The ‘ghetto boogeyman of your nightmares’ is back for Season 2, and his story allows us to dive deep into the branding of Black excellence, the juxtaposition between mortality and perceived invincibility, and most importantly, legacy.
As the episodes unfold, we see Luke Cage struggle with monetizing his Black and his superhero in order to keep his beloved Harlem safe. Whether he is advertising streetwear for the African American College Alliance or trying to stay off the Harlem Hero’s app that tracks him 24/7, we see him toy with the concept that his Blackness can be sold. As a society, we know that the larger culture is always keeping a pulse on Black culture. Through our Twitter feeds, our wit, our savvy creators, we keep the larger culture moving forward — and everyone wants a piece. There is an unspoken rule about not wanting to appear rich, while fighting for the people, but as was mentioned in the early episodes: “just because you’re a woke superhero, doesn’t mean you have to be a broke superhero.” Luke Cage constantly makes remarks about not being beholden to a financial leash, and you almost want to take him at his word. Then, you remember that everything comes with a price, especially the struggle. As the season unfolds, you become less and less surprised at the amount of bidders raising their hands to claim him and how much his resistance weakens in the face of them.
Every man comes with their fallacies, no matter how indestructible they may seem. With the introduction of Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), Harlem’s new villain, Luke Cage’s internal bouts with anger and self-control come to the surface. Luke’s father, James Lucas (Reg. E Cathey) and Claire (Rosario Dawson) constantly bring him to task, through sermon and lecture, about the dangers of letting his anger settle within him but he believes that he needs the anger to make an impact in Harlem.
Its in Claire’s absence in the early part of the season that he begins to learn that swallowing anger is the cause of Bushmaster and Mariah, who he is constantly trying to destroy the entire season- and it makes you wonder if at some point, will end up destroying himself in the process?
The real conversation in season 2 is the strength of will and the importance of legacy. With Mariah Dillard (nee Stokes), we see the tangled histories of the socioeconomic disparities of the Black American bourgeoisie and the lower class of the Black diaspora in her hatred of Bushmaster and what his Jamaican family represents. Mariah believes herself to be invincible because she has generational wealth and familial clout, whereas Bushmaster has literal invincibility with little chance of immortality because his legacy can easily be distorted or erased by those with more social power than him. His strength comes from the ancestors and the nightshade, which is, arguably, infinite — but is limited against Mariah’s legacy and reputation in the society that we currently live in.
There’s also the conflict of perception: Black Americans may view Jamaicans as servants, but Jamaicans view Black Americans as cowardly and constantly seeking approval of the white man. These are conversations that are normally spoken in hushed tones, but they are laced throughout the season as member of Bushmaster’s family seem to push the ridiculous idea of slavery being a choice because the Jamaican people had the will to resist. And as Bushmaster continues to gain power and clear everyone in his path, it is clear that anyone who underestimated him will soon regret it.
The underlying paradox of this season is that our main characters want to be remembered, and yet they are still cowering in the dark corners of their past. Mariah is fueled by her desire for legitimacy — that her life and her rape was so that she could ultimately rule over her enemies and Harlem. Bushmaster wants to avenge his family name. Luke wants to prove his innocence and his heart to everyone, including his father. The only exception is Mariah’s daughter, Tilda, who only looks to the past to gain knowledge of self — so that she can separate from the Stoke’s name forever. And, even when her own family wants to forget that she existed, Tilda is able to complete the one thing that no one man, superhero, or cop could accomplish.