To prepare for the release of Marvel's Luke Cage season 2 tomorrow, I sat down and re-watched the full first season and wrote up recaps and reviews of each episode. I've pulled them all together here along with my thoughts on the series and how those thoughts changed after a second viewing.
*** Spoilers for Season 1 ***
I binge-watched the first season when it came out in in three or four segment bursts over the weekend it was released. I'm a comic fan and really enjoyed both Marvel's Daredevil and Marvel's Jessica Jones. We'd already met Luke Cage (Mike Colter) in the Jessica Jones series, so I went in predisposed to liking it.
My overall impression was that it was good, but not quite as good as the other two series. I thought Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) was a brilliant villain and the series dipped after he was gone. Mariah (Alfre Woodard) and Shades (Theo Rossi) were good, but Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey) was almost silly in his over-the-top act.
My thoughts on the series now are that it was made by people who love the character and the comics. The Luke Cage comic series came out in the '70s and was heavily influenced by the culture of the times and Blaxploitation that some of the names and references could seem silly or comical. But they created a world where names like Cottonmouth and Diamondback fit in — where Luke could say "Sweet Christmas" and it make sense. Heck, they even had a moment of him in his '70s outfit with the yellow shirt and metal tiara. They took the essence of the comic and infused it with the heart of Harlem and the hip-hop culture and made something pretty incredible.
Most of the Netflix series succeed or fail based on the strength of the villains. Ali's performance as Cottonmouth was nuanced and compelling. You wanted him on the screen because you know something interesting was going to happen. Most of what happened did so because one of his men got out of line. But Cottonmouth owned it and dealt with it. When he died, the space he left was a bit too big for Harvey's more clichéd Diamondback to fill.
Watching it a second time, I found more to like about Harvey's portrayal, I just think he didn't have the same amount of time to grow his character that Ali got. The jump from the young Willis teaching Carl to box to the older Diamondback trying to kill Luke never quite worked. But seeing it all a second time, picking up more of the subtlety made me like the series a more.
I like binge-watching these series when they come out, but I think going back and watching them again six months to a year later really brings out even more of the good work that Marvel and Netflix are doing here. Now I need a nap so I can be ready when season 2 drops at midnight.
Here are the individual episode recaps: