By Dave B.
Flat out, the second season of Luke Cage (Netflix) is a marked improvement upon the first installment. The story picks up shortly after the events in Defenders (there are several references to events in Defenders, but it definitely isn’t necessary to have seen it to follow the plot, however having seen the first season of Luke Cage is probably a prerequisite). Things appear to be going well for Luke. He’s extremely popular in Harlem, he has a loving relationship, and he’s kept crime at a manageable level. Unfortunately, everything is about to change with the arrival of a new, charismatic super-powered “villain”, Bushmaster.
Luke Cage’s second season manages to avoid the major pitfall of the first, namely the inconsistent quality of the plot. In the first season, the final third of the show was pretty boring. In the new season, there are down times within episodes, but the quality remains consistently fairly high. The last episode is a particular favorite of mine. The soundtrack is AMAZING! Even better than in the first season, which is quite an accomplishment. The plot is good, and the various directors all do a capable job.
The show’s dialogue often plays as if it comes from an overly dramatic soap opera, but that didn’t bother me too much, as a major element of Luke Cage is the airing of ALL of EVERYONE’s dirty laundry. Every major character is exposed for who they truly are, for better or worse. In a sense, that’s refreshing, adding to the raw feeling of the show. What the Luke Cage lacks in subtly, it makes up for in emotional impact. I can live with that trade.
I have two main complaints about the show. First, the action sequences, for the most part, aren’t impressive. Bushmaster is an exception to that, but overall, Luke is a brawler who relies largely on being invulnerable. That doesn’t lend itself to requiring a high degree of choreographic skill, and means that the fight scenes feel repetitive. Second, I can’t shake the feeling that there are…philosophical inconsistencies in the show.
There are a few levels through which Luke Cage can be evaluated. On a strictly entertainment level, the show is a success. As a study of how the justice system often fails black communities, it also works. Ditto for its view on the strength, perseverance, and yes, ruthlessness that is often required to achieve success in any community of color. On the levels of individual agency and apportioning blame where it belongs however, Luke Cage falls flat.
Regarding individual agency, the overriding message that viewers will see in the show is that people are fundamentally incapable of improving their own lives and require a “super person” to make everything ok for them. Whether that person is good or evil is largely irrelevant to the masses, so long as people as individuals don’t have to do much for themselves. While that may or may not be a true reflection of reality, it kind of annoyed me to see that promoted as a positive condition.
Even more annoying to me was Bushmaster. Not as a character. He’s one of my favorite Marvel “antagonists”. Right up there with Killmonger and Thanos (although on an smaller, more personal scale than those two). Mustafa Shakir’s portrayal of the character was just short of great. However, it’s clear that some portion of Bushmaster’s focus of revenge is misplaced. Yes, his desire for vengence against the people that directly betrayed and destroyed his family makes sense. But in the show, it consistently feels as if there is a concerted effort to ignore the fact that the conditions for that betrayal were directly created by others. To be blunt, Luke Cage displays a significant degree of moral cowardice by giving the white people involved in the criminal underworld (past and present) a complete pass for their crimes. Black people, Asians, Hispanics…everyone besides ANY white people all pay the price for their culpability in their historical and current life choices. It’s befuddling, especially in a show that doesn't generally have qualms about addressing racial issues.
As pure entertainment, I recommend the second season of Luke Cage. It’s fun. It’s consistently good. It’s superior to its previous season in nearly every way. But when I scratch the surface, there are philosophical elements of this show that are problematic for me.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.