAT WE HAVE PEOPLE WILLING TO SIT THROUGH COMPLETE DRAMATIC STAGNATION JUST BECAUSE.

AND TO DATE, THE BIGGEST OFFENDER HAS BEEN PROBABLY NETFLIX.

2. "ALL AT ONCE"

NOW, LET'S BE CLEAR ABOUT SOMETHING. NETFLIX AS AN ENTITY IS FUCKING AWESOME. THE SERVICE WAS AHEAD OF ITS TIME AND OFFERS UNPARALLELED QUALITY IN TERMS OF ACCESS AND CONTENT. IF THAT SOUNDS LIKE AN ADVERTISEMENT IT IS JUST HULK CLARIFYING JUST HOW MUCH LANDMARK IMPORTANCE IT HAS IN CHANGING MEDIA. AND THE ORIGINALS TEAM HAS PUT OUT A LOT OF COMPELLING STUFF TO BOOT. HULK'S TALKED ENDLESSLY ABOUT HOW MUCH HULK LOVES THE GET DOWN, BUT ALSO MASTER OF NONE, KIMMY SCHMIDT AND THE HEARTBREAKING EXISTENTIAL HILARITY OF BOJACK HORSEMAN (A SHOW HULK WOULD CALL ONE OF THE BEST ON TV). NETFLIX IS ALSO FASCINATING BECAUSE IT'S AN ALGORITHM DRIVEN CONTENT PROVIDER. MEANING IT'S CONSTANTLY CHASING SPECIFIC NICHE DEMOGRAPHICS AND SEEMS TO HAVE DEVELOPED AN UNCANNY ABILITY TO OFFER "THE KINDS OF SHOWS" PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR. WHICH MEANS THEY HAVE BEEN LEADING A CHARGE IN CERTAIN GENRE FARE LIKE STRANGER THINGS AND THEIR RECENT MARVEL OUTPUT OF DAREDEVIL, JESSICA JONES. AND NOW LUKE CAGE.

EACH OF THESE GENRE SHOWS HAVE HAD A LOT GOING FOR THEM. FROM NOSTALGIC CHARM, TO GREAT FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY, TO REALLY IMPORTANT THEMATIC MESSAGING. BUT WHEN IT COMES TO THE PURE PLOTTING OF THESE STORIES... OOF.

IT'S LIKE THEY CAME UP WITH A BASIC CENTRAL CONFLICT OR TWO FOR THE SHOW AND THEN JUST HAD NO IDEA HOW TO STRETCH THEM OUT OVER TIME, ESPECIALLY WITHIN CONTAINED EPISODES, RESULTING IN ENDLESS STAND-OFFS WHERE CHARACTERS COME FACE-TO-FACE, BUT THE NARRATIVE FINDS SOME CONVENIENT REASON FOR THEM NOT TO FIGHT OR END THINGS (WITHOUT ANY OF THE CLEVER CHARACTER-BASED BARGAINING OR DRAMATIC TACT THAT SHOWS LIKE BREAKING BAD WOULD HAVE USED IN A HEARTBEAT). AND HULK'S SORRY, BUT THESE THINGS ARE KIND OF SUPER IMPORTANT IN PULPY GENRE SHOWS BECAUSE THEY THRIVE OFF THE BASICS OF GOOD, CONTAINED DRAMATIC CONFLICT. HULK HONESTLY GETS THE IMPRESSION THAT THESE SHOWS ARE MORE JUST AFRAID TO BE DUMB AND COMIC BOOKY (WHICH IS WHY THEY ARE SO READY TO MAKE FUN OF THEIR COMIC TRAPPINGS), SO THEY TAKE ON THE AIR OF EPIC ADULT "SERIOUS TV" WITH SEEMINGLY NONE OF THE PLOTTING KNOW-HOW. THE IRONY IS THAT IF THEY WEREN'T SO QUICK TO ESCAPE THOSE COMIC TRAPPINGS, THEY MIGHT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE WONDERFUL, SMALL STORIES THAT MADE THESE CHARACTERS ICONS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

AGAIN, IT WOULD BE EASY TO BLAME THE MODEL ITSELF. WE COULD CRY "THEY HAVE TO FILL 13 EPISODES!" AND THAT "THEY SHOULD HAVE ONLY DONE 8!" OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. BUT IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT AN EPISODE EVEN MEANS, THEN IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW MANY YOU HAVE. IT'S NOT THE MODEL. IT'S NEVER THE MODEL. WHETHER YOU HAVE 6 EPISODES OR 22, YOU CAN FIGURE OUT WAYS TO CHANGE THE SHOW TO MAKE THOSE EPISODES COMPELLING AND STORY-DRIVEN. YOU JUST HAVE TO EXPAND CONFLICTS INTO FULL STORIES AND NOT JUST TEASE ONE STORY OUT OVER SUCH A LONG DAMN TIME. AND THE FREAKIN' TRUTH IS "BINGE WATCHING" WAS BUILT OFF THIS CLASSIC EPISODIC STORY APPROACH IN THE FIRST PLACE. NOTHING MADE YOU WANT TO CLICK THE NEXT ENTRY FASTER AND STAY UP UNTIL THE WEE HOURS OF THE NIGHT THAN AN EPISODE THAT MAKES YOU GO "I CAN'T STOP IT HERE!" AGAIN, "NETFLIX INSTANT" (REMEMBER WHEN YOU HAD TO CALL IT THAT?) WAS BUILT OFF THE ACQUIRING OF THESE PULPY SHOWS, SO WHY ARE THEY SUDDENLY SO KEEN ON IGNORING ALL THOSE LESSONS?

NETFLIX SHOULDN'T BE ASPIRING TO MAKE LAUNDRY FOLDERS.

HULK WOULD SINCERELY ARGUE THIS ISN'T ABOUT LIKING ONE KIND OF STORYTELLING OVER ANOTHER. THIS IS ALL ABOUT FUNCTION AND INTENT. FOR INSTANCE, DONALD GLOVER'S ATLANTA IS LOOSE, WANDERING, LOW-KEY NARRATIVE THAT FREQUENTLY TAKES DETOURS TO HIGHLIGHT A THEMATIC POINT ABOUT RACE OR HUMANITY, BUT IT UNDERSTANDS THE PRECISE NEEDS OF ITS OWN CONSTRUCTION. AND HECK, IT FOLLOWS MORE RULES OF NARRATIVE THROUGH-LINES THAN THESE COMPARABLE PULP ACTION SHOWS. SERIOUSLY, I.E. EARN IS NOT SATISFIED WITH HIS SITUATION. HE RECOGNIZES AN OPPORTUNITY. HE STARTS WORKING TOWARD MAKING THAT OPPORTUNITY REAL DESPITE HIS COUSIN SAYING NO, THEN EARNS HIS PLACE BEFORE IT TAKES AN UNEXPECTED RESULT. THAT'S JUST CLEAR DRAMA IN A SELF-CONTAINED PILOT, REGARDLESS OF HOW "LOOSE" OR "ORGANIC" IT FEELS. BUT WITH THIS MANY SHOWS RIGHT NOW, PEOPLE ARE SO CONTENT WITH THE SLOW TEASE THAT HULK HAS NO IDEA WHAT TO DO EXCEPT ASK "WHERE DID IT COME FROM?"

MORE AND MORE, HULK WORRIES IT HAS TO DO WITH PEOPLE MISREADING THE GENIUS OF BOTH THE WIRE AND THE SOPRANOS. TO WIT, BOTH SHOWS DEFINED THE 13 EPISODE TV ARC. BOTH BUILT PLOTS SLOWLY AND WITH PATIENCE UNTIL SOME GRAND PENULTIMATE ACTION IN EPISODE 12, BEFORE EPISODE 13 WRAPPED IT UP AND ALSO MAYBE SET THE STAGE FOR THE NEXT SEASON. BOTH HAD A INCLINATION FOR THE JOYS OF "FAITHFUL DEPICTION" TO HUMAN BEHAVIOR AND CHARACTER-BASED PSYCHOLOGICAL INSIGHT. AND AS A RESULT IT FEELS LIKE A LOT OF WRITERS WANTED TO APE THESE LOOSE APPROACHES AND "JUST MAKE IT FEEL REAL, MAN," WITHOUT EVER UNDERSTANDING THE INSANE LEVEL OF DRAMATIC DISCIPLINE BEHIND BOTH SHOWS. SURE, SEASON FOUR OF THE SOPRANOS WAS A SLOW BURN, BUT THE CAREFUL CHARACTERIZATION AND EVISCERATION OF THE CORE RELATIONSHIPS IS WHAT MAKES THOSE ENDING EMOTIONAL FIREWORKS WORK LIKE GANGBUSTERS. AND WITH THE WIRE, WITH ITS 50 CHARACTERS IT COULD HAVE EASILY USED THE GAME OF THRONES "CHECK IN" ROUTE, BUT INSTEAD IT WAS ROOTED IN PERFECT NARRATIVE STRUCTURE TO THE LARGER MECHANISM OF "A CITY." EVERY SINGLE SCENE MOVED THE PLOT FORWARD AND TIED INTO THE LARGER FABRIC OF THE WORLD IN A WAY THAT HAD CONSEQUENCES. IT WAS ALL "THEREFORE / BUT" WITH THOUGHTFUL DRAMA AND EVEN A DEEP, ARCHETYPAL ROOT IN GREEK DRAMA AND THE NOTION OF CHALLENGING THE FATES.

BUT INSTEAD OF REALLY DIGGING INTO ALL OF THAT, PEOPLE JUST SEEMED TO LEARN TO APE THE CADENCE AND PACE, WHICH MEANS THEY JUST LEARNED TO WAIT AND TREAD WATER.

3. THE DIZZYING CIRCLES OF MR. CAGE

ALL OF THIS IS PRELUDE TO A SIMPLE FACT: LUKE CAGE IS THE FIRST NETFLIX SHOW THAT HULK JUST COULDN'T GET THROUGH.

AFTER NINE EPISODES HULK JUST HAD TO TAP OUT. WHICH REALLY STINKS FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS. FOR ONE, MICHAEL COLTER IS FANTASTIC. HULK ESPECIALLY LOVED HIS CHARACTERIZATION IN JESSICA JONES. AND EVEN BEYOND HIM, THERE'S JUST SO MANY GREAT ACTORS IN THIS SHOW. HECK, THERE'S ENOUGH WIRE AND OZ ALUMS TO MAKE HULK SHOUT OUT WITH GLEE EVERY TIME ONE OF THEM SHOWS UP ON SCREEN. BUT THE SAD FACT IS SO MANY OF THEM OFTEN FEEL WASTED. HAVE YOU NOTICED HOW MANY CHARACTERS FREQUENTLY GET PULLED AWAY TO SHOW "CONSEQUENCE," BUT IT JUST BECOMES MUSICAL CHAIRS WHEN SOMEONE ELSE REPLACES THEIR ROLE? IT'S SYMBOLIC OF HOW THE ENTIRE SHOW IS CONSTANTLY MOVING IN CIRCLES TO NO GREATER PURPOSE. WHICH SUCKS BECAUSE IT'S SUCH AN IMPORTANT SHOW IN THIS MOMENT, FOR ALL THE MOST OBVIOUS REASONS: A BLACK SUPERHERO WEARING A HOODIE WHO CAN'T BE HARMED BY BULLETS? FOR THAT ALONE IT INSTANTLY BECOMES THE SHOW OF THE MOMENT, THE IDEA RIGHT ON EVERYONE'S LIPS... BUT INSTEAD, ALL THIS HOPEFUL PROMISE JUST LEADS TO WHAT IS PERHAPS THE MOST DRAMATICALLY INEPT SHOW IN RECENT MEMORY.

HULK'S SORRY, BUT IT'S TRUE. ON A PURE EXECUTION LEVEL, THE LEVEL OF "PLOT-BLOCKING" IN THIS SHOW MAKES STRANGER THINGS SEEM LIKE RIVETING PAGE TURNER. IT'S CONSTANTLY DEFINED BY WHAT HULK CALLS "THE STAND-OFF FAKE-OUT," WHICH WORKS LIKE THIS: TWO CHARACTERS OR ENTITIES ARE IN OVER-ARCHING CONFLICT. THEY FACE OFF AGAINST EACH OTHER, ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR ADVERSARIAL-NESS, THEN THE NARRATIVE FINDS SOME ARTIFICIAL REASON FOR THIS NOT TO BE THE END-ALL-BE-ALL, AND IT RARELY HAS TO DO WITH ACTUAL CHARACTER-MOTIVATED STAKES OR GOALS AND MORE OFTEN DUE TO MERE INTERRUPTION OR CONVENIENCE. IT'S ALWAYS MOMENTS LIKE "YOU'RE UNDER ARREST! / "NO WAIT, WE'RE BEING SHOT AT!" AND THEN SO AND SO GETS AWAY. OR SOMETIMES IT'S NONSENSICAL DECISIONS LIKE "I COULD TAKE YOU DOWN! BUT INSTEAD I JUST WANT TO MESS WITH YOU!" WHICH IS NOTHING BUT A NAKED ATTEMPT TO WHEEL-SPIN. BASICALLY, THE FAKE-OUT IS ALWAYS A THING WHERE YOU GET ARTIFICIAL "TENSION" INTO THE SHOW, BUT NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS IN TERMS OF CHANGING THE OVERALL DYNAMIC. WHICH MEANS YOU'RE TREADING WATER. AND IN THE FIRST 9 EPISODES OF LUKE CAGE THE FAKE-OUT HAPPENS SO MUCH THAT HULK LOST TRACK AFTER ABOUT FIFTEEN TIMES... THAT IS AN INSANE NUMBER OF FAKE-OUT STAND-OFFS (PROBABLY ONLY OUTDONE BY THE SECOND SEASON OF ORPHAN BLACK).

AGAIN, THIS KIND OF STUFF IS NOT JUST A "DIFFERENT KIND OF STORYTELLING" BECAUSE IT DOES NOT CATER TO ESCALATION OF CONFLICT OR BUILD UP. IT'S JUST TEASING AND DEFLATING. LOOK BACK AT SHOWS LIKE BUFFY OR BREAKING BAD AND YOU WILL SEE HOW SUCH CONFRONTATIONS WERE HANDLED DIFFERENTLY. BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO MAKE SUCH MOMENTS OF CONFLICT LOADED WITH PURPOSE, WHETHER IT BE PLOT, CHARACTER, OR THEME (BEST IF ALL THREE). YOU HAVE TO LOAD IT UP WITH NARRATIVE-BASED TWISTS AND TURNS, CAT AND MOUSE GAMES, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY CHANGING STATUSES. BECAUSE THAT'S THE WHOLE THING. WITH CONFRONTATIONS THERE HAS TO BE SHIFTS TO THE BALANCE OF POWER AND CONTROL. SHIFTS IN THE CHARACTER AND AUDIENCE'S UNDERSTANDING OF THE SITUATION. AND TO DO THAT YOU HAVE TO KNOW WHAT THE REAL STAKES ARE AND SWITCH THE STATUS QUO.

BUT IN LUKE CAGE, THE STATUS QUO IS ALWAYS SO DAMN VAGUE.

WHICH MEANS EVERY CONFRONTATION JUST FEELS LIKE AN IMPASSE.

SURE, SOMETIMES WE'LL GET LIP-SERVICE TO CHANGE IN POWER DYNAMIC, BUT CHARACTERS DON'T REALLY CHANGE SO NONE OF IT STICKS OR IS EXPLAINED DRAMATICALLY. HECK, WE LITERALLY GET TWO EPISODES IN A ROW THAT END WITH LUKE GETTING SHOT AND LEFT FOR DEAD WAKING UP BEING OKAY-ISH. TWO IN A ROW! BUT IT'S NOT THE MERE REPETITIVE LAZINESS OF THIS THAT IRKS, IT REALLY IS THE VAGUE AND CONFUSING LANGUAGE OF THE EXECUTION. TAKE THE SECOND TIME LUKE IS SHOT BY DIAMONDBACK WHEN HE FALLS IN THE GARBAGE TRUCK. EVERYTHING ABOUT THE SCENE IS CONVEYED TO MAKE IT SEEM LIKE HE ASSUMES LUKE'S DEAD, ESPECIALLY WITH THE "YOU WON'T SURVIVE THE SECOND SHOT" LINE THAT COMES JUST PRIOR. AND DOUBLE ESPECIALLY BECAUSE DIAMONDBACK EASILY COULD HAVE JUST FOLLOWED THE SLOW-ASS MOVING TRUCK TO BE SURE. SO HE JUST WALKS AWAY CONFIDENTLY, BUT THEN IN THE NEXT SCENE HE'S TELLING PEOPLE TO FIND LUKE CAGE AND SEARCH THE GARBAGE TRUCKS.... OKAY YOU KNOW HULK'S NOT A LOGIC GUY, BUT WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS INSANITY? IT IS LITERALLY THE MOST NONSENSICAL BIT OF DRAMATIC WHEEL-SPINNING HULK HAS EVER SEEN. OR MAYBE JUST THE MOST MIS-DIRECTED? HECK, AT LEAST PRISON BREAK HAD THE GALL TO OVER-EXPLAIN THEIR LUDICROUS DRAMATIC SITUATIONS SO THAT THEY AT LEAST MADE SENSE.

BUT THE VAGUE STATUS QUO DAMAGES SO MUCH MORE THAN THE BASIC CONFLICTS OF THE SHOW. LIKE WITH DIALOGUE, ENTIRE SCENES PLAY OUT IN WISHY-WASHY SPEECHIFYING. DESPITE HOW MUCH THEY ACT LIKE IT, NO ONE'S CHANGING ANYONE'S MIND. AND NO ONE IS UNSPOOLING CRUCIAL INFORMATION TO THE AUDIENCE. BECAUSE FOR THE CORE CONFLICT OF THE SHOW TO WORK, WE KNOW EVERYTHING WE NEED TO KNOW IN THE PILOT. SO THE REST JUST BECOMES PROLONGED "INSIGHT" TO NO GREATER PURPOSE. ENDLESS TEASING, FALSE DEPTH WITH NO REAL CHANGE AND A LONG-WINDED NIGHTMARE OF UN-NEEDED EXPOSITION TO NO END. WE GET PARABLES THAT DON'T EVEN HAVE A RELATIONSHIP TO WHAT'S HAPPENING, JUST THE TEXTURE OF SOME PSYCHOLOGY AT PLAY THAT DOESN'T REFLECT THE CHARACTER AT ALL, MERELY JUSTIFYING A MOMENT OF WHAT HAPPENED.

HULK JUST SAT THERE HOUR AFTER HOUR, MOUT AGAPE, MUTTERING "THEY'RE NOT EVEN SAYING ANYTHING!"

IT IS LITERALLY THE SAME DRAMATIC CONVERSATION OVER AND OVER AGAIN: TAKE LUKE'S CENTRAL "ARC." HE IS A MOPEY GUY (COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT WE SAW IN JESSICA JONES) WHO DOESN'T WANT TO HELP PEOPLE. HE ENDS UP HELPING PEOPLE AGAINST HIS INSTINCT. THEN AFTER HE DOES SO, HE JUST GOES RIGHT BACK TO THE SAME ATTITUDE. SURE, WE'LL GET THE LIP-SERVICE OF "MOVING FORWARD" BUT DRAMATICALLY HE IS 100% GOING IN WISHY-WASHY CIRCLES. HE'LL JUST COME FROM EXHIBITING HIS POWERS IN PUBLIC WITH PEOPLE FILMING IT AND THEN SOMEONE WILL ASK "WHY HIDE IT?" AND HE'LL SPEAK TO WHY HE WANTS TO HIDE IT. AND IT'S LIKE "WAIT, WHAT'S THE SCENE THAT JUST HAPPENED?!? WHAT IS THIS SHOW TRYING TO DEMONSTRATE!?!?AHHHHHH" HE JUST KEEPS GOING BACK TO THE SAME PROBLEMS. HE'LL OCCASIONALLY TRY TO JUSTIFY IT WITH ACCEPTANCE OF BEING HOOD FAMOUS, BUT NOT REAL FAMOUS OR SOMETHING, BUT, AGAIN, STATUS QUO IS TIED TO CHARACTERIZATION AND YET THERE ARE NO CHANGES TO HIS CHARACTER'S OUTLOOK EVER. WHICH MEANS EVERY ACT OF HIM HELPING JUST FEELS WEIRDLY OUT OF CHARACTER, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE GET CONFUSING LIP SERVICE TO BOTH DYNAMICS. ULTIMATELY, IT MAKES LUKE THE STRANGEST SUPERHERO TO WATCH AND ROOT FOR. NOTHING FEELS MOTIVATED. SO HULK FEELS AS MUDDLED ABOUT IT AS HE DOES.

EVERY CHARACTER'S ARC FEELS THIS WAY TOO. MISTY GOES FROM THINKING LUKE IS INNOCENT TO GUILTY FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN IT MAKES FOR "MORE CONFLICT". SHE JUSTIFIES IT BY SPEAKING TO THINGS THAT NEVER EVEN FELT LIKE THEY HAPPENED. AND WORSE, HER BOSS WANTS HER TO GO AFTER LUKE AND WHEN SHE GETS HARD ASS AND GOES AFTER LUKE HER BOSS IS MAD AT HER. THERE'S NO DAMN CONSISTENCY HERE. AND TO EXPLAIN IT ALL AWAY THEY GO TOWARD PTSD BUT THE SHRINK'S MOTIVATIONS CHANGE CONSTANTLY. NOTHING TRACKS. YOU CAN'T FOLLOW A CHARACTER'S HEADSPACE, YOU JUST HAVE TO REACT TO WHAT'S HAPPENING AND WHAT THEY'RE SAYING. THE SAME IS DOUBLY TRUE FOR BLACK MARIAH, WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE GOING FROM A TRY-HARD POLITICIAN WITH GREASY TIES TO A FULL-ON CROOK, BUT SHE'S PRETTY MUCH THAT FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. WHICH HIGHLIGHTS THE OBVIOUS PROBLEM:

CHARACTERS ARE CONSTANTLY TALKING ABOUT AN ARC THAT IS NOT BEING ARTICULATED DRAMATICALLY.

HULK WOULD ARGUE THIS STUFF HAS A BIG EFFECT ON AUDIENCES. EVEN IF THEY CAN'T NAME ALL THESE CARDINAL SINS, THEY CAN STILL REALLY FEEL IT. SO THEY'LL OFTEN RESPOND "THIS FEELS OVER-LONG, DRAWN-OUT, AND BORING." BUT AS HULK MENTIONED, WITH A SHOW LIKE LUKE CAGE THERE'S ENOUGH REASON TO STICK AROUND. HECK, THAT'S PROBABLY THE SCARY ADVANTAGE OF KNOWING THE SCORE AND TEASING IT OUT EVERY EPISODE. PEOPLE JUST WANT KEEP STICKING AROUND FOR WHAT THEY THINK WILL FINALLY BE THE REAL THING. AND AS A RESULT? HULK IS HARD PRESSED TO THINK OF A SHOW WITH LESS CONCEPT OF WHAT "AN EPISODE" ACTUALLY MEANS. THERE IS ONLY THE ONGOING SLOG. AND ASIDE FROM ONE EPISODE, HULK COULD NOT DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN MOST OF THEM... SAVE ONE.

TO HULK, THE BEST EPISODE OF THE SHOW WAS ABSOLUTELY EPISODE 4'S ORIGIN STORY IN THE PRISON. SURE, WE ALREADY HAD MOST OF THIS INFORMATION, BUT IT'S AN EPISODE THAT AT LEAST HAS THE DIGNITY TO SHOW THE CHARACTER CHANGING OVER 50 MINUTES AND HAVE SHIFTS IN POWER AND CONSEQUENCE AND ALL THAT GOOD STUFF. HEY, IT'S ALMOST LIKE HAVING THE PRESSURE TELLING ONE STORY IN 50 MINUTES INSPIRED THEM TO WRITE AN ACTUAL EPISODE OF TV! BUT THAT'S THE RUB ABOUT TEXTURE AND THE WAY AUDIENCES CONNECT TO THINGS. BECAUSE HULK KNOWS SO MANY PEOPLE ARE TIRED OF ORIGIN STORIES AND FELL LIKE THE EPISODE DIDN'T HAVE A LARGER PURPOSE BECAUSE WE KNEW ALL THE INFORMATION. WHICH IS MORE THAN FAIR. SO THERE'S THE TEXTURE OF WHAT WE WANT, AND THEN THERE'S GOOD EXECUTION. TO HULK, IN THE END IT ALL MANIFESTS WITH A SIMPLE QUESTION:

WHAT'S THE POINT OF MAKING A TV SHOW?

4. RAISE YOUR WORDS

WITH ALL THE NARRATIVE FAULTS THAT HULK MENTIONED, THE BIGGEST VICTIM OF THIS STUFF IS USUALLY THEMATIC COHERENCY. IT'S HOW YOU SEE SO MANY WELL-INTENTIONED SHOWS FUMBLE AT THE NOTION OF WHAT THEY WANT TO SAY, BUT END UP REALLY SAYING NOTHING OF THE SORT. TAKE THE INCREDIBLY POWERFUL THEME ENGAGED IN LUKE CAGE. THERE IS SO MUCH YOU COULD SAY DRAMATICALLY ABOUT A BLACK SUPERHERO IN A HOODIE WHO CAN'T BE HURT BY BULLETS. THERE'S SO MUCH YOU COULD SAY ABOUT THE POLICE, THE WAY AMERICA SEES THIS FIGURE, AND ABOUT FEAR AND PREJUDICE. AND WHEN YOU DIVE INTO THAT METAPHOR, THERE'S SO MUCH THAT COULD BE SAID WITH THE WAYS YOU HURT THIS KIND OF SUPER PERSON AND TAKE AWAY HIS POWER, WHETHER IT IS THROUGH THE SYSTEM OR A LARGER METAPHOR ABOUT RACISM AND OPPRESSION. BUT INSTEAD THE SHOW GOES FOR A BIT OF COMIC BOOKY NONSENSE:

YOU CAN'T BE HURT BY BULLETS! EXCEPT FOR THIS ONE KIND OF BULLET THAT DOES!

OK, WHAT THE HELL IS THE METAPHOR OF THIS? GENUINELY, HULK CAN'T THINK OF A SINGLE THING THAT MAKES SENSE ABOUT THIS OR WHAT IT HAS TO DO WITH THE STORY OF LUKE CAGE OR THE THEMES AT PLAY. THIS ISN'T A SMALL MATTER EITHER, IT'S THE BACKBONE OF THE CENTRAL METAPHOR AND MEANING OF THE SHOW. AND HULK'S BEEN BENDING OVER BACKWARDS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT SOME WAY THIS DECISION MAKES SENSE, TO GIVE SOME BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. BUT HULK'S GOT NOTHING. AND THE LACK OF PURPOSE OF THIS ACTION SPEAKS TO SO MUCH OF WHAT HULK FEELS LIKE IS THE SHOW'S THEMATIC PROBLEM ON THE WHOLE. IT CONSTANTLY ESCHEWS THE OPPORTUNITY TO SAY SOMETHING THROUGH DRAMA, IN FAVOR OF NONSENSICAL ARTIFICIAL CONFLICTS. EVEN THE SOCIAL COMMENTARY EVERYONE WAS WAITING FOR, THAT WOULD BE LUKE GETTING ARRESTED BY POLICE, IS REALLY JUST PART OF A SET-UP FROM HIS BLACK CRIMINAL ADVERSARY??? WHAT'S THE METAPHOR THERE, EXACTLY? BECAUSE THE ONE IT'S HINTING AT ISN'T GOOD AND HULK DOESN'T THINK THAT'S WHAT THEY HAD IN MIND... BUT THEN IT BRINGS UP OTHER QUESTIONS LIKE IS THIS SHOW EVEN GOING TO ACKNOWLEDGE INSTITUTIONAL RACISM?

KEEP IN MIND NEVER HAS HULK WANTED TO BE SO SO SO WRONG. IF THERE ARE ANY ARGUMENTS TO THE CONTRARY, PLEASE BRING THEM FORWARD. JUST AS HULK WOULD NEVER CLAIM TO HAVE ANY KIND OF SPECIFIC INSIGHT OR AUTHORITY ON RACIAL THEMATIC STORYTELLING. THAT WOULD BE INSANE. HULK JUST HAS A LOT OF CURIOSITY ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THIS AND WANTS TO LISTEN.

TO THAT POINT, HULK ACKNOWLEDGES THAT THERE'S NOTHING THAT SAYS THIS SHOW HAS TO BE A SOCIAL COMMENTARY VEHICLE, IN FACT, IT OFTEN FEELS LIKE IT WOULD RATHER BE A PULPY SHOW THAT HAS THE AWESOME REALITY OF FEATURING AN ALL-BLACK CAST (AN INSANE RARITY IN HOLLYWOOD). AND THAT'S ITS OWN KIND OF VICTORY NO DOUBT, BUT IT HURTS WHEN THE PULP ISN'T ALL THAT COMPELLING. MORE TROUBLING, IT'S HARD TO SWALLOW A DISINTEREST IN DRAMATICALLY EXPRESSING THEMES WHEN THE SHOW SPENDS AN INORDINATE AMOUNT OF TIME LECTURING ABOUT THEM. THERE ARE COUNTLESS TIMES LUKE OR THE OLDER MEN LECTURE YOUTHS ABOUT BEING IGNORANT OF BLACK HISTORY OR BEING DISRESPECTFUL. AND THAT'S THE WHOLE THING, UNLIKE THE CARMICHAEL SHOW WHICH FRAMES VIEWPOINTS WITHIN CONVERSATION AND CATHARSIS, THESE ARE JUST JUST LECTURES. AND THE LECTURES FEEL... UM...

CONSERVATIVE?

HULK WON'T EVEN TRY TO JUSTIFY ON THAT FRONT, AS IT'S ALL BEST EXPRESSED IN THIS BLISTERING PIECE CALLED "LUKE CAGE: BLACK CONSERVATIVE" FROM JUSTIN CHARITY, WHICH REALLY SEEMS TO CAPTURE A LOT OF WHAT HULK WORRIES ABOUT. ESPECIALLY WITH THE THE WAY LUKE CAGE SEEMS OBSESSED WITH BLACK ON BLACK CRIME. AGAIN, THAT SHOULD ABSOLUTELY BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION ON THE COMPLEXITY OF THIS ISSUE. BUT IT WANTS TO ESCHEW EVERY OPPORTUNITY FOR LUKE TO SEEM COMPLEX TO A WHITE VIEWER'S EYES. LUKE'S NOT A "REAL" FELON, HE'S FRAMED. HE NEVER SEEMS TO MENTION RACISM. AND TAKE HIS FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH THE TWO COPS, AGAIN ONE OF "THOSE" BIG MOMENTS WHERE A COP IS GOING TO TO SHOOT HIM, A.K.A. THE SINGLE MOST LOADED BIT OF IMAGERY YOU COULD MUSTER IN SHOW LIKE THIS. IT'S PORTRAYED WITH AN "IM SORRY GUYS" WHRE HE PROTECTS THE WHITE COP, AS THE BLACK COP FIRES AT HIM. THEN HE THROWS THE BLACK COP INTO THE CRUISER... HULK'S SORRY, BUT IT JUST ENDS UP FEELING LIKE "SEE WHITE PEOPLE, BLACK PEOPLE AREN'T BAD, THEY'RE ON YOUR SIDE!" AND IT'S SUCH A WEIRD SIDE-STEPPING OF THE CONVERSATION SITTING RIGHT ON EVERYONE'S LIPS... IS HULK WRONG ABOUT THIS?

AGAIN, HULK HAS NEVER WANTED TO BE MORE WRONG ABOUT ANYTHING. AND IF HULK IS, PLEASE SAY SO AND COME WITH EVERY THOUGHTFUL BIT THAT HULK IS MISSING. BUT FOR A SHOW THAT SHOULD BE A BLISTERING ASSAULT ON THE INSTITUTIONS OF WHITE AMERICA AND THE BLACK IDENTITY WITHIN THEM, IS IT A PROBLEM IF HULK SAYS THAT HULK RARELY FELT CONFRONTED BY MUCH OF ANYTHING?

TO BOOT, MAYBE HULK'S CRAZY, BUT IS THIS SHOW WEIRD ABOUT WOMEN?

BECAUSE AFTER HIS THOUGHTFUL BUT HUMANE TURN ON JESSICA JONES, LUKE SPENDS A LOT OF TIME FEELING LIKE A DICK IN THE EARLY EPISODES. THE PILOT HAS A LOT OF WEIRD MOMENTS OF HIM QUASI-NEGGING MISTY. AND THEN A FEW EPISODES LATER HE'S PURPOSEFULLY EMBARRASSING HER IN FRONT OF HER PARTNER BY HOLDING OVER HOW HE SLEPT WITH HER. THAT'S JUST STRAIGHT UGLINESS BECAUSE HE'S WIELDING IMPLIED PROMISCUITY LIKE A WEAPON. AND LATER WHEN MISTY TALKS ABOUT WHY SHE LIKED AND STARTED TRUSTING LUKE, NONE OF THIS STUFF GETS MENTIONED. JUST THAT HE WAS A GOOD GUY. AND IT ALL JUST MIXES WITH A WEIRD CLIMATE WITHIN THE SHOW. THERE'S ALWAYS COMMENTS FROM OLDER MEN LIKE "You are far too beautiful to ever apologize for anything. Remember that." AND THEN THE STRANGE COUPLE OF REFERENCES TO HOW MIKE TYSON WAS A NICE GUY. TO WHICH HULK ASKS, WOULD SUCH CONTEXT-LESS COMMENTS HAVE MADE IT OUT OF THE JESSICA JONES WRITERS ROOM? AGAIN, THERE COULD BE A GREAT CONVERSATION ABOUT THE COMPLEXITY OF CELEBRITIES WITHIN THE BLACK COMMUNITY. BUT THAT'S WHERE WE COME BACK TO CONVERSATION VS. LECTURE AND ALL THE VAGUE STATUS QUO STUFF. PRESENTED AS IT IS IN THE SHOW, IT JUST ENDS UP FEELING WEIRD.

PLEASE KEEP IN MIND HULK DOESN'T THINK IT'S COMING FROM THE WRONG INTENTION. EVERY INTERVIEW HULK READS WITH SHOW CREATOR CHEO HODARI COKER REVEALS A SMART GUY WHO IS SAYING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS ABOUT SOCIAL COMMENTARY AND THE NEED FOR THIS SPECIFIC HERO. HE TALKS BEAUTIFULLY ABOUT THE PROBLEMS WITH SOCIETY TODAY AND THE POWER OF THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT... WHICH JUST LEAVES WITH HULK WITH A DESPERATE QUESTION:

WHY ISN'T IT IN THE SHOW?

MORE SPECIFICALLY, WHY ISN'T IT EXPRESSED DRAMATICALLY IN THE SHOW?

THE QUESTIONS MATTER BECAUSE LUKE CAGE IS IMPORTANT TO US. HULK IS SOMEONE WHO CARES A SHIT LOAD ABOUT POPULAR ART, BECAUSE TELEVISION SHOWS OFFER SO DAMN MUCH TO THE CULTURAL WATER COOLER. AND A SHOW LIKE JESSICA JONES (WHICH KEEP IN MIND, ALSO HAS ITS PACING PROBLEMS IN THAT IT LIMPS TO THE FINISH LINE) IS SOMETHING THAT BECOMES AN IMPORTANT TOUCHSTONE AND MODEL. NOT ONLY HAVING A SUPERHERO WHO DEALS WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ABUSE, BUT DOING SO WITH A DEFT HAND? THAT'S FUCKING IMPORTANT. JUST AS IT IS IMPORTANT TO HAVE AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN HERO WHO WEARS A HOODIE AND CAN'T BE HURT BY BULLETS. AS MUCH AS SOME TROGLODYTES LAMENT IT, THE TRUTH IS THAT WE'VE BEEN FIGHTING FOR POP ART TO HAVE THIS KIND OF BEAUTIFUL INTEREST IN IDENTITY POLITICS FOR A LONG, LONG TIME. AND NOW THAT IT'S HERE, IT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER THAT IT FINDS A WAY TO STRIKE THE HEART OF AN AUDIENCE AND GET THEM TO ENGAGE A CHANGING CULTURE.

THE BEST WAY TO DO THAT, HOWEVER, IS NOT WITH GOOD INTENTIONS, BUT WITH QUALITY STORYTELLING AND EXECUTION. TO THAT POINT, HULK WOULD INVOKE THE MEMORABLE WORDS FROM THE FINALE OF THE GET DOWN:

"RAISE YOUR WORDS, NOT YOUR VOICE."

RAISING OUR DRAMATIC LANGUAGE IS THE WAY WE DRAW PEOPLE INTO CHANGING THEIR MINDS. IT'S ALWAYS BEEN THE WAY. HEROES CAN'T JUST STAND FOR THE RIGHT THINGS, THEY HAVE TO DRAW YOU IN AND EXEMPLIFY THEM THROUGH ACTIONS. THEY HAVE TO LIVE THEM. AND THERE'S A REASON WE TALK ABOUT BUFFY AND BREAKING BAD AND THE WIRE WHEN WE MENTION THE BEST SHOWS OF ALL TIME. IT'S NOT JUST THE "WHAT" THEY STOOD FOR, BUT FAR MORE THEIR INCREDIBLE DRAMATIC EXECUTION. FOR THE WIRE WAS THE OPPOSITE OF A LECTURE. INSTEAD IT EVOKED A BEAUTIFUL, RICH TAPESTRY OF CONFLICTS AND DETAILED PEOPLE, ALL OF WHOM WERE A PART OF AN INTRICATE, EVER-MOVING NARRATIVE OF CONSEQUENCE AND CHANGE. AND THROUGH THAT EXPRESSION, IT HAS THE UNCANNY ABILITY TO CHANGE PEOPLE'S MINDS ABOUT THE GODDAM WORLD AROUND THEM.

AND IT WAS BUILT OFF THE FUNCTION OF STORYTELLING.

SO WHEN HULK SITS HERE AND BEMOANS THE DEATH OF EPISODIC TV, IT ISN'T SO MUCH ABOUT A DUMB BIT OF HYPERBOLE (WHICH IT IS) OR THE WISH TO CONSERVE SOMETHING AS HULK KNOWS IT. NO, THERE'S A MUCH BIGGER FISH BEING FRIED THAT THE "DEATH OF EPISODIC TV" IS SYMBOLIC OF. AND THAT IS THE NOTION THAT PURPOSEFUL DRAMATIC STORYTELLING IS DYING, TOO. PERHAPS NO MORE THAN IT EVER WAS, BUT THAT'S JUST PART OF THE CONSTANT FIGHT FOR STORY AND CHARACTER COHERENCY. THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE BATTLE SO IT'S NOT LIKE THE SKY IS FALLING HERE. BUT IT JUST ALWAYS SEEMS SCARIER WHEN THE WORLD LETS THIS STUFF SLIP AWAY. AND IN THIS NEW CLIMATE, WITH SO MANY SHOWS (FINALLY) COMING OUT THAT FEEL LIKE THEY ARE MEANT EXACTLY "FOR US" AND WHAT WE BELIEVE, THEN PERHAPS IT IS EASIER TO FORGIVE THEM, AND THUS PERHAPS IT'S EVEN HARDER TO FIGHT FOR THE THING THAT MATTERS MOST...

THE POWER OF THE STORY ITSELF.

<3 HULK

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