The second half of Luke Cage centers on a new threat, the ascendency of Mariah Dillard and the violent weaponry of Diamondback.
As might be suspected at the end of the first half, Cottonmouth is not long contained by the justice system. However, he is not long for this world, as the flashbacks to both his and Mariah’s experiences growing up under the tutelage of Mama Mabel fill you with a dread for the fate of this individual. Ultimately, it is not Cage or the justice system that prevents his continued control of Harlem. Instead it is his cousin, Mariah, who perhaps fulfills the destiny her aunt always intended.
This episode is appropriately titled, “Manifest.”
Cage’s own story is further fleshed out with the addition of his half-brother, Diamondback, as the main nemesis of the story. Their conflict begins in episode 8, where Diamondback unleashes a new weapon, one capable of piercing Cage.
But perhaps the more lethal of weapons is the knowledge that Diamondback is his half-brother and seeks revenge for the lack of support he received as a young man. This long-standing conflict is revealed as the motivation behind the framing of Cage when he was sentenced to Seagate Prison.
This altercation leads Claire and Cage on a journey back to Georgia in the hopes of finding Dr. Burstein, who conducted the regenerative experiments on the prisoners in Seagate that ultimately led to Cage’s ability. It is here that a brutal realization of Reva’s true past comes to light, with Dr. Burstein finally being able to unlock the drive that Reva was attempting to keep from the Purple Man in Jessica Jones.
As it turns out, she is not the innocent, love struck individual that we took her for, and her involvement in the experiments at Seagate leaves Cage reeling. He angrily destroys the computer that Dr. Burstein was using, but, as is discovered later, he perhaps could have done a more thorough job of it.
While Claire and Cage are in Georgia, learning of Cage’s past and dealing with his injuries, Harlem is facing its own threats. Cage has been framed as an aggressor against the police and as a menace to the public. Thanks to more tech created by Hammer and wielded by Diamondback, the tide begins to turn in the Harlem PD and in the leaderships understanding of the conflict brewing.
Misty Knight continues to delve into the crimes of Diamondback, finally believing that it is not Cage who is the threat, but the larger crime bosses and their offshoots. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that can hold the legitimate threats, and Mariah Dillard is continually let off the hook for the murder of her cousin and for her involvement in the violence that plagues Harlem.
When Cage and Claire return to Harlem, the storylines converge. Now, Cage must stand up for all of Harlem, while still fighting for his own innocence.
He and Claire arrive at the Harlem Paradise where all of the major players are. Mariah Dillard is attempting to rally the people of Harlem against Cage and encouraging the police to purchase Hammer weapons from Diamondback in order to fight Cage and threats like him. Diamondback stands where Cottonmouth once did. And Misty Knight once again lurks near the bar, peering up at the man she holds accountable for all of this.
Unfortunately, as Misty makes her way upstairs to confront Diamondback, who has noticed her approach, Cage follows in order to protect her. Of course, being that Diamondback is far more unhinged than other mobsters, he opens fire in the middle of the rally, shooting Misty in the arm – a nod to her bionic arm in the comics – and Cage is forced to grab her and flee to safety in an underground space within the kitchen.
From here, the police and DA begin to question Cage’s involvement in the attack as it does not fit any form of MO for him, and witnesses begin to claim he was protecting people when the gunfire began.
Claire is also caught in the crosshairs as she refuses to leave, because she’s a badass and is just as capable of saving lives as bulletproof Luke Cage. Once the gunfire ceases, people from the rally are left as hostages, Claire included. She brilliantly utilizes her medical knowledge to gain the henchmen’s at least partial support, learns where the underground room is, and has herself escorted downstairs where she knocks one henchman unconscious, and then notifies Cage of where she is. Also of important note, one of the henchmen calls her “night nurse.” That made the whole show for me.
After literally breaking down walls, Cage, although ensuring the hostages are safe, is arrested by the police who all wield Hammer tech in the form of Judas bullets. Thanks to Chitauri metal, Cage is bullet proof no longer.
Misty Knight continues to fight for Cage’s innocence throughout the police department, but the entire system has fallen into chaos in the search for him. Episode 12 is beyond powerful. The people of Harlem don bullet hole-laced hoodies in solidarity with their hero, and the best moment of the series occurs when Cage saves Method Man from a robbery, and becomes immortalized in dialogue and rap: “There’s something powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof and unafraid.”
This was the pivotal moment of Luke Cage, where it solidified itself within the social commentary, without yelling it from a soapbox. Instead, it proved that blackness matters and that no one is born one way or another. Anyone can be a hero.
In the concluding episodes, Mariah (at this point nearly transitioned to Black Mariah) and Shades approach Cage, understanding that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. They offer up solid proof that Cage is innocent of what forced him into Seagate in exchange for his help defeating Diamondback who has proven himself to be an uncontrollable force in Harlem.
However, as this parlay is addressed, Diamondback does the unthinkable and attacks them all at Pop’s, the one place that Cage has fought so hard to protect. This moment leads our hero to a final showdown, with Diamondback donning a tech filled suit that will allow him to match Cage, hit for hit.
This final showdown is a satisfying conclusion, as the people of Harlem gather around their hero to encourage his fight. He will come out victorious and he will fight for them. As is to be expected, Cage wins the fight after recalling (in a flashback sequence)* that Diamondback becomes overtired, and deciding not to give into the hate filled relationship.
With one final blow, Diamondback is defeated and taken into police custody (although we clearly see Dr. Burstein bedside). Even Mariah Dillard is taken in, but, as might be expected, she escapes the system. What her future holds is unclear, but what is clear is that Misty Knight won’t let this slide, and Mariah and Shades will pay. Eventually.
Luke Cage and Claire are finally allowed a few moments alone, where their relationship is finally solidified. This respite is short-lived, however, as Cage is taken away in cuffs for breaking out of Seagate prison. Luckily for him, Claire knows a good lawyer and they have the file of evidence offered earlier by Mariah and Shades. This time, he will have a defender.
Overall, this show was excellent as always. Marvel excels at storytelling. And this one shone for its important social commentary and the celebration of black lives. However, there are some issues with it that bear recognizing.
While I loved the myriad of villains throughout the series, Diamondback seemed uninspired. His entire storyline was so heavily influenced by petty and irrational motivations that it seemed unbelievable that he would have managed to gain as much control of the underground baddy system as he had.
It also was never explained how he also ended up in Harlem given that he and Cage are both from Georgia. Finally, the tempo of some of the episodes lagged and the series could have perhaps benefitted from one or two fewer episodes.
Regardless of these few shortcomings, this show certainly is excellent. It has solidified itself in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and has demonstrated that heroes can come in all shapes and sizes. That heroes don’t need capes. They just need a hoodie.
*Although not really a critique, I had a hard time believing either of them had any boxing training. While it is easy to see them hit and hit hard, neither moved with the precision of a boxer. But this really has no bearing on the show. Did it bother you? No? Just me? Ok, then.