Shakir's relentless Bushmaster is menacing yet relatable, the kind of fully realized antagonist that invites comparisons to Killmonger from Black Panther, and largely makes viewers forget Diamondback, who nearly derailed the first season. Just as importantly, he forces Mariah into a corner, resulting in an incredible showcase for Woodard, who deserves an Emmy nomination for her performance, and places Luke in an untenable position, caught between two enemies.
Although characters have long crossed over from one Marvel Netflix drama to the other, most consistently with Rosario Dawson's Claire Temple and Rob Morgan's Turk Barrett, it's never felt more natural than in it does in Luke Cage's second season. Sure, all the key players came together last year for The Defenders, but that was very event-driven, focused on the looming threat of The Hand. Here, it's more of a throwback to the classic Marvel Universe of the comics, with Elden Henson's Foggy Nelson, Jessica Henwick's Colleen Wing and Finn Jones' Danny Rand seamlessly weaving in and out of the story.
Of course, it's the latter who's the most anticipated, not only because fans have pined to see Marvel's Heroes for Hire together onscreen, but because Danny's depiction in the first season of Iron Fist made him an object of ridicule. If The Defenders began the reformation of Iron Fist, then the task is largely completed by Luke Cage, in which Danny is thoroughly likable -- he wears a hoodie emblazoned with the words "Sweet XMas" -- and Colter and Jones exhibit a chemistry that will only intensify calls for a Heroes for Hire spinoff.
But despite the heavy-hitting antagonists and parade of guest stars, Luke Cage remains at center stage, at war with himself even as he attempts to head off a showdown that threatens to tear apart Harlem. While the first season put Luke through the wringer physically, in large part because of the Judas Bullet, he's at his most emotionally vulnerable in these 13 episodes. Together, they represent Colter's most nuanced performance as the Hero of Harlem, particularly in those scenes he shares with the late Reg E. Cathey, in his final role as James Lucas.
Guided once again by showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, Luke Cage Season 2 is slowly but deliberately paced, taking the time to delve deeper into what motivates both its protagonists and its antagonists. It all builds to a genuinely surprising finale that stands to change the game for not only a potential third season but for the other Marvel Netflix dramas.
Arriving on June 22 on Netflix, the second season of Luke Cage stars Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Alfre Woodard, Theo Rossi, Rosario Dawson, Mustafa Shakir and Gabrielle Dennis.