Originally, I had intended for Cloak & Dagger to be the first Hat Trick Critique I did. However, I forgot that Season 2 of Luke Cage came out this week. Given my reactions to many other second seasons of shows I liked, I decided that this might be a better ice-breaker.
What’s a Hat-Trick Critique?
Hat Trick Critiques attempt to answer the question “Is this a good show?”. The answer is based solely on the first 3 episodes, and use Goethe’s 3 criteria to make the decision. Those criteria are:
- What were the creators trying to do?
- How well did they do it?
- Was it worth the doing?
And so... On to the first critique.
What Were They Trying to Do?
This is always the hardest question to answer. I can’t know what was in the minds of every person involved in the production. All I have to work with is what they present to me through the work itself.
In my opinion, that should be enough. If an artist has to explain the art—beyond one sentence—then they’re not doing their job. The art should speak for itself.
In season 2 of Luke Cage, the intent is quite obvious: They’re showing the results of “being a hero”. Fame is certainly part of this, but it also includes questions, annoyances, conflicts, and repercussions.
This doesn’t only apply to Luke. Misty Knight is faced with many of the same questions. The difference in how it impacts her—and the way in which she reacts to it—are an important part of the story. The creators are making a strong effort to show depth and diversity in how all of the characters deal with the events of the first season.
How Well Did They Do It?
Based on the first three episodes: Quite well.
One of the biggest traps for second seasons is characters who told the story they were created for, and have nothing left to tell. Second seasons are often “slowly suicidal”—they keep cutting off parts of what made them who they are, until there’s nothing left to them.
Luke Cage season 2 has two great advantages: 1) The three main characters have been around for more than just one season, and the creators of this show have a very solid grasp on the characters.
For me, the most important aspect of any story is the characters. This story is doing great things with the characters. They may not be things we “like”, but they’re things that are entirely appropriate to the characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Each of the characters has retained their “core essence”, but also evolved as a result of what they’ve been through.
Significantly: The writers did a very good job of providing enough context that a viewer doesn’t need to have watched everything that’s come before in order to be able to put things into context. The details of previous adventures aren’t required (though there are enough references to entice a person to go watch everything else). What’s important is that the characters have a history—and we understand that they have a history. We’re not buried under “in the past 27 seasons of Marvel’s Netflix series...” The actions and interactions of the characters show us the history.
Was It Worth the Doing?
There’s a lot of subjective opinion in answering this question. People tend to think “If I liked it, it was worth doing”, and visa-versa.
That being said: Yes. This was definitely worth doing.
“Becoming a hero” is a very popular story. When a second story is told, it’s usually “Woohoo! I’m a hero!” and plays off the heroism (with far too many S/FX and far too little story).
Luke Cage season 2 is treating the viewers as intelligent adults and is delving into the deeper story of “what does it mean to be a hero”? This isn’t new to the Marvel Netflix Universe (MNU?) Both Daredevil and Punisher have done this—though in different ways.
Paradoxically: Ancillary to all of this—and yet running to its very heart—is the deep history of the “ethnic neighborhoods” of New York City, and their rich (if often violent) histories. I’m a white boy from Wisconsin (though I’ve seen quite a bit of the world), and the depictions of the history and culture of Harlem are presented in a way that speaks to even me.
While inherently and intrinsically a “black” story, at no time does Luke Cage say “It’s a black thing; you wouldn’t understand”. Rather, it says “It’s a black thing; let me help you understand”. It says “It’s a family thing; we know you understand”.
The creators of Luke Cage season 2 are telling the story they set out to tell, they are (so far) telling it very well, and it’s a story that is worth telling.
They have captured my attention and interest quite solidly. They haven’t fallen prey to any major clichés, nor have they forced characters into uncharacteristic behaviors.
 Misty has been in 3 seasons (Luke Cage s01, Defenders s01, Luke Cage s02). Luke has been in 4 seasons (Jessica Jones s01, Luke Cage s01, Defenders s01, Luke Cage s02), and Claire has been in... well... pretty much everything.