Luke Cage Season 2 Review

                When Luke Cage first came out, it was the Marvel Netflix series I’d been most excited for. After the build-up in Jessica Jones and getting to see how amazing Mike Colter was with the role, I was fucking in to watch Luke bounce some bullets and bust some skulls. Once it finally arrived, I was treated to half a season of pure, unfiltered excellence, followed by another half season that was… doing its best. Spoiler warning for seasons 1 and 2 of Luke Cage beyond this point, because I can’t go further without touching on a major plot point.

                Let’s be honest, a lot of people see season 1 of Luke Cage as wasted potential. They had one of the most compelling, charismatic villains of the entire MCU with Cottonmouth, and while killing him midway through the season made for a nice shock; his absence was felt deeply and severely through the episodes that remained. Diamondback felt even more ridiculous coming on the heels of someone as real well-rooted as Cottonmouth.

                So, as excited as I was to see more of Luke Cage, this time the approaching release also came with some anxiety. The Netflix Marvel stuff has been fairly hit-and-miss for a while now, despite the initial strong start of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Does Luke Cage fall into the same traps as its predecessor? No, I can confidently say that season 2 doesn’t make the same mistake as season 1. That’s not to say it doesn’t make new ones, but we’ll get there in a few paragraphs.

                To talk about Luke Cage season 2, one has to start with discussion of the villain: Bushmaster. Holy fucking shit, let’s talk about Bushmaster. Sweet Christmas, this man might arguably be an even better villain than Cottonmouth. I know, I know, Cottonmouth was amazing, but Bushmaster is something special as well. He is a character that is deeply developed, well-thought out, and has a reason for everything he does. The man is a brutal killer, yet he’s never so far gone that we don’t understand why he’s doing this. Add on that Mustafa Shakir turns in an intense, charming, earnest performance and Bushmaster was really a joy to watch this season.

                Beyond just the superficial aspects of Bushmaster being great, he works even better as a villain because he is built as a reflection of Luke Cage. A man who suffered, faced death, and came out the other side with powers that others couldn’t match. Both protect their people, and their community. But Bushmaster has given himself over to his anger, to the endeavor of vengeance, while Luke is still at war. Fighting Bushmaster serves as a cautionary tale for Luke, a vision of what he could become if he loses himself. The best villains are often mirrors of their heroes, and this season nails the shit out of that.

                Honestly, all the villains got a lot of good writing this season. Shades went from just a hard-ass dude to someone dealing with hard choices of loyalty and love, burying it all under stoicism. Mariah… I don’t even know where to start with Mariah. She careens down the slippery slope, but Alfre Woodard is so ridiculously talented of an actress that even in the rushed sections it still felt believable. Luke’s dad becomes morethan just a bible-thumping douche from the past, and gives us a good avenue to discuss regret paired with the idea that people can change.

                So, enough of the external elements, let’s talk about Luke Cage himself. The central conceit of this season seems to be the razor’s edge that superhero’s have to walk. Stopping the violent demands violence, however engaging in that kind of life can drag good people down, making them start responding to every problem with anger and violence, effectively becoming the very kind of people they seek to stop. That seems to be Luke’s journey for this season, being tempted, losing himself enough to scare off Claire, which serves as a wake-up call, and then spending the rest of the time trying to find that balance within himself. It’s a pretty good emotional arc to have, and with the exception of the ending, it does a solid job of taking Luke on this journey.

                I don’t want to rehash the whole plot of the season, if you’re reading this far in I’m just assuming you watched it, but on the off chance you haven’t then I’d recommend you do. It’s a substantial overall improvement from season 1. They have strong villains, and cut a much slower, more deliberate pace, to ensure that the full season builds to something rather than having to start over halfway through like before. It’s a fun, enjoyable season to watch.

                With all of that said, once again the ending of Luke Cage proved to be its weakest part. Mariah dies in prison (I spoiler warned in the first paragraph, if that’s a shocker then it’s on you), leaving Harlem’s Paradise to Luke, with hopes that it would slowly corrupt him from hero to mere criminal. We end with Luke initially rejecting the offer, then for some reason accepting it, now dressed in a suit, keeping secrets from Misty Knight and allowing crime bosses VIP seating at his club. The clear implication being that season 3 will focus on Luke walking the razor’s edge between the world of violence he’s trying to deal with and the decency in himself trying to keep him on the straight and narrow.

                Those are, admittedly, great themes for this kind of story. We know that because it was almost the exact thematic journey of this season. That’s what made the ending feel so weak, I think. It cut the legs off the entire arc of season 2, undoing all the progress Luke had made at finding himself and his place in the world to reset him back at square one for the next round of episodes. This still could have worked if the season up to that point had been more of Luke wavering, but after the first few episodes he seems to come down decidedly on the side of good and get his shit together, so the sudden backslide here with no story or explanation feels almost nonsensical. In a season built around motivations and understanding characters, they sign off with a complete swing from left field that feels poorly considered. I want season 3 of Luke Cage to be good, mind you; I just don’t want it to be season 2 again. It would have been more interesting to see that arc finished so we can move on to new journeys and growth.

                On the subject of new journeys, I do have to shout out Episode 10, in which we get to see Iron Fist and Luke Cage team-up for a while. Either someone hired Finn Jones an acting coach or they started using an actual writer for his lines instead of a drunk trying to remember fortune cookie advice, because he is way more enjoyable to watch, especially in his interactions with Luke. That dynamic may have been the real point of this season, pushing Luke toward anger and uncertainty so that Iron Fist can be the calming influence. It fucking works, too. In a really heavy season, their team-up was a fun respite, giving some much needed levity for a break. I love that they’re building up to Heroes For Hire, and honestly I can’t help wondering if that wouldn’t have been a better place to end for the season. That might have been rushing things, however after that quick taste of what’s to come and the charisma between those two, I’m excited for when it finally arrives.

                To sum up: Luke Cage season 2 is very, very good, with the main exception being the ending. It’s definitely worth a watch, and if they keep bringing this much care to the series it has the potential to become a true classic.