I struggled to write this spoiler free review. I wanted it to stand apart from other reviews, while simultaneously endorsing the hell out of season two of Marvel/Netflix’s Luke Cage. After seven drafts of supernaturally crappy reviews, I decided to do it this way instead — bringing it back to the old school.
The story in brief: In keeping with western metaphor of season one, Luke has matured from gunfighter to sheriff. He is out and about, highly visible, and a pillar of the community. An enemy from “Black” Mariah Dillard’s past shows up to claim his place at the table of the criminal elite. A gang war ensues with Luke Cage ending up where none of us could have predicted.
- If season one of Luke Cage was hip-hop western cum Blaxploitation, season two is nu-sploitation in the vein of Belly (1998), In Too Deep (1999), and Shottas (2002), but better than all of them combined. Gritty, street-level organized crime drama.
- Simone Missick’s Misty Knight is such an around the way girl, I felt I knew her. She talks shit, can back it up, and is damn near fearless. And the bionic arm shows up. Her exploration of disability, as brief as it is, made the acquisition of the arm a much more solid payoff.
- If they don’t do a Daughters of the Dragon series (much more deserving than Iron Fist), I’m going to have words with someone. Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing kicked all the ass. Makes you realize how much she was being held back in Iron Fist.
- Let’s just give Alfre Woodard (“Black” Mariah Dillard) all the awards. She was menacing, seductive, sympathetic, and shockingly brutal. She has so many scenes where I had had to just sit, shake my head and say, “ohmydamn.”
- Theo Rossi is back as Hernan “Shades” Alvarez. He’s just a slime ball. There were a few times when he was on the screen that I wanted to reach through and wring his neck.
- I know, I know, we all loved Mahershala Ali as Cottonmouth. We loved him for his charm, his charisma, his lethality. I don’t think I’m going too much out on a limb when I say you’ll love Bushmaster just as much, if not more. Mustafa Shakir’s Bushmaster is a revelation. Bushmaster is an absolute master of the physical. He walks into a room and it is impossible to see anyone else. He is the center. His physicality (him using Capoeira) make the fight scenes work in a way that makes us forget the fight scenes in season one. He can go from loving family member to Shower Posse at a moment’s notice. It’s really all about the villains this season.
- Anabella Sciorra is introduced as a new villainous player. For the handful of moments she’s on the screen, you just know that season three will be an absolute beast. She conveyed so much in so little screen time. There is a hilarious coffee joke (if you’ve seen season one, you know what I’m talking about) between them that I rewound a couple of times. It’s just that funny.
- There is a running gag about his being (unwittingly) on social media that makes the season feel contemporary — especially a fight he has with wonderful new villain, John “Bushmaster” McIver (the electric Mustafa Shakir) that is WorldStarred. The repercussions of this fight reverberate throughout the series. Despite his strength and resistance to damage, he isn’t immune to catching heat from Harlem. Harlem’s vacillating relationship with Luke gives him a depth that didn’t really exist in the first season.
- I became 64% blacker after watching this season. From the merch depicted (if they don’t sell Luke Cage merch, they’re just saying a firm ‘no’ to all the money), to every episode being titled after a Pete Rock and CL Smooth song, to diaspora-Yardie culture being depicted in a non-stereotypical way, this season is what I needed: Blackness as the cultural default, as an ‘is’ of Luke’s world.
- W. Griffith (played by Jeremiah Craft) was a value add to the series. He is Luke Cage’s chronicler. If D.W. doesn’t become the Daily Bugle’s social media editor, there is no MCU justice.
- The Easter eggs were plentiful and unexpected. If you’re a deep cut Luke Cage fan, there is plenty to geek over.
- This isn’t the Harlem with the Whole Foods on 125th, fixies, and Bushwick-lite, but the Harlem of Big L, Black Rob, Jim Jones, Teyana Taylor, incense and oils, and thriving and striving black life.
- It breaks the MCU second season curse.
- Fight choreography is so much better than last season.
- Luke and Bushmaster had too many fights that felt like they should have been the final battle. There is a fight that acts as a mid-arc showdown that would have been better served as the end of series fight.
- Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple didn’t have too much to do. She is Luke’s anchor, keeps him on the ground. She’s his check against hubris — plus she’s badass in her own right. Things I won’t reveal happen where she’s not able to act this way. She does more for the story in her absence, than in her presence.
- Not enough Anabella Sciorra. Not nearly enough.
- The organized crime subplot got a little trope-y at times. There has to be a way to depict organized crime in a way that doesn’t hit the same notes as other organized crime stories.
- As much of a slimeball as he is, he felt underutilized. I wanted him to be more gangster. He came off as lovesick puppy the majority of the time.
- While I loved Alfre’s Mariah, she was almost too mercurial. Despite my knowing a few people like this, it would have been nice to see her ascend (descend) into further criminality instead of some of the emotional pinballing seen in some episodes.
- Danny Rand, not too annoying this go round, felt like he was tacked on to hint at Heroes for Hire, but didn’t really add to the story. I actually almost liked him.
- I felt the same way about Colleen Wing. Every scene she was in was great, but I would have liked to have seen more of her. Jessica Henwick’s acting and screen presence has grown leaps and bounds since her last outing. Once again, we need a Daughters of the Dragon series ASAP.
Without hyperbole, season two of Luke Cage is so far beyond season one in terms of story, character, action, and any other metric you can use. And I loved season one.
I wholeheartedly endorse season two.
All 13 episodes of Luke Cage season two drop June 22 on Netflix.
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