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Luke Cage – The Basement (Review)

The second season of Luke Cage inevitably battles with the infamous Netflix bloat.

This is a structural problem with a lot of Netflix series, but particularly with the Marvel Netflix fare. It is a result of a combination of factors, from the production team’s commitment to telling a single serialised story in a give season to the need to pad all of these seasons out to fill thirteen episodes. To be fair, certain seasons are more affected by this bloat than others; the first seasons of Iron Fist and The Punisher tell simple stories in extreme slow motion, while the second season of Jessica Jones spends almost half a season building towards the starting point of its own story.

The first season of Luke Cage had its own particular twist on this issue of pacing and padding. The first half of the season flowed relatively smoothly, as reflected in the extremely positive pre-release reviews that praised it as a series that “should rightfully elevate [Cheo Hodari] Coker into the league of television auteurs.” When the entire series was released, reaction was a bit more muted, with a second half of the season that effectively extended a ninety-minute blaxploitation homage into six hour-long episodes filled with stalling tactics and wheel-spinning.

At the end of Manifest, Luke Cage was shot by Willis Stryker, which effectively (and literally) took the lead out of his own show for a three-episode trip to Georgia that lasted through Blowin’ Up the Spot, DWYCK and Take It Personal. To prolong the plot, Cage and Stryker fell into a pattern of attack-and-repeat; Stryker shot Cage with a Judas bullet in both Manifest and Blowing Up the Spot, while Luke forces a confrontation with Stryker in Now You’re Mine, only for the season to stall with an episode about the police chasing Luke in Soliloquy of Chaos before allowing a final fight in You Know My Steez.

That second half of the first season was disastrous, with characters dancing around one another in order to hit a mandated running time, the desperation obvious in the variety of contrivances that prolonged the drama. In contrast, the second season has much great balance and control, never descending to that level of clumsy plotting in order to justify the thirteen-episode season order. At the same time, there are points where the series is obviously stretching itself out in order to make this story last thirteen hours instead of eight.

While still imperfect, the second season of Luke Cage represents a significant improvement.

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