Luke Cage’s second season premieres June 22nd on Netflix.
By Chris Flanagan
The second season of Luke Cage was a season that couldn’t find its footing and managed to be 5 episodes too long. The story spends too much time focused on everyone else but the titular character and only deals with his internal struggles as an afterthought when the plot has been wrung dry on everyone else. This season follows Luke Cage as he is learning to cope with his newfound celebrity in Harlem after defeating Mariah and Cottonmouth previously. But just as he begins to rest on his laurels, a new player emerges in the fight over Harlem’s soul that matches Cage’s strength blow for blow sending Luke down a path of self-discovery to overcome his doubts and fears.
While Mariah occupied much of the screen time for season two, John “Bushmaster” McIver, a ghost from Mariah’s family’s past, chooses to enter Harlem and attempt to burn down everything Mariah has built in her criminal empire. Bushmaster proves to be a formidable opponent for both Mariah and Luke Cage as he slowly begins to chip away at all the Mariah owns, but it isn’t until later in the season we come to find out that he is simply continuing a blood feud between their families that has lasted several generations.
Up until now, all of this sounds like it would make for a decent sophomore season for Luke Cage, but what drags down your binge is an overall mixed narrative – minor plots getting in the way, not moving any of the stories forward and simply spinning its wheels as to what the characters should do next. This is not only frustrating but painful to witness because of extremely poor dialogue. Sometimes it seems the scripts were lifted straight from a daytime soap opera.
The characters, who seemed to have taken large strides forward last season, spend this 13-episode run mostly standing in place or experiencing personal dilemmas that don’t capture the viewer enough to become invested in their journey. What’s even sadder is that the main character is not even exempt from this downfall and seems to be absent for long stretches of the story only to show up just in time for a fight montage set to 90’s rap music.
Additionally, the music, which for me was the focal point and favorite part of the first season, seemed to take more of a central role in the many, many montages. In season one, the track selections were a perfect addition to support the story being told, not taking too much of the spotlight away from the true focus: Luke Cage. Yet this season seems to accomplish the complete opposite not only ignoring the story at times just to focus on whatever musical number is playing but also assembling a multitude of talented artists that include, Ghostface Killah, KRS-One, Faith Evans, Stephen Marley and more. Often, they upstage the main characters and had me wishing several times that the episodes would just let them continue to play as they were much more entertaining.
I know it might seem that I’m being overly harsh on Luke Cage but I can admit that most of my anger is born out of frustration. I’m frustrated at the time I wasted watching a mediocre second season that had all the momentum it needed after a very strong and surprising start to continue to grow into a great television show. I’m frustrated at the poor acting and dialogue that was barely tolerable and often had me laughing out loud to how bad it was. I’m frustrated that this season proved that its creative spark died when Cottonmouth did, and that no amount of flashbacks and family feuds can bring it back.
While Bushmaster was a nice addition in the mix of Harlem, ultimately, he proved to be a half-thought half-developed character. In short, the second season of Luke Cage could have been so much more and instead of taking risks and striving to really create something through building from its last season it chooses to focus the narrative on all of the wrong characters and it isn’t until the end of the season that it finally finds the right footing to tell an interesting story, but by then it’s too late.
I give Luke Cage Season 2 a D-.