TV Review: Luke Cage (Season 2)
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“Yo, I’m Luke Cage. You can’t burn me, you can’t blast me, and you definitely can’t break me. You wanna test me? Step up. I’m right here. I ain’t going nowhere. You know where to find me. I am Harlem. And Harlem is me.” The second season of Netflix’s Marvel series, Luke Cage, follows the bulletproof hero as he navigates his home turf of Harlem following the events of The Defenders. In his sophomore solo outing, he deals with newfound fame while trying to bring down Mariah Dillard Stokes. Meanwhile, Mariah is trying to go straight and leave the criminal world by selling her family’s gun business, but the arrival of John “Bushmaster” McIver, who takes over the Jamaican criminal gang in Brooklyn and wants revenge against the Stokes for his parents’ deaths, complicates this, whilst also providing Cage with a formidable new opponent This season goes on to explore themes of family, how we represent ourselves, power and how Cage navigates his identity as both a man and a hero. Families born into and made are explored. Luke’s father, Reverend James Lucas, attempts to reconcile with Cage - who he’d rejected upon his arrest. Luke’s relationship with Claire collapses partly due to her request that he meets his father. The blossoming relationship of Iron Fist and Luke also continues to develop this season. In the case of the villains, Mariah first pushes against the Stoke family legacy by trying to go straight, until it all inevitably falls apart. Her relationship with Shades - which could have been normal if they’d succeeded in escaping the criminal life - instead ends with Shades cleaning his hands obsessively, ala Lady Macbeth, while “Black Mariah” Stokes does away with her milk of human kindness. Her daughter Tilda has her whole identity pulled out from under her, discovering that her father wasn’t the doctor hero she though, but instead her mother’s uncle. She turns her back on her mother when she becomes irredeemable, but makes choices that fulfil the Stoke family's grimy legacy. As Bushmaster’s aunt says, "peace in Harlem will only occur when the last Stokes dies…" And technically, there is one left - even if she goes by Johnson. Power is considered this season too. Luke finds he is both powerful and powerless while trying to battle those like Mariah. As a black man, he has dealt with a lack of social and political power in the US. Mariah meanwhile has “black power” through her wealth and influence as long as it lasts. The relationship of Danny Rand (Iron Fist) and Luke further explores race and class privilege. Pre-friendship in The Defenders, Luke told Rand his privilege meant he’d had “power the day he was born" while in this season he tells Danny that his fist is his really his smallest asset: “money is power…It’s what flows”. Rand eventually acknowledges that Luke is right and that he can use money in his fight unlike others. Its Luke’s feeling of powerlessness to stop acts like the Jamaican restaurant massacre with innocent deaths that make him “so tired” that makes him accept Mariah’s offer of the Harlem Paradise. He hopes to protect people with the new social and monetary power as strong as his bulletproof skin.
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