Outstanding performances from the cast plus a well-crafted narrative which weaves in themes that are both compelling and socially relevant reaffirm that Luke Cage is Marvel’s best television show.
While some fans might still be irritated after the death of Cottonmouth in Season 1, and others might claim that Cloak and Dagger is a better show, the second season of Luke Cage is a bubbling cauldron of ferocity seeping out into the far reaches of Harlem. The most notable change to Luke Cage is how the focus is no longer on the ex-convict turned defender of all. In our new season, we follow the character arch of four people fans are familiar with and two new individuals who are introduced this year.
Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker has focused the second season on exploring if it’s okay to do something wrong for the right reasons. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is feeling the crush of being a national celebrity whose primary goal is cleaning up the streets of Harlem. However, with this fame comes an expectation of being all things to all people.
Cage attempts to follow the law when protecting the citizens of his community, but increasing loopholes and slipups from the police are frustrating him. He’s increasingly seeing the benefits of taking another approach (the use of brute force) which may be illegal, but it eliminates the problem. Could Cage become the very thing he’s sworn to root out of Harlem?
What stood out to me was the difference in writing between the first and second season. To me, the first season was committed to establishing who Cage was. In the second season, the focus was shifted toward showcasing the depth of each principal player in the storyline.
Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), Detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick), Tilda Dillard (Gabrielle Dennis), John “Bushmaster” McIver (Mustafa Shakir), and Shades (Theo Rossi) are all experiencing the same inner turmoil as Luke Cage (Colter). Mariah is concerned about her legacy and is willing to sell out (by any means necessary) to become legit in the eyes of her community- which she hopes will erase her past. Detective Knight is still haunted by the accident which took her arm and the lives shattered by bloodshed. She’s prepared to take down anyone who is associated with Dillard even if it means doing so illegally.
Tilda Dillard is trying to reconcile with the past misdeeds of her mother, Mariah. It doesn’t take long for her to figure out who her mother is and she begins to wonder what a world would be like with her locked up. Bushmaster has come to Harlem to seek vengeance for the death of his mother which was indirectly caused by Mariah. He doesn’t attempt to destroy anyone else but quickly has to decide if there’s a limit to what he’ll do to exact revenge. Devotion towards Mariah has blinded Shades, but when she chooses to violate the unwritten rules of the street, he begins to wonder if she’s worth protecting anymore. There are no quick solutions, and each character walks a very fine line throughout Season 2.
The entire cast delivers fantastic performances, but Woodard, Missick, and Dennis stood out to me. Woodard brought out the duality of Mariah’s character. There’s a part of her who wants what is best for everyone in her family, but she’s attracted to the glamour of being a gangster and doesn’t seem to escape it. She’s reached a moment in her life where what people remember about her appears to matter. Woodard can project that while still being able to show her ruthless side.
Missick’s character has to try and move on from her accident while adjusting to life with only one arm. The perception surrounding her disability and whispers at the station is beginning to take a toll on her. She’s no longer what she was, but with the help of a friend, Ms. Knight becomes so much more. She’s able to show the pain and torment she projects on her face makes her portrayal seem extremely real.
Dennis’s character development is the most intriguing journey of the entire cast. Miranda’s daughter starts the series off as a naive yet hurt young woman. As the season progresses, she begins to morph into someone who is hardly recognizable. Tilda eventually reaches a crossroads which could impact everyone in Harlem. This type of character development requires a rawness which Dennis exudes on screen.
The themes of the new season are equally intriguing and socially relevant. Marvel fans will appreciate the numerous easter eggs this season. The music selections for each episode reflected the tone and feel of that moment. Most importantly, the pacing of Luke Cage was adjusted to reflect what fans were craving. It’s as if the first season was the appetizer and now we are getting the main course. Fans couldn’t have asked for a better second season and will no doubt be pumped when they see where the series is headed next.