Rewind: Harlem crowns a king in solid “Luke Cage” S2

IMG_5674.JPGOn June 22 Netflix’s third Marvel hero returned with its sophomore season. Luke Cage season two was available midnight Friday. Soon Twitter buzzed of its likes, dislikes and other observances of the 13-episode entry. How did the season fair after the tumultuous reception to Diamondback? Peep my review below.

WARNING: Small spoilers ahead

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Season 2 of Luke Cage took heed to critics, fixing some issues that plagued its rookie season. However some mainstays in all the Netflix/Marvel series remained, making what could have been a great addition still feel just pretty good.

While season one explored Luke (Mike Colter) readjusting to society, this season examined what type of hero Cage would be. The bulletproof man was tested as a family rivalry spilled blood down Harlem’s streets. On top of this, Luke’s father sets shop in Harlem, usurping a ticking bomb inside of Luke. With his emotions scattered, he becomes reckless, and has to fight to regain control of not only Harlem, but himself.

 

With the arrival of Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), I think all is forgiven for Diamondback. Luke’s caricature sibling is forgotten as this Jamaican gangster enacts revenge upon Harlem’s matriarch – Mariah Dillard Stokes. Their twisted familial history reveals the Stokes’ evil knows no end, eventually consuming Mariah.

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The councilwoman’s efforts to cleanse her legacy fails miserably. Instead of running away, Mariah embraces her birthright, transforming into a villain with no code. Her devolution is aided by the presence of her estranged daughter Tilda Johnson. Their complicated relationship hits an ultimate impasse in episode nine, as Mariah (brilliantly portrayed by Alfre Woodard) details her daughter’s origin.

 

In the midst of this, we see Misty Knight return to the force, still mystified by Scarf’s betrayal. She’s coping with how to govern by the law when the rules are ever-so often broken. Kudos to the writing team for giving us a glimpse of Daughters of the Dragon as one scene teams Misty up with Colleen Wing. We also received some Heroes for Hire as Luke and Danny Rand co-oped a mission later in the season. He was more digestible this time around, but still not quite in the pocket.

 

Praise to former NFLer Thomas Q. Jones and his strong act as Darius “Comanche” Jones – Shades childhood friend, crime partner and former lover. The reveal of their relationship midway through shattered my expectations. It also gave Theo Rossi’s Shades more complexity. It gave the coldblooded criminal a heart which – by his own hands – was broken.

Another great addition was seeing the late Reg E. Cathey as Luke’s father. Their reconciliation is a beautiful story. It’s unfortunate we won’t see Cathey return as this poignant staple of Cage’s past.

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For all the things that worked, there were still a few that didn’t. Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple was somewhat insufferable as Luke’s girlfriend. Her concern for his emotional state was valid, but soon turned annoying – especially interceding on his familial issues without permission. Also Cage’s sidekick DW didn’t do it for me. And what happened to Ron Cephas Jones midway through the season? His manager bounced on a Nike check?

None of these compared to the struggle every Netflix/Marvel series has – they are too long. The first few episodes dragged. Then the middle excels smoothly, only to have the ending drawn out for no reason. The show could have wrapped up multiple times, but instead an additional twist or turn is inserted.

I’d wish they take a gambit at what Black Lightning did it’s first season. The pacing was abnormally accelerated, to the point at times you don’t think it can hold up. But in the end, their 13 episodes beautifully executed what Cage could have in 10. In this ear of binge-TV, filler should not be an option.

In retrospect, I did enjoy the season. Luke’s position in the final minutes is an interesting twist, again dabbling in the grey area of heroism. And with the setup of a new Stokes villain, I’m curious to see how they position Harlem’s king in season three.

 

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