Wednesday, July 4, 2018

REVIEW: Netflix's 'Luke Cage' - Season 2

Netflix's Luke Cage returned with its thirteen episode second season on Friday, June 22. This post will feature brief reviews of each episode of the season.

The new season stars Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Mustafa Shakir, Gabrielle Dennis, Rosario Dawson and Alfre Woodard.

201. "Soul Brother #1"
Written by Cleo Hodari Coker and directed by Lucy Liu

So many of these Marvel shows on Netflix start slowly but manage to pick up the pace significantly later on. Of course, they also struggle with pacing problems in trying to extend six episodes of story into thirteen hourlong episodes. It has never really worked. And so, this premiere is introducing a lot of different concepts for the second season. But it's certainly not in a rush to get to anything too exciting. The most fun moment is when the new villain Bushmaster makes his big debut for the season by taking out the leader of the Jamaican gang. That reveals that he too is bulletproof which should make him such a compelling foe against Luke. It's also just refreshing to see Luke Cage back in the grounded reality of Harlem. He is far removed from the strange mysticism that defined The Defenders. In fact, the only consequences from that miniseries are Misty now being without her right arm. Hopefully, it's not too long before she is fitted for a prosthetic that will give her even more importance in this story. It also feels like the show is cutting corners by communicating to the audience that both Misty and Mariah are depressed right now through scenes of the two just drinking alone. Right now, they both need something to get them excited and involved in the world. Mariah is trying to go legit while also selling her stash of weapons. But that plan basically goes up in smokes the moment that it's revealed the Judas bullet no longer works on Luke. There's no grand explanation for that even though the weapon was introduced as the only thing strong enough to pierce through Luke's skin. It mostly seems like a way to make Luke confident and cocky. He doesn't know how to take down Mariah and Shades just yet. But he wants them to know that he is indestructible. They don't have a signal weapon that can take him down. Even if they do try to become legitimate billionaires, he will still always be watching closely over their actions. As such, it's fascinating to see Luke as the hero of this community. Of course, he's certainly going to be knocked down a couple of notches this season as well. Claire and the debut of his father, James Lucas, appear to be doing that in their beliefs and actions that one man can't change a community no matter how powerful he is. That should be a fascinating story. The pace just needs to start picking up. B

202. "Straighten It Out"
Written by Akela Cooper and directed by Steph Green

Luke is acting so foolishly right now because he believes himself to be invincible. No one can hurt him. He is now powerful and indestructible enough to defeat the Judas bullet. Claire posits that it's because he took another bath in the system that gave him his powers to begin with. And yet, it's important to note that Luke can still get hurt. He may start this episode absolutely feeling himself while being the hero of Harlem. He takes the appreciation of the crowd that gathers to watch him test his limits. But it's significant to see him get his shoulder dislocated after confronting Cockroach and then absolutely losing control once he decides to beat the gangster within an inch of his life in front of his kid and girlfriend. Luke has always strived to do the righteous thing. And now, he represents a new form of monstrosity that may be traumatizing this family even more. He may no longer be perceived as the hero of Harlem in their eyes even though he is hurting the person who has been abusing them for so long. It's all very complicated and shows that Luke can take his actions too far without thinking through the consequences. That's very enticing. It's also an extension of the current disagreement between him and Claire. It mostly seems like the show is putting some tension between them because Rosario Dawson wants to pursue other creative opportunities in her career. I can't say I blame her after being the staple of these Marvel-Netflix shows even though none of them have really known what to do with her. She actually has a fantastic role on The CW's Jane the Virgin now. That could be more fulfilling for her. But her story seems to be building to the climax of her needing to step away from this relationship for a little bit because Luke needs to come to his own conclusions and resolutions with his father. She is trying to force a reconciliation into happening even though James Lucas has caused so much pain for his family. It's not easy for Luke to forgive him or continue seeing him in Harlem. Claire listens in on James' sermon and understands the message that God is the only one who can determine meaningful vengeance. She wants Luke to be very careful about his actions and how far he will push himself. He's bound to deal with some major consequences this season. But it's also inevitable that things will lead to even more tension between Luke, Claire and James. B

203. "Wig Out"
Written by Matt Owens and directed by Marc Jobst

It's fascinating how Luke Cage is currently exploring themes and stories similar to what Jessica Jones also covered in its second season earlier this year. Both had plots where the protagonist was dealing with a fraught relationship with their parent. More importantly though, the shows are telling stories about marginalized people in this country who struggle with how to use their voices and anger in ways that are actually beneficial to the world. Those are some really compelling storylines. Of course, this episode is all about that final scene between Luke and Claire. That's essentially the end of their relationship. And yes, it's the development everyone should have seen coming. And yet, it's so powerful because of the things that both of them say during that argument. Luke is trying to use his persona as a black man whom the world fears against those who wish to take advantage of Harlem. He loves being the hero in moments where he can prove to Bushmaster and his crew just how powerful he is. But this season is also highlighting the ugliness that allows Luke to get to those moments. He beat Cockroach almost to death in front of his son and girlfriend. They are all traumatized by it. Luke is only let go because of Claire and Misty knowing how good his intentions are for their neighborhood. But they also see a man losing himself in his anger. His justification for his actions may no longer be heroic. They may be Luke turning into the type of man both he and his loved ones have always feared. A man who uses his strength and intimidation into scaring people into submission. Luke believes he has earned that right because of the violations against his community. But it's also so important to see that their isn't just one Black voice. It's not monolithic where everyone throughout the world who looks like that sees things the same way. The Jamaicans are furious with Luke Cage because of his comparison to Usain Bolt. Claire fights back when Luke suggests that she doesn't know what racism is like. She dealt with it personally within her own family. It's all building up to that moment where Luke's anger overcomes him and he punches the wall in Claire's apartment. That signals that there is nothing more for her to do in order to help him. She needs to escape and save herself first. Only with that perspective can she understand if she can truly commit to this relationship. One night is not going to fix their problems either. Luke needs to be on his own personal journey. It's a difficult and uncomfortable one. It's so easy to see Claire's perspective throughout this argument. And yet, the show also wants the audience to be aware that this is Luke's story. As such, it ends with a kick to his face and Bushmaster declaring Harlem his. A-

204. "I Get Physical"
Written by Matthew Lopes and directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield

This season is really starting to break Luke Cage down. It moves into its second act by removing so many of Luke's allies and his belief that he is indestructible. All it takes is a couple of punches from Bushmaster for him to become aware that there is someone out there stronger and faster than he is. It's such a crushing blow for him. It's then punctuated by the departures of both Claire and Bobby. Even D.W. is profiting off of this defeat for his favorite hero. It's such a moving scene at the end of this episode when Bobby talks about getting to be the hero for the daughter he has never really known by donating his kidney. He sees it as the feeling that Luke must always have even though Luke is broken and in turmoil at the moment. Luke is just now starting to realize how much he has come to rely on the support of his friends. He's the one who gets the fame and attention. But he has needed Claire in his life for more than just to treat his wounds. Of course, it's still incredibly problematic that he's trying to find emotional support through a sexual partner. Claire leaves town and he immediately wants to sleep at Misty's apartment. When she shuts him down, he immediately starts to show chemistry with Tilda when he discovers her store. That seems like a dynamic that will actually be fleshed out this season because of the complicated dynamic Mariah has with her daughter and Luke Cage. Of course, Mariah is also choosing to be focused so much on the future that she doesn't want to entertain any notions that she's being conned or targeted. She wants to believe that she's grown her investment substantially and that all of the past disputes within her family are now dead. Bushmaster's sheer presence is enough for everyone to know that there is still animosity for what Mariah's family apparently did to his in the past during the creation of Harlem. Bushmaster believes this place is his and that appears to come out of the understanding that his family helped build Harlem's Paradise. It mostly just seems like a story that needs to be fleshed out more quickly while also forcing Mariah to accept that she can't run from her past as easily as she believes she can. B-

205. "All Souled Out"
Written by Ian Stokes and directed by Kasi Lemmons

At first, this feels like it is going to be nothing more than a filler episode for the season. Luke is sued by Cockroach for beating him up while Misty adjusts to her new, high-tech prosthetic arm from Danny Rand. Even Foggy Nelson appears as Luke's lawyer who also tags along for many of his adventures. Instead, it's actually quite a moving and stirring episode about all of the little breakdowns of one's identity and dignity that only create big disasters later on. Luke believes that he has to sell out for a celebrity appearance at Piranha's party because he needs the money. Once there though, it becomes a story about how the wealthy believe they can treat what they pay for however they want. Yes, Piranha prides himself on being a black man who has made millions on the stock market and is still based in Harlem. But he still objectifies Luke's body and the fact that it is bulletproof. He is so incredibly reckless and dangerous because he treats Luke as something that can be used to amuse people instead of a fully realized human being. It's because Luke agrees to this and has to shrug off the selfies and being hit over the head with a beer bottle that makes the final action so powerful. Because he's fine with that, it makes others believe they can only increase the harm towards him. As such, Piranha pulls out a gun to shoot Luke not caring who the ricochet could actually harm. Meanwhile, Misty is thinking about all of her past interactions with Scarfe and the clues that possibly indicated that he was a dirty cop who was planting evidence. It comes at a time when she believes she's being less effective in her role as a detective than ever before. She can't stop Luke from being sued or ensure that Cockroach will stay in jail for the rest of his life. That means she is pushed to the edge of planting evidence in order to frame Cockroach for owning a Judas bullet. She doesn't go through with it but she still makes a gruesome discovery of his beheaded body. In fact, this episode gets so much power from the villainy of Bushmaster not being on display until the very end. His gang strikes at the appropriate moment so that it equally horrifies Luke, Misty and Mariah. They now see this threat as potential destruction to their neighborhood that they must put a stop to as quickly as possible. A-

206. "The Basement"
Written by Aida Mashaka Croal and directed by Millicent Shelton

Many of the characters are being forced to reckon with their pasts this season. It's fascinating connective tissue for the many stories because the answers keep evolving. There are some characters who live in fear of the past because it could signal what their futures are becoming. Others are trying to forget the past while moving forward with their lives. And yet, the past informs all of their actions. Misty is so desperate to avoid becoming Scarfe that she confesses to being in Cockroach's apartment to plant evidence. Even then, she decides she can no longer be a detective because the two options she has on the job are going to be so destructive to her soul. That's ominous especially considering Luke still trusts Misty as his ally on the force. He calls on her to protect Piranha should anything happen to him. Luke has refused to forgive his father or even have a relationship with him. But here, he needs to seek sanctuary in his church in order to protect Piranha. Luke can only do so much by himself. Yes, he can be a hero for hire who can protect Piranha in his own unique and amusing way. It's fun seeing him get tossed from roof to roof. But Luke also has to accept that he needs help especially after learning that Piranha is the key to taking down Mariah. Meanwhile, Comanche is telling Shades that he would be the much more efficient leader because he saw this war from Bushmaster coming. And yet, that leads into such a fascinating and complex discussion about the experiences they endured together in prison and how they are willing to die for each other. Shades believes there's a bigger and better life for him that he can achieve with Mariah. Comanche sees his life as it exactly is thanks to the pressure put on him by Ridenhour. As such, it's precarious that Shades shares that Mariah was the one who killed Cottonmouth last season. That comes at a time when Mariah fears that everyone she has loved and everything she has built is being taken away from her. It's devastating to her because she had these grand plans to build a legitimate future for her family. And now, her actions have only served to alienate Tilda more. And finally, Bushmaster refuses to just let the past go and instead use his powers in order to build a better future for his family and community. So, he ends the episode in a fight with Luke to decide the future of Harlem. It seems like Luke is going to win until Bushmaster pulls out a powder than paralyzes Luke just as he's pushed off of the bridge. That's such an intense conclusion. B+

207. "On and On"
Written by Nicole Mirante Matthews and directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green

This season of Luke Cage has really been consistent with its quality so far. That makes it an improvement over the first season so far - even though Season 1 also started really well. Yes, there have been some really sluggish elements of this season too. But overall, it has had a nice build to it with everything seeming like it comes to a crescendo in "On and On." This is a very climatic hour where a lot of big things happen with a likely pivot in the story coming soon. Luke survives his brush with death and comes up from the water as a new person. He is much more introspective. He understands that he can no longer hold onto the past. It's not healthy for him. It's much better for him to actually try to forge a new relationship with his father. Sure, it is still going to be incredibly difficult. Plus, Harlem still needs a ton of saving right now from Mariah and Bushmaster. But Luke also understands the importance of maintaining this relationship after pushing so many people away lately. That's what makes it so thrilling when he and Misty team up to take on Bushmaster's goons. In fact, it's great that Luke just sits back for a moment and sees Misty in action with her new arm. Sure, it doesn't help them build a case against either Mariah or Bushmaster. Piranha is killed before he has the opportunity to talk because the show still has several more hours of story to fill before this conflict can be resolved. That's what also made it unlikely that Mariah and Tilda would die in that fire set by Bushmaster. He too is fueled by the past and his sole desire to seek revenge. The audience gets more of an understanding of why Bushmaster has such animosity towards the Stokes family. He sees them as responsible for the death of his parents even after they fled the city to return to Jamaica. It's not all that fascinating as backstory though. In fact, it has the potential to make him one-note in his motivations. That could be a huge problem that the show should keep an eye on moving forward. Elsewhere, Comanche is exposed as the informant working with the police. He shoots Ridenhour in order to try to maintain his cover. It doesn't work. That was expected but it also highlights how there isn't anything Shades wouldn't do in order to protect himself and his interests first - even killing someone he loves. B

208. "If It Ain't Rough, It Ain't Right"
Written by Nathan Louis Jackson and directed by Neema Barnette

Of course, the episode immediately after I commend the show for being more consistent this season it decides to fall into the typical Netflix-Marvel pattern of hitting a lull in the middle of the story. Again, these problems would simply go away if the shows didn't have to produce 13 hourlong episodes each year. And now, it feels like Luke Cage is mostly wheel-spinning before setting up the real stakes and consequences for the end game of the season. That's disappointing especially following such a climatic hour. Yes, this episode has its action and intensity as well. It still ends on that note of Luke, Misty and Mariah needing to find some new place to hide their loved ones. As such, it could be enticing to know that Danny Rand is about to make an appearance in this story. And yet, Iron Fist has never been a compelling character in live-action even though it did bring more comedy out of Mike Colter's performance during The Defenders. Again, it could work. But right now, it mostly feels like the show is taking stock of everything that has happened while setting up some new plot complications for the characters to deal with. That's most damaging when it comes to Luke Cage himself though. It no longer seems like the main character of the show has a clear and consistent character arc this year. He has already reached the emotional climax of his story with his father. Sure, more work could probably be done for him to realize just how arrogant and pompous he was at the start of the season. He still has to win back Claire again somehow. But it feels like the rest of the season will have him purely in action hero mode which isn't that exciting. Meanwhile, it's fascinating how Misty is now the ranking officer at the precinct which brings legitimacy to the precinct working in tandem with Luke. And yet, she's mostly stuck in the boring details of a police procedural. In fact, the only character who feels grounded in an emotional story right now is Shades. That's unexpected. But it's intriguing to watch him unravel after having to kill his best friend from childhood. He couldn't believe that Comanche would snitch. He feels the need to support his mother financially. And yet, he casually leaves out the news that he pulled the trigger. Misty can't prove it. But it's also clear that all of this is hitting such a raw nerve for Shades that will force him to make a couple of really compromised decisions moving forward. That's exciting at a time when the show lacks clear focus. C+

209. "For Pete's Sake"
Written by Matt Owens & Ian Stokes and directed by Clark Johnson

This is a long, agonizing episode. It simply drags for too much of its running time. Yes, there are some truly standout moments as well that makes this feel like a very climatic and emotional hour. But there is also just a bunch of extraneous stuff that feels too predictable and melodramatic. At first, this appears to be nothing but a filler episode where the show is obviously stalling to avoid any big consequences for the main characters. Luke, Misty, Mariah, James and Tilda are hiding out in a Rand Industries property out in Queens. There's comedy from all of them being together. But there's also some really awkward conversations as well. It feels like this may potentially be the episode where Luke and Misty put an end to the threat from Bushmaster and the final episodes of the season will pivot to them trying to take down Mariah. But that mostly goes up in smokes with the immunity deal being tossed aside just as quickly as it's introduced. That's really annoying because it feels so completely unnecessary. In fact, it would have been absolutely terrifying to not know how Bushmaster and his crew found the characters in this building. They just suddenly show up and demand Mariah to be handed over to them. That doesn't occur here. And thus, it takes the power out of the moment. Yes, it's thrilling to see another fight between Luke and Bushmaster. Luke finally wins and Bushmaster is arrested. But it's absolutely laughable when he is able to stage his escape by using an explosive that the officers just happened to completely miss. Sure, it's powerful listening to him talk about Nanny and the Maroon people of Jamaica. He's essentially equating himself to the guerrilla warriors who led to Jamaican independence. And yet, that doesn't really make any sense in the grand context of the story because he's only focused on killing Mariah and not disrupting the system of oppression for his people in the city. Meanwhile, Luke and James have some resolution with it being very moving to listen to them actually profess their love and understanding that they are simply trying their best to do good. But the two of them are also just speaking in these grand metaphors about power and responsibility. It makes the audience feel removed from seeing them as a genuine father and son. But the true highlight of this hour comes from Mariah actually telling the complete truth to Tilda. Sure, it's very melodramatic to say that Tilda doesn't know her real age or father. There is also nothing the season can do to make me invested in the power of her herbs. But it is so powerful just watching Alfre Woodard act in this scene where she is completely unburdening herself. It could be so dangerous for her to talk about killing Cottonmouth. And yet, there is still a fair amount of sympathy in the situation as well. The show is doing its best to create such a nuanced character where it should be easy to see her as the villain but she has experienced so much oppression as well. The show probably makes it too easy for the audience to revel in her villainy as well with Tilda listening to this entire story and then proclaiming her mother to be a complete monster. It's mostly the killing of Cottonmouth and saying that she has never loved Tilda that pushes Tilda over the edge. But even that is slightly weird because the season up to this point has played things genuinely between them with Mariah wanting to reconnect with her daughter in a personal way. As such, that proves that she is just solely manipulative and narcissistic at all times. B-

210. "The Main Ingredient"
Written by Akela Cooper and directed by Andy Goddard

This is such an incredibly disjointed and awkward episode of television. Danny Rand stops by for mostly a wheel-spinning adventure with Luke. It feels like a story that should have happened in the first half of the season and not so close to the end. It could have been a completely separate story with no connections to the overall plot at all. There is just no urgency to what they are doing whatsoever. Danny explains that he comes to Luke to help because there is immediate urgency to track down Bushmaster because he is a threat to the entire city. But the two of them mostly just meander around talking about stillness and chi. It's very annoying. Sure, the two have a great buddy cop dynamic going on between them. But it feels like the story is just building to that final discussion where they talk about Luke needing to rely on his friends. And yet, it's unearned because Luke's anger hasn't really been a driving force for the season in awhile. It's a problem only in that other characters keep bringing it up with him. His actions really haven't proven that to still be true to the audience as of late. All of this stands in stark contrast to what Mariah is currently up to. There is just no way to perfectly blind the light-hearted adventure Danny and Luke are on with the murderous rampage that Mariah is doing. It's so difficult to watch what Mariah is now capable of doing. This season has been about her accepting her identity in the Stokes family as a gangster. She had to be broken down by Bushmaster and lose everything in order to accept this hard truth about her life. There is power in her saying that her name is Mariah Stokes right before she sanctions this massacre at the Jamaican restaurant. But that feels like a rushed plot development as well to show just how monstrous Mariah can now be. She is now impatient to just let Anansi burn to death. She has to torture him and then also shoot him to ensure that he dies. She has to feel satisfied by all of this and it's just such an epic display of violence. It's startling to even Shades. But it's also unclear if more people in her crew will have moral objections to all of this like Sugar did. Meanwhile, Misty is just kept busy by needing to arrest Nandi for telling Bushmaster where Mariah was. It's not an exciting story in the slightest even though it promises to promote Misty to captain soon. C

211. "The Creator"
Written by Nicole Mirante Matthews & Matthew Lopes and directed by Stephen Surjik

Luke's motivations and emotions are really all over the map this season. He really hasn't had a consistent character journey. That has made him a less interesting and important character this season. Misty, Shades, Mariah and Bushmaster have been the more compelling characters with consistent storylines. Here, Luke starts off being absolutely furious upon seeing the aftermath of Mariah's attack on the restaurant. But then, he is working in opposition to Misty's investigation to take down Mariah because he would rather just help Ingrid reunite with her husband and take him back to Jamaica. It mostly just provides an excuse for Luke and Bushmaster to be in the same location and not fighting one another. There is power in the hero and the villain of the story realizing they have so many things in common but make different choices that now put them in opposition. But again, Luke's motivations have been so shaky that it's hard to see this moment as emotionally rewarding. Meanwhile, flashbacks are utilized here to help break up the monotony of the season. And yet, they don't really tell the audience anything new about Bushmaster's backstory. In fact, it mostly serves as an origin story for his addiction to nightshade. But that too is completely unnecessary. It doesn't really have any importance in the main story because everyone basically knows he's dying because of the amount of nightshade he has consumed to defeat Mariah. It's much more important to see Mariah slowly losing her mind now that she has been restored to her former glory. She has truly stepped up to replace Mama Mabel and Cottonmouth now. She's still absolutely terrified of Uncle Pete. But it's so problematic for her that she is now communicating with her dead relatives. That shows that this season is bound to be the conclusion of Mariah's story. In fact, that seems to be the chief focus right now with everyone seeing her for the monster that she is. She has accepted this new identity. She is a Stokes once more. And now, Misty has the ballistic evidence to prove that the family has committed some very heinous crimes across the decades. But it's much more meaningful when Shades shows up at the precinct to say that he is ready to turn on Mariah. That too is a key character shift that feels earned in the moment even if the show had to shortchange a couple of the emotional revelations of his story. B-

212. "Can't Front On Me"
Written by Aïda Mashaka Croal and directed by Evarado Gout

After a handful of forced and lackluster episodes, Luke Cage manages to pull itself together heading into its season finale. Sure, Luke's internal conflict is essentially about the responsibilities and burdens of being a hero. That story has been so well-trodden in this genre that it's difficult for any show or movie to put a new spin on it. Yes, it's very exciting in the moment when Mariah is able to say that Luke is the most reliable man in her life because he always comes when she calls for him. She knows that he is going to come to protect the innocent citizens of Harlem after she decides to protect herself through a free party at Harlem's Paradise. Everyone knows that Bushmaster is going to come after her especially after she started selling heroin with his name on it. That is also a detail that further bonds Bushmaster and Luke together. They have both been manipulated by the criminal elements of the city. But there are still stark differences between them as well. It's still all building up to that confrontation in Mariah's new secure bunker. Mariah essentially sees Luke as her new protector. She believes she can pressure him into killing her enemy for her. She argues that it's the smart thing to do in order to keep Harlem safe. The audience can see the temptation on Luke's face. This conflict needs to come to an end. Instead, he follows Misty's lead and obeys the law. That just means that Bushmaster is able to escape once more. But Luke and Misty are still able to get a major victory with the arrest of Mariah. She may argue that the public will never turn against her especially when the case against her is based on the word of a criminal. And yet, it's so intense and menacing watching Shades be so completely cool just detailing all of these crimes that he saw Mariah do and that he also committed on her behalf. He is going on the record with a deal in place to protect him. It may not be the best move in order to take Mariah down. However, it does provide Misty with some sense of closure especially as it pertains to getting justice and answers for Candace and Ridenhour. Plus, she is still able to take pride in being able to finally take Mariah out of Harlem's Paradise with her in handcuffs. That shows the power of doing things the right way in the hopes that they will one day pay off. However, Luke notes that the story isn't finished just yet. Bushmaster won't rest until Mariah is dead. Mariah could still avoid conviction. Luke and Misty have to ensure that these two villains don't destroy their neighborhood for good. B+

213. "They Reminisce Over You"
Written by Cheo Hodari Coker and directed by Alex Garcia Lopez

Overall, this was a solid season for Luke Cage. Yes, it had its fair share of problems. Once again, a Marvel-Netflix show simply doesn't know how to pace itself properly. Also, Luke's character arc was more fumbled and bland this year. And yet, this is a stellar finale that brings most everything to a satisfying conclusion while also setting up a terrific premise for a third season. Sure, it also seems like the final development with Luke happened near the end of the creative process for the writers instead of being something they were actively building towards throughout the season. But it's also just so fascinating to see Luke move from the hero of Harlem to its king. He has stepped up to replace Mariah. He is now the one in control of Harlem's Paradise. He is booking the musical acts. But more importantly, he's also the one interacting with the other mobs throughout the city trying to negotiate peace. It's the show essentially moving Luke into anti-hero territory. He sees himself as the sheriff who will properly police the neighborhood he loves so much. He will do whatever it takes to restore it to its former glory. He can play by his own rules without being beholden to the laws like the police. And yet, it also highlights just how far he is willing to compromise himself. He stands in the perched position at Harlem's Paradise looking out at his new kingdom. He believes he will do better than everyone else who previously stood in this position. But he is also alienating so many of his allies who see the cost that this power is bound to do to him. At the end of the season, Sugar is his only friend. He even turns away Claire which is the most heartbreaking moment that signals immediately that this is a completely new Luke Cage moving forward - even though it's him not listening to the warning that his father gave him earlier this season. All of this is one last way for Mariah to manipulate Luke. She understands that she has been poisoned. It's a little lackluster that Tilda is the one who ultimately gets to kill Mariah. That could be setting her up on her own path as a villain in the future. Right now, it mostly seems like something dictated by the plot. Tilda was incredibly scattered as a character this season as well. She was never all that important. And now, she kills her mother. Mariah is plotting for Harlem's Paradise to corrupt Luke and be his own downfall in this world. He will be enticed by the offer and believe he can do better. But it won't take long until he too is pulled into this life of corruption and ugly compromises. She understands that and makes her peace with it being her final act. That's such a fitting and menacing goodbye for the character. She gets an epic farewell while Bushmaster hardly gets one at all. After so much of his story was defined by the memories of the past, it's just not right that Bushmaster leaving for Jamaica because he has lost his mind to the nightshade happens largely offscreen. It makes him too feel like an underwhelming and inessential character. That could be problematic once one goes back to examine the season overall. But in the moment, the show does a lot of strong work to make this an exciting conclusion that is the end of one satisfying story and the beginning of another. A-