It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Mike Colter as the bulletproof black man, Luke Cage, in his own show, but in just the first three episodes of this new season there’s a lot of marked improvement in the pacing, fight choreography, the villain, and some potentially interesting character development for our ex-con.
The season opens with Luke arriving to shut down a drug den, manufacturing heroin with his name stamped on it like a tacky brand. As Luke arrives and the pack mules flee, the armed guards point their guns at him – his only response being incredulity at their plan on shooting him. All one of the guards can say in response, meekly, is “Hey, he got to know we tired, man,” and a brawl ensues. Immediately, we see an improvement from last season as Luke engages in a fight with several of the armed guards. The blows feel more visceral, Luke is doing more than simply slapping and shoving foes aside, and even ends the fight by slamming one of them onto a table covered in heroin. With the drug mill shutdown, Luke leaves, dissatisfied, as the opening credits roll.
It’s great to see already some improvement and as the title card ends, we segue into what is essentially a declaration of the major running theme of this season dictated by Luke’s estranged father, James Lucas, played by the late Reg E. Cathey, as he practices a sermon in front of a mirror. He dictates that Luke Cage is merely one man, subject to his ego and spite, and that his bulletproof skin doesn’t change nature. Later, when he’s addressing his congregation, he tells them the Native American parable of a boy and their grandfather. The grandfather tells the boy of two wolves that live within us that are in a constant struggle. One is good, that represents humility, kindness, and benevolence while the other, evil, represent anger, pride, and ego. The boy asks which wolf will win and his grandfather replies “The one you feed.”
Throughout just these three episodes Luke is constantly feeding the evil within him. His anger towards his father, his pride for his powers, and his ego of needing to be in charge and in control as the protector of Harlem. It’s an interesting place for the show to go with Luke as a character, which makes sense since he was already becoming a rising star of his community in the first season. He has T-shirts with his name plastered on them, he’s trending on Twitter, people asking him for selfies in the street, and even Nike wants to sponsor him by the second episode.
However, with this fame and attention comes a major question of this season thus far: why hasn’t the police, at the very least, decided to arrest Luke yet for being a vigilant? It’s implied that the police begrudgingly leave him alone because he does their job better than them, but the police captain, played by Peter Jay Fernandez, is clearly on the verge of dragging him back to Seagate prison for his actions and ignorance of due process. This does come ahead later when Misty Knight, played by Simone Missick, let’s Luke leave the scene of a crime, but nothing transpires from this exchanged by the end of the third episode, so hopefully something does eventually.
Regardless of this hiccup in internal logic, Luke learns by the end of the first episode that he’s now immune to Judas bullets. When he visits his girlfriend, Rosario Dawson, returning as Claire, she theorizes that his second dip in the experimental bath near the end of last season had further strengthen his skin. Luke now believes himself to be even more invincible than he already was before, further feeding his ego for the worst and to Claire’s warning.
Misty herself, like Luke, also seems to be dealing with her own shattered ego, as we see her looking at her purple heart in shame as she downs some liquor. Having lost her right arm during The Defenders, she’s now retired as a detective with a nice pension. But, she runs into a criminal, Cockroach, that she arrested in the past walking free now due to double jeopardy and her corrupt partner from last season tainting all their arrests. Because of this she asks to be put back on the force, despite her lost limb, to help arrest all her past collars who are now free. She gets some help and advice from Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick, as they practice boxing and Misty vents about how much she hates the loss of her right arm. After Colleen beats her up and they have a drink, they get involved in probably the most entertaining fight of the entire series, as Misty and Colleen engaging in a good old bar fight. Misty is a bit more interesting as a character because of this development and her growing friendship with Colleen.
What does bring these episodes down is the subplot of Shade and Mariah Dillard, played by Theo Rossi and Alfre Woodard, who have a newfound, intimate, relationship. They plan on getting out of the criminal empire business, as Mariah doesn’t want to end up like the rest of her family and having it end up killing her. They plan on cashing out by way of blackmail, fraud, and insider trading with help from a white-collar criminal by the name of Piranha. They plan on making an exchange of with a Jamaican crime boss, Nigel, for millions of dollars.
But, he doesn’t last long as we’re introduced to the villain of this season by the end of the first episode, Bushmaster . Played wonderfully Mustafa Shakir, one of his first actions is to sneak into Nigels’ home, gouge his eyes out with a knife, snap his neck like a twig, and weave around a hail of gunfire from his guards as he takes them out one by one. Finally, he’s showered with bullets, but seems to be (almost) as bullet proof as Luke Cage – declaring himself their new leader in the late Nigel’s place.
Already he’s made a great impression as a villain in just these three episodes. He doesn’t appear often, but we know that he has a clear hatred for Mariah Stokes, as he likes to correct people, and Luke Cage, as he holds the heart of Harlem in his hands. He plans on taking them both out and so far he’s been very methodical about it by luring Mariah into a false sense of security by giving the money (and more) Nigel was originally going to give her and studying Luke like prey. Even luring him into an ambush purely to test his strength and skills, as an underling secretly records the entire encounter for Bushmaster to study later.
As the episodes go on Luke became more and more frustrated with the fact that he can’t stop criminals fast enough and finding one who isn’t dead to snitch on Mariah and put her away for good. It doesn’t help that his father is attempting to reach out to him, who he blames for virtually all of his problems. He seems to take all this anger out on Cockroach, who has potential information about the deal Mariah is attempting to make, but when Luke catches him beating his wife and child, Luke loses himself and begins mercilessly beating Cockroach into a coma. Luke’s anger reaches a boiling point as Claire tells him that she met with his father and feels like he’s changed for the better – that if were to see what he did to Cockroach, he’d be ashamed. Luke’s only respond is “Enough!” as he slams his fist into Claire’s apartment wall, terrifying her, especially after the talk of domestic abuse and the broken home that she had to grow up in. She tells him to leave, shaking, telling him that she’s going to visit her mom and tells him to leave.
The third episode gets pretty dark as it confronts Luke’s anger head out and his frustrations at having to toe the line with his anger, especially as a black man. He believes there’s only two choices in how he can act and get results, anger or softness, and he choices anger to solve his problems and take control. The ending even delves into domestic abuse both emotional, which puts Luke squarely in that position.
The final moment of episode three is when the series really picks up, as Luke leaves Claire’s apartment in shame of his actions and anger he’s suddenly ambushed and sucker punched by an unknown assailant. As Luke tries to recover, his ears ringing from the blow, his attacker looms over him and it’s none other than Bushmaster himself. The Jamaican taunts him, telling him that Harlem doesn’t belong to Luke, it belongs to him.
Already Mustafa Shakir’s Bushmaster is shaping up to be a great villain with him having the charisma of Cottonmouth and physicality of Diamondback – he’s a delightfully deadly package for the bulletproof man to face.
3 amputee jokes out of 5
While the pacing is still a bit too slow in some places, Misty as a character is still only tolerable (but improving), some faults in the story’s internal logic and the subplot of Shade and Mariah just not being that interesting, this new season has shown a lot of promise and improvement. It has a clear plan for all its characters and their arcs, the soundtrack is still great, the fight choreography is dramatically better from last season, and the villain is a true physical threat to Luke Cage, while having some seemingly compelling motives to take back Harlem. Hopefully, it keeps it up the rest of the season and only gets better.
It seems like Claire is on her way to breaking up with Luke for the same reasons she broke up with Matt
Really, it just feels like Shade and Mariah’s subplot is going to drag this season down
No, for real, if Shade and Mariah weren’t such a big part of these three episodes the rating would be higher
Misty really wasted that entire bag of groceries by leaving it in the street