Season Two of Luke Cage dropped on Netflix this weekend, giving Marvel fans a much-needed second dose of one of the most fascinating and entertaining characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And while the first season was acclaimed by critics and fans alike, the second season manages to top the first effort, as Cage’s attempts to maintain order and justice in Harlem for 13 episodes is a nonstop thrill ride that is packed with all the heart and nuance we’ve come to expect from Marvel. Here are five reasons the second season of Luke Cage is superior to the first.
The Trappings of Fame
At the start of the season, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is essentially the King of Harlem, as the entire neighborhood has gone crazy for their hoodied hero. At first, Cage seems to embrace his newfound adoration, as he embraces the spotlight like Iron Man instead of hiding out in the shadows like Batman. But after he is humbled by a new villain in town, he begins to see that fame is a fickle thing and the same people that loved him turn on him just as quickly. Cage grappling with his place in the world perhaps the most important (and definitely the most engaging) storyline of the season and helps develop the titular hero in a surprising and compelling way.
To be clear, Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), the big baddie from season one, remains one of the most memorable and impeccably dressed characters from the entire Marvel Television Universe. But sadly, Cottonmouth was killed off far too soon and the rest of the season felt empty without the presence of such a charming but ruthless villain. Fortunately, the villains make a strong comeback in season, as Mariah (Alfre Woodard) and Shades (Theo Rossi) each have significantly more focused storylines than they did in season and Cage finally got himself a supervillain with the emergence of Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), a terrifying but complex character who provides some of the season’s best moments.
Cage’s Complex Relationship With His Father
Considering that Cage’s father was not even mentioned in the first season, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Reverend James Lucas (Reg E. Cathey) and his superpowered son don’t have the best relationship. When we first meet James, he is preparing a sermon warning about the danger of people having too much faith in Luke Cage and things only get messier from there, as we discover that Cage hasn’t forgiven his father for not writing him back while he was in jail and also didn’t tell him that his mom died. Ouch.
This might make it seem like James is an irredeemable monster but over the course of the season, viewers get a more nuanced look at this imperfect father. We won’t spoil how the two view each other at the end of the season but they have one of the most fascinating and rich relationships in the entire series.
The Kick-Ass Action
This one may not seem surprising given the fact that this is a superhero show but the action sequences in season two deserve to be mentioned, as they are simply phenomenal. The second season kicks off with an incredible scene where Cage casually takes down a drug den and later in the same episode, Cage emerges from an exploded bus and endures several bullets. The action only ramps up over the season, with a level of fighting that wouldn’t feel out of way in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the action in season one was impressive in its own right, it reaches a new level in season two and is one of the most entertaining aspectss of the show.
Cage Embraces His Dark Side
One of the best parts of the second season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones was its exploration of how females are judged by society for how they experience and express anger. In a similar vein, the second season of Luke Cage looks at the way black men are judged and demonized when they struggle to process their anger. At first, Cage’s vigilante-esque brand of justice is celebrated but before too long, he is being labeled as little more than an angry black man creating more trouble than he’s worth.
In an argument By the end of the season, Cage isn’t just struggling to fight injustice from villains, he’s fighting society’s injustice too. And sadly, as the weight of expectations and judgment relentlessly fall on Cage, he has an increasingly difficult time controlling his frustration and begins to access his darker feelings, resulting in an ambiguous ending to the season that suggests that Cage’s days of trying to be a pure hero are behind him.