Marvel’s Luke Cage Season 2 Review: Episodes 8-10
By Hector DeJeanJuly 11, 2018
Episode 7 ended in a bloodbath (Comanche, Piranha, Captain Ridenhour, Mariah’s brownstone), so it’s no surprise that Episode 8 has the cops rushing in and taking things over. We’ve come to that point in the crime story where the damage has grown so great that law enforcement starts getting the bulk of the face time.
Episode 8: “If It Ain’t Rough, It Ain’t Right”
Mariah’s (Alfre Woodard) at the precinct again, this time as a victim. With her home in smoldering ruins, Mariah refuses to name Bushmaster and his gang as the ones who set her place ablaze. Tilda (Gabrielle Dennis), known to her mom as Tillie, decides to follow her mom’s lead and do the same. Luke (Mike Colter) and Misty (Simone Missick) aren’t buying it, yet they now find themselves doing what they can to help Mariah instead of trying to bust her.
A word here about Tilda’s grooming: she does an impressive job of keeping her eyelash treatment, lipstick, and foundation flawless even after escaping a burning building.
Shades (Theo Rossi) and Mariah’s lawyer (Danny Johnson) come to the precinct to pick Mariah up, and the police take the opportunity to lock Shades in the interrogation room; Captain Thomas Ridenhour’s murder is still under investigation, and traffic cameras put Shades’s car in the vicinity. It’s not much as far as proof goes, and Mariah’s lawyer says he can easily bat away those charges—until he discovers Mariah doesn’t have any money anymore and departs, leaving Shades to get the third degree from Misty.
Now that Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir) has everything (except Mariah’s corpse), you’d think he’d be cooling his heels, but instead, he’s unraveling. His uncle (a very impressive Sahr Ngaujah) warns him that the nightshade mixture he’s been inhaling isn’t meant to be taken regularly. Bushmaster is past caring. He really goes into a cornered-animal-style fury when he finds out that Mariah and Tilda didn’t die in the fire and are still alive thanks to Luke. He places a bounty on Luke and Mariah’s heads as well as on everyone they care about: a million dollars per body.
When talking with Tilda, Luke begins to figure out how Bushmaster gets his abilities from an herbal concoction that makes use of a Jamaican variety of nightshade. Eventually, Mariah’s driver and bodyguard, Sugar (Sean Ringgold), shows up to take the women home, but gunmen ambush them as they’re leaving the station. Luke only barely saves the day by flipping the gunmen’s car around.
Misty’s attempts to get Shades to confess to killing Comanche don’t go anywhere beyond Shades revealing how he got his nickname (he stole a pair of Top Gun-style aviator sunglasses as a kid and wore them for a year). Knowing she can’t keep him, Misty lets him leave.
Luke goes to see his father (Reg E. Cathey), warning him that Bushmaster’s offering a generous compensation to anyone willing to kill Luke’s family. The Reverend appreciates the tip but says he’s not going anywhere while there are services on the church calendar, so Luke decides to stick around the church for a while and make sure nothing happens to a father with whom he is reconciling successfully.
Mariah goes back to the ruins of her house where Shades meets up with her. She can barely keep it together and confesses that she has no idea what to do next. So Shades offers a plan: go full gangster on Bushmaster. He reminds her that he witnessed her beat her own cousin to death; the day she did that was the day she became a full-fledged killer. Shades goes off to track down those close to Bushmaster, while Mariah goes to collect Tillie.
The external threats have actually been doing good things for Luke’s relationship with his father. The two men are talking, forgiving each other, and trying to understand why each made the past mistakes they made. The pressure gets more intense when Bushmaster’s gang associates, the Stylers, show up at the church armed to the teeth, and Luke only barely stops them from shooting his father (one of the gunmen is beaten by the Reverend himself—like father, like son).
At Tilda’s herbal clinic, she gathers the components that she believes make Bushmaster’s empowering brew. Mariah shows up, justifying herself as always and trying to convince Tillie that the Stokes clan only did what they had to do as they cheated, pimped, and killed their way to a stable crime empire. Misty and another police detective, Nandi Tyler (Antonique Smith), rush in, letting them know that more gunmen are on the way. In an instant, the attractive polished-wood interiors are riddled with gunfire. Fortunately, Luke shows up, his dad in tow, and after stopping this collection of gunmen (his third for the day), he rounds up Misty, Mariah, and Tillie and calls up a certain Danny Rand for a favor.
Episode 9: “For Pete’s Sake”
Luke, Misty, Reverend Lucas, Mariah, and Tillie show up at an under-construction pharmaceutical facility owned by Rand Enterprises. This will be their safehouse. But after watching them walk around the spacious corridors, it becomes very obvious that the facility would make an excellent backdrop for a huge gun battle. Property damage seems to be the one true constant in Luke’s life.
Misty and Luke want Mariah to tell the police that Bushmaster attacked her, but she’s not budging—look at the crappy job the cops did keeping Luke Cage locked up, she points out (it was Mariah that led to Luke’s brief incarceration at the end of Season 1). Mariah finally agrees to cooperate with the police and tell them about the illicit gun deal she made with the Stylers in exchange for full immunity. Misty hates the idea, but Luke talks her into it. Reluctantly, Misty heads to the station to get a grant of immunity.
Luke gets more information from Tilda about nightshade and its use in Bushmaster’s abilities. She doesn’t think she can come up with anything that could de-power their foe, but she offers to try. And if “Nightshade” seems like a good name for a comic book character, Marvel would agree with you: Tilda Johnson is a supervillain known by that moniker in the comics, starting in 1973. Luke also bonds some more with his dad, who charms Mariah, as much as Mariah can feel anything positive.
One sibling-parent duo that is NOT making progress is Mariah and Tillie. In another extraordinary scene that should add a gazillionth Emmy to Alfre Woodard’s awards shelf, Mariah reveals to Tillie that she indeed killed her cousin Cottonmouth because of something their uncle did. While Mariah felt close to her Uncle Pete since he made her feel good about herself when other kids were calling her “Black Mariah” (which also happens to be her supervillain name in the comics), Pete turned that closeness into abuse by repeatedly raping the young Mariah, who found herself pregnant. And Cottonmouth died when he taunted Mariah, telling her that she welcomed the abuse (she definitely didn’t and let him know by pulping his head with a mike stand).
Tilda asks how all of this led to her marrying Doctor Howard Dillard, Tilda’s father, and Mariah tells her astonished daughter that Howard was gay—they never had a child together. Pete is Tilda’s father, which is something Mariah is reminded of every time she looks at her daughter. So the reason Mariah never wanted anything to do with her daughter—until an image consultant recommended they reconcile—is because her daughter repulses her. Needless to say, poor Tilda is devastated by this.
Misty gets the grant of immunity from the deputy chief of police now running the Harlem precinct, but in doing so, she reveals to Nandi where everyone’s hiding out. Nandi goes to Harlem’s Paradise to collect a few million from Bushmaster for aiding in his revenge.
Shades, meanwhile, has been tailing Bushmaster’s uncle. More on that later.
With a warrant for Bushmaster’s arrest, the police storm Harlem’s Paradise. But the gang’s not there—they’re on the road, heading to the Rand Enterprises facility with truckloads of “Hammer tech” weaponry, so-called because it was produced by Tony Stark’s cut-rate rival Justin Hammer. The anticipated battle happens, and the facility sustains major damage, as do Bushmaster’s gang when Luke comes out swinging. For the third time, he takes on Bushmaster directly, and this time he finally comes out on top, pounding the criminal until he simply can’t get up. Misty keeps the rest of the targets safe, aside from Mariah, who gets her hands on one the of Hammer-tech rifles and dispatches several Stylers herself, whispering “Kiss. My. Black. Ass.” as she prowls the halls and blows holes in people.
Bushmaster is now an official criminal, having openly tried to kill Mariah, Luke, Misty, and the rest using federally restricted weapons. So he goes off in a paddywagon, which—come on, New York’s Finest, how do you think THAT’S going to turn out? Yes, he escapes.
Luke’s ongoing reconciliation with the reverend brings two benefits: he wins his father’s open affection and approval (and an apology), and he also gets some guidance from the rev about doing his job without sinking into a bottomless pit of violence, the dilemma that ruined his relationship with Claire (and, in a way, with Harlem).
When Tilda goes back to her bullet-wrecked herbal clinic, she finds a dying Bushmaster and his lieutenant waiting for her and demanding she help him. But where will she get the nightshade?
Episode 10: “The Main Ingredient”
Luke’s celebrity is turning sour; Harlem’s residents are angry that police have been harassing Jamaicans (in cop terms, a Jamaican is “anyone with dreds”) and that Bushmaster has been at large for three days. And no one on the street believes him when he says that he beat Bushmaster in the last fight—the one recent encounter that wasn’t recorded and posted on social media.
Enter the Immortal Iron Fist! Danny Rand (Finn Jones) shows up at Pop’s Barber Shop just as DW (Jeremiah Richard, quickly becoming one of the season’s most enjoyable characters) is putting together ideas for sweatshirts, and he notes that Power Man + Iron Fist has a ring to it—and indeed, it does. For anyone who doesn’t already know, the original Luke Cage: Hero for Hire comic series was changed to Power Man and Iron Fist when separate series featuring the two heroes found their sales slowing down. The blaxploitation and kung-fu crazes were becoming passé, so writers canceled Iron Fist’s series and combined the two, and it worked. The series found an audience, and the two heroes have been a four-color duo ever since.
Mariah returns to Harlem’s Paradise with a new haircut and a bloodthirsty look in her eyes. She’s got her money back, and she’s lost that fragility that made her a relatable crook for the past nine episodes (or at least the first eight). Plus, thanks to Shades, she has Bushmaster’s uncle tied up in her office. Now, it’s her turn to start meting out the revenge.
Danny (wearing a “SWEET XMAS” sweatshirt that he must have bought from DW) keeps urging Luke to clear his mind and find his center. Power comes from stillness, he tells Luke, who counters with “power comes from getting shit done.” But with Danny’s help, Luke figures out how he can find Bushmaster. Since he was injured in his escape from the police, he must have sought a doctor, one who specializes in the medicine he uses for his powers.
Luke and Danny go to find Tilda, only she’s not at her herbal clinic. So they go to Harlem’s Paradise. Mariah and Shades don’t provide a warm reception, though they do give Luke an answer about Tilda. The new, colder Mariah tells Luke she doesn’t know where her daughter is and doesn’t care. So our two heroes take a different route. Hunting for a place that could produce nightshade, they learn from a pot dealer that the Stylers have seized Harlem’s largest grow house for their own purposes.
Power Man and Iron Fist show up at the marijuana plant with their muscles flexed, the soundtrack amped up, and their strut captured in slow-mo, and they prove an unstoppable force. After taking down an army of goons, they don’t find Tilda, but they do find nightshade growing poorly in a section of the large building.
While that’s going on, Mariah drags Bushmaster’s uncle to Gwen’s in Brooklyn, the Jamaican restaurant where Bushmaster hung out. Sugar goes with them, but he can sense that things are turning ugly and drops out as Mariah, Shades, and what’s left of their gang approaches the establishment. Inside, ugly doesn’t begin to describe the turn that things take: Billie (Tarah Rodgers)—the beautiful woman Mariah groomed in Episode 1 for her financial scam—is there, and Mariah, at last, understands how Bushmaster knew about Piranha and the financial dealings that Bushmaster took over. Mariah shoots Billie—and everyone else in the place—then caps off the massacre by pouring rum all over Bushmaster’s uncle Anansi and setting him on fire. Before the flames consume him, he spits out a Biblical curse, which doesn’t impress Mariah. The rest of her crew though, including Shades, are unsettled by what just went down—and no wonder.
Power Man and Iron Fist grab some Chinese after their adventure at the marijuana grow house, and they continue their conversation about seeking stillness and not letting what they do turn them into rage monsters (apparently, other people on this show would do well to listen). Danny reveals that he came to see Luke because Claire asked him to make sure Luke was all right. Given the ray of hope Danny has brought to his superpowered amigo, it’s easy to envision a successful partnership down the road.
But before we get to that happy place, there’ll be more bloodshed and more property demolished as we head into the endgame.