Bobby Fish: Enter the Black Nerd to Luke Cage’s Harlem

Netflix/Twitter
Netflix/Twitter

Samantha Marie Haynes

Originally posted on Black Girl Nerds

Luke Cage 1×03 “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight”

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for side characters. Give me a side character and I’ll spend hours and hours online researching them until my eyes bleed. I want to take this episode to talk about how excited Bobby Fish makes me.

(Editor’s note: The actor behind Bobby Fish — Ron Cephas-Jones — is not only super talented on Luke Cage, but is doing fabulous work on This is Us, and is Hamilton star Jasmine Cephas-Jones’ father. That’s one talented family. – ConStar)

Before you roll up on me asking, “WHAT ABOUT TURK?” — can I just ask you to chill? Turk, who I like to call Turkel at all times, is awesome, too. I love that he’s another character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s tying together our heroes’ stories in Daredevil and Luke Cage.  But I don’t love Turk. I don’t identify with Turk. Turk is a canker sore that never goes away.

We laugh when Turk gets beat up because he’s an unrepentant scrub that can’t mind his business. Once he’s done participating in human trafficking he can’t help but butt into Luke Cage and Cottonmouth’s business. Not to do the right thing, but the wrong thing. While Luke Cage does delve into folks’ rehabilitation and reform, Turk is a good example of people just being assholes. We’re not like Turk, right?

We’re nerds. And while nerds can certainly be jerks sometimes *cough*Tony Stark*cough* more often than not we’re really chill and helpful! And you know who was low-key a nerd this whole time? Bobby Fish. The laid back, lanky, but actually dapper chess-playing chronic patron of Pop’s barbershop. We never actually see him get his hair cut, but he’s always there challenging someone to a game of chess, including Turk. [insert mean mug here]

What excited me so much about this character was that he was an old Black guy named after Bobby Fischer, who is arguably the greatest chess player of all time and quite the enigmatic figure in his later life. My own fangirl brain want me to believe that Bobby Fish isn’t his real name, and that he, like many people on Luke Cage, has many secrets. I’m excited about what this character has in store for us.

I decided to focus on Bobby this episode because this is when he really begins to become a friend and confidant to Luke. We learn that there is more to Bobby than just schooling people at chess. He’s also an accountant that used to help Pop out AND has the ability to drop dank high fashion references at the drop of a hat as an insult to supervillains (you’ll see). With Luke being the muscle and Bobby being the brains, they work on a way to fix up Pop’s shop.

While we see in the first opening images of this episode Luke walking out of the Crispus Attucks building with a duffle bag full of money, it will actually be Bobby that patches the barbershop up with his bare hands. It’s interesting to see how much the barbershop meant to people. It’s most certainly Bobby’s love for Pop that drives him to try and keep his legacy of creating a safe space for Black men of all ages in the neighborhood alive. But keeping legacies alive costs you.

A major theme of this episode is money and the realization that Cash (Really Does) Rule Everything Around Me (Everyone). Luke can barely afford to pay for Pop’s funeral services, but Cottonmouth can easily waltz in and drop several thousand dollars to make sure his former friend is laid to rest respectfully. Luke isn’t pleased with this, telling Cottonmouth to his face that Pop wouldn’t want his funeral paid for with blood money.

Luke is right. Cottonmouth isn’t just trying to honor his late friend, but also cover up Tone’s tracks so they don’t get traced back to him. His compassion isn’t as rich as his self-preservation instincts. Though unlike the barbershop scenes with them in the previous episode, Cottonmouth doesn’t yet realize the major threat to his empire that Luke is their funeral home confrontation. Luke will take that blood money and use it for good.

While Pop set Luke off on a journey to help bring justice to Shameek, Dante, and Chico, it’s Bobby that motivates Luke to seek revenge for Pop, too. Not the brutalist, anger-filled revenge that we all can fall prey to so easily, but a sort of positive revenge that is very common in comic book storytelling.

Luke and Bobby quickly bond over their shared love and fondness for Pop. Bobby recollecting how he met Pop in Marcus Garvey Park over a game of chess, all the while holding a King piece in his hand and running his fingers over it. Their conversation gets tense quickly as they talk about how much debt Pop left behind. A too-darn-good-for-all-of-us Luke looks to Bobby for reassurance on what to do and Bobby leads him to Luke’s Robin-Hood-like crusade through Cottonmouth’s ranks to earn the $80,000 necessary to keep the barbershop afloat.

Bobby looks shook and nervous as anyone else would as Luke walks out ready to go whoop some ass. I can’t blame him though. It’s all fine and good to talk up men who are basically indestructible to go take down the bad guys, but we also have to remember that in Bobby Fish’s world, people like him can get gunned down easily and swiftly with no real retribution ever seen. Luke can make one little mistake and it could be Bobby ending up like Pop.

But in this episode, Luke doesn’t really make too many mistakes. I loved the montage of him going from location to location collecting money from Cottonmouth’s goons. Misty and Scarfe were too busy harassing and stressing out poor Chico for most of the episode, lagging behind Luke’s own detective work. While Misty’s special ability to place herself right into a crime scene as it’s happening is awesome, she’s not so great at actually being able to put the pieces of her visions together. I’d laugh if it weren’t so frustrating.

(But you know what did make me laugh? And I admit it probably shouldn’t, but it did: the final scene in Luke’s BLACK ROBIN HOOD montage before he takes down the Crispus Attucks crew in which Misty and Scarfe show up to the “crime” scene to interrogate a woman who was stoned the entire time Luke was kicking ass and taking money.  When Misty asks her what the guy who did it (Luke) looked like the woman simply replies with “he was fine.” IT GOT ME GOOD. Seriously one of the highlights of this premiere season. I ain’t lying.)

And not lying is GOOD. Throughout this episode people just stay lying. Miriam lies to Cottonmouth about her intentions on helping Harlem. Cottonmouth lies to Domingo while he gets shook in his own club passive aggressively by meticulously dropped Milky Way crumbs and wrappers. Scarfe lies to Misty. Chico lies to Scarfe AND Misty. Then Scarfe lies to Chico right before he kills him in cold blood because he turns out he’s in cahoots with Cottonmouth (who isn’t at this point?!).

No one in this is seemingly trustworthy at this point other than Luke and…? You guessed it: Bobby Fish.

(No, you can’t even trust Misty. She’s spent the last three episodes acting brand new and distant with Luke. Not necessary from a professional standpoint in my humble opinion, but she’ll regret her behavior towards him eventually so I’m not stressing it and neither should you.)

Back to business: not lying keeps you safe. Not lying keeps you on Luke Cage’s good side. And as I’ve sad, being on the side of the Nearly Indestructible Good Guy™ is a great thing as Bobby learns.

Towards the end of the episode, Luke returns to Pop’s after tearing up Crispus Attucks in another amazing display of strength and durability. Bobby is of course sitting there alone in silence. It seems without the barbershop open, Bobby doesn’t really have anywhere else to hang out and the barbershop starts to become associated with Bobby more than Pop, as if it’s the official Bobby Fish spawn point.

Luke drops the cash he’s collected in Bobby’s lap and the two begin to reminisce about their life with Pop again. They both want to re-open the barbershop, but Luke doesn’t exactly have time to worry about how to run a business. Bobby doesn’t exactly have time to chase after Luke to get him to work on fixing things up, so the barbershop becomes a very, very slow work in progress.

A very slow work in progress, because Cottonmouth nukes Genghis Connie’s. But we’ll talk about Connie and Luke next review.

One thing that stuck with me throughout the episode is Bobby’s resilience and dedication. Think of all the people we meet throughout life that are quiet, that we often only see in limited settings. We begin to associate them with trivial things and think that there’s not much more to them.

In this episode, we learn that there is always more to someone else. That no one is simple and everyone is complicated. While Bobby doesn’t have the abilities that Luke does, he does have the power to simply exist. People tend to put nerds into boxes. Fence us in. Label us weirdos that focus on only one thing. Bobby is clearly an intelligent and wise person as this episode shows us, but he grows into something more in it as well. While one pillar fell with Pop’s passing, Bobby became one in his own right to pick up the pieces of the barbershop that lie in its near destruction.

But who will do the same for Connie’s restaurant we see tumbling down and bursting into flames in the final moments of this episode? Unlike Bobby when the barbershop was shot down by Tone, Luke is yet again not in the right place at the right time and we’re left hoping the people’s hero will make it out alive. And wondering if he’ll bring his friends down with him every time.

Samantha Marie Haynes is a writer, witch, and social enterprise fanperson based in Austin. They love everything data-related, but also enjoy writing poetry, baking, hiking, attending music festivals, watching tv/films, board/card games, magic, modelling, cosplay video gaming, and creating friendly spaces for femmes and women interested in traditionally “nerdy” things. Their twitter handle is @sammhuisache and their personal site can be found at http://sammhuisache.tumblr.com.