Luke Cage - Season 2 - Review
The first thing I noticed only a few episodes in is that all of the post-Defenders seasons of these shows have one very strong connection: Parent/Offspring relationships are at the forefront.
In The Punisher, Frank Castle was dealing with the loss of his wife and kids, and the only time he really found peace was when he was a pseudo father to Zach. When the second season of Jessica Jones rolled around, the entire season focused on Jessica and her relationship with her mother. But the show also took time to show Trish and her mother's relationship as well. If that wasn't enough, it also showed how Oscar's main drive was his son, and Jessica took a liking to the kid, even though her maternal desires are nearly zero.
The second season of Luke Cage manages to do the same thing. A lot of time is spent on Luke and the relationship he has with his father. Bushmaster's entire reason for doing what he did is to get justice for his family. The most important relationship portrayed though, was between Mariah Stokes Dillard and her daughter Tilda.
In some ways, that is who this season was about. This was Mariah and Tilda's story more than Luke's. Bushmaster is 100% Mariah's family's past coming back to haunt her. Luke only gets involved because he is there and cares about the city. The story happens (albeit with a different result) without Luke. The story doesn't happen without Mariah.
The only reason that works is because Alfre Woodard is one of the best actors working today. She is electrifying on screen, and is by far the best talent on the show. She can take the heavy burden of carrying the show, and the audience benefits from it. On the other hand, it is never good when the main protagonist - the person the show is named for - is somewhat inconsequential. Not completely, the power of Luke Cage changes the outcome of what happens - only in the way of Bushmaster leaving and Luke having control of Harlem. Everything else: the war, including Mariah's death, would have happened, maybe just faster and a bit differently.
There was some treading water throughout the season but it wasn't as bad as last season. It would have still benefited from an 8 or 10 episode season though.
As much as we need a bulletproof black man in this awful day and age, it does get repetitive to watch the same fight on screen over and over. Season 1 tried solving that problem by taking his powers away, and while it was effective at first, Luke being depowered last way too long. In this season, they solved that problem by letting Luke get in less fights, so when he did it was special, and the show also spent more time with other characters.
One of the character's that got a ton of time was Shades. I really enjoyed his character arc throughout this season. The nuanced layers that Theo Rossi was able to give Shades through his delicate and soft performance elevated the character beyond the writing, which was strong too. They left the door open for his return, but the way his story ended here is a perfect opportunity to shift him over to Daredevil to work for Wilson Fisk. But we can't have everything in life can we?
Misty Knight is one of the best characters in the Netflix corner of the Marvel Universe. Simone Missick is pitch perfect casting (as is most everyone else on the show). Her journey dealing with her injury from The Defenders and finding out who she wants to be and where she stands in the grand scheme of things was done really well. I hope she is around for a long time.
Luke Cage suffers from a similar problem that Black Panther did. That problem is that both of the main protagonists are the least interesting people on screen. When King T'Challa is with Okoye, Killmonger, Shuri or Nakia, they are far more intriguing. It is the same here. When Luke is with Misty, Mariah, his father, Shades, or Bushmaster they outshine him. Its not a dig at Mike Colter, who gives a solid, always fun and reliable performance as Luke Cage, its more a criticism of the story itself. Luke Cage is a player in the game, but the game doesn't happen because of him.
The only time Luke is the most interesting character on the screen is when he spent an episode with Danny Rand, the boring Immortal Iron Fist. Showrunner Cheo Coker handled the character slightly better, but he just doesn't resonate.
Where they left Luke at the end of the season is really intriguing though. He is essentially King of Harlem now. He isn't in the drug trade or the weapon trade or anything like that, but he owns the club which is a physical representation of his ego. The ego that made Claire leave, the ego that made him say to Misty and Danny that they have to do things his way.
Rosario Dawson was great as always, but they left things pretty up in there with her. I hope she can get some closure in one of the shows if she decides to return.
Overall I very much enjoyed the season. The connective tissue feels more organic here than in other places sometimes, so when you see people like Foggy Nelson and Colleen pop up, it doesn't feel forced. They fixed their mistakes from season 1, and hopefully in season 3 they will fix their mistakes here. If Netflix would let them write to the story and not demand 13 episodes every time, that would fix a lot of things.
If you are contemplating watching, do it - for Alfre Woodard's performance alone. You won't be disappointed by that aspect.
The second season of Luke Cage is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.