I will admit that I was cautiously optimistic going into the second season of Luke Cage. I think there are enough Marvel shows on Netflix now that this one can be judged on its own merits, but that wasn’t the case with the first season, one that ended up being just sort of meh compared to its contemporaries. My feelings on season 1 were that it was too long and tended to drag because of it. The creators tried to fix that issue by having two villains instead of one, with the strong Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes character giving way to the much weaker Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) about halfway through. Considering her character would be carried into the new season, you can understand my misgivings.
The season begins as Cage (Mike Colter) is finding increased notoriety in the community of Harlem. It was funny to see calls to the original comics in the show such as T-shirts emblazoned with “Power Man” and “Sweet X-Mas”. Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is still kicking it as a detective, trying to get used to only having one arm as a result of the events of the Defenders crossover. At the same time, Mariah is making moves to go legit by selling off her family’s criminal empire, but there is a new villain in town by the name of John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver (Mustafa Shakir) who wants to take her down for some unknown reason.
I felt like most of the main character arcs really worked, especially Misty Knight. It was awesome to see her have doubts about her purpose, not just because she lost her arm but because nothing ever seems to change. Eventually she does get her mojo back, but not without some extreme soul-searching. That seemed to be a common thread this season: figuring out who you are as a person and embracing it. Similarly, Mariah began the season irritating me as much as she did last season, but halfway through, she completely transforms into the horrible villain she was meant to be, fully adopting the Black Mariah moniker from the comics. Bushmaster, while psychotic, has understandable reasons for wanting revenge on Mariah. Luke himself takes a very interesting turn right at the end and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in future seasons and other shows.
Though all the main arcs worked well, the side characters largely didn’t. Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) seemed very superfluous even though she and Luke are supposedly dating or something. Indeed, the rumor mill reports that she doesn’t want to come back to these Marvel shows because she feels her character serves no purpose. Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez (Theo Rossi) spends the entire season trying to be menacing but comes off as a joke. I can’t decide if Rossi is just a bad fit for the character or a bad actor. Tilda Johnson (Gabrielle Dennis) was an interesting addition to the show, especially as a tie-in to the comic villain, but her shift near the end seemed pretty drastic given how little time she had on screen.
These issues aside, I really liked the style of the season. Even though Mariah’s and Shades’ relationship felt unnatural, seeing the two caressing each other reminded me of those 70s-era blaxploitation films, which the original Luke Cage comic was part of. I also enjoyed how well Luke and Misty play off each other in conversations. Black culture and artists are woven into this show so well that Harlem’s Paradise is practically another character. There aren’t a ton of fighting scenes, but I find that refreshing. This season was much more about the drama than the action. I mean, how many times could two invulnerable men fight each other before it starts to get old?
The cameos from Colleen Wing and Danny Rand were excellent and call back to the comic versions of Sisters of the Dragon and Heroes for Hire, respectively. It’s worth noting that this version of Iron Fist is much closer to the original comics (i.e., better) than the one we got in his self-titled series, giving me confidence in its own second season. The Foggy Nelson cameo and Karen Page mention also help to flesh out this universe even more. Perhaps that’s the direction Claire needs to move, just showing up for a scene or two in a season, to show that she’s a thriving character as well.
If you had some gripes about season 1, but still find this universe interesting, I fully recommend you give the new season a shot. The second one went a long way to redeem itself after a lot of mistakes were made in its debut and in Defenders. As a result, all of our characters seem transformed by the end, and what an ending it was. Feel free to hypothesize about what’s to come in this universe in the comments below.