I’ve sat on this for a few days, to give my thoughts and feelings about the second season of this Netflix series time to marinate.
Back when I was required to write performance reviews for people as part of my job responsibilities, managers were warned to watch out for the horns/halo effect. In short, you didn’t want to write a review just based on what a person did (or didn’t do) for you lately.
I didn’t want to base my entire review of Luke Cage on the last two episodes of the season, which were, frankly, not very good. If I had written this review right after watching “Can’t Front on Me” and “They Reminisce Over You,” you might have believed that I no longer like this series. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This is still a great live-action comic book show. There were parts of it I liked even more than the first season. The introduction of John McIver (Mustafa Shakir), a Jamaican who calls himself Bushmaster, to share the season-long villain spot with Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) was one of those parts. I thought this was handled much better than our Cottonmouth/Diamondback one-two punch from the first season. Bushmaster is actually Mariah’s nemesis. His run-ins with Luke Cage are secondary to his campaign against the woman he insists on calling Mariah Stokes, instead of Dillard. The Stokes family did the McIvers a great injustice, it turns out, and Bushmaster is after revenge. Somehow, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) finds himself between the two villains.
This conflict is a strong one, and layered enough to sustain the story arc for at least ten episodes. Unfortunately, this season was thirteen episodes long. I didn’t think it was possible for a thirteen episode season to feel padded, but this one does at times. Luke’s girlfriend/medical provider Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) leaves the season too soon. Since Pop is no longer around either, it felt like some of the heart went out of the show after Claire leaves. Luke’s estranged father (played to the hilt by the late Reg E. Cathey) comes back into Luke’s life, but there’s no real story arc there. Shades (Theo Rossi) is still in Mariah’s orbit as her partner and lover, and he has a mini-arc this season which involves one of his old gang-mates (and prison wife?) Comanche, who he brings into Mariah’s organization with some disastrous effects. Mariah’s estranged daughter, Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis), doctor turned holistic medicine apothecarist, returns into her mother’s life. She serves to drive a wedge between Mariah and Shades, and to provide the Jamaican nightshade that Bushmaster needs to keep up his mystical powers. She is a living, breathing plot device even up to the final episode. While this is no fault of the actor, a lot of her stuff this season seems forced and not always necessary. Even though Misty Knight (Simone Missick) finally gets her robot arm, her role in this season still feels greatly reduced from the first.
The real arc this season is Bushmaster’s mission of revenge against Mariah. Everything else seems like a side plot or is extraneous. Even the musical interludes at Harlem’s Paradise, which I enjoyed in the first season, are beginning to feel like filler. Like when the Love Boat Dancers began doing a number each episode on The Love Boat. As much as I enjoyed Danny Rand’s one-episode appearance, so that we could get our Heroes for Hire team-up, however briefly, it really served little purpose in the overall story.
This season ends with Luke Cage taking his rightful place as the King of Harlem—although he prefers to think of himself as sheriff—and The Godfather is referenced so heavily that Don Corleone must be spinning in his grave. It will be interesting to watch next season with Luke ruling Harlem from Harlem’s Paradise club, which Mariah gives to him, by the way. This storyline has tremendous potential. I want to see what will happen, and I’m curious to see who the villain will be.
My ultimate takeaway this season: Luke Cage is still the type of television series that will keep my attention. This season ended a bit weakly, but was still good enough to get a solid B+ from me.
Now, Netflix, bring on Daredevil.