In the aftermath of The Defenders, Luke Cage returns to Harlem to clean up the continuing mess that Mariah Dillard (don’t you dare call her a Stokes…) is making. A new threat emerges with ties to Mariah’s past that threatens to upend Harlem and cause chaos for Luke.
And if we’re honest, it’s great. The first season felt underwhelming compared to the truly captivating instalments of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. But where the first season didn’t quite meet the mark, Luke Cage’s second outing truly succeeds. Luke has an interesting personal journey to deal with after his breakup with Claire Temple (the ever-brilliant Rosario Dawson) when he has a crisis of conscience. He has to figure out the appropriate level of brutality to dish out when dealing with the crime wave inspired by a new villain on the block, Bushmaster. Bushmaster A.K.A. John McIver uses a combination of Nightshade and herbs to increase his strength, making him a physical match for Luke, something he doesn’t come across often.
But as their dynamic develops, it’s clear that Bushmaster’s issue isn’t with Luke, he’s just an obstacle in front of McIver’s true target; Mariah Dillard. Bushmaster’s backstory and further struggles when grappling with both mariah and Luke prove to be genuinely captivating. Mustafa Shafir brings a furious performance to the villain that slowly blurs the line between villain and anti-hero, because his goals aren’t so dissimilar from Luke’s, they just involve much more murder. A defining moment between Luke and Bushmaster in the back half of the series makes for an excellent set-piece, that feels slightly similar to the Steve /Bucky fight at the beginning of Captain America: Civil War.
An honourable shout-out has to go to Misty Knight here, as she learns to live life as an amputee. Her struggle with her own internal courage that was cracking under the weight of crime in Harlem is slowly reinforced, and she once again becomes a formidable force alongside Luke. Mariah herself gets her own intriguing journey and we learn more about who she is underneath the facade of her politician/crime boss combination. The relationship with her daughter is thoroughly explored, no matter how warped the secrets behind the Dillard/Stokes family really are. With a sneaky cameo episode, Luke Cage single handedly gives us a better version of Danny Rand than the abysmal Iron Fist series managed in 13 episodes. Our only gripe with Luke Cage season 2 was the back and forth between Bushmaster and Luke, they’d meet for five minutes and then scurry away from each other for a while. It began to get a little repetitive and took the impact of McIver’s powers being similar to Luke’s away. But aside from that, Bushmaster is much better to watch than Diamondback was in the previous season.
We won’t ruin the ending, but it leaves Luke in a genuinely fascinating position going forward into whichever Marvel Netflix series he appears in next. Luke Cage season two more than makes up for the mistakes of the previous season, and delivers some brilliant character arcs.
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The second season builds on the shaky foundations of the first, and truly delivers a great story.
- Character arcs