The first season of Luke Cage was a bit of a mess, which only got worse after they killed off main villain Coppermouth, replacing him with the over-the-top and uninteresting Diamondback. So the second season had a long way to go to impress. Whilst it still suffers from a few missteps, not to mention a rather dull middle section, season two is the stronger of the two, setting up a killer season three.
Luke’s new nemesis, Bushmaster, initially comes across as a strong villain but that early interest is lost when his story fails to go anywhere by the end. From his first appearance it’s apparent how outmatched Luke is against the faster, potentially stronger villain but he’s quickly able to overcome this – defeating him several times across the season. His vendetta against Mariah’s family rises and falls at various points throughout, with it being hard to tell what he wishes to achieve at various points; at first he wants to ruin her, then it’s seemingly about the club, then he wants to kill but he has plenty of chances to do that. These constant changes in motivation make Bushmaster a hard villain to pin down and, ultimately, a difficult character to care about.
Mariah’s journey is much more interesting to follow as she goes from wanting to escape her life of crime to becoming worse than ever. The ways she switches from secondary to primary villain throughout the season is fascinating to watch, with her becoming a genuine threat. Alfre Woodard does a great job of making the audience care for Mariah one moment and despise her the next. Mariah’s relationship with her newly introduced daughter, Tilda, has some interesting elements to it but is also one of the season’s downfalls; a lot of time is spent on Tilda’s development but only towards the end does she become a fully-fleshed out character.Misty Knight has seen the most change since season one, losing her arm in the events of The Defenders, with this season picking up with her trying to return to work and finding that her colleagues don’t show her the same level of respect that they used to. The first few episodes build an interesting narrative for the character, centered on her wishing to prove she still has what it takes, but this is all quickly swept away when she’s offered a robotic arm by Danny Rand. From that point on, her storyline basically fizzles into the background as she becomes Luke’s sidekick (no matter how much she denies it).
It’s hardly a surprise that Luke has the most engaging journey this season, being forced to confront what it means to be a hero and how far he’s willing to go to protect Harlem. At various points his anger pushes him to the brink, with Mike Colter playing Luke’s conflict very well. Luke might be downright unlikeable at times but he’s always compelling to watch.
The season picks up in its last few episodes, with episode ten being a particular highlight as Luke teams up with Danny (actually vaguely likeable here with his cockiness damn near non-existent). The final spell of episodes really ramp up the drama and are a thrill to watch, but that doesn’t make up for the first half of the season, which is a slow slog. As it stands, Luke Cage is a fine show but one that would be much better with a bit of compression.