True to series’ form, the first episode of Luke Cage’s second season begins with our hero doing what he does: introducing himself, in the flesh, to villains across Harlem. That’s quickly followed by shots of a preacher, intersecting the shots of Luke, in a move that sets the show’s tone early on: quick bouts of action, mixed with sprinkles of conversation. The first episode is mostly a menagerie of deck-shuffling and resetting last season’s pieces — and it remains to be seen how high the stakes will ultimately loom.
But the first extended commentary we get comes from D.W. and Bobby Fish, Luke’s friends from last season. The pair riff on Luke’s newfound internet fame (via an app), which our man is entirely unprepared for. As D.W. talks his way through a method to monetize Luke, their conversation’s interrupted by a white guy’s appearance in the shop, a nod to the gentrifying Harlem we saw last season. The trio is quick to note that they’re surprised “a bulletproof white man hasn’t shown up” in their part of town.
Luke isn’t the only hero we’re shadowing in the premiere. We also check in with Misty Knight. Ever since she lost her arm back in The Defenders, it’s taken her a minute to adjust to that new reality. Even if she thinks she’s 100 percent, the people around her don’t share that same mindset. In therapy with Claire, she pushes back against what she perceives as special treatment, to which Claire is quick to reply, “It’s not pity, it’s appreciation.” Misty tells Claire that, if she wants to “appreciate” her, she’ll hold on to what she’s got: Luke. And there’s a beat as the two woman acknowledge their relationship to a guy who’s given both of them no shortage of headaches.
The episode, from this point forward, is mostly a vehicle to check in where we left off last time around. We catch Shades onscreen with Mariah, wheeling and dealing in the Stokes family’s nightclub — but, lo and behold, now they’re an item! Officially! They are really, really intimate together! In public! And because they’re both aware of the optics, given their history (and that’s all Marvel leaves it at, for now), Mariah quips, “Hey, it works. Who gives a shit what anybody thinks?”
But while it appears that they don’t, the same can’t be said for Shades’ new associate, Comanche (or, as Mariah deems him, “Cockroach”). He looks on with an expression that isn’t entirely clear just yet. It remains to be seen whether he can be trusted (although, as has been the case throughout this series, the answer’s probably complicated).
The scene unspooling that relationship leads to the reintroduction of another one: We catch Luke and Claire on what looks like a low-key date, but is really setting the stage for the discord between them. Luke still can’t acknowledge the fact that he’s “different” from the Harlemites around them. When Claire says, “Nobody knows if you’re a cop, a hero, or a vigilante — you’ve gotta formalize it,” a look of derision crosses her partner’s face. But the gag is that, no matter how he feels, each and every last one of us knows that she’s right. Their conversation veers between idyllic moments of tenderness and an underlying tension before Claire notes, after Luke leaps out of her bed to chase a siren, that “Every siren’s not for you.” You would think he’d listen to the one person in Netflix’s Marvel enterprise who knows.
Back on the street again, Luke Cage runs into the pastor from earlier on the sidewalk — Reverend James Lucs, a man who turns out to be Luke’s “illegitimate” father. Turns out their relationship is complicated, at best. When the man calls Luke “Carl,” and Luke tells him that is isn’t his name anymore, Luke’s dad replies, “Your name is the name I gave you, boy” — to which our hero replies, “Just like Willis, right?” And that’s where we’ll leave their relationship for now — as yet another boiling point for Luke to address in a coming episode.
His main antagonist, on the other hand, is running a few games of her own. Mariah’s grooming a woman named Stephanie (although Mariah renames her “Billy”, because “men will want to save [her]”) to run a game of blackmail on her behalf. After talking Stephanie through the benefits of playing both sides of the aisle (although, again, you really can’t trust anyone in this show unless they’re Luke, Misty, or Claire), Mariah decides that it’s time to drink (she’s still an alcoholic) before admonishing a photo of her grandmother Mabel (“I’m still better than you”). But it remains to be seen whether Mariah’s juggling the moving parts as well as she’ll need to. For starters, the Jamaican gang(s) in Brooklyn seem to be setting their sights on Harlem. Mariah’s on the hook for money just about everywhere, and when Shades suggests she sell “the Basquiat,” she declines in no uncertain terms (before proceeding to gnaw on his hand — because they’re lovers!). Also, she’s in the middle of negotiating an arms deal between three different gangs. She wants out of that life. And although Mariah hasn’t quite decided who she’ll be providing her services to, the only thing that’s certain is that she isn’t keen on taking anyone else’s advice.
But one avenue she’s taken full control of is Luke Cage. When she runs into him later that evening — after he waltzes into the club unimpeded (as if people haven’t figured out that he’s bulletproof yet) — Mariah makes a threat to his Achilles heel, Claire, in no uncertain terms. Because of course this is the evening that Claire decided to trail her partner. It puts Luke in a bad spot. He has no choice but to turn tail. And Mariah waves him away, taking solace in at least one victory for the evening.
Once they’ve left the club, Claire and Luke have another big row. She followed him in order to provide an assistance. She isn’t a known threat (which is ironic, given that she’s one of our more familiar faces). That gives her access. “I’m your backup, not just your woman,” she tells Luke, “you don’t just leave me behind.” And while it looks like they’re able to reconcile their conflict (“I can’t lose you,” “I love you”, and so on), the issue is far from resolved. If anything, the pressure between them has only increased.
But, for the time being, Luke can return to playing hero. After he’s crossed by Arturo, one of Mariah’s potential buyers, Luke beats his ass (after proving himself immune to Arturo’s Judas bullets — which, thank God), and brings him gift-wrapped to Mariah’s office at the police department. She’s thankful for the assist, but her boss — a guy named Captain Ridenhour — isn’t. It’s clear from their first interaction that the Venn diagram between “hero” and “vigilante” isn’t at all clear to him. He calls Luke an “unlicensed weapon,” telling him that he ought to work with the cops “legally” — and Luke replies, “Step up. Make me believe again.” He leaves after telling Misty, “It’s good to see you back where you belong”.
We’re left with a scene between the two of the aforementioned Jamaican gang members, but they’re in a confrontation with one another. Nigel, one of Mariah’s potential arms buyers, is looking to settle a score with a guy named “Bushmaster” — the latter guy tells Nigel that Harlem is his “birthright” (a buzzword we’ve seen in this series before, and is sure to pop up whenever we see this guy). But what Nigel doesn’t know is that Bushmaster can fight, and in a scrap that almost entirely over the top, Bushmaster kills Nigel, before demonstrating that Luke Cage isn’t the only bulletproof man in the series: Luke will clearly have his hands full containing this man over the course of the season.