Review - Luke Cage (Netflix), Season 2

Luke Cage (2016), Season 2, TV-MA, 13 episodes - It seems as though season 2 of Luke Cage snuck up on the world.  I'm not sure if it is due to the lack of promotional hype leading up to its release last weekend or if it has just been overshadowed by all of the talk of the impending Disney acquisition of Fox.  Whatever the reason, it's unfortunate because this second season is even stronger than the first.

Season 2 takes place not long after the events of The Defenders.  Luke (Mike Colter) has become a local celebrity thanks to his actions in protecting/helping those around Harlem.  There's even a crowd-sourced app that shows people where Luke Cage has been spotted!  Although that's not always necessary as everyone knows that Luke is operating out of Pop's old barber shop.  Bobby Fish (Ron Cephus Jones) is functioning as Luke's manager, negotiating endorsement deals in order to cover the shop's rent, and D.W. (Jeremiah Craft) has appointed himself as Luke's hype man, selling Luke Cage-related merchandise and acting as Luke's personal videographer.  Luke's been cracking down on crime in and around Harlem, especially keeping an eye on Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), Shades (Theo Rossi), and the activity at Harlem's Paradise.  About the time that Mariah's most recent shady business comes to light, a new threat arrives on the streets of Harlem: John McIver (Mustafa Shakir).  Also known as Bushmaster, McIver has a familial axe to grind with Mariah and he's not afraid to make a scene, with damaging fall out if necessary.  After returning to Harlem to open her own homeopathic remedy shop, Mariah's estranged daughter Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis) finds herself caught between the two and becomes an important party as Luke finds his hands full trying to protect Harlem from the two primary threats while struggling to determine what kind of here he wants to be.

There are a number of short cameo appearances by other characters from the Marvel/Netflix Defenders family: Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), and Danny Rand (Finn Jones).  Each only pops up for an episode, but they fit in well for the story being told.  Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple and Simone Missick's Misty Knight also return in larger, more important roles (although Claire's stay is shorter than anticipated).  A great addition to the cast was Reg E. Cathey as Luke's father James.  It's unfortunate that we won't be able to see more scenes between he and Colter in the future as he passed away earlier this year. 

Show-runner Cheo Hodari Coker does an excellent job in continuing to treat Harlem itself as a character, using it as a focal point of the familial and cultural themes.  The musical selection is just as diverse and entertaining as the first season.  In fact, all of the live acts performing in Harlem's Paradise throughout this season were real life musicians. 

Season 2 can be a bit of a slow burn at times, but it trims away the over the top campy-ness that plagued the second half of season 1 (i.e. the Diamondback nonsense).  I like campy as much as the next guy, but that was a bit much in my opinion.  It does a much better job of balancing the multiple threats, has some excellen character development, and leaves things in a very interesting place moving forward to a potential third season.  I think it is safe to say that this is the first sophomore outing for one of the Marvel/Netflix shows that is actually stronger than its predecessor.  If you've enjoyed any of these street level series, then you will not be disappointed with Luke Cage Season 2.











*****SPOILERS*****

- As mentioned previously, all of the musical acts were real life musicians.  A better informed list than I could provide can be found here.

- Unfortunately Claire doesn't stick around long in season 2.  Her reasons for leaving are totally understandable, and provides room in Luke's life for him to reconcile with his father, which is great for character development.  There have been some rumblings that Rosario Dawson's time on the Marvel/Netflix shows may be coming to an end, but I really hope she pops back up in one of these series and gets a proper send off, as opposed to being told to 'go home' after showing up at Harlem's Paradise (off screen) at the very end of the season.

- Luke's taking over Harlem's Paradise and basically becoming a crime boss (even if with good intentions in mind) is very reminiscent of a story arc from the Brian Michael Bendis/Alex Maleev Daredevil run called 'The King of Hell's Kitchen' in which Daredevil defeats Kingpin and declares himself the ruling body of the area.  It sets up for many intriguing possibilities.

- Colleen Wing, Foggy Nelson, and Danny Rand only appear in one episode each, but they all play an important role during their one episode stay.  The bar fight that Colleen and Misty get into makes me want to see a Daughters of the Dragon series (or even just more of them teaming up and kicking ass).  Foggy was perfect as Luke's attorney, completely awkward and out of place.  Danny's interactions with Luke were also great.  It was nice to get a little more of that after they were introduced in The Defenders.  I wouldn't mind eventually seeing a Heroes for Hire spin-off.  Hell, they could even just make it a team series with Colleen and Misty if a Daughters of the Dragon series wouldn't fly.  We even see Danny wearing his classic green and yellow, albeit one of C.W.'s 'Power Man' hoodies.

- Matt Murdock and Karen Page are both mentioned by name.  Matt when the events of The Defenders are discussed, and Karen because she had called the police while digging for information pertaining to the massacre at Gwen's.

- Misty's prosthetic/robotic arm!  We finally get comic book Misty after she takes Danny up on his offer to fit her with a prosthetic arm.  At one point she's even wearing a red jacket, also reminiscent of her classic look in the comics.

- ESPN followers will recognize cameos from Stephen A. Smith, Jamelle Hill, and Michael Smith.  The Jamelle/Michael cameo is a bit awkward as they mention Luke's workout film being on 'The 6', referring to the 6pm SportsCenter, which they had been hosting while this was filming (which they no longer host).

- Turk!  Once again, we get an appearance from criminal of all trades Turk Barrett (Rob Morgan).

- I really prefer the way the Marvel/Netflix shows handle the obligatory Stan Lee cameos.  As opposed to him appearing in a speaking role of some sort, his picture is always tucked away in the background somewhere.  This time around his face was on a poster for medical malpractice lawyers on the street (episode 12).

- Luke is referred to as Power Man and as a Hero for Hire at times during season 2.  Both are references to various names/titles he has used in the comics.

- One of the companies named in the plastics acquisition that Mariah gets in on was named Glenn Industries.  In the comics, Glenn Industries was the company of Heather Glenn's father.  Heather Glenn being one of the many love interests of Matt Murdock over the years.

- Mariah's lawyer 'Big' Ben Donovan (Danny Johnson) was a name that I remembered from a story arc during Ed Brubaker's Daredevil run.  But it turns out, the character has much older ties to Luke Cage in the comics, having first appeared in Hero for Hire (1972) #14.

- As is alluded to as the progresses, Tilda Johnson evolves into the character/villain known as Nightshade by the final episode.  Even appearing in the final scene with a look very similar to her look from the comics.

- In the comics, Mariah is better known by the very non-PC name of Black Mariah, which is mentioned at one point during this season.  Just a nice little wink to the character's comic history.

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