The Scariest Villain In ‘Luke Cage’ Season 2 Isn’t Who You Think

Season 2 of Luke Cage packs a pretty powerful punch. Though the Harlem hero’s narrative gets off to a pretty slow start following The Defenders and his short stint in prison, things get pretty intense a few episodes in. In Season 1 of the Netflix/Marvel mashup, Luke (Mike Colter) had a singular focus. He wanted to clean up Harlem and lock away Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and his conniving cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard).

Though Cottonmouth was successfully eliminated during Season 1, Mariah, the more sinister of the two, slipped through Luke’s fingers and restored her influence and her family’s nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise. In Season 2, the diabolical councilwoman is even more determined, and it looks like she has a real chance of taking over Harlem once and for all.

Pitting Luke and Mariah against one another would be way too simplistic for Season 2, especially when it comes to the Marvel Universe. Instead, Luke Cage creator Cheo Hodari Coker does something much more complex with his villains. Power is like a drug, and once other people see that you have it, they want it for themselves.

Mariah is driven by greed and her lust for control, which makes her a target. The councilwoman tracks the wrong kind of attention in the form of John “Bushmaster” McIver (Mustafa Shakir). Bushmaster is a Jamaican gangster from Brooklyn who wants to make his mark on Harlem. It seems like Bushmaster and Mariah’s families made a deal back in the day, but the Jamaicans got the short end of the stick when the Stokes stabbed them in the back. Vengence isn’t something that can be stifled, and Bushmaster is out to get what he feels is owed to him.

Luke Cage and Bushmaster facing each other.

Luke Cage and Bushmaster | Netflix

Mariah might be vicious, conniving, and greedy, but she’s also brilliant, and it’s going to take a lot of skill and planning for Luke to take her down. With the police and many of New York and Harlem’s most affluent residences in Mariah’s back pocket, Luke is going to have to get creative especially since Bushmaster also has his sights on her. Without Cottonmouth to lean on, Mariah turns to her lover Shades (Theo Rossi), and her new bodyguard Comanche (Thomas Q. Jones). And yet, with Bushmaster coming after her with all of his firepower and the reemergence of her daughter, she is more vulnerable than ever. In fact, she may need an unlikely comrade in her corner.

If you thought Mariah was terrifying, then you aren’t prepared for Bushmaster. Using holistic medicinal practices to enhance himself, the tyrant from Brooklyn literally brings Luke to his knees, giving our favorite hulking hero a concussion from one forceful blow to the face. With Bushmaster coming for Luke and Mariah, Harlem is certainly in grave danger.

Mariah Dillard holding up a martini glass.

Mariah Dillard | Netflix

And yet, despite the two major villains in Luke Cage Season 2 warring against one another, they are hardly the biggest threats that Luke is up against. Though you may or may not have picked up on this during Season 1 of Luke Cage, Luke hasn’t really had a lot of time to do any personal healing or reflecting. Reeling from being framed and his false imprisonment, and then from the death of his wife Reva who wasn’t exactly as she devoted as she appeared, Luke dives headfirst into trying to keep his community safe without dealing with any of his own personal issues. By Season 2, Luke can no longer hide from himself, his past, or his pain. The true villain in the second season of Luke Cage is Luke himself.

Though the sophomore season of Luke Cage doesn’t exactly get off to a rip-roaring start, there is one noticeable change in tone from the beginning. Luke can’t seem to control his temper. His use of excessive force when it comes to confronting criminals is very noticeable. In fact, when his girlfriend  Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) suggests he might want to reconnect with his father and begin healing from the past, he punches a hole in their apartment wall. He seems to delight in the violent aspects of his job.

Luke Cage walking down the street as bypasses stare at him.

Luke Cage | Netflix

It’s not simply his lust for violence that Luke is combating, he’s also becoming larger than life. No longer merely a man or a symbol in Harlem, Luke is becoming brand, and everyone wants a piece of him. Drugs are being pumped through the streets of Harlem with Luke’s name on them. He is forced to become a caricature of himself, a “hero for hire” when money troubles nearly land him back in prison, and being constantly observed in the news and on the app, “Harlem Hero” almost puts him over the edge.

Once again, violence, police injustices, gang activity, drugs, and vast corruption are highlighted in the Netflix series. However, it becomes quite clear as Season 2 of Luke Cage presses forward that though Bushmaster and Mariah Dillard are to be feared and certainly leave chaos in the wake of their activities, it’s really Luke who may leave Harlem in flames if he can’t learn to heal from the pain of his past. If he continues unhinged, he might be the scariest villain of all.

Follow Aramide on Twitter @midnightrami.

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