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The second season of “Luke Cage” walks a well-known path. That path isn’t simply the streets of Harlem, although they’re as a lot part of the present as ever—that drained previous chestnut concerning the metropolis as a personality undoubtedly applies. As an alternative, in his second at-bat, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker revisits lots of the identical wells that “Luke Cage” frequented in season one. For an additional collection, which may look like a grievance. For this present, and this season, nevertheless, it’s acknowledging a little bit of a breakthrough. Coker and firm recognized what labored in that first season and ran with these issues, making “Luke Cage” the one Netflix Marvel collection to simply prime its first season with its second. The primary was uneven, however promising. This one is stronger, quicker, and infinitely extra compelling—all issues it has in frequent with its hero.
That may be Luke Cage himself, after all (Mike Colter), the once-reviled, now-adored Hero of Harlem whose (principally) bulletproof pores and skin and tremendous energy have helped him save lives and introduced him virtually nothing however bother. Because the season begins, although, issues are trying up for the previous Carl Lucas. He’s requested to take selfies with youngsters in every single place, spending time strategizing drug busts within the newly restored Pop’s with Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones), and spending lengthy, leisurely meals chatting about life, love, and superpowers with paramour Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). However quickly Luke’s quest to clear the streets of a pressure of heroin bearing his identify brings him again to the doorstep of Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), who goals, with the assistance of Shades (Theo Rossi), to dump the final of her cousin’s soiled enterprise, do some insider buying and selling, and go legit. Little or no, after all, goes to plan.
A few of the havoc that ensues comes from one of many oldest, purest types of making-shit-way-more-complicated: household ties. A lot of this terrific season of “Luke Cage” issues itself with household—the households you’re born with and people you select, the harm you possibly can bury and the harm you possibly can’t, the significance of household historical past and the facility of the longer term; the complexities of these histories, relationships, and decisions. It’s there in Luke’s relationship together with his father (the late Reg E. Cathey in his closing, wonderful efficiency) and Misty’s (the predictably terrific Simone Missick) connection to the police drive. It’s in Mariah’s ongoing quest to each seize energy and maintain her identify clear, as she conquers with Shades and reconnects with estranged daughter Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis). And it’s there with Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir, pictured above), a brand new villain whose drive to embrace what he believes to be his future—his “birthright”—makes him an thought foil, not only for Luke, however for Mariah as nicely.
Of all the good floor that “Luke Cage” revisits in season two, it’s this triangular construction that’s maybe finest. With the dying of Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), the primary season started to stumble a bit, spinning its wheels and turning to some plot units that felt greater than a bit creaky—the three-way tug-of-war between Luke, Mariah, and Cornell was compelling stuff, and it was by no means topped. It appears as if Coker and firm realized the absolute best lesson from that, which was to ensure they’d three gripping figures, with wants and wishes that had been generally opposed and generally aligned. Then they allow them to unfastened on this playground and allowed chaos and stress to ebb and circulation.
That’s attainable as a result of all three performances are, frankly, electrical. In his earlier appearances within the Marvel TV Universe, Mike Colter wasn’t at all times probably the most partaking performer. Charming, completely; endearing, to make sure. However the heavy-hitting stuff didn’t at all times land in the way in which one may hope. That’s now not the case. Colter’s flip this season now feels proper at residence in dialog with the performances of Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), David Tennant (Kilgrave), and Jon Bernthal (Frank Fortress). There’s thought, empathy, restraint and the dearth of it, a crafty sense of timing and an underlying, ever-present chew. As Luke struggles with anger, regret, disgrace, and ego, Colter attracts you additional and additional in; because of this, when the season hits its inevitable Netflix stoop (a lot much less pronounced right here than in maybe any however the first season of “Jessica Jones”), it’s straightforward to remain wholly dedicated to the narrative, even when the thoughts wanders only a bit.
Newcomer Shakir is equally good, a determine of menace who crackles with intelligence, but when this season has an MVP (and it does), it’s Woodard, and Black Mariah. Right here’s one other place the place “Luke Cage” took notes on what labored and went all-in on these issues: Mariah is at all times, at all times multiple factor directly. She reconnects along with her daughter for political expediency, however her longing and and pleasure on the reunion are honest. She proudly trumpets her position as a nurturer for her neighborhood, takes real delight in it, all whereas trying clear-eyed on the harm she has achieved, and continues to do. She’s often a mixture of rage and sorrow, flint and metal, concern and fury, love and its reverse. The ice in her blood that Shades identifies in her first, harrowing killing creeps out in ever better portions, however at the same time as she marches towards a brand new life—as against the law lord, a authentic philanthropist, or each—she stays a examine in contradiction, delivered to vibrant, scary, and sometimes playful life by Woodard.
There are different excellent performances—Missick, as talked about above, stays a standout amongst standouts, and Rossi’s Shades has much more to do on this season than the final—however all of them shine the brighter as a result of they’re so well-served by the crop of administrators and writers that carry this season to life. That phrase playful applies right here as nicely, a wierd factor to say a few collection with a lot acid tucked into its cheek, however “Luke Cage” has perfected the extent of self-referential winking wanted so as to add a way of enjoyable to some actually darkish shit. That is very true of lots of the fight sequences, as Luke squishes weapons, chucks big tires, holds individuals excessive over his head with a single hand, and even chucks one unfortunate protectee from one rooftop to a different, a lot increased rooftop. It is a superhero present that enjoys being a superhero present, and is aware of it doesn’t need to sacrifice substance to achieve type.
And my oh my, is there loads of type. As with the primary season, the rating, by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge, is maybe the present’s most invaluable asset; the recurring musical company are used even higher right here, notably in its use of reggae and reggae-inspired music, which could play as clichéd in much less savvy palms. The colours are wealthy, the costuming usually shocking, and the superb cinematography makes almost everybody appear to glow from inside (even a bionic arm has a sure interesting lustre). However all of the type on the earth couldn’t make up for lackluster writing, and fortunately, this season has little that might be described as such. By honing in on what made the primary season thrilling, “Luke Cage” far surpasses that preliminary outing. Luke emerged from that bathtub in season one more durable, and extra formidable. It appears as if his collection did, too.
Full collection watched for assessment.