Luke Cage is without a doubt the best foray in the Marvel/Netflix library. Whereas other shows may have started strong and fizzled out with their second season (or first, in terms of Iron Fist) Luke Cage has been invincible. Luke Cage’s second season picks up after Defenders and explicitly addresses the fallout of their battle in Midland Circle, which to me was the biggest drawback of the 2nd season of Jessica Jones. Luke Cage season two handles the lore its own first season and Defenders with relative ease. Luke Cage’s second season is a well-crafted journey helmed by great performances, especially by its main cast. Michael Colter embodies Luke as more than just a musclebound ex-criminal. Luke is truly a hero with a love of his city and the conviction to strike down crime as it fights to overtake the home he loves.
Now that Luke is a well-known hero from his encounter with his brother Willis Stryker (also known as Diamondback), he has become the ultimate symbol in Harlem, even having the Harlem’s Hero app specifically made to track his whereabouts when he’s seen on the street. Luke’s well-regarded social status has given him leeway to express more emotion than his stoic demeanor allowed in season one. After Luke foils a drug-running plot bearing his name, Luke looks directly into the camera held by the neighborhood entrepreneur DW and let’s out a boastful warning to would-be criminals followed by a celebratory dab. Much of Luke Cage’s turmoil comes from the exponential growth of his personal profile, making him overwhelmingly responsible for the good of Harlem as a whole. This leads to Luke being emotionally torn by the dissenting voices of the neighborhood, especially when the neighborhood residents even go as far as to blame Luke for an explosion in police profiling after Bushmaster and his gang began terrorizing the area. Luke’s duty as Harlem’s protector often forces him into situations where he’s protecting some of Harlem’s shadier characters. In one case, he takes a job as special guest at sleazy lawyer Raymond “Piranha” Jones’ birthday after being sued by another less than reputable character. As he pertains to the plot Luke Cage is very much a reactionary character, being led by the whims and dealings of the more nefarious inhabitants of Harlem. Though he may be pulled in different directions he never feels overshadowed by the plethora of supporting characters. Luke must follow the criminal pipeline if he’s ever to stop the growing drug trade at its source.
While Marvel’s strict adherence to a 13 episode season has proven to be a double-edged sword, Luke Cage handles its 13 episodes expertly. The events of Luke Cage’s first season and The Defenders naturally spill over into the second season creating some epic developmental arcs for the show’s superb supporting cast. While Daredevil, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones struggled to make their supporting cast develop, Luke Cage is filled with compelling characters some even more so than Luke himself.
Simone Missick’s portrayal of Misty Knight is a highlight that deserves every minute she graces the screen. Even at her lowest point, Misty is confident in her skillset and is adamant about her abilities. Even before getting that handy upgrade from Rand Industries, Misty shows that she’s very bit the badass that Luke is.
Luke Cage features two excellent villains engaged in a battle for Harlem, forever tied to one another due to their familial bond. Alfre Woodard steals the show as councilwoman-turned-gunrunner Mariah Dillard. After the death of her cousin Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, Mariah finds herself trying to get out of the gun business. Thanks to some impulsive moves by her partner and lover, Shades, she finds herself even deeper in the underworld.
The show introduces Mustafa Shakir as John “Bushmaster” McIver, named after the rum his grandfather created alongside Mariah and Cornell’s family. Bushmaster is the ultimate chaotic neutral, using any means to bring the Stokes family to their knees while maintaining his jovial demeanor with his family and loved ones. Luke Cage truly shows the nuance in each character. Bushmaster has far and away the best fight sequences in the Marvel Netflix universe. Bushmaster’s fluid and brutal fighting style looks leaps and bounds better than Iron Fist, a master of several styles of martial arts.
Speaking of Iron Fist, in his lone appearance in the season Finn Jones becomes the Danny Rand fans deserve. Unlike his own show, Danny finally shows some assertiveness and lacks the childlike naïveté he displayed throughout his own show. He helps Luke regather his chi after a fiercely fought battle with Bushmaster. In Defenders, they attempted to literally force Danny and Luke’s friendship which led to a sense of disingenuity. We know that they’re meant to become best friends and form the Heroes for Hire but it should happen organically. In Luke Cage, the Immortal Iron Fist shows up after hearing that his super-strong, bulletproof friend has been bested by a fierce enemy and feels an inclination to help Luke due to their pledge to protect the city. When Luke and Danny team up, it feels like the team up we should have gotten in Defenders truly came to fruition—their team-up felt important to the plot and organic and truly made me hope for a Heroes for Hire series. Hearing Danny and Luke’s banter was everything a comic fan could have dreamt.
Luke Cage season 2 is a perfect example of how to execute a character driven story. Though the titular character may be super strong and virtually indestructible, the action isn’t the crux of the story—growth is. Luke Cage is an even more well-rounded and complete character than in the first season after spending much of the season dealing with moral quandaries. Having to consider whether or not to attend events because it automatically meant protection for someone being targeted by Bushmaster or whether or not to charge for his heroic services have Luke opportunities for character growth. In a series where the main character cannot be damaged physically, it’s nice to see challenges come from Luke’s discretion and decision-making. Luke doesn’t often have to grapple with “can I help these people?” but rather “how many of these people deserve my help?” Luke Cage Season Two is filled with incredible characters, striking performances, unexpected twists and turns, and could set up an even more mind-blowing third season. Luke Cage’s second outing easily jumps the top of Marvel’s Netflix hierarchy as it never falters and its pace never studders. This is how Marvel and Netflix should be doing it.