Luke Cage season 2 is another hit for Netflix

Marvel's Luke Cage David Lee/Netflix -- Acquired via Netflix Media Center
Marvel's Luke Cage David Lee/Netflix -- Acquired via Netflix Media Center /

Luke Cage season 2 is the ninth entry in the Netflix Marvelverse. Coming hot off the heels of last year’s Avengers-esque crossover, The Defenders, does Luke Cage keep up the momentum?

Spoilers for Luke Cage seasons one and two, as well as for The Defenders.

When Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were announced to be released back in 2013, I don’t think anybody envied having to follow up a mega-hit like The Avengers. With a major crossover raising the stakes for everyone involved, it can be hard to invest in the smaller-scale stories of individual heroes.

The same could be said about the Netflix Marvel series: with so many large plot points coming to a head in 2017’s The Defenders, would the next few seasons feel as relevant?

Luckily, even coming just six months after the climax at Midland Circle, Luke Cage has once again tapped into the zeitgeist and delivered a compelling season of television.

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Luke Cage‘s first season seemed to herald the beginning of a decline in the quality of Netflix’s Marvel offerings. The first seasons of Daredevil revolutionized what TV superhero outings could look like, and Jessica Jones tapped that energy and brought out a story ripped right from the headlines of the #metoo era. While the first half of Luke Cage, with a bulletproof black man no less, engaged with broader social issues, the second half descended into more stale territory as soon as the villain Diamondback was introduced. The disappointed reviews following Iron Fist didn’t help matters much, and perhaps audiences were wondering if Netflix had lost control of its golden goose.

Thankfully Luke Cage‘s second season brings things back on course by doubling down on the elements that made it shine in the first place.

Luke Cage
Photo Credit: Marvel’s Luke Cage/Netflix Image Acquired from Netflix Media Center /

Keeping it personal

Part of what made Daredevil and Jessica Jones so great was how their fights were connected to their interior journeys. But sometimes making things personal can lead a superhero story into kitschy territory. A great example: the last-minute revelation at the end of Luke Cage‘s last season that lackluster villain Diamondback was actually Luke’s brother felt like a tacked-on attempt to make us care about someone who came out of nowhere. If heroes and villains have to be connected, it has to happen in a way that feels organic and earned.

Luckily, Luke Cage has learned from its mistakes and instead dug deep into what makes its characters tick. The season starts with Luke learning how to deal with being Harlem’s sweetheart, and his slowly growing ego starts to make waves in his relationships with Claire Temple, Misty Night and the NYPD.

Misty herself is still reeling from the loss of her arm during the final fight in The Defenders, and her journey to get her own back forms the backbone of her storyline. Luckily she knows a millionaire or two to help out with a bionic limb.

Luke Cage
Marvel’s Luke Cage Photo credit: David Lee/Netflix /

A huge theme this time around is the struggle between parents and children, especially as they process the legacies left to them. Luke encounters his father, played by the late Reg. E. Cathy and his attempts to reconnect (or deny that connection) mirror the forces tying Mariah Dillard with her daughter Tilda and illuminates the motivations of the villainous Bushmaster.

Fleshing out the bad guys

Speaking of villains, one of the ways the Netflix Marvel entries outshine the movies is in having a stable of compelling antagonists that the audience can actually care about. Luke Cage season 1 stumbled a bit with Diamondback, but the one-two knockout this time around with Mariah Dillard and Bushmaster more than makes up for it.

Luke Cage Season 2 finds Mariah trying to go legit by selling off her gun business and reconnecting with her daughter, Tilda. Making things complicated is her twisted relationship with partner-in-crime Shades, as well as the legacy of her Stokes name.  While she tries to distance herself from her criminal past by investing in Harlem’s future, Mariah can’t entirely shake off the feeling that she may not actually be cut out for the neat-and-tidy life that’s been planned for her.

The first season painted her as a woman who knows how to do the necessary dirty, work, but season two has her actually starting to enjoy being ruthless. This goes a long way to calm the worries feminists critics might feel on seeing her broken, unstable behavior at the beginning of the season. When Mariah does find her feet, she becomes a whirlwind that drives all the action spinning around her. And much of that action, this time around, focuses in on the mysterious Bushmaster.

Marvel’s Luke Cage David Lee/Netflix
Marvel’s Luke Cage David Lee/Netflix /

Also known as John McIver, Bushmaster hails from Jamaica but comes to New York looking to settle a score with the Stokes family. His parents were killed by Mama Mabel, Mariah’s grandmother and patriarch of the Stokes clan, and he is out for blood and to take back the nightclub Harlem’s Paradise. The Paradise turns into a symbol for the legacies Mariah, Tilda, Bushmaster and even Luke are fighting to embrace or erase. By blurring the lines between hero, villain and civilian, Luke Cage had me cheering for people I wasn’t expecting and delivered a solid climax that brought every character to their breaking point.

Emotional Continuity

While some of the Marvel movies are confusing with how a character’s motives, or even their personality, changes between sequels, the Netflix entries take enough time to get to know their characters and why they do what they do. When Danny Rand and Colleen Wing show up for obligatory cameos, it doesn’t feel jarring. Danny talks a lot about finding peace since The Defenders, and we can see it. Not that finding peace distracts anyone from kicking some serious tail, of course.

But more than the emotional continuity between characters is the connection they have to their neighborhood. Sure, Jessica and Daredevil defend Hell’s Kitchen, but they don’t have the sense of love and history that Luke and Mariah have for Harlem. The music, which almost seems a character of its own, soaks the entire show in a bluesy atmosphere that keeps audiences locked in. And the connection we make to the characters, culture, and neighborhood gives us a sense of the stakes involved, even if the world isn’t in danger.

That, and we can tell how the pieces are being set up for future seasons. The introduction of Italian crime boss Rosalie Carbone is a big move, as she’s been confirmed to appear in Daredevil Season 3. And, spoilers aside, the fate of Harlem’s Paradise is going to cause some major shockwaves in the next seasons of Luke Cage.

Next: Does Luke Cage need more Jessica Jones? Absolutely.

And after watching the finale, I am very ready for more.

Luke Cage season 2 is streaming on Netflix now.