Luke Cage season 2 is a treatise on power. Who has it, who wants it, what it does to the people who have it, and what it does to the people who are stripped of it.
Mike Colter is back as the bulletproof black man in a hoodie, Luke Cage. In season 2 he faces several powerful villains. Some of Luke’s struggles are against himself – his own rage and anger, his own ego in thinking he is the savior of all of Harlem.
Claire (Rosario Dawson) is around early in the season. In episode 1, directed by Lucy Liu, Claire and Luke share one of the loveliest sex scenes I’ve seen in a long time. (Now I want Lucy Liu to direct all the sex scenes, everywhere.) There was a long bit of foreplay dancing to reggae music; they’re smiling and happy. They were in Claire’s apartment with a warm colored wall behind them. This was followed by a few beats of them between the sheets wrapped around each other in a tangle of bodies and arms. The colors, the lighting, the music – it all added up to beautiful.
Their joy was short lived, however. Claire became concerned that Luke couldn’t control his rage. He grew more and more violent. He stepped outside the law to stop criminals. Luke almost killed a thug named Cockroach (Dorian Missick) who was beating up his wife and son. Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) showed up briefly as the attorney who kept Luke out of jail over that incident. (Like Foggy, references to other Marvel series and to season 1 of this series were placed in strategic places.)
The violence on Luke’s part was too much for Claire. She sent Luke away from her apartment, and before long she was headed to Cuba to visit her grandmother. No more Claire for the rest of the season. Sigh.
Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), minus an arm, was back. She couldn’t stay away from the police department even though she was supposed to be retired. She and Luke ran into each other everywhere. She rejoined the force, got a beautiful prosthetic arm in the mail from Danny Rand (Finn Jones), AKA The Iron Fist, and was soon back in action.
Misty is a strong supporter and ally for everything Luke does – although she calls him out when he crosses the line. He needs both those things from her.
Everyone wanted to bring down the evil queen of Harlem, Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). The cops wanted her in jail, Luke wanted her out of action somehow, and my favorite bad guy of the season John ‘Bushmaster’ McIver (Mustafa Shakir) wanted to burn her to the ground.
The Bushmaster wanted retribution against Mariah’s whole clan for sins committed by her grandmother against his grandfather. He had powers of his own, but they were limited and depended on a supply of nightshade. Nightshade is a poison, so using it both strengthened him and made him vulnerable.
There were fight scenes in every episode. Many, many fight scenes. Luke’s style is brute force. Pick someone up and throw them head first into a wall. Break their leg. Knock them out.
Bushmaster, on the other hand, was a beautiful fighter. His style was a combination of gymnastics and ballet. (Okay – he knew martial arts.) He could do flips, spin and kick, leap. Most of the fight scenes were just another well choreographed fight scene to me, but the fights between Luke and Bushmaster were works of art.
Danny Rand showed up in one episode with his glowing fist and helped Luke out with some of the fighting.
I liked Bushmaster for his love of family and his loyalty to his ancestors. Bushmaster was Jamaican. He and his relatives in Harlem spoke in a Jamaican dialect. Bushmaster’s uncle Anansi (Sahr Ngaujah) tried to discourage him from his evil plans to burn Mariah to the ground, and from using the deadly nightshade to enhance his strength.
Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez (Theo Rossi) was back as Mariah’s right hand man and boy toy. He carried out orders and offered sensible advice that Mariah mostly ignored. He and his lifelong pal ‘Comanche’ (Thomas Q. Jones) did much of Mariah’s dirty work.
Shades often told Mariah he loved her, and maybe he did. But there is always access to power involved in every plot and subplot in this season of Luke Cage. He might have loved her power.
I’m putting Mariah’s daughter Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis) here in the villains section. She wasn’t really a villain in season 2, but she might be heading that way in season 3. In season 2, she did provide help to Bushmaster. Tilda was a doctor. She studied western medicine and worked as a traditional western doctor. Then she changed her path and became a holistic healer using herbs and natural concoctions. She opened a shop in Harlem. She was Bushmaster’s source of nightshade.
The reunion between Mariah and Tilda was purely for political gain for Mariah. It was all optics to Mariah. Tilda wanted to get to know her mother. Once she did learn more about her background and where she came from she wasn’t happy with what she learned. She joined the cops, Luke, and Bushmaster in wanting Mariah defeated.
Two things could happen with Tilda in season 3. She could be written out of the story completely. Or she could dig into her dark history and become more like her mother – we saw hints of this toward the end of the season. I hope they keep Gabrielle Dennis for whatever reason they choose, because I don’t want Tilda to disappear.
The references to pop culture were everywhere! Music, movies, books, images on walls, television shows. Luke’s father (Reg E. Cathey) was fond of references to Titanic, which was pretty funny. Shades admitted to crying during This is Us. That reference was homage to Ron Cephas Jones who played Bobby Fish in Luke Cage, and was also in This is Us.
Season 2 of Luke Cage was dedicated to Ron Cephas Jones.
The mere idea of a black man in a hoodie being a hero is disruptive in terms of society and pop culture. But a bulletproof black man in a hoodie is someone to pin hopes and dreams on. With mostly black actors and with black culture and history in every frame of Luke Cage, this series takes viewers places no other series has done. It’s like Black Panther in that way.
Our hero is human, though. At the end of season 2, I was wondering how correctly Claire had seen that Luke’s problem was Luke himself. Is he developing a God complex? I think a 3rd season will explore in more depth Luke’s vision of himself as the hero of Harlem.
The music is an important part of what’s happening in Luke Cage. It speaks to black lives. Guest appearances on the stage at Harlem’s Paradise from Joi, D-Nice, Gary Clark Jr, Esperanza Spalding, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Ghostface Killah, Stephen Marley, Faith Evans & Jadakiss, KRS One, and Rakim were woven into the action. Jazz, blues, reggae, and rap: it was all there.
The Jamaican influence on the storyline was emphasized in the sound track with much of the music being reggae. Luke’s theme, when he was calm, was a reggae beat. Luke developed a beautiful swagger. His frequent walking trips down the streets of Harlem with that swagger and reggae behind him illustrated his growing sense that Harlem was his to protect and serve. Everyone who passed him on the street wanted to say hello, take a photo. Luke’s swagger soon had swagger.
Six of the 13 episodes were directed by women: Neema Barnette, Steph Green, Kasi Lemmons, Lucy Liu, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, and Millicent Shelton. Bonus points to Marvel and series creator and showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker for that.
This is an excellent season in an excellent series. Outstanding performances, meaningful dialog, relevant content, no-expense-spared production, and exciting action make it worth seeing.