‘Luke Cage’ Season 2: An emotional, conflicted Luke Cage
Disclaimer: This review contains some spoilers for this season and previous episodes of Luke Cage
Season two of Luke Cage is the most perplexed that we have seen from Luke in any prior Marvel show. Meaning: This season had some strong emotional depth and personal stakes. The writing is tight, the acting outstanding, and the themes that are present are heartbreaking. It’s certainly different from the first season, but how does it stand out? Is it great? Well, it is both good and bad. With any major property or franchise, there are some good and bad elements. Some of this season’s problems are conflicting to say the least.
Great, sentimental story along with stellar acting
This season starts out with a fairly predictable plot with Luke wanting to stop the distribution of drugs in Harlem with his name attached before any more citizens get affected. He also has deal with his newfound celebrity status as the “bulletproof defender” of Harlem while Mariah Dillard, a villain from the previous season, is planning on expanding her criminal empire by selling her gun business in order to regain her image as a legitimate business woman and political figure.
This setup provides the tone throughout the rest of the season. It’s more about Luke reconnecting with the people he had to leave behind from his past, like his father, and coming to terms to how he wants to be perceived as a hero while facing some new threats. That is what this season succeeds on. I think that this season did a much better job on elevating the character of Luke than any of the other Defenders in their respective second seasons. The acting and writing are both real and shocking. The scene where Mariah reveals to her daughter Tilda about how she was born into the family is both heartbreaking and horrifying to learn.
One of the episodes that stands out is episode ten: “The Main Ingredient”. This was the episode where we get to see Finn Jones reprise his role as Danny Rand aka Iron Fist. While he only appears in this one episode, it is so exciting to see Luke and Danny team up for the first time that harkens back to their partnership in the comics. It works especially well for the story, as it shows how taking out crime in Harlem can clash with Luke’s emotions. It is such a good episode because we also get to see the development of Danny becoming a confident person after the disappointing first season of Iron Fist. It is nice to see some crossover with the Defenders like Danny, but it is also disappointing that he only appeared in one episode.
Bad pacing and some misuse of certain characters
There are only two main complaints for this season. One of them is the pacing of the show itself that has already plagued some of the prior Marvel Netflix shows. While it sets up an intriguing story over how Luke is trying to deal with his newfound celebrity image, it gets bogged down by the business dealings that take place in the first few episodes of the season. While the secondary story of the dealings isn’t bad by any means, it just doesn’t provide a clear central villain that viewers can enjoy.
Bushmaster could be considered to be the main villain, but he is really only a minor threat that Luke has to deal with since Mariah is technically the main antagonist. Bushmaster’s motivations only lie in wanting revenge towards Mariah for personal reasons, and it could have been more interesting if this season provided some balance between both villains. Which is unfortunate considering that Mariah provides some emotional depth and ferocity that the show expertly uses in this season. Truth be told, the show gets more exciting and interesting once the action and certain revelations take place.
The second main point of criticism that I have comes from the misuse of certain characters in this season. Some characters do get some development, like Misty Knight getting her robotic arm after she loses it from the events of The Defenders, and Tilda, who starts to become her own person and not follow her mother’s footsteps due to the tragic revelations about her family.
One character that felt mishandled was Shades, who questioned his motivations in wanting to work with Mariah, even though they were in a relationship. The relationship between Shades and Mariah felt forced, as if it was a central plot device for Shades’ character. It is surprising to see considering how he became more of a mentor figure for Mariah after she managed to kill off Cottonmouth in the previous season. It was interesting to see Shades feeling some empathy for his actions because of his criminal background, but it is disappointing not see his character change due to ingrained understandings of what it means to be a gang member in Harlem. This felt like a wasted opportunity to redeem the character of Shades.
Strong comic and pop culture references
Like any Marvel show and film, this season is filled to the brim with Easter eggs. References to Power Man, Daredevil, and Nightshade are all present in this season. They even included more references to 90’s hip-hop and African-American culture. There were surprisingly more references to Iron Fist. “The barefoot billionaire,” “Rand Enterprises,” and a t-shirt with the words “Power Man and Iron Fist” were just a few examples. It feels correct that they cover these, as in the comics Luke and Danny Rand were part of a team that did investigations and provided protection services.
Most of Tilda’s arc throughout the season was about moving on from her past while still claiming her birthright. There were many winks and nods towards Tilda’s comic book counterpart as the supervillain Nightshade. Throughout the season we get to see Tilda utilizing her holistic abilities to help Bushmaster gain increased strength and to heal his wounds with a plant that has the same name. This was a wise decision for the writers to go into for the show without having to make Nightshade become too cheesy or campy for the viewers.
Other references that were interesting relate to pop culture movies and tv shows like “Goodfellas” and “Game of Thrones”. There was even one entertaining line that was pretty funny when Claire Temple was talking with Luke’s father James discussing the the confusing plot hole from the movie “Titanic” where Rose could have moved over for Jack to sit on the door when they were stranded in the ocean. I’m guessing that both Claire and Luke’s father are film buffs.
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