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Luke Cage Season Two: Taking Harlem Justice to a New Level

Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.

Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Be Cool Enough

Heroes for Hire - Luke Cage (Mike Coulton) and Danny Rand, Iron Fist (Finn Jones).

Heroes for Hire - Luke Cage (Mike Coulton) and Danny Rand, Iron Fist (Finn Jones).

The sophomore season of any show can be a disappointment. Writers fall back on the same old formula and characters get stale. Not so with the second season of Luke Cage. This season, literally being the fourth series to star or co-star Harlem’s Hero for Hire, brings Cage’s brand of justice up a few notches. While it is theoretically easy to get bored with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Luke Cage yet again breathes new life to the Netscape Defenders crew.

Here’s what you can expect from season two – more of everything.

Better fights, better music, better story, bigger villains, more plot twists, and enough violence to make Charles Manson cringe. Okay, I may as well tell you now that this show isn’t for your kids. But still, you’re going to love season two.

The Music

Stephen Marley

Stephen Marley

Did you like the music from season one? Well, sit back and get your iPhone listening device queued up. The bands playing the Paradise club highlight the musical culture of the area. Cunningly interwoven within the series are the R&B, Jazz, Reggae, and old style blues showing alert viewers where the power of Harlem has shifted – From Bushmaster’s Jamaican vibe to Black Maria’s old school blues to Luke’s more contemporary music. The music is just too cool.

Artists include Joi, D-Nice, Gary Clark Jr., Esperanza Spalding, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Ghostface Killah (featuring Adrian Younge), as well as Stephen Marley. Sell this music on iTunes and I’ll buy it immediately.

As I write this, I’m listening to a Youtube video that caught most of the music numbers – and I’m loving it. Seriously, you can practically hear everything that Fela Kuti might throw into an Afro-Jamaican beat into this track.

That also goes to the incidental music playing throughout the show. The dramatic stings in the background are reminiscent of Shaft and the old Warner Bros seventies movies.

The Plot

Bushmaster in Paradise

Bushmaster in Paradise

I promise, no spoilers.

What I can tell you is that this season has lots of twists, turns, new players, and lots of power shifts. We get to see how Harlem is faring with Luke as its new street guardian. As a new superhero fighting to keep Harlem from gang violence, drugs, and free-flowing guns, Luke has his hands full. But as Luke says, “He can’t be burned, blasted, or broken.” After his last dip into the experimental bath, Luke’s powers are stronger than ever. This is where Marvel comes in with Spider-man’s Uncle Ben’s rule “with great power comes great responsibility”. Luke has to realize that with his great strength and power, he can’t have to luxury of losing his temper lest he accidentally kill someone.

We also get to meet Luke’s real father and all of the trouble he represents.

Old characters like Misty Knight, Claire Temple, are here as well as guest stars like Colleen Wing and Danny Rand. Remember, New York is now home of The Defenders. We are reminded New York is still just one big city.

As far as the plot goes, what we’re looking at is the fallout of season one. The big boss is gone; long live the big boss. In addition to that, someone has a very old axe to grind with the current regime and he’s not looking to be subtle.

Once again, we see that Marvel is going for some of the more obscure, yet fundamentally dangerous list of rogues. The unexpected arrival of Tilda Johnson to this new cast promises and delivers all kinds of new chaos. I’m not going to give anything away, but if you’re looking to do some research on Ms. Johnson, it wouldn’t hurt to find issue 164 of Captain America and the unexpected plague of werewolves that came to New York.

The Highlights

The team up you've been waiting for

The team up you've been waiting for

I’ll mention three things. Trust me, it’ll be harmless.

Firstly, fans of the old Power Man comic book or Heroes for Hire will appreciate the new development in Misty Knight’s life. As this Netflix series starts veering more and more to the comic books, long held legendary partnerships come to light. The setup for Knightwing Investigations is definitely in the works. That said, we have the samurai expertise of Colleen Wing partnered with the strength of Misty’s bionic arm. Given where we are in the twenty-first century and the science of prosthetics, it’s only a short leap into the suspended disbelief that Misty Knight could be a six million dollar woman.

Secondly, episode 10 alone is a good justification for any comic book fanboy to watch the series. This is the partnership we’ve all been waiting for. Screw the Defenders, what we want to see is the Heroes for Hire team in action. And that is what we get. Power Man and Iron Fist kicking asses and taking names.

I squealed like a little schoolgirl when they did “patty-cake”. It was truly one of the coolest things to watch.

Maria Stokes (Alfre Woodard) and Tilda Johnson (Mahershala Ali) - mother and daughter

Maria Stokes (Alfre Woodard) and Tilda Johnson (Mahershala Ali) - mother and daughter

The partnership of Luke Cage and Iron Fist was pure magic in the comic books. We have Danny Rand’s more calm and Zen nature balancing out Luke’s streetwise hustle. Granted, Michael Colter is not the Luke Cage from the comic books and Finn Jones still has to own Danny Rand’s quiet power and stillness, but you could see the seeds of where all of this is going. It was wonderful.

Thirdly, some of the acting blew me away. When I was a kid I’d seen Alfre Woodard’s Emmy award-winning performance on Hill Street Blues where she played the mother of a child that one of the cops accidentally shot. It was one of the finest bits of work Ms. Woodard had done. Her performance in this series is phenomenal – especially her monologue about Uncle Pete. It will leave you dumbstruck. The other performance that needs to be noted was from Chaz Lamar Shepherd as Piranha. He played his part with so much slime, I felt I needed a shower afterward. That was when it occurred to me that to do that took a bit of talent.

There are all around great performances from Simone Missick (Misty Knight), Theo Rossi (Shades), Mustafa Shakir (Bushmaster), and newcomer, Gabrielle Dennis (Tilda Johnson, aka Nightshade).

Lowlights

Bushmaster: More Jamaican than you can handle

Bushmaster: More Jamaican than you can handle

Don’t let what I’m going to say put you off from seeing this show.

Michael Coulter has a small way to go before becoming the Luke Cage we all know. I don’t believe this is his fault. Some of the dialogue is a bit faulty. Perhaps it was my expectations of how he should react to people who will someday be his closest allies. Some of the scenes came off a bit wooden – once again, it could be the writing or the directing. I will say that Coulter has the right blend of intensity when the scene calls for it. The rage he portrays at pivotal times appropriately comes off as scary and nearly maniacal. This is needed. Unfortunately, that goes against some of the scenes where we see Coulter acting in what I could call “heroic stance #2”.

Once again, it could have been some of the directing.

As I mentioned before, Finn Jones has a small bit of distance to go before he can comfortably wear the role of Iron Fist. Don’t get me wrong. He’s come light years since The Defenders and his own series of Iron Fist. A lot of what came out in those shows looked like instability where the character shouldn’t have had any. Once again, it could have been bad writing or bad directing. What really needs to happen is chemistry between characters that have become fast friends. I just didn’t get that vibe. It’s coming, but it isn’t there yet.

Lastly, keep your ears tuned carefully – the Jamaican accents are a bit too thick at times. So much so that much of the dialogue between Mustafa Shakir’s Bushmaster and many of his Jamaican co-stars was chewed up before the import of their lines could be properly absorbed. After a while, you get an ear for it, but initially, it’s hard to digest.

But otherwise, it was a great performance.

Final Words

Things change

Things change

Watch this show. Really.

If you're a comic book fan that loves the MCU and what Netflix has been doing, you won't be disappointed. This show has it all - acting, action, and ass-kicking. I said it before, as a fanboy, I squealed.

The performances from the cast were solid. The vibe was just plain cool. If you're looking for a good sequel to a superhero series, this is it.

It's thirteen episodes, an hour each. Binge or watch one at a time.

Watch the show.

© 2018 Christopher Peruzzi

Comments

Nathan Kiehn on April 02, 2019:

I thought this show was a huge improvement over the first season of Luke Cage as well as the Defenders. And I agree that the performances are really, really good--Shakir is great as Bushmaster. For me, the only letdown was that there will be no third season (at least, at the moment) to wrap up the storyline. Same with "Iron Fist." The way this season ended, I could foresee some really cool potential stories.