The bulletproof hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is back in Luke Cage Season 2, now streaming on Netflix. But as Luke Cage (played by Mike Colter) goes to war with the new villain, Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), things take a very dark turn for Harlem, one that might just resemble post-2016 America in the real world.
In an interview with Inverse, showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker unpacks the ending that not only channels President Donald Trump, but also hints at a dark future ahead for the interconnected Marvel/Netflix universe.
Major spoilers for Luke Cage Season 2 ahead.
At the end of Luke Cage Season 2, Bushmaster escapes into the wind while Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) lies dead, poisoned by her own daughter. But in Mariah’s will, she bequeaths Harlem’s Paradise… to Luke Cage.
“This might get me in trouble with Marvel, but the relationship between Mariah and Luke is very similar to Batman and Joker in The Dark Knight,” Coker tells Inverse. “They complete each other. One is the reason the other exists. Their relationship, how his presence pulled her out of her shell. So, at the very end, when she’s saying, ‘It’s all because of you,’ she’s not lying.”
Fearing a power vacuum in Harlem, and sensing his superpowers can be used in a different way to intimidate New York’s criminals, Luke Cage agrees to run Harlem’s Paradise — much to the dismay of his biggest fan, brand manager, and t-shirt maker, D.W. (Jeremiah Craft).
“I haven’t felt this way since November 9,” D.W. says in the season finale. Seems Donald Trump might just be the president in the MCU after all.
“I know how the headlines all of sudden become, ‘Luke Cage is About Trump,’” Coker jokes. “That’s not what it is. Honestly, the show will always reflect the politics of what is going on.”
D.W. referencing Trump, Coker says, was less about making Luke Cage trendy in 2018 than it was about illustrating uncertainty for the MCU’s Harlem, much in the same way Trump’s election did almost two years ago.
“What he’s saying is the way we were all stunned,” he explains. “‘How did this Nazi get elected to be the President of the United States? How do you explain to your kids what happened?’ That weirdness was a direct influence.”
It’s especially chilling when Luke Cage tells D.W. that he’s the only one who “can make Harlem great again,” prompting D.W. to reply, “Luke Trump.”
Says Coker, “Anytime a strong man believes that he is going to be the person to save everyone, and make a change and make a difference, that is problematic.” And D.W. calling Luke “Trump” is, to Coker, “basically saying, ‘You’re deluded if you think the way you’re doing things is going to change things for the better.’”
At the end of Season 2, Luke Cage is now in control of Harlem’s criminal elements, a far cry from the neighborhood vigilante we first met in Season 1. But as the show has proved with previous owners of Harlem’s Paradise, there’s only one place left to go after you’ve risen to the top of the mountain.
When I ask Coker if Harlem’s Paradise is a gift or a curse, he responds: “Both.”
“It’s basically the ring in Lord of the Rings,” Coker says. “It’s the best club in Harlem. But you become so obsessed with it that it costs you your soul. So the only way to get rid of that is to melt it in the volcano.”
Mount Doom is far away from upper Manhattan, but Coker teases big things for Season 3 — “If we have a Season 3,” he adds — now that Luke Cage is in a different place.
“We leave him in a very interesting place and if enough fans like the show, hopefully we’ll get exactly where we find him in Season 3. I’m not saying it to be ominous, it’s that I don’t take anything for granted. I’m just hoping fans react and feel the same about this show that we feel.”
Marvel’s Luke Cage Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.