When Charles “Luke Cage” Lucas was introduced in the first season of Jessica Jones, fans got their beaks wet for a taste of the super-strong, bullet-proof hero who Harlem has since claimed. While it wasn’t his show, he made quite an impact. It was a no-brainer for Netflix to commission a solo series surrounding the iconic character. When the first season of Luke Cage dropped it literally broke Netflix (and the Internet if you want to be honest about it), causing their ever-redundant servers to crash, an Internet first. The first season was unlike anything Marvel (or TV itself) has ever done: a black hero who as Roy Wood Jr. would say was “peak blackness.” Every episode was titled after classic hip-hop group Gang Starr song, which fit the tone of the series. Centered in Harlem, for the first time probably since The Wire, a show was made, written, produced, starring, and focusing completely by and for black folks. It was woke as hell, and a breath of fresh air for the current TV landscape.
While the second half of the season didn’t close as strong as the first one (probably due to the fact that one of Marvel’s best villains, Cottonmouth, was killed halfway through), it was still a strong and worthy effort. Fans were excited to see more of Luke Cage. The crossover series The Defenders, brought all of the “street” characters from Marvel’s Netflix shows together, but it was too short, which is ironic because the biggest complaint is that the Marvel Netflix shows are an episode or two too long. Needless to say, fans want to see more of Luke Cage, so we got a second season. And boy was it good!!!
After saving New York City from The Hand in The Defenders, Luke has returned back to Harlem to continue to protect his beloved neighborhood. He’s matured since first coming to the city and going to war against Cottonmouth the first season, but that doesn’t mean that Harlem doesn’t need its hero to help keep the city safe. Luke is the hometown hero, and he finds that it’s kind of hard to maintain a low profile when people are literally making smartphone apps to locate where he is and call on his help at any given moment. He’s learning to shoulder the responsibility of being a larger than life character and still remain somewhat humble and grounded. His love Claire Temple (the Nick Fury of the Netflix shows) and he don’t get to spend much time together. Every time he’s about to get some “coffee” (or right afterward), he has to go out and be a hero, which causes some strain on their relationship. Also, dealing with the seedy side of the world is also hardening him, and he’s bringing some of that darkness back home like a cop would after a hard day of work. In addition to taking care of regular criminals, there’s one in particular that he still has his eye out for: Mariah Dillard. She managed to remain the ever-cunning politician-turned-criminal-mastermind that she was when the first season ended, and she’s getting good at it. Partnering with her (slightly younger and they make sure you know that) lover/partner Hernan “Shades” Alvarez, they are slowly taking over Harlem under the radar.
To top it off, there’s a new player coming to Harlem in the form of Jamaican criminal Bushmaster coming in town to claim Harlem as his own. Not only does he have the criminal infrastructure to give both Black Mariah and Luke Cage a headache, he also has the ability to defeat Luke in a flight single-handedly. While not entirely bullet-proof like Luke, Bushmaster has the ability to withstand gunfire and super strength, thanks to something called “nightshade,” a proprietary blend of different herbs from his native homeland than grants him superhuman abilities, and he lets Luke know if stellar fashion that he’s not afraid of him and claims “Harlem’s mine!” Bushmaster and his family have a history with Mariah and her family connecting Harlem to Jamaica between their two families and helps showcase the sometimes disconnect and sometimes animosity between African Americans and West Indians in the form of these two families going to war with each other. As a result, Luke has a dilemma, does he side with Mariah the monster he knows, Bushmaster, a greater monster, or let them battle each other even though it’s tearing Harlem apart in the process. As Marvel does for the Netflix shows, they layer their villains, and give us such a complicated and tragic backstory for Bushmaster, that he at times is a sympathetic character, but he proves time and time again not to root for him.
Of course, Mike Colter returns as Luke Cage and can now do this role in his sleep. While the first season Luke had a strong moral compass, this season he goes into somewhat grayer territory as he sees that not everything is completely black and white. As stated, he and Claire have a few issues related to his vigilantism, and Colter is able to bring out a dark side of Luke that we didn’t see before. He reminds you that although he’s a noble person, he could easily be a force to reckon with if he decides to let the devil on his shoulder win the argument. In fact, towards the end of the season, Luke’s character makes a C-change that makes you wonder if Luke might end up truly on the wrong side of the law eventually.
In addition to Luke, Misty Knight is back as well. Having lost her arm in The Defenders, she has to rehab herself not only physically but she also has to do so mentally. She’s having problems with her compatriots on The Force and her rebel nature puts her at odds with her peers, making her wonder if police work is the best use of her skills, or should she go rogue and go the Luke Cage route to help keep Harlem save. Misty gets a visit from Colleen Wing, which makes for an awesome barroom brawl with a couple of drunk idiots and we get a taste of what a “Daughters of the Dragon” spinoff could look like. Lucky for her, she happens to be friendly with a certain billionaire CEO who can help her with her arm situation. Thanks to Danny Rand, Misty gets equipped with a new robotic arm much like the one she has in the comics, which gives her superhuman abilities as well, so facing off against bad guys isn’t going to be too much of a problem and she puts it to good use. Actress Simone Missick brings her A-game this season and reminds you once again why you fell in love with her last season.
Luke Cage season 2 also gives us the rehabilitation of Danny Rand. Iron Fist is easily the weakest of the Marvel Netflix shows as it was just not competently put together. We don’t need to rehash was Iron Fist got wrong in regards to the terrible fight choreography or Finn Jones’ wooden acting, or the fact that we didn’t get to see a freakin’ dragon in it. It’s safe to say that the blame for a sub-par Danny Rand can be placed on the season one Iron Fist showrunner (who also ran Marvel’s Inhumans into the ground), who has since then been replaced for Iron Fist season 2. However, Danny Rand returns and is a vast improvement from his solo series and even his Defenders role. As the walls are closing in on Luke midway through the season, Danny makes an appearance to give Luke some counseling. Danny’s more mature, he actually knows how to fight, and the chemistry between he an Luke is straight from the comics. This is definitely a prelude to the “Heroes For Hire” as the two of them team up to take down one of Bushmaster’s warehouses, and the two work as a well-organized and cohesive unit. While his stay this season is short, it is sweet. If Iron Fist season two builds Danny off of what was done from Luke Cage, the show could have potential to be on the same level as the other Netflix Marvel shows.
Of course, Alfre Woodard in the MVP. It was hard to compete with Cottonmouth last season for Black Mariah. However, this season, she’s the Cottonmouth. While Wilson Fisk is still the fan-favorite villain, she comes incredibly close to being the most complex, ruthless villain of the Marvel Netflix shows. She continues to toe the line between someone who wants to be a semi-corrupt politician who in fact, believes she’s a good force for Harlem, to an all-out evil gangster. As she goes through her war with Bushmaster, she hardens herself and halfway through the season steps over the line that she can never come back from. We learn more of her backstory as well, which helps you understand her rage when she killed her cousin last season which began her journey to the dark side. Her boyfriend Shades continues to be the smooth operator we saw last season as actor Theo Rossi barely breaks a sweat even as he is leaving a trail of bodies in their wake himself. We find a little bit about his which makes you see his character in a different light as well as one of his prison buddies comes home and creates a wedge between him and Mariah.
All the supporting characters return and excel in helping Luke as he goes through his trials and tribulations this season. Ron Cephas Jones returns as Bobby Fish who helps manage Pops barbershop with Luke after Pops dies last season. He proceeds to replace Pops as Luke’s mentor this season. The local DVD bootlegger kid plays a bigger role as he increases his hustle to shoot video of Luke and his Luke Cage app as well as sell Luke Cage t-shirts. For such a small role the first season, he gets the chance this season to really make his presence known. The late Reg E. Cathey (in his final acting appearance) who dies shortly after filming stars as Luke’s father James Lucas, his religious father who he has an estranged relationship with thanks to the events revealed last season delivers one hell of a swan song performance as he brings his A-game despite having been battling cancer while filming. Even Sugar (Cottonmouth’s bodyguard from season one) returns and becomes Luke’s unofficial CI for all things criminal as he has a change of heart following his previous dealings with Luke. Other Netflix Marvel characters like Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) and Benjamin Donovan (Danny Johnson) also make cameos to remind you about their respective shows connected to this universe. One of the new standouts is Tilda Johnson (played by Gabrielle Dennis). A little bit of a departure from her “Nightshade” character from the comics. She has a special connection to both Black Mariah as well as to Bushmaster and continues to jump from camp to camp during their war. She will most certainly be a player for a third season.
It wouldn’t be Luke Cage without the music played at Harlem’s Paradise. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad return as composers and once again capture an updated blaxploitation sound for the show. As with season one, each episode is titled after a hip-hop song. This season, each episode is titled after a song by legendary hip-hop group Pete Rock & CL Smooth. The music is as much a character on the show as the people in Harlem. This season, because the show deals with Bushmaster and his West Indian group, the music has branches to include more than hip-hop and R&B to include various other black music styles. Such artists who perform include: Rakim, KRS-One, Ghostface Killah, Faith Evans, Jadakiss, Stephen Marley, Gary Clark Jr., Esperanza Spalding, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Joi, and DJ D-Nice.
Was it perfect? Of course not. There is a part this season where Luke tries out for the NFL which seems to be a semi-cheesy way to have a bunch of sports personalities cameo as themselves including Jemele Hill and Stephen A Smith that wasn’t 100% necessary. However, this season marks the first time that the second season of a Netflix show is better than the first. This season, the show sticks to the landing and finishes strong and in a place where you absolutely want a third season to see where the evolution of the character will continue to go. Both of the main villains (Bushmaster and Black Mariah) shine and don’t outdo each other, reminding you that Marvel TV still is on top of Marvel movies when it comes to the villain department (even though the Marvel movies are catching up). Once again Cheo Hodari Coker knocks it out of the part in not only giving us “peak blackness” but outstanding television.