Season one of Luke Cage had a strong opening, but fizzled out in the end. Season two emulates its predecessor, with a great first half. DoYouEvenComicBook?’s Vincent Gauvin and Nobody (Kade) held a discussion about the beginning of this second season, and had this to say.
Back in Harlem
Luke is back in Harlem, after a brief hiatus during the events of Marvel’s Defenders, and he wastes no time fighting the good fight. A new found fame doubles his trouble, bringing his estranged father to town. A new drug named after him is circulating the streets, while Mariah Dillard and Shades continue to cause strife. With all these important plot points, does the show do a good job of reeling in the audience from the get-go?
Kade: I’d say yes; that opening scene is awesome, although the fight could be longer. I do think it got the ball running and the season just keeps it going. Another thing is Defenders happened and the writers don’t shy away from it.
Vincent: I agree, the opening fight scene has a certain charm to it reminiscent of the Crispus Attucks assault in season 1. I loved that they used Defenders to propel these characters to where they are now, utilizing Marvel’s rich interconnected Netflix universe. The thing that really thrills me is the monologue by Reverend James Lucas, after the opening credits. It speaks volumes about Luke’s father, while showing us the public opinion around Luke, post-Defenders.
Vincent: On the subject of Reverend James Lucas, what are your thoughts on the character?
Kade: I’m happy he’s not just a bad thing in Luke’s past that stayed there. He fits the overall theme of this season: Soul. While the first season was a gangster street hero story, this season is a soul journey and James Lucas helps with that.
Vincent: Reg E. Cathey’s performance is fantastic. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time in the first six episodes, but every time he’s on screen another facet of James’ character is revealed. The complexity behind him is amazing. James is a prideful man haunted by his mistakes, which includes fathering the big bad of season one, Luke’s half-brother, Willis Stryker. Despite his arrogance, he also has a kind heart which is showcased during his conversation with Claire.
Kade: Yeah, he’s one the best parts of the show. What do you think about Luke being a public hero in Harlem?
Vincent: I love it. Within the core heroes of The Defenders there is this trend of reluctant heroes hiding. Luke Cage breaks this mold and becomes the hero Harlem needs. Having a strong role model in the limelight is important for the black youth of Harlem; a positive contrast to the violence and gangs.
Kade: Matt wore the mask, Danny abandoned his role as the protector of K’un-Lun, and Jessica remains the reluctant hero. Luke is unique amongst the Netflix leads. There are pros and cons to being a public role model though. This is best seen in the fallout of Luke Cage’s showdown with the new villain this season, Bushmaster. Losing this fight in the public eye has a huge impact on perception, supporting Luke’s early mantra: people are there for you when you’re doing well, but they ain’t when you’re not.
Vincent: This fight really makes the man at the top of the hill analogy in episode 4, much stronger. Bushmaster sees himself as the man at the bottom and the people he faces at the top. He believes they are overconfident because they feel protected. Luke starts at the top. His relationship with Claire his going well, he’s out of trouble with the law and the people of Harlem love him. Then he gets beat by Bushmaster because of overconfidence. Public support slips, which is followed by Claire leaving after his burst of anger when he punches out a wall in her house. Anger drives him to rash actions and that results in a lawsuit against him from womanizer and child-beater, Cockroach. Season two knocks him to the bottom of the mountain, deconstructing him, so they can build him back up stronger and better.
Kade: I I love the top of the hill analogy as well. It shows how Bushmaster feels. He’s on the bottom and wants to be on top and will do anything to get there. I also adore the two wolves analogy James Lucas preaches right before Luke goes to the dark side when beating up Cockroach Hamilton. This analogy emphasizes Luke’s major struggle this season, is he a hero or driven by vengeance? Can he take justice into his own hands? This isn’t the first time I’ve heard the two wolves analogy, but it’s the first time in awhile it didn’t sound cliché.
On the note of sound, have you noticed how they keep using music, including the performers at Harlem’s Paradise and the score, to tell the story? I love that.
Vincent: The music was one of the best element of Luke Cage season one, and they keep hitting the nail square on the head in this season. The visual imagery tied to all the analogies is superb.
Netflix is known for having some of the best live action Marvel villains. Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk, Kevin “Killgrave” Thompson, and Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes all steal the spotlight in their respective seasons, but how does John “Bushmaster” McIver fare as Luke Cage‘s main antagonist in the second season?
Kade: I was worried he was going to be a rip off of Cottonmouth or Diamondback, but Bushmaster is his own man. I have no idea what his fighting style is, but it looks really cool. I enjoy every scene he’s in, although my favorite is the Blues monologue. When he and Mariah are in Harlem’s Paradise, Bushmaster points out that the music playing, the Blues, is their history. A history that shows the scars of the past don’t heal. When he sideswipes Luke at the end of episode three is awesome too. I also love the recurring faster than Usain Bolt joke.
Vincent: I love him. He’s charismatic and seems like a legitimate threat to Luke. By the halfway point, I still like Cottonmouth more, but overall he’s a really good villain. Getting a second half of a season, that Cottonmouth never got, may give him the edge.
Kade: I like the Jamaican soul aspect and Bushmaster’s connection to the earth. Reminds me of Brother Voodoo a little. I like that he’s not just another science-powered villain. It is fun to see them take the science based stuff from last season, like the Judas bullet, and show that it can’t kill Luke Cage anymore. Last season’s Kryptonite isn’t this season’s, which shows progression for Luke’s powers.
Vincent: I had the exact same thought in regards to Brother Voodoo. I don’t think we’ll see him because he’s Haitian and not Jamaican, but maybe they’ll hint at him with all the spiritual aspects. I think it’s the right way to handle a character like Luke Cage, who’s a little too powerful for street-level threats to create tension.
Kade: I’m honestly wondering why they even carry guns at all. What do you think of other villains: “Black Mariah” Dillard, Hernan “Shades” Alvarez, Darius “Comanche” Jones, and Dontrell “Cockroach” Hamilton?
Vincent: Shades and Comanche are such a fun pair. Shades has so much energy and Theo Rossi is owning that role. Comanche is a much deeper character than I thought. His motivation for always having Shades’ back is expanded on in the sixth episode. Their relationship is touching and expands the ever-present theme of family in a heartbreaking way.
Mariah, on the other hand, I’m having issues with. I didn’t like her in season one and that doesn’t change in season two. The character is boring and feels like a discount Cottonmouth. Part of the problem is that she’s so present because the plot is intrinsically tied to her. Her relationship with Shades is interesting though. At first, I thought Shades was using her for power, but by the end of episode six, it feels like Mariah is the insincere one in the relationship. The way Shades and Comanche have such different views on Mariah is amazing, showing the importance of perspective when sizing someone up. Shades see a cold-blooded woman who’s ready to do what it takes to get what she wants, while Comanche sees someone who has no idea what she’s doing and is spiraling out of control.
Kade: I love that there’s an undercover criminal in Comanche this season, instead of the crooked cop we had with Rafael Scarfe last season. I had high hopes for Mariah this season, but just like Shades, I am annoyed that any development made last season has disappeared. I do love the camera shot of them under the crowns of the painting referring back to last season. Shades is low key my favorite character.
Vincent: That aspect is a good contrast to last season. I can’t wait to see what Comanche is going to do with the new information he’s gotten on Cottonmouth’s death. The fact that things from last season are very important to character development is smart. Cornell’s death is still an important point and Scarfe’s mistakes still have a lasting effect on his partner, Misty Knight.
Kade: Speaking of Misty how do you feel about her character this season?
Vincent: The way she handles missing an arm is impressive. It’s very true to the character. While it deeply affects her, she doesn’t let it define her. She fights through her handicap and continues being the badass we know and love. The performance by Simone Missick is the strongest of the show. Missick sells the fact that she’s missing an arm in a way that feels genuine.
Kade: I love Misty in every scene, but the other cops are so dry. It feels as if they were pulled out of an old Law and Order episode. Thankfully, Misty elevates dry material. Colleen and Misty’s bonding is the only time I’ve enjoyed Colleen Wing as a character in these shows.
Vincent: That Daughters of the Dragon tease was perfect if you ask me.
Vincent: It was organic, no fluff needed. She has friends with money and resources and sometimes it can be that simple.
Pros and Cons
My favorite scene is in episode five, when Luke goes full hero for hire at Piranha’s party and we see how others see him. I also love when Bushmaster and Mariah meet. He invokes Blue’s history with a speech about how old wounds don’t scar easily, blending together history with the central plot. I thought Cockroach made a great villain that you can’t empathize with. Sadly, he, like Cottonmouth was short-lived, but seeing his special shotgun was like reading an old-school Luke Cage comic. My favorite episode is episode three, Wig Out because it’s so well paced. Claire and Luke have it out, the two wolves story is told, and Bushmaster comes up at the end; I love that the music cuts out when he punched Luke.
My main con is the precinct scenes. I also don’t really care for Tilda Johnson/Dillard, Mariah’s daughter. I do think she and her herbal prowess will play a big part later. There is a big problem with the pacing of the show. The cuts to the next scene are really fast, which makes the show feel rushed. It works sometimes, but otherwise, it feels like a PowerPoint without any change animations. I was also a little confused by everyone making coffee jokes. Is that a Harlem thing, because I thought that was a private thing between Luke and his lovers. There are over four references to it in the first three episodes.
My favorite scenes have to be the bar fight with Colleen and Misty, as well as Bushmaster and his uncle talking about the past and the way Bushmaster’s doing things. Bushmaster is hands down my favorite character. He’s such a charismatic character with a hypnotizing performance by Mustafa Shakir. My favorite episode has to be episode 6. It felt like a mid-season finale that ended the first phase of this season, paving the way for building Luke back up correctly. Every plot-line in that episode had an important piece of character development for all parties involved, which gave us a deeper look into the psyche of these characters.
My biggest con for this season has to be Mariah. My other big gripe has to do with Luke and Claire’s fight. The relationship felt organic and the tension was believable, but during that fight, something feels off. The way the actors deliver the dialogue is like reading right off the script. It feels forced unlike the rest of the relationship.
Verdicts: Kade: 4 out of 5 Vincent: 4 out of 5
Bushmaster: First Appeared in Iron Fist #15
Comanche: First Appeared in Hero for Hire #1
Cockroach: First Appeared in Power Man #28
Vincent is Canadian and a raving Cyclops apologist and a lover of all things geek Marvel and Star Wars are his specialty. He is well versed in DC, Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. He’s always wanted to be a writer and Do You Even Comic Book? is his first foray into that adventure.