When we last saw Luke Cage (Mike Colter), he and the other Defenders with impenetrable skin had successfully saved New York from the villainous organization, The Hand. So what’s a bulletproof black man famous for his heroic exploits throughout Harlem to do? If you thought “go back home and live like a king” was in the cards for Luke Cage season 2, you thought wrong. That honor belongs to the villainous Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), whose efforts to surpass the late Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali) as Harlem’s chief powermonger continue. As for Luke, he and his allies face rent hikes, mounting bills and celebrity’s loss of privacy.
Enter John McIver (Mustafa Shakir), a new player known as the Bushmaster. Not only does he possess abilities similar to Luke’s, but he’s also gunning for Dillard’s post at the top of Harlem’s elite. As a result, Luke Cage season 2 pits all three into an uneasy and uneven series of relationships and rivalries as complex as HBO’s The Wire.
Such complexity is both a blessing and a curse for Luke Cage and the other Marvel series on Netflix. On the one hand, their 13-episode seasons (or The Defenders miniseries’ eight) allow the writers’ plenty of room to tell sweeping stories about more than simply heroes being heroic. On the other hand, many critics and viewers fault these shows for their length, as much of it feels wasted and unnecessary.
Examples of the latter abound in Luke Cage season 1, as well as past seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist. Even The Defenders is susceptible to such criticism. However, all this extra time is occasionally put to good use, as is the case for what showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker does in Luke Cage season 2.
What to expect from Luke Cage season 2
This is especially true of two new elements the “Southland” and “Ray Donovan” alum has introduced: Misty Knight’s (Simone Missick) friendship-cum-partnership with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) from “Iron Fist,” and newcomer Tilda Johnson (Gabrielle Dennis).
Having lost most of her right arm in The Defenders, Knight must learn to cope with her disability and the way it affects her duties as a police detective. She does just that with Wing’s help, resulting in an homage of sorts to the pair’s Daughters of the Dragon collaboration in the comics.
As for Johnson, she is best known as the criminal (and occasional hero) Nightshade in the comics. Her exploits range far and wide, but for Luke Cage season 2, she has become Dillard’s estranged daughter. The latter spends much of the new season trying to make amends, including laying the groundwork for Johnson to succeed her criminal throne.
This all sounds great, but does it work? Sadly, despite Coker’s best efforts, Luke Cage season 2 suffers from the same issues that plagued its predecessor. Namely, it drags on its many story elements for much longer than necessary. However, the Knight-Wing pairing and the addition of Johnson help to assuage these problems. Mostly.
Luke Cage season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.