Luke Cage has drawn on Blaxploitation films for its visual style and its themes. The character in the comic books was created at the height of Blaxploitation’s popularity and the character had to adapt as the popularity of Blaxploitation faded. Luke Cage needs to adopt a new style after getting rid of this season’s villains. With obvious references to The Godfather, the series is setting itself up to be a mob story. This is exactly what I want. It transforms Luke into an anti-hero who believes that he’s doing the right thing and gives us a new set of references. “They Reminisce Over You” feels like it knew where it was going but takes some shortcuts to get there. In the end, the final image of the episode and the season was so satisfying that I could ignore a few missteps along the way.
The biggest misstep is how quickly the show says goodbye to Bushmaster. For a villain who has been a legitimate threat to Luke and has a claim to Harlem’s soul, Bushmaster exits the season completely deflated. Bushmaster’s body and mind being destroyed by nightshade fulfills all the warnings he received about his quest for super strength. What’s disappointing is his decision to return to Jamaica and his deterioration happen completely off-screen. When we do hear about it, it’s delivered by Sheldon. Bushmaster was so important that we saw flashbacks of his childhood, but he can’t deliver one final monologue? Memory and history are so important to Bushmaster’s story-line but the character’s memory slipping away isn’t given any screen time.
Bushmaster being dismissed in this way makes me question his role in the story at all. He was such a dominant force early in the season and the source of so much tension. Then he’s just put on a ship and sent back to Jamaica. He didn’t serve as a powerful cautionary tale for Luke as strongly as I imagine the show would have liked. Part of that is because Luke’s internal conflict wasn’t displayed as strongly as it could have been. We never felt the moment where if Luke gave in to his darker impulses, he would become Bushmaster. Well, the show kept telling us Luke was at that moment without showing us.
It’s worth questioning if the time spent on Bushmaster could have been spent somewhere else to better set us up for this episode.
The episode is at its strongest when it’s relying on Mike Colter. Colter looks like he’s enjoying himself again and playing his version of Michael Corleone. Shades lets Luke know that he could be the king of Harlem and Luke imagines himself as a diplomat and not another Don. A version of Luke Cage where he believes he’s doing the right thing but everyone around him doubts his motives is a more interesting dynamic character that is defined by his morality. Luke’s belief that he’s infalliable lets him be manipulated by Mariah even after his death. The dramatic irony that Mariah knows that Harlem’s Paradise will lead to Luke’s downfall creates a fun tension to be explored later. Seeing Mariah lay one last trap for the other characters is a wonderful send off to her character and only added to the mob film feeling of the whole episode.
I guess we must talk about Mariah’s death. I loved Mariah being a bad-ass bitch in prison and slashing her way through her rivals. It also makes sense for Mariah to die this episode to clear the way for another Big Bad villain but for Tilda to kill her was a letdown. After all this, after everything Mariah has been through, Tilda kills her with some poison lipstick? Tilda is another character that behaves in accordance to the needs of the story. She’s meek and terrified one moment and carries out the murder of her own mother the next. The season needed to arrive at Evil Tilda and I guess they did.
By the end of the episode, the status quo is completely different. Luke pushes away the women that have been close to him since the beginning in favor of Sugar and his poster of Muhammad Ali. When Luke gave the order to send Claire away, it sent a chill down my spine. It was a simple and effective way to show us that everything has changed for Luke. The final scene of the episode felt like the season premiere of a show I’m really excited to see.
- Bushmaster coming out from the back in Tilda’s shop was downright Scooby-Doo’esque.
- There were a few songs that felt like the characters were just recapping the events of the show in song form. When did Tilda have time to write a song about her mother that sounded like it was a Marvin Gaye rip-off?
- The “coffee as sex” metaphor continues with Carbone suggesting that Luke has never had espresso made right.
- The final voiceover from James made me realize how underutilized the character of James was. In the end, his storyline with Luke felt perfunctory and I hope some of that wasn’t because of Reg E. Cathey’s death. It was one last bit of dramatic irony for the season: Luke disappointing his father one last time.
- Live from New York, It’s Luke Cage! Featuring special musical guest: Rakim.
- That’s a wrap on the Season 2 Luke Cage reviews! Thanks for coming along with me on this journey!