It’s no secret that Marvel’s Netflix series have a season two problem. Both Jessica Jones and Daredevil suffered sophomore slumps after coming out like gangbusters in season one. We were hoping Luke Cage would be the exception to that rule, and it mostly is. There are some definite improvements in the show’s second season, but there are still some elements that are lacking. We still love Luke Cage as our lead hero and Harlem is a vibrant setting with endless possibilities. The season follows Luke as he fully embraces his life as Harlem’s hero. He must navigate fame and notoriety while balancing crime fighting with his relationship with Claire and trying to finally shut down Mariah and Shades’ operation. We also see Misty readjusting to life after losing her arm in The Defenders.
Perhaps the show’s strongest asset is its cast and how well the actors all work together to bring this world to life. There are no weak links in this crew. Everyone shines, while simultaneously building up one another. Of all the Marvel Netflix shows, Luke Cage has the deepest bench of interesting supporting characters. Most of whom are played by notable or legendary black actors. A cast that good deserves material they can really dive into and for the most part, they get it from the series’ second season. However, since no show (other than Game of Thrones) is perfect, it’s time to look at the 10 things we loved and 10 things we hated about season two of Marvel’s Luke Cage.
WARNING: Major spoilers for the second season of Luke Cage ahead!
20 LOVED: EASTER EGGS AND META JOKES
One of the best aspects of Luke Cage is its comedy. It doesn’t seem to take itself as seriously as the other shows. Several times throughout the season, women are asking Luke if he wants to get coffee. A callback to season one’s rather explicit explanation of what coffee really means.
Though there’s some question of how the Netflix universe actually connects to the MCU, there’s no denying how the shows all fit together. Other characters that are seamlessly featured include Dardevil’s Foggy Nelson as Luke’s lawyer, Iron Fist’s Colleen Wing as a drinking buddy of Misty’s and frequent snitch Turk Barrett. For fans of the overall Marvel Netflix universe, Luke Cage has a lot to look forward to.
19 DIDN'T: RIDENHOUR’S OFF THE BOOKS OPERATION
Throughout season one and two we learn that the Stokes family has been ruling Harlem for generations. Mariah is just the latest one to take over the business. Since the Stokes are so powerful, the police have to work outside the box to try and catch her. To this end, Captain Ridenhour places an off the books criminal informant in her organization.
He uses Shades’ lifelong best friend Comanche as his source. He finds out secrets only a small number of people know, leading to his downfall. Ridenhour doesn’t even tell Misty his informant’s identity, so he has no backup when Shades catches on and shows up to confront them. The whole operation is just poorly executed.
18 LOVED: MARIAH EMBRACING HER LEGACY
There’s a running gag in the show, that every time someone calls Mariah by her married name Dillard, Bushmaster corrects them and calls her Stokes. Mariah has never considered herself a Stokes. She did everything she could to get away from the family. She hates being referred to as Mariah Stokes. Until she decides she doesn’t.
Watching her transition from shady politician to full on killer is fascinating. It’s a tour de force performance from Alfre Woodard that almost makes us root for Mariah. During the restaurant massacre when she declares herself Mariah Stokes right before she shoots someone, she fully embraces her family legacy and goes full comic book villain. We really hope there’s a way to see her again in season three.
17 DIDN'T: LUKE’S LACK OF CHARACTER GROWTH
Season one was all about Luke accepting his abilities and how he could best use them to help his people. In The Defenders we met someone who was comfortable with himself and his place in the community. In season two of Luke Cage, our hero is loving the spotlight and the fame. He’s trying to get sponsorships and make money off of his name.
As the story progresses, he seems to fall back into the old Luke who’s not ready to take control of his own destiny. It isn’t until the last two episodes of the season that we get the confident, cocky Luke from earlier. It just feels like he spends 11 of the 13 episodes spinning his wheels.
16 LOVED: ANNABELLA SCIORRA AS ROSALIE CARBONE
As the show wraps up the stories of Mariah, Shades and Bushmaster, it begins to set up what we can expect from a probable season three. A character we will likely see more of is mob boss Rosalie Carbone. She wants to take over Harlem, so to stop the violence, Luke makes a deal with her and they essentially become partners.
In the comics, she’s a consistent foe of The Punisher, but this version may fit better on Luke Cage. In their brief scene together Mike Colter and Annabella Sciorra had an explosive chemistry that should definitely be explored going forward. Strong female villains are always fun to watch.
15 DIDN'T: INEFFECTIVE POLICE
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the police are not considered very helpful. Obviously, since the franchise focuses on superheroes, they are always going to be the first call. However, the Netflix series have specifically made a point of showing the NYPD to be not only ineffective, but also incompetent and corrupt. Everyone knows who the criminals are and where to find them, but there’s never enough evidence to make anything stick.
In Luke Cage, the cops are pretty much always second on the scene. The only one who knows what she’s doing is Misty. It’s ridiculous that a city like New York has to consistently rely on vigilantes and gangsters to stop crime.
14 LOVED: SOUNDTRACK
In the films of the MCU, the score is an underrated element. The music often tells a more emotional story than dialogue ever could. On Luke Cage, the music is synonymous with everything concerning the show. This season all the episode titles are named after songs by Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Central location Harlem’s Paradise once again plays an important role to the story, so the musical performances happening there are the soundtrack to pivotal moments.
Musicians Esperanza Spaulding, Stephen Marley, Gary Clark Jr., Faith Evans, Jadakiss and Rakim all make appearances at the club. Rakim performs a special song he recorded specifically for the show. Other than the Shonda Rhimes’ shows, no TV series uses music better to advance the plot.
13 DIDN'T: UNNECESSARILY VIOLENCE
There has been talk about how some Netflix shows exploit the streaming network’s adult ratings. Specifically where the Marvel series are concerned there is a lot of violence. For the most part, it works within the story, however it did reach excessive heights in The Punisher. Apparently, the writers for Luke Cage saw The Punisher and said, “watch this.”
The violence level in season two is just unnecessary and seems very gratuitous. The story of Bushmaster’s revenge and Mariah’s climb to power could have been told without so much explicit violence that seems to be a new Marvel Netflix trend (thanks to The Punisher). After awhile, it was exhausting.
12 LOVE: LUKE’S REUNION WITH HIS FATHER
For the first few episodes of season two, Claire does everything she can to convince Luke that his rift with his father is dragging him into a dark place. Of course, Luke fights her every step of the way, insisting that the relationship can’t be fixed. Once Bushmaster puts a bounty on him and his father, Luke has no choice but to spend time with his father as he protects him.
Finally forced to confront their issues, the two work out everything and have a tearful reunion. The father/son relationship between Mike Colter and Reg E. Cathey is authentic and never forced. As this is one of Cathey’s final performances, it’s a fitting tribute to the legendary actor.
11 DIDN'T: SHADES IS ARRESTED
Shades is a brilliant strategist and probably should have been running things from day one. He also loves the city. He grew up there, knows the community and the people. Shades is old school, so he plays by the old rules. There are hard lines he won’t cross.
For example, he’s horrified when Mariah commits the massacre at Bushmaster’s family restaurant. However, don’t be fooled by his occasional conscience, he’s still a stone cold killer. There’s still so much we don’t know about Shades, that we can’t imagine being done with his character yet. While he definitely needs to pay for his crimes, Theo Rossi’s captivating portrayal makes Shades someone we want to continue to see be a thorn in Luke’s side.
10 LOVED: SHADES AND MARIAH
In season one, we got hints at the burgeoning relationship between Mariah and Shades. Season two goes all in on the pair, showing that they’ve become more than business partners. Shades wants to continue their Bonnie and Clyde rule over Harlem’s gun business, while Mariah wants to go legit and focus on her charity. Although, deep down, she has to know that’s never going to happen.
From love to hate, every scene Theo Rossi and Alfre Woodard have together explodes off the screen. Though we can see how it’s all going to turn out between them, we still can’t look away as it all unfolds. What the duo has is stronger than chemistry, it’s a straight up fire.
9 DIDN'T: MARIAH’S DESCENT INTO MADNESS
Over the course of 13 episodes, Alfre Woodard takes Mariah Dillard on a journey from “gun lady of Harlem” to upstanding philanthropist to newest head of the Stokes crime family. It is during this last transition that she descends into complete madness. Shades does what he can to reign her in, but honestly it’s just too late.
Woodard is fantastic in every aspect of Mariah’s portrayal. She never makes a wrong step. We just feel like it does the character a disservice to have her be so over the top unstable, with hallucinations and paranoia. While her ending is earned and deserved, this one aspect of her turn left us cold.
8 LOVED: CLAIRE TEMPLE
There’s no doubt that Claire Temple is the glue of Marvel’s Netflix world. From her first appearance on Daredevil, she’s been the audience’s entry into this corner of the MCU. When she and Luke fell in love and became an official couple, we got to really know Claire and why she’s so motivated to help people with powers.
Her story on Iron Fist let us know that she’s no wilting flower. She has a mind of her own and has no problem expressing herself. She has no time for Luke’s nonsense, not hesitating to leave the minute he gets too aggressive. Her presence is greatly missed by both Luke and viewers when she leaves.
7 DIDN'T: BUSHMASTER’S STORY FINALE
Bushmaster defies many of the low expectations of MCU villains. He’s a strong, entertaining, interesting, sympathetic villain who’s the hero of his story. He has a completely legitimate right to his vengeance against the Stokes family. Where he goes wrong is drawing Luke and the innocent people of Harlem into their feud.
In the last few episodes, he’s actually not painted as the villain as much as Mariah is. He and Luke even fight off drug dealers together. In the end, it’s not him who takes down Mariah and that feels like a cheat. After his health can no longer sustain his cause, he just goes home to Jamaica to heal. We assume we’ll see him again, but his finish here is very anti-climatic.
6 LOVED: MISTY KNIGHT
We know the show is called Luke Cage, but honestly, it should be Marvel’s Misty Knight, because she’s the real star and hero of season two. Her character undergoes the true hero’s journey and experiences the most growth through the story. She starts out recovering from losing her arm during the fight with The Hand in The Defenders.
Once she gets her bionic arm, she finds a new level of confidence and swag. Frankly, all she’s missing is a super suit. Following Ridenhour’s murder, she takes command, and is forced to see the big picture for a change. The new position makes her evolve as a cop, as well as, as a person. Luke may have the name, but Misty’s the real MVP.
5 DIDN'T: NON CONSISTENT MCU CONNECTION
We were told from day one that Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage took place in a shared universe that would lead to a team up in The Defenders. No matter how you felt about the end product, they certainly kept to that formula, even bringing in The Punisher along the way.
Where things fall apart is in the series’ connection to the overall MCU. There are a few mentions of The Incident, which we’ve come to know as the Battle of New York. There’s also a lot of talk about how possession of Hammer weapons lead to federal prison time. However, how is it in a world with The Avengers everyone is still so unbelieving about a bulletproof guy?
4 LOVED: DANNY RAND
Listen, we’re just as surprised as you are to see Danny Rand as one of the things we loved, but it’s true. Somehow, between The Defenders and season two of Luke Cage, the writers heard fans’ concerns and toned down Danny’s naive, spoiled guy personality and just made him Luke’s friend who happens to be the Immortal Iron Fist.
When he shows up in Pop’s, he has a much more relaxed and cool vibe. As they search for Bushmaster together, it becomes clear he has matured and the changes have done the unthinkable: It made Danny Rand likeable. The fight they had against Bushmaster’s dealers (set to Wu-Tang of course) made us ready for a Heroes for Hire series.
3 DIDN'T: LUKE’S TREATMENT OF CLAIRE
In season one and on The Defenders, Luke and Claire are a great example of how to be in love and be a superhero. She supports his quest to save the city, while he respects her opinion on how he should handle certain problems. Unfortunately, superheroes aren’t known for their healthy relationships.
At the start of season two, they’re seemingly still in a good place, but that doesn’t last long. Claire sees Luke heading down the wrong path and tries to talk him back to right side, but he’s not willing to listen. He disregards her at every turn, eventually becoming aggressive and punching a wall. He really becomes a jerk toward her, basically pushing her away.
2 LOVED: UNAPOLOGETIC BLACKNESS
Luke Cage is set in Harlem and doesn’t shy away from themes and stories that connect with the black community. The show expertly introduces many different communities and aspects of black life. When Claire and Luke argue about how tough it is for him as a black man, she’s quick to remind him her battles as a woman of color are just as hard, maybe harder.
When Mariah is ready to open her new community center, she features pictures of famous black entrepreneurs and artists on the wall. It’s a nice moment that shows how much the cast and crew appreciate black history. It’s not just that the show is so proud of its blackness, it’s that it’s not watering it down or saying sorry.
1 DIDN'T: LUKE BECOMES KING OF HARLEM
As awful as she is, Luke discovers that Mariah, and the entire Stokes family, has actually been keeping Harlem safe from the gangs who want to take over and destroy it. Once this becomes clear, he has to make a decision about how he can best protect the city.
Though it tracks with the journey he takes in season two, it’s still surprising to see Luke decided to negotiate with the gangs and become Harlem’s new king. It just made the character unlikeable and seemed like a big jump from everything we’ve learned about him so far. Presumably we will see him deal with the consequences of his choice in season three.