This post contains spoilers for all of season two of Luke Cage. You’ve been warned.
Normally, I make sure to finish the Marvel/Netflix shows within 48 hours, but this time, I was out of town celebrating Midsummer. With my mom. So, I had to sneak in a few episodes here and there on my iPhone after she’d gone to bed. I’m kind of amazed I actually got five episodes in before getting home on Sunday (when I finished the rest). But this show was so good, right out of the gate, that I couldn’t stop watching. Even on my iPhone. And I’m rewatching it in the background as we “speak.”
The first season of Luke Cage was mostly solid, but there were some missteps. Killing off Cornell Stokes so early on meant that there was a big void to fill for the rest of the season, which would have been find if there had been anyone worthy of filling those shoes. Diamondback wasn’t it. Unlike the second season’s Bushmaster, Diamondback was not scary as much as cartoonish. Bushmaster is genuinely frightening, in the creepy kind of way that is best communicated by twitching as if possessed while absorbing bullets (you know exactly the scene I’m talking about). That, and his gripe with Mariah has a greater ring of truth than Diamondback’s obsession with Luke.
There was also plenty of silliness in the first season that would have seemed completely out of place in the second. As much as a part of me enjoyed the frankensteinesque scenes where Claire takes Luke to the old prison doctor for an acid bath bordered on silly. And, they made a Mary Sue character of Claire (and I’m not one to throw that label around lightly). The second season gives us more of a grown person’s superhero drama, with well-developed characters and so many layers.
Some things that this season has in common with the first one bears mentioning too. First of all: The music. It’s like its own character in this show. If you’re not catching yourself bobbing your head along to the music while watching this show, you’re not doing it right. Secondly, they’re both incredibly good-looking There’s some pacing issues, but nothing like what we saw in the first season. Contrary to what some reviewers have had to say, I think this season fills out its thirteen episodes nicely. It unapologetically allows itself time to breathe, and I never minded spending all that time with these characters. But, rather than going on in typical review style, I’m just going to list some of the things that stood out to me – big and small – or that i just plain appreciated.
All the connections…
This is the first season that really makes use of all the richness that living in a shared universe can provide. Matt is mentioned. Repeatedly. So is Jessica. Danny appears in a significant guest appearance spanning an entire episode, not to mention Luke making use of his Rand connections in the episode leading up to it. Colleen also makes a major appearance. As does Foggy, who is also mentioned several times off-screen. Even Karen Page gets a mention. Blake Towers, first introduced in Daredevil season two, shows up. As does Turk who has apparently switched to selling (legal) drug paraphernalia. Did I miss anyone?
More than being just fan service, these appearances makes sense considering the shared history of these characters. Of course, as a Daredevil fan, it’s nice to see that Matt’s (not real) death has not gone to waste but has made an impression on people.
Shades and his relationships
Shades is the bad guy we love to hate, and then hate to admit that we love. Let there be no doubt about it, he’s a pretty shitty human being. He killed Candace in cold blood last season. But, there are not only rules to his madness that makes him hard to brush off as just another psychopath, he actually sells us on the notion that he cares about people deeply. At least some people. It really speaks to Theo Rossi’s abilities as an actor that we can watch him kill his best friend (and former boyfriend), and almost feel sorry for his loss. And his devotion to Mariah feels equally real. Forget Shades being simply a boy toy for his sugar mama, he really loves her. Enough to lose his cool and kill a guy point blank for badmouthing his girl.
Even more interesting is the fact that Shades seems to actually want to go clean, putting him and Mariah on opposite paths as the latter takes a turn for the meaner.
Luke gets his hands dirty
Just like Matt Murdock in the Netflix show, Luke is gradually being pulled deeper into the world of his alter ego. And, just like Matt, he is finding it harder to separate his civilian life from the persona of the hero he created. As the increasingly disillusioned Claire herself, puts it “You are more like Matt than you want to admit.”
But Luke Cage here, particularly at the end of the season, also reminds us of many of the Daredevil stories better known from the comics. Over the years, Daredevil has repeatedly been forced into situations where he’s had to make deals with the devil, often in the form of the Kingpin. And, he’s had to put himself at the top of food chain on more than one occasion. Both the King of Hell’s Kitchen story arc, by Bendis and Maleev, and Matt’s takeover of the Hand at the end of Brubaker and Lark’s run come to mind. I’m sure there may be Luke Cage stories to draw on as well in this regard, but I’m not familiar with them, and this is a Daredevil blog. So yeah, I see a lot of parallells.
Mariah going full Kingpin
While Shades actually seems to want to be turning over a new leaf, at some point at least, Mariah is gradually accepting her fate in ways that are strikingly similar to Wilson Fisk’s in the first season of Daredevil. At first, we bought into the notion that she desired nothing more than to shed the baggage of the family business. She was always ruthless, but like Fisk, she’d been able to talk herself into there being a legitimate end goal. However, eventually, she sheds the Dillard identity in favor of the Stokes legacy and goes full psycho. When she personally sets a man on fire, even Shades seems taken aback by her cruelty. By the time we get to the scene of her killing a fellow inmate, I was pretty much floored. Now, it may seem like a waste that she herself had to die at the end, but she went out on such a high note that it’s hard to feel deprived of anything.
Amputation by Photoshop
Remember when Forrest Gump came out and everyone was amazed by how Gary Sinise’s legs could be made to disappear on camera? Of course, I have to remind myself that many of my readers are young enough to have been in kindergarten at the time, or not even born. But I do remember, and it was kind of a big deal. Which is why I have to marvel at how far that kind of special effects technology has come (and yes, I know it ain’t Photoshop specifically). Misty’s missing right arm looks extremely natural.
While we’re on the topic, I love that her new bionic arm looks slightly more like what you’d expect from a real prosthetic than its comic book counterpart, or Bucky’s arm for that matter, even tough it is functionally very sci-fi.
We don’t get much in terms of solid information on how much time has passed since Midland Circle, but it seems reasonable that the events of this season takes place over the course of a couple of months, and begin a couple of months after Defenders. I’m basing the latter assessment on where Misty seems to be in her recovery.
Meanwhile, I’m just intent on enjoying Luke Cage for what it brings to its own little corner of Manhattan. As mentioned, I’m already watching it a second time, and I’m very sure that won’t be my last. It’s just such a well-crafted ride. There are so many more things I would have liked to touch on, such as what happens with Luke’s relationship with Claire, and his father, as well as the guest appearances by Colleen, Danny, and Foggy, but I wanted to get this post up before real life swallows me up again.
What did you guys think? Let us know in the comments!