Marvel’s Luke Cage season 2
Directors: Andy Goddard, Marc Jobst, Clark Johnson, Stephen Surjik, Paul McGuigan Phil Abraham, Magnus Martins, Sam Miller, Vincenzo Natali, Guillermo Navarro, Tom Shankland, George Tillman Jr., Neema Barnette, Alex Garcia Lopez, Everardo Gout, Rashad Ernesto Green, Seth Green, Kasi Lemmons, Lucy Liu, Sally Richardson Whitfield, Millicent Shelton
Writers: Cheo Coldari Holder, Matt Owens, Nathan Lewis Jackson, Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr., Roy Thomas, George Tuska, Akela Cooper, Aida Mashaka Croal, Jason Horwitch, Charles Murry, Christian Taylor, Matthew Lopez, Nicole Mirantha-Mathews, Tony Isabella, Arvial Jones, and more
Starring: Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, Rosario Dawson, Justin Swain, Karen Pittman, Sean Ringgold, Ron Cephas Jones, Mustafa Shakir, Gabrielle Dennis, Jaden Kaine, Danny Johnson, and many more.
Running Time: 55 mins (13 episodes)
From the moment it begins, during the opening credits accompanied by a collage of shots of Harlem Luke Cage’s second season makes a statement about itself. The music playing harkens back to the seventies and is a tribute to the sound made famous by Curtis Mayfield. It’s the familiar quasi-jazz and soulful funk rhythm created by a lot of horns, violins and a guitar using a wah-wah pedal. Likewise, the series itself is a tribute to the age of blacksploitation movies, and you don’t have to look hard to see the influence of films like Shaft and Superfly.
When was the last time you saw a television series with a predominantly black cast and very few caucasian faces? If you think about it, you will begin to get a sense of whats at stake here. The series has the difficult task of depicting the lives of African Americans in modern-day America and getting it just right. Its touchy territory to try and balance a portrayal of this ethnic group trying to give it a sense of verisimilitude and keep it politically correct at the same time. It’s a juggling act that necessitates filtering some stuff out while simultaneously exaggerating other parts. It’s a job that demands a balanced portrayal of stereotypes and cliches while at the same time keeping them reigned in to just the right degree. It’s a job this series mostly succeeds in doing well.
Season 2 of the Netflix original series Marvel’s Luke Cage (Mike Colter) sees the man himself learning to adjust to having become a celebrity on the streets of Harlem. While the local kids love the bulletproof superhero, Luke Cage is feeling the heat both financially and from the realization of the immensity of the task before him with an increased pressure to protect the community. His formidable adversaries this time around are both familiar, like Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Shades (Theo Rossi), and new, like the mysterious Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), that will cause him to evaluate just where the line between being a hero ends and being a villain begins.
Season 2 of Luke Cage has all the stuff of a well-done superhero, comics based series with its eponymous character relentlessly tested by villains and various gangsters to prove just how invulnerable he is, and how much he can take. There is plenty of action, and the action scenes remain remarkably well done. One thing all of the Marvel/Netflix productions have in common are the excellently choreographed fight scenes, and Luke Cage’s second season is no exception. This time around Luke Cage is a sometimes graphically portrayed, bloody, intense, and extremely violent series. It gives rise to the words uttered by Luke himself: “Can’t shoot me, can’t burn me, can’t blast me, and you definitely can’t break me!” That sure doesn’t stop them from trying though.
Luke emerges as a character who even though he remains mostly unaffected is aware he may have taken on a load that is more than he can carry alone. His taking on the role of a crusader for justice in his beloved Harlem cost him his love Claire who leaves him after he loses it and destroys a wall in her apartment while they are having a heated conversation. His life becomes a constant challenge to avoid the ever-present danger of making a misstep, While Colter’s portrayal of the character is central to the success of this series, in fact, its the parade of colorful characters that keeps this series exciting and fun. On top of that is the procession of musicians performing at Mariah’s club “Harlem Paradise” which provides the soundtrack for the series and adds to the tapestry of the shows social and cultural gravity.
Beyond the pure escapism of the multiple occurrences of gunplay, explosions and fights the series features a narrative that with the addition of a few sonnets, could be a classic Shakespearean tragedy. The season 2 narrative is a dark melodrama filled with lies, secrets, revenge, hate, and betrayal that also includes rape and incest. It does, at times, come precariously close to seeming like a soap opera and at times even crosses the line. The series has an excellent cast in place to depict the players in this dark drama. Besides Luke (Mike Colter), the central character whose odyssey the series revolves around, there’s also Misty Knight (Simone Missick) who is also a big part of season two. The season 2 narrative is as much her story as it is Luke’s and she gets as much screen time, maybe more in a story arc that includes her getting a bionic arm to replace the real arm she lost last season. She is on the screen so much that in one amusing moment she asks Luke “Who’s to say you’re not my sidekick?” Luke responds “Me; it’s my show.”
Also worthy of note, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dilliard puts in an outstanding, riveting, remarkable, and unforgettable performance as the sometimes homicidal and fully psychotic former politician. Her performance is nuanced and convincing enough to be both frightening and sympathy-inducing as she portrays the full spectrum of insanity from one moment behaving like a scared little girl, and then a moment later, exploding with maniacal fury. Mariah is bat-shit cray-cray as those close to her find increasingly apparent. Its a performance that could, and should get acknowledged the next time they are handing out awards for TV dramas.
Like a lot of other fans, I was disappointed by Iron Fist and his portrayal in season one his series. Danny makes an appearance at one point during season 2 of Luke Cage, and he’s a lot more enjoyable this time around. There is an amusing moment when he begins to introduce himself again in his usual manner, but he is interrupted before he gets a chance to remind us once again that he is the Immortal Iron Fist, blah, blah, blah. He gives Luke some needed advice about remaining centered and balanced. Later when the pair get attacked in a warehouse, it results in a delightful and memorable fight scene in which the two seem to fight as one. It’s a scene that makes pretty compelling evidence that a team-up involving the two is a good idea.
The other half of the one-two punch of villains Luke has to deal with this season is John McIver (Mustafa Shakir), a Jamaican gangster that goes by the name of Bushmaster a name based on the rum brand his father perfected. Shakir’s performance is a memorable one, mostly because a lot of it is intentionally over the top. Bushmaster wants Harlem for himself and sees Luke as an obstacle in his way. McIver has a secret herbal formula that gives him superstrength and a near bulletproof exterior that nearly matches Luke’s. He turns out to be a pretender to the throne however once tested.
Luke survives all this and emerges victorious in the end, But does he? There’s a strange, surprising twist at the end with a scene borrowed right out of The Godfather (1972) that makes us wonder if he won after all. There’s compelling evidence Luke has not remained unaffected after all. He’s a changed man.
All-in-all I consider season 2 of the series to be an enjoyable, very entertaining, well-done and nearly flawless television production. Marvel’s Luke Cage is good stuff, and it’s not just a good superhero series, its damn good television period, and I genuinely enjoyed watching a good solid 13 episodes over a couple of days. The season finale has an unusual surprise involving Luke that does an excellent job setting things up to whet our appetites for season 3