This post contains spoilers for Luke Cage.
Luke Cage remains a beautifully shot show with a lot of good intent, but its second season loses one of the first season’s shining beacons: Luke himself. While he’s always been hard, he was always kind. Life continually deals him the worst hand, but in season one that was met with strong morals and an occasionally dorky tag line. Now, most of the time, we only see the wrath.
Like several of the other Marvel Netflix offerings, Luke Cage suffers from having just too many episodes. They try to cram so much into those episodes that even potentially interesting storylines turn into a slog, and Luke’s journey goes from the understandably rage-filled chapter that we see in every hero’s story to a chore. But, where Harlem’s hero loses his way, the women carry the story.
This season boasts six female directors in their thirteen season arc, and it shows in the way the women are handled. Misty, Claire, Tilda and Mariah each have very different stories, but each brings something different to the table. It’s so rare that we see disabled heroes get to kick ass in any media, so giving Detective Knight a full plot of her own after her arm was lost is a win. Abuse is touched on much more frequently, but Claire’s reaction to Luke smashing in her wall rings very true. Mariah Dillard’s descent from frightened accomplice to full on mob boss while owning her trauma is difficult, infuriating, and everything a villain should be. Then there’s Tilda’s spiral into Nightshade.
Intertwining Tilda’s story with the Bushmaster’s cleverly introduces kindness before the villainy. For better or worse, the healer took an oath to do no harm and can’t turn someone away simply because they’ve done bad things. She’s morally opposed to basically everything around her throughout the majority of her arc, but her mother’s cruelty finally pushes her to her limits. In murdering her mother, Tilda discovers the same thing Mariah did after murdering Cornell in season one: the first kill is the hardest.
Both Hernan “Shades” Alvarez and John “Bushmaster” McIver also do their best to keep Luke’s stagnant story afloat. The few moments Cage shines are when he’s playing opposite of these two, or claiming the moral high ground with his pastor father. That high ground is clearly hypocritical, considering his descent into glorified crime boss by the end of the season, but it still gives a nice dynamic between him and the Bushmaster as their scenes are happening.
Despite Bushmaster having the usually interesting villain story of doing bad things for the right reasons (note: it is okay to hate someone for murdering your family. It is not okay to stick other people’s heads on pikes), he goes out not with a bang, but with a whisper. His story coming to a premature end is likely to make way for Tilda’s Nightshade reveal and Shade’s inevitable comeuppance, but all it results in is the season’s primary villain plot being squandered with no real resolution.
Luke Cage season two closes out with the man himself surveying the kingdom that he swore to topple while firmly convinced that he’s not tumbling down the same path as his enemies. There’s a special lack of awareness going on when a character can say they want to “make Harlem great again” without a drop of irony, but neither friend or enemy can convince him the path he’s taking is wrong. Misty’s warnings fall on deaf ears, Claire’s sent away from the club and Shade’s amusement at the beginning of the end of Luke’s character is shrugged away. Even sweet DW tries his best to bring his friend back to the light, but keeping Pop’s open will have to suffice for the time being.
We’ll have to wait until next season to see how far Luke will fall down this rabbit hole. In the meantime, you know what to do if you had thoughts on Luke Cage’s second season.