How far are you willing to go to save your neighbourhood? Luke Cage‘s excellent second season is a fascinating exploration of the thin line between hero and villain as Luke becomes caught in the crossfire of a deadly gang war fuelled by vengeance, over the control of Harlem. Just how deep are Luke and Misty able to go to save their neighbourhood from the villainous grip of councilwoman Mariah Dillard and partner in crime Shades? As Frank Castle said in the brilliant second season of Daredevil, “you’re just one bad day away from being me…”
I’m the first to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the first season of Luke Cage. The show got off to a strong start, exploring the political and criminal underbelly of Harlem whilst also making a strong social statement in the process, set to the backdrop of a fantastic soundtrack. Yet Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali’s brilliant crime boss Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes was surprisingly killed off half way through the show, making way for the over the top comic book villain Diamondback, and the season unfortunately went downhill from there. The show suffered from serious pacing issues and a bloated 13 episode run, forcing show runner Cheo Hodari Choker to stretch the story.
Luke Cage season 2 is the ninth Netflix and Marvel collaboration and the third of those superhero shows to gain a second season, and it’s the first that I’m pleased to say is bigger, bolder and better than its predecessor. Cheo Hodari Choker took the elements that worked so well in the first series and added much more development, backstory and depth to both the story and characters, allowing us to connect much more with them this time round. That’s not to say it’s without the familiar flaws; the show is once again thirteen episodes long and takes its sweet time to arrange the key players into position on the board – but once the show hits it’s stride we get a complex and dark gangster drama that’s reminiscent of The Godfather.
Season 2 of Luke Cage picks up pretty much straight after the events of Netflix and Marvel’s crossover The Defenders, with Luke Cage returning as Harlem’s hero and local celebrity. Luke is now constantly in the public eye; everybody wants a selfie with him, there’s Luke Cage merch, Nike wants to sponsor him and there’s even an app that tracks his location. But with great power comes great responsibility; Luke struggles with the expectations bestowed upon him from his community. His one man war against organised crime isn’t going to work unless he can bring down the head of operations; Mariah Dillard. But Luke isn’t the only player wanting to bring the councilwoman to justice, a mysterious newcomer known as ‘Bushmaster’ is also gunning for Mariah, and the battle for the crown of Harlem begins.
Mike Colter once again shines as Luke Cage; we get some real fun scenes with the character as he tries out for the NFL, hilariously slaps bad guys into unconsciousness and teams up with Danny Rand in a couple of scenes straight out of “Heroes for Hire”. But these moments are few and far between as Luke spends much of the series struggling to make an impact, leading him to question his morals and make some surprising decisions that are challenged by those closest to him.
But the supporting characters are the real stars of the show. Simone Missick’s journey as Misty Knight is one of the most compelling as she struggles to come to terms with losing her arm following the events of The Defenders, and how this affects her role in the police force. And yes she finally gets her bionic arm and teams up with Coleen Wing in an amazing bar brawl – Netflix please can we get a Daughters of the Dragon spinoff already?! This season also belongs to Alfre Woodard’s Mariah, who transforms from stereotypical villain to a more real and relatable character who’s haunted by the fabled Mama Mabel and her family history. Mariah is much like Daredevil‘s Wilson Fisk; she genuinely loves Harlem and believes her vision for the neighbourhood is the right one, and the councilwoman is determined to make it happen by any means necessary. Sure she’s opening hospitals with her new initiative, but does the end justify the means?
The season truly kicks into gear when newcomer John McIver, aka Bushmaster (played by the excellent Mustafa Shakir) makes his power play for Harlem’s throne. Bushmaster is a truly deadly foe; his strength matches that of Luke Cage and he’s driven by injustice and revenge. Shakir brings so much presence and swagger to the screen, as well as a genuine depth to the role. When Bushmaster’s true motivations are revealed, you surprisingly find yourself empathising and even rooting for the character, putting him on the same level as Killmonger in my eyes.
Luke Cage continues to be one of the most stylish and authentic shows on Netflix, the set production is constantly impressive and oozes 70’s swagger. The show also features some impressive action sequences and well choreographed fight scenes, particularly when Luke Cage goes toe to toe with Bushmaster. Once again the music is at the heart of the show and there are some absolutely fantastic performances at Harlem’s Paradise from artists including Faith Evans, Gary Clark Jnr, Christone “Kingfish” from Ingram and Joi. The soundtrack also showcases a wide range of musical genres encompassing blues rock, soul and hip-hop as well as some reggae classics inspired by Bushmasters heritage. There’s also some noir music sprinkled into the mix as Luke and Misty investigate the central case – à la Jessica Jones style!
Overall Luke Cage season two is a huge step in the right direction; we get a much more well rounded show featuring developed character arcs and a fascinating exploration of the (sometimes) blurred line between heroes and villains. The surprising finale sets the show up for a very interesting and game changing third season if it is renewed.
Luke Cage Season Two will premiere on Netflix on June 22nd.