I tried. I truly did. Actually I did better than try. I finished the job. My high school football coaches would’ve been proud. I made it all the way through the 4th quarter just like in conditioning drills. So yea, I finished. And unfortunately my opinion didn’t really change. Luke Cage’s 2nd season was trash.
I’m sorry to bring this bad news to you if you’re someone who has yet to check out Luke Cage, or if you’re someone that caught the 1st season and hasn’t gotten to season 2 yet. Well actually I’m glad to bring it to you to save you some time. If you want to take my word for things, that is. By all means do what you do and watch what you want. But I felt like dropping some opinion bombs here because, well, what else do I have to write about today?
So where to begin? What was so bad about this season? Well before I get to that there were a few things that I really dug. The tone of everything was really cool. It’s kind of laid back and slick. Everything is presented very stylishly with a smooth color palette. Luke Cage just looks like a show you want to be watching. In addition to that they’re really playing up the vibe of the club, Harlem’s Paradise and in turn bringing back one of my favorite themes from TV: the New York Undercover go to of live performers in a club as the backdrop to conversation or plot. The musical interludes and montages intercut with performers like KRS One and Rakim were always pretty cool, even if they did get a bit corny at times. I give them props for going for it though.
Another thing that was very refreshing to see was that they finally succeeded in making Danny Rand seem like an actual person. This was the first time the Iron Fist has been on screen without being completely maddening. They relaxed him a bit and put some shoes on his feet and made him seem actually interesting for once. Annnnnddd that’s about it for positives.
The biggest problem I ran into was just the sheer, overwhelming number of corny lines. The dialogue was just tough. Most of it sounded unnatural and the rest of it was just forced. I must admit I’ve been a bit distracted by Mike Colter’s stilted line delivery since the first season and it carried over into this one. He pronounces every word precisely as it’s written on paper, almost as if he’s practicing vocabulary. Now a character speaking ‘proper’ English is fine. IF that’s part of the character. A good example of this is how they poke fun of Luke’s corniness at times which makes sense for a guy that likes to say ‘sweet Christmas’. But in this case it just comes across as a lack of personality injected into the character. But that’s kind of a minor beef. My bigger issue is that this season consisted of a lot of scenes of two people in a room talking. And often those conversations were stilted messes. Too many anecdotes that were exactly on the nose. Too many times characters explained things to each other that they clearly already knew just for the audience’s sake. Too many times where people had to explain their motivations and personal philosophies out loud. It all seemed forced.
Another issue I kept running into is that there just aren’t many likeable characters here. Luke is the hero but too much of the season is spent trying to turn him into some sort of troubled anti hero without the guts to go all the way. Much noise is made about his anger and how violence gets things done but the only person he ever seriously hurts is the lowlife woman beater cockroach who’s clearly perfectly fine a few days later. They give lip service to how terrible it was that Luke beat him up when it’s clear that Luke could’ve easily done far more damage AND the audience has no sympathy for the ‘victim’ anyway. The only consequences for that violence is a waste of time lawsuit sequence which is what happens when you try to stretch 7 episodes of story into 13. In season 2 there’s a lot more profanity, a lot more violence and a lot more uses of the N word. They clearly wanted to make this far more PG13 than last season. However they could’ve actually created some stakes by having Luke actually be violent rather than just talk about his desire to be so. But that’s just Luke. Misty Knight is the 2nd lead here and I’ll be honest; I can’t stand that character. This is a show about a bulletproof black man who’s using vigilantism to fight crime that the police can’t or won’t stop. Yet instead of using the character of Misty to explore the real issues with the criminal justice system or the moral issues of being a part of that system as a black woman, they simply make her a talking head who says silly stuff like ‘what about the law’ and ‘lets do this the right way’ and constantly reminds everyone that she’ll arrest them. It’s quite annoying, really. She gets to essentially ride a high horse for the entire show aside from a brief crisis of conscious where she considers framing someone and then is so guilt ridden she quits her job over it. Again there are no real consequences for any of this and she gets to go on being the one dimensional killjoy she always was. Oh and now she’s also an amazing fighter capable of beating up rooms full of grown men with no apparent martial arts skills to speak of. I wanted to like Misty but her character just comes off like an overgrown child in terms of how she views the world when there’s so much more potential there. Sad, it is.
Sometimes even shows with mediocre hero’s can be great if they’ve got really interesting villains. But again, Luke Cage suffers. Mariah could have been an interesting character, and they sure gave her enough screen time to fully flesh her out, but instead she’s just pretty dull. She talks about loving Harlem but is shown doing very little that actually proves it. She says she’s about family but only has one family member to interact with and clearly treats her like garbage. There’s no actual complexity to her character other than the lip service she gives to things that are clearly see through. That means I never actually cared about her or thought of her as troubled in any way. She was always a greedy, power hungry monster. That makes her not only unlikeable but also boring. Next to her, Shades was basically a rough outline of a human being who didn’t get the least bit interesting until the last few episodes then immediately got predictable and boring again. The romance between Shades and Mariah always seemed weird, was never truly explained and never seemed real. It all just felt gross. The other villain, Bushmaster, had a chance to be interesting but he too was a one dimensional character only after revenge. That can work at times but since he was never particularly scary, funny or memorable, it all fell short again.
I really wanted to like Luke Cage. I swear I did. But even after all those beefs I just listed I still haven’t mentioned the ridiculously stupid football training sequence, the fact that the plot about Cage profiting off of his name was silly seeing how a book deal or two, a few club appearances or a few endorsements would’ve easily solved his money problem, or even the fact that the word ‘Harlem’ was said 78 times in each episode. The show just had a way of constantly showing it’s flaws while rarely highlighting it’s actual strengths. That said, I’m 98% sure anyone could say the same thing about my writing abilities. So hey, who am I to judge?