Audiences discovered Luke Cage in season one of Jessica Jones. His inaugural season as an enhanced being explored the origins of his superpowers. It also showcased his fight to free Harlem from the corrupt forces that try to control it. His first season split into two parts, each centered around a primary villain: first Cottonmouth, then Diamondback. After a brief stint at Seagate, Luke joined up with the other Defenders to defeat The Hand. Luke’s been quite busy, to say the least.
Season 2 deals with Luke’s newfound fame as the bulletproof hero of Harlem. Everyone knows who he is and keeps track of his actions on the Harlem’s Hero app. Luke seems to be quite annoyed with this aspect of his life. He begrudgingly participates in a video shot by D.W., the young man who works at Pop’s, to send a message to the people who are trying to cause trouble. A hero is only as good as his villains, and season 2 delivers on that front as well. We see a return of Mariah Dillard from last season. She’s no longer a councilwoman, but she’s still trying to assert her influence on Harlem. The other villain is another enhanced being, Bushmaster, who proves to be a formidable foe with an interesting past. Luke deals with both villains. This is different, and more successful, than the back and forth with Cottonmouth and Diamondback in the previous season.
Luke Cage’s sophomore season learned a few lessons on its first outing. Number one: how to effectively handle villains. One of the biggest complains fans had in season one was the divide between the two villain story arcs. The season started out so strong, but it faltered after Cottonmouth exited the picture. Season 2 solves this issue by the simultaneous focus on Mariah and Bushmaster. This approach makes the narrative feel tighter and more interesting.
The show title may be Luke Cage but the real standouts in season 2 are the ladies. Mariah Dillard is the primary antagonist for Luke, and Alfre Woodard delivers an incredible performance. She’s a delightfully sinister do-gooder. You’ll love to hate Mariah when she’s dealing with Luke and Bushmaster, and also when she’s grappling with her past. One of her best scenes includes a delusional conversation with the figures that haunt her memories. I think she deserves an Emmy nomination in the upcoming award season.
Another amazing performance comes from Simone Missick. She returns to the shows as Detective Misty Knight, now missing most of her right arm due to action during The Defenders. It seems as if everyone on this show has some crack about missing an arm or needing a hand. With each line, you can see the rage beneath the surface of Missick’s face. I wanted to see her beat a few heads in for those dumb comments, but that kind of action would be unbecoming of an officer of the law. Her best performances are the interactions with a new detective on the scene: Nandi Tyler. Nandi is an old classmate of Misty’s who has had a grudge against her ever since basketball tryouts. The tension is always high whenever these two are in a room together. Their arc is satisfying too, and if there was an award for best antagonistic relationship in a series, these ladies would be certain winners.
Like all the MCU Netflix series, Luke Cage is not without its flaws. At several points, it feels like the season should be over, but it keeps on going. I’m glad this and the other shows don’t have to fill a 22-episode run, but they could have cut the episodes from 13 to 10 by tightening the storyline. There were also moments when characters disappeared with minimal or contrived explanations. The show could have resolved one of these disappearances but chose not to.
The second season of Luke Cage is one of the stronger seasons of Marvel television. It’s also one of the best second seasons for a Netflix series. It ends on an intriguing note and leaves fans wondering where the show and character can go from here. If you’ve been hesitating about this one, give it a shot.
Luke Cage Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.