Each Netflix Marvel series that has had a second season has been less compelling the second time. Daredevil had a less focused story and without Vincent D’Onofrio’s compelling presence, the season felt more episodic. Jessica Jones season 2 also meandered more. Overall though, Luke Cage season 2 feels tighter and more story driven than season 1. It still has its flaws and like all of the Marvel Netflix series would probably have been better with fewer episodes.
At the start of the season, Mariah Dillard/Stokes (Alfre Woodward) has inherited the crime empire of her brother Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, as well as the Harlem Paradise club that serves as a focus for both seasons. A former politician and philanthropist, Mariah is seeking one last weapon’s deal to give her the money to go legit. Detective Misty Knight is living with the consequences of events in spin-off The Defenders series, having lost an arm in the line of duty. Luke Cage is battling his relationship with his estranged father, drug dealers trolling him by naming drugs after him and his relationship with Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson).
Into this mix walks the enigmatic Jamaican gangster known as “Bushmaster” (Mustafa Shakir). Bent on revenge for unknown reasons and with his own set of extraordinary powers, chaos erupts around him and both Cage’s and Mariah Dillard’s plans and expectations unravel.
So, yes, once again the theme is “immigrant ethnic group crime gang” bringing chaos and brutality. That’s part of the weird 1970’s urban crime aesthetic that both the Daredevil and Luke Cage series try to evoke and it carries with it a whole set of problems and negative stereotypes. But also, there’s a degree of subversion there as the story unfolds, Bushmaster becomes less of a monster and more of a character as the story progresses. Yet, the Jamaican characters overall rarely get to be shown as more than stereotypes.
The first nine episodes are fairly tight. There is a slower pace for the typical Luke Cage episode on average as the show takes time for music and conversation but that pace feels appropriate this season. Episodes 10–13 drift a bit more including a comic book mandatory Power Man/Iron Fist team up which wasn’t as painful as it could of been (having said that I think I’m more tolerant of Iron Fist than most) but there is a clever arc there that again shifts the trajectory of who is the chief villain here. It is fair to say that the season ends in an unexpected place for Luke Cage as a character but there’s a logic to it.