We start the second episode of Luke Cage with what looks like Luke’s attempts at a community-engagement exercise – but we also catch cameos from Jemele Hill and Michael Smith! The two comment on Luke’s performance in a mock-combine, which, as we know, turns out to be acceptable. Luke’s really strong! He runs a 3.72 in the 40-yard dash! And it remains to be seen how he’d fare with a soccer ball, but our dude appears to have the skills required for most American sports down pat.
Meanwhile, across town, Mariah and Shades (or Hernan) have bigger issues at hand. For one thing, Arturo’s recently attempted to shoot Luke with a Judas bullet, and it didn’t do much of anything at all. The pair wonders if there’s anything stronger than that particular ammunition, before transitioning to wondering about Arturo himself, and whether he’s talked to the cops. Shades reminds Mariah that “it isn’t what they know, it’s what they can prove, and they can’t prove shit.” But the scene hasn’t ended before we’re treated to another shot of Comanche looking forlornly at the pair. Shades claims him as an associate, but we still don’t know what long-game he’s playing.
What we do know is that Misty’s having a hell of a time at work. She’s being hamstrung by everyone, on all avenues, including her old partner (which – well). Her injury, apparently, “makes people uncomfortable.” When she attempts to interrogate Arturo — which she, apparently, shouldn’t be doing — the man is bailed out, and met by his lawyer, after which Misty’s boss makes it clear that she’s to stay the hell out of that particular investigation. And we hardly have time to focus on her frustration before it’s followed by shots of Bushmaster extracting bullets from his body (to the accompaniment of reggae; one carry-over from last season, for better and worse, is the way it uses music cues). Luke has things to take care of Brooklyn, mostly, he thinks, unimpeded. But walking the streets of the borough, he runs into a pair of kids who are very much in awe of Harlem’s hero — a fact that Bushmaster isn’t fond of at all.
Except that’s not to say that Luke’s got fans all over the city. When his father, the Reverend, visits the barbershop, he is met with a chilly reception. Once the man finally leaves (after telling “Carl” to come by the church and see him sometime), Luke runs into James (who notes that Luke and his father “look alike,” if not in skin tone then certainly in swagger). Luke proceeds to mouth off a bit about his family (Luke claims that all family means is low expectations, disappointment, and death) and is blindsided when Claire appears from the shadows, saying, “I thought we were family.” That’s the cue for an argument, and it does not disappoint.
But it doesn’t solve much of anything. And Luke’s given a brief reprieve from his relationship’s ailments when Misty tips him off on Arturo’s making bail. He makes it his business to seek the guy out, while, in Brooklyn, Bushmaster’s gearing up to meet with Harlem’s Hero himself. It doesn’t take Bushmaster long to deduce that what he needs is nightshade. After a rendezvous at a Jamaican restaurant in Brooklyn — where he meets with friends and family from his past, some of whom are happier to see him than others — we learn that the more nightshade someone uses, the more it hurts them. It’s like steroids. But what Bushmaster isn’t really after Luke Cage after all: His real target is Mariah. Luke, apparently, is just necessary collateral.
Mariah’s hardly aware of that potential conflict. She’s got her hands full with her lack of funds. She’s broke! So Mariah’s looking to host a fund-raiser, and in her attempts to cover damage control, we learn that she actually has an estranged daughter — her name is Tilda. She just opened a holistic boutique on Lenox. The plan, as it’s described to Mariah by a PR rep, is to renew her relationship with her kin, which will give Mariah “the strength and power to do better” — she’ll be “Mama Harlem.” Although that won’t much matter unless Arturo’s been handled — a task that Shades makes it his business to do, with Comanche in tow. But after Arturo mouths off about Mariah in Spanish, Shades shoots him in the head as Comanche kills her associates.
So their relationship is really serious, y’all! It leaves Mariah with one less potential customer for that arms deal (and potentially less cash). The news of Arturo’s death is hardly cold before Captain Asshole at the police department informs Misty’s co-workers, Bailey and Tyler. There’s a reason Misty is left out of the loop, although of course she shows up anyway, and she proceeds to do that thing where re-creates the crime scene. But before she can make headway, she’s interrupted, again, for being on the job.
Meanwhile, Mariah is also looking to reconstruct the past. She shows up at her daughter’s shop attempting to make things work. By Tilda’s reaction it looks like they’ve tried to patch things up before. She asks her mother which “you’ve thrown your life away” speech to look forward to this time, before Mariah delivers the opposite. She tells her daughter that the shop “suits her.” They riff a bit on the respect that Mariah feels her daughter owes her, before Tilda asks what her mother has arrived for, specifically. And when Mariah says that, honestly, truly, she’d just like to make things work, Tilda says that, “somewhere, there is another shoe waiting to drop.” But, before the scene ends, she extends something like an olive branch and Mariah tells her daughter that she loves her. It remains to be seen if that’s true.
What Mariah doesn’t love is the fact that Shades killed Arturo! They needed that money! An entirely unrepentant Shades tells Mariah he couldn’t stand to hear her name disrespected. And as Comanche attempts to cut into their conversation, she sends him away, making his disapproval of Arturo’s associate more than a little palpable. While they’re attempting to figure out their next move, Luke Cage is searching for Drea — one of Mariah’s remaining potential plugs — across town. It takes a tip from Misty to point him in the right direction. But he hasn’t found the villain before we’re privy to another argument between Luke and Claire: The subject is still Luke’s penchant for jumping into danger.
At one point, Claire even says, “Matt wasn’t invulnerable and neither are you”. And that’s when Luke does the unthinkable — he disparages the fact that Claire has a tendency to fall for people “with abilities.” Then he pushes back when Claire insists he patch things up with his father, whom she’s deemed a Judas bullet in his own right for Luke. Before the two leave one another, Luke says that if Claire wants to help him, she’ll stay out of his head, which is certainly a turn from their relationship’s trajectory from last season.
It’s a build-up that’s waiting to explode, but not before a few more events lead into the episode’s conclusion: For one thing, we get a solo from Gary Clarke Jr. at Mariah’s nightclub (and a good one!). For another, we watch as Bushmaster pays a visit to Tilda. He hands her shopping list, which Tilda suspiciously gives him, and after Bushmaster overpays her, he says, “Well, you’ve been so generous.” And it’s one of the many relationships that appear to be solidifying in this episode: As Tilda sidles up to her mother (to give her a chance!), she’s met with some ire from Shades, and it’s hardly subtle. As Comanche notes, “Baby girl took your slot, son.” Which, sorry! What can you do?
In an attempt to gain some clarity, Claire attends a sermon from Luke’s father. Luke finally gets a lock on Drea’s location, in the midst of the man assaulting his family. And once Luke arrives, he responds to the situation with a fury we haven’t seen from him just yet: Our hero loses control, almost irreversibly. Even after Claire arrives, he continues to beat on the man. And it’s only just before he’s taken him out that Luke finds it in himself to stop himself, and to look at Drea, and then his own hands, and then skyward, to see what, exactly, he’s just done.