Before the cultural phenomenon of a tsunami that was Black Panther, there was the moderate, cultural splash of Luke Cage.
Luke Cage’s first season saw the titular protagonist migrate up to Harlem to avoid unwanted attention as a hero and take refuge in Pop’s Barbershop. Of course, his powers and heart for the innocent drew him out of hiding and into a fray for Harlem’s soul opposite ruthless gangsters, crooked politicians and murderous relatives. It was an enjoyable first season, but Mike Colter’s stiff performance, clunky fight choreographies and an unconvincing sibling rivalry between Luke Cage and Willis “Diamondback”’ Stryker prevented the series from being something great.
Perhaps season one’s greatest fault was its inability to work within a genre. The best shows of the Marvel-Netflix partnership have found a home within a specific genre, much like the noir-detective tone of Jessica Jones. Luke Cage’s first season vacillated between gangster drama, origin story and social commentary, and that vacillation produced audience confusion. If anything, the first season will endure for its diverse musical backdrop and the dynamic performances of Mahershala Ali (Cottonmouth) and Alfre Woodard (Mariah Stokes Dillard).
But sweet Christmas, the second season is a different story. Luke has embraced being “Harlem’s hero” with all the fame and infamy that comes with the title. Amid his campaign to drain Harlem of drugs and crime, he’s led back to Mariah Stokes, herself struggling to leave the gangster game. With a few new players on his neighborhood chessboard, Luke has to go beyond being Harlem’s “Hero for Hire” and start playing diplomat and sheriff. As he takes on these positions without the consent of the community, Luke has to reconsider the fixed boundaries between hero and villain he swore by.
It takes its time, but Luke Cage’s second season fits itself right into the gangster-crime genre. It creates a fresh, exhilarating backdrop for compelling characterization. As the streets heat up, everyone becomes grittier and more raw with each other and themselves. The battle for Harlem feels more personal, as it integrates with each character’s quest of self-discovery: Who must these people become to save Harlem, and can they deal with the cost of becoming that person?
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Source: Relevant Magazine