Scarfe seems very interested in the details of Misty's one-night stand with Luke, pestering her for details like when it happened, and who's apartment they did it in. It's only later that you realize he was using this information, combined with tracking the GPS history of Misty's phone, to find out where Luke lives so he could sell him out to Cottonmouth.
In the beginning, the bullets cost enough that Cottonmouth, with his $250,000 stashed away, couldn't affordably buy it at black market prices (explaining his reaction of "Per bullet?! For real?" when Shades shows him the price on a card). But then, after Mariah suggests to Diamondback that they market the bullets to the NYPD, the NYPD is able to buy enough magazines to arm an ESU team. Besides the fact that the NYPD is probably better funded than Cottonmouth, and that the bullets are more underpowered than the first version, it's actually pretty realistic that the NYPD would have an easier time buying Judas rounds than Cottonmouth. Due to economies of scale, the more of something that is made, the less it costs. So with limited production, the bullets cost an arm and a leg, but when they "go into full scale production", they cost significantly less per bullet. Essentially, the NYPD gets to buy in bulk, while Cottonmouth has to buy it individually. (Also, between the free press Diamondback gets from the NYPD using his bullets, and the fact that the NYPD is actively hunting Luke, Diamondback probably gave them a discount).
The Judas Bullets serve a greater, MCU-wide purpose. They demonstrate how, within three and a half years of the Incident, alien-derived and superscience tech has made its way down to street criminals. This helps set up how Spider-Man's petty crook bad guys can get their hands on their gear.
Inspector Ridley (rightly) chews Misty out for effectively getting Candace Miller killed by not following proper police procedure for handling an important witness. But why would Misty try and protect a vital witness all on her own, without any backup or even informing her superiors at all? Well, after everything that went down with Wilson Fisk, as well as the knowledge that her own partner was dirty without her knowledge, and seeing her new commanding officer being all buddy-buddy with a city official with ties to a known organized crime figure, it makes sense that Misty would categorically assume no one in the NYPD could be trusted. The cops don't even trust each other anymore.
In season 2, Comanche's death, also at the hands of Shades, happens for the same reason Candace died: because Ridenhour didn't follow procedure with handling Comanche as an informant. Difference being that Ridenhour had reasons to run Comanche as a snitch "off the books", trying to protect his source. However, he let slip too much information to Mariah that led her to realize there was a snitch in her gang, and this cued in Shades, who started paying closer attention to Comanche's already sketchy behavior.
During her speech at Harlem's Paradise, Mariah mentions Kilgrave's death. But she goes about describing it as if Jessica just murdered Kilgrave in cold blood. But it makes sense in hindsight since even when Kilgrave was alive, no one took claims he had mind control powers seriously. Because of that, Mariah could successfully spin things and incite the crowd into fear of super-powered people, making the claim that Jessica killed Kilgrave and was lying when she said he was another super-powered freak, make it seem that Jessica could falsely claim someone else was superpowered and off them in the same way. That is what helps her and Diamondback push the NYPD into buying the Judas bullets.
Cottonmouth has a large picture of a crowned Biggie Smalls on his wall, which he points out in the first episode. In a number of scenes, shots are framed with the portrait behind Cottonmouth in such a way that the crown appears to be on his own head, indicating that the Biggie picture represents him as the King of Harlem. At the end of the first season, after Mariah and Shades have taken over the club, they replace the picture with Basquiat's Red Kings, portraying two crowned heads that represent their joint rule of Harlem. In season 2, Shades and Mariah become estranged and she replaces Red Kings with the Biggie picture, showing her fully assuming role of Queen of Harlem. In the final episode of season 2, Luke Cage has assumed control of Harlem's Paradise and seems precariously close to becoming the gangster King of Harlem. One shot briefly shows Biggie's crown above Luke's head, but he replaces the portrait with one of Muhammad Ali, showing that he has not yet succumbed to villainy.
In season 1, Cottonmouth and Diamondback are like Wilson Fisk at different stages in his criminal career: Cottonmouth is what Fisk was in season 1 of Daredevil: someone who wanted to use his connections to make his city a better place, rule it with an iron fist and make sure that his city is safe. Diamondback is what Fisk is in season 3 of Daredevil: ruthless and cold, with a vendetta against those who he believes ruined him (Luke; Nelson & Murdock), and calculated in order to control things. And by season 2, Mariah is acting more and more like Daredevil season 3 Fisk, doing whatever it takes to stay on top and not caring if innocent people die along the way.
How fitting is it that Cottonmouth's nightclub is known as Harlem's Paradise. It's a subtle shoutout to a 1939 musical film called Paradise in Harlem, which is about an actor that gets run out of town after witnessing a mob hit. With gang violence being a predominant element in the show, it's very appropriate.
While Luke attacks the Crispus Attucks complex, the censored version of "Bring Da Ruckus" plays, which seems strange considering that this show has no problem with profanity. However, it makes sense since this is the music playing in Luke's headphones and he doesn't curse.
A quick way to see who is and is not evil is to see who curses. Pop has a swear jar for anyone who drops certain bombs in his shop, and he is the moral center of the series. Luke tries not to curse, although he lets it slip throughout the first season, showing he is coming to terms with being a hero. The bad guys all use the n-word, which the heroes refuse to do. In the first episode, Mariah tells Cottonmouth that she hates the n-word. This is at a time in which she is mostly removed from her cousin's organization. After Scarfe gets shot, she does use the n-word regarding Luke Cage and finding ways to kill him ("Does the nigga have gills?"). By the end of the season, she has become completely evil and ascended to the top of the criminal hierarchy. In season 2, Luke is a bit looser and even swears a few times, showing how his morals are being tested.
There are a lot more references to the MCU film works in Luke Cage than were ever made in Daredevil or Jessica Jones. Compared to Luke, both Matt and Jessica are loners. Matt has a small tight knit group in the form of Foggy, Karen, Claire, and Father Lantom. Jessica basically gets drunk at her apartment/office space in her spare time, and her inner circle is only really made up of Malcolm and Trish. Luke, on the other hand, by virtue of his choice of day jobs, actually interacts with people on a daily basis. So of course people are going to talk about aliens in the sky. Just like how people still talk about 9/11 even 15 years after it happened.
Diamondback's usage of The Warriors quotes after taking out the ambulance is quite fitting, since the premise of The Warriors is that a gang is being chased and hunted through New York City for a murder they didn't commit... exactly what is happening to Luke through the second half of the season as Diamondback and Mariah pin the murders of Cottonmouth, a police officer, and Damon Boone on him.
Diamondback tells Shades that Cottonmouth had been his number one seller, and closest friend. There's a good reason why Diamondback saw Cottonmouth as a trusted associate that he saw eye-to-eye with: because they have the same straight-forward, complete overkill approach to violence and their joy from the unnecessary and impulsive destruction. The one difference is in their visions: Cottonmouth at least stood for a vision of Harlem. But Diamondback isn't from Harlem. Diamondback has no vision for Harlem, he only wants to torture and destroy Luke Cage. He's completely willing to put himself in a terrible position if it means putting Luke in an even worse position. He doesn't plot for the intricate downfall of his enemy, he just goes on the warpath and throws everything at them.
After Turk watches Cottonmouth kill Tone in front of him, he remarks, "You Harlem niggas are off the hook. I'm going back to Hell's Kitchen where it's safe". As we've seen in Daredevil, Turk rarely has difficulty with other criminal gangs there. His major run-ins are with Matt Murdock, who follows a strict code and always spares him.
It also has a double meaning as The Defenders reveals that Matt retired from Daredevil activities after Elektra died. Which means Turk considers Hell's Kitchen safer than Harlem at this point, both because Daredevil hasn't been active in a while, and between Wilson Fisk being locked up and Frank Castle getting rid of the Dogs of Hell and Kitchen Irish, there's lots of potential new customers in Hell's Kitchen.
The red white and blue draping on the boxing ring at Domingo's gym is the flag of Holland. While Domingo may represent organized crime in Spanish Harlem, the neighborhood is actually named after the Dutch town of Haarlem.
When Cottonmouth takes out his phone preparing to call Diamondback, after seeing how pricey the Judas bullets are, Shades says "He's not the same Diamondback." But it's then established that Diamondback has an obsessive hatred with Luke. Shades and Diamondback thought Luke was dead all this time. Once Shades learned Luke was alive, he probably went straight to Diamondback and told him. It stands to reason that Diamondback was probably coherent mentally while dealing with Cottonmouth. Once he hears that Luke survived the escape, he becomes obsessed with killing him, so his judgement gets clouded, and thus he's not the same pragmatic guy that Cottonmouth had been dealing with.
Luke's initial reluctance to work with Misty and the other cops makes sense, given that he's a fugitive and he's trying to lay low.
Luke actually mentioned Pop way back in his first episode of Jessica Jones season 1, telling Jessica, "Pops always said, if you don't feel good going to work, you should find new work." When Luke's own show opens, we learn that the affable barber Pops is a former street brawler who evidently followed his own advice.
During the Trish Talk segment that opens "Suckas Need Bodyguards", Trish seemingly agrees with the caller who says "Well the next time trouble comes bangin' at your door, maybe you should call Luke Cage instead of 911!" One will remember that in Jessica Jones, Will Simpson was sent by Kilgrave to her apartment to attack her, and he was engaged in some very un-cop-like behavior while working with Jessica and Trish.
Sophia, the first caller on the Trish Talk segment, questions that efficacy of Luke Cages presence within Harlem. In fact, she goes as far to suggest that Luke Cage has the potential to cause great harm. In this way, Sophia reveals her lack of faith in vigilantism as a strategy for ensuring justice within the black community. Trish, in response, pushes back at Sophias lack of faith in Luke Cage. For she implies that the black community cannot sit idly by and leave policing only to law enforcement officials. Sophia, however, stands firmly in her reliance upon the police, especially since she does not feel if she can place her trust in Luke Cage if he does not have to be loyal to anyone or anything. This back and forth between Sophia and Trish, then, represents how members of the black community hold competing views about which strategies for black advancement and justice are best for the people of Harlem. When Amir chimes into the conversation, he further complicates the discussion about the different approaches to black governance. For he strongly places his support in Lukes ability to carry out justice. Ultimately, the segment embodies how there are contradicting ideologies among community members about how Harlem should be governed.
Mama Mabel had a policy of never selling drugs. Before she cuts off Donnie's finger, he's protesting "Man, this crack game is blowin' up. Salvador Colon and all them, they making mad loot, and your old ass is getting left..." Mama Mabel doesnt sell crack, which supports what Mariah said in previous episodes about how Mabel had Harlems best interests at heart. But it also explains Domingo Colons position of relative power over Cottonmouth in the present day his family secured a monopoly on the lucrative crack trade because Mama Mabel wasnt willing to throw her hat into the ring.
In the flashback to Pistol Pete's death, John Lee Hookers Im Bad Like Jesse James provides the background music. In it, Hooker describes how he was forced to confront his friend with a gun for going after his wife. The lyrics loosely compare to the way that Cottonmouth is forced to confront Pete for disobeying Mama Mabel and molesting Mariah.
Shades's analogy that the Judas bullets, designed to kill Luke Cage, are "what you'd use to kill Jesus" makes more sense when you remember that in the Bible, Judas was the apostle that betrayed Jesus. Diamondback betrayed Luke and threw him in Seagate.
Diamondback uses the phrase All the worlds a stage from Shakespeares Seven Ages of Man monologue in As You Like It while delivering his monologue at the theatre. In its original context this line seems to be about the predetermination of life: everyones just playing out their parts. In the context here, the reference is turned around to the point of meaninglessness, which fits Diamondback's meandering and confusing rhetoric.
The entire conversation between Turk and Bobby Fish as they play chess during Cottonmouth's visit to the barbershop is meant to represent the conflict between Luke and Pop versus Cottonmouth. Luke, in refraining from attacking Cottonmouth, is not making his move. Visually, this is demonstrated with Turk wearing black and Fish wearing white.
During the first of Reva's group sessions, Luke says, "I ain't the first cop to do time. And I ain't ever sent nobody to Seagate, so I ain't got that problem. But trust in places like this sets you up for failure." As someone who had their trust betrayed, Luke is hesitant to reveal any information to Reva. There is also some minor foreshadowing as Luke setting himself up for failure ultimately results in him gaining his powers.
The song accompanying the beginning of Pop's funeral service is gospel singer Mahalia Jacksons 1963 recording of Trouble of the World. This was originally a negro spiritual, sung by slaves lamenting their lot in life.
The tone of the song, along with its key signature of F minor, reflects the weight of the world and ones circumstances, something that the two major players in this scene, Luke and Cottonmouth, can be said to be experiencing at this point in time. For Luke, it's the death of his friend and mentor. For Cottonmouth, it's the death of his friend, plus Luke coming after him, the gun deal gone bad, and all the other stresses that the gangster lifestyle brings.
At the same time the song has a dim hopefulness to its tone. For Luke this reflects his belief he can take down Cottonmouth and his organization, while for Cottonmouth it reflects his belief that he can kill Luke with the Judas bullets that Shades just pitched to him.
When Cottonmouth is delivering his speech at Pop's funeral, he says "I promise you with all my might that even though we are being attacked from all sides by foreign interlopers, strangers with arcane abilities...I promise you I stay true to what we have right here. 'Cause that's what Pop woulda wanted." This is a pretty parochial way to look at the whole superhero phenomenon. The Avengers are mostly white American men (of the original Avengers, only Natasha Romanoff and Thor could be considered foreign) but they are certainly all white and dont represent Harlemeven though Captain America is from Brooklyn. Indirectly, Cottonmouth is also subtly referencing Luke, as a bald attempt to discredit him as the new patriarch of Harlem.
This stuff about "foreign interlopers" also very much foreshadows Bushmaster's arrival in season 2, as he's a Jamaican man with powers of ambiguous origin whose goals for Harlem are a lot more of a threat to the Stokes gang than Luke.
After giving Zip a fakeout by choking him, Diamondback says to him, "I like you, Zip. You've got ambition. It'll take you far...as long as you stay in your place. The first of the 48 laws of power: Never outshine the master. That was the mistake Shades made." Diamondback had mentioned in an earlier episode that The 48 Laws of Power was his next-favorite book when he was in prison, after only the Bible. But citing the "Never outshine the master" law reveals a key weakness in Diamondback's character, and also his organization: he doesnt reward competence. Shades had been right to question Diamondback's choices with the hostage situation, and was punished for his own failure by getting set up to be arrested.
When Shades gives his apologies to Cottonmouth about Pop's death, Cottonmouth says, "Believe it or not, there's supposed to be rules to this shit." This echoes something that Ben Urich's mafia contact said: "It used to be if you killed a man, you sent his wife flowers. Now they just send his wife with him There are no rules, Benny. Not anymore. But it also highlights how theres an interesting narrative winding through Daredevil (2015) that makes its way into Luke Cage about the transformation of organized crime in the age of superheroes. Daredevil, which focuses on many crime organizations over two seasons, spends a lot of time on the chaos that vigilantes like Matt and Luke, and new crimelords like Fisk and Diamondback, spread through the more old school crime infrastructure.
Charles Bradleys 2013 neo-funk single Aint It a Sin is used as the heist music for the montage of Luke hitting up Cottonmouth stash houses. It's a case of the diegetic artist spotlight music really doing a lot for the scene, because the lyrics are all about a man who considers himself a good person but often contemplates (plans and executes) killing people who wrong him.
When Cottonmouth is moving his money to Crispus Attucks and having all the doors reinforced, Mariah is unhappy and says "Get the bars down. Place looks like a goddamn prison now." Mariahs comment here is intriguing because she echoes the sentiments that the people of Harlem have about Crispus Attucks (i.e. it looking like a prison), but it also highlights Mariahs delusional view that she is actually doing something good for Harlem while helping Cottonmouth. The negative public perception of Crispus Attucks in Harlem is so strong that even Mariah cant completely overlook the fact that Crispus Attucks does not resemble a place that is supposed to be a home for people to live in.
Also, take note of the interior of the complex when Luke raids it: the walls and floor are stark and bare, the lighting is ominous and yellow, and the windows and hallways are barred. The complex indeed looks more like a jail than somewhere to make a home, and this interior seems to reflect Mariahs true intentions with building this complex: create something that will secure her name and legacy, without regard for the people shes supposed to be helping.
It's almost certainly intentional, as it happens, the Crispus Attucks interior actually was an abandoned prison in The Bronx.
During the Cops Need the Vigilante conversation, Scarfe says "Come on, some guy in a hoodie hits various gun-running spots around the city today? I think that's wonderful. I think we should thank him." On rewatches, one will realize that Scarfe has built up a rapport with Misty that allows him to casually undermine her opinion in a professional setting. He consistently asserts himself as the more reasonable of the two, which allows him to keep Misty in the dark and keep her second guessing the accurate suspicions and instincts she has around the case so that she doesn't see that Scarfe is corrupt. Season 2 establishes this had been going on for years, allowing him to even posit planting evidence on a guy Misty is having a hard time making a case against, then dismissing it as a joke when Misty doesn't agree.
Luke's backstory has a lot of parallels with Biblical life of Isaac. He was a "miracle" child born to the patriarch of a religious community and his wife who was thought to have been barren. He also has an older half-brother who was born of an affair between said patriarch and a beautiful younger woman when it was thought the patriarch's wife couldn't have children. After having his "miracle" legitimate son, the patriarch ultimately abandons his former lover and his older son, who becomes the leader of another group while still holding a grudge against his younger half-brother.
Diamondback's power armor. Hammer Industries is still developing the concept, though far scaled back from the do-all weapons system of Iron Man or the Hammeroids. Still, its likely much cheaper to mass-produce, and would turn any infantryman into a terror on the battlefield.
The flashbacks of Cottonmouth's childhood are primarily about Cottonmouth, but they take place in the episode where Mariah has her Start of Darkness by killing Cottonmouth, so the flashbacks are more for highlighting Mariah's character.
Namely, Mariah has always had this dark side because of Mama Mabels way of dealing with things. But Mabel always taught Mariah that she wasnt to be dealing with that and instead focusing on her studies, the exact opposite of Cottonmouth. This is the reason why through the first half of the first season, Mariah is genuinely trying to distance herself publicly from her family history. At this point, she's not a villain, but someone trying to get away from that life, but still having family pulling her back in by her cousin. So when she kills Cottonmouth, thats her point of no return. She goes from encouraging Cottonmouth to kill a bad family member, to killing a bad family member herself. And after years of trying to get away from that sort of family history, here she is creating it herself. Her whole world has been thrown upside down, and she is probably completely confused as to what to do. Enter Shades, who takes advantage of the situation. He knows hes not going to run Harlem. So he takes advantage of Mariah. Hes that push she needs to let go of her dreams of escaping her family history, and instead embrace it. Mariah has always been dark. She just needed someone to pull off those rose tinted glasses when she looked in the mirror. And Shades was the ideal messenger.
Early in season 2, Luke makes a joke to Bobby Fish about how Pops made him clean the windows. If you notice throughout season 2, the windows are VERY dirty. The camera doesnt pay excessive attention to it but theyre so dirty that it stands out quite a bit.
The quest for control of one's life is the predominant theme of season 2.
Luke throughout the first season is a very reactive character, partly because his story didnt actually begin in season 1. It actually began in the first season of Jessica Jones, where Luke was a very active character, actively hunting down Revas killers. And what does he get for it? Well, he finds out that a woman he cared for was involved in Revas death and had been lying to him the whole time, and then Kilgrave makes Luke try to kill Jessica just like he made her kill Reva, and Luke is only stopped by a shotgun blast straight to his head that nearly does him in. It is thus perhaps understandable that Luke didnt want to be a hero anymore and was trying to live a quiet life. His arc for the first season was realizing he loved Harlem too much to do that. In the meantime, though, he was a highly reactive character. This is not always a bad thing for superheroes; go too far in the other direction of actively hunting down bad guys and you get Frank Castle. It did mean that the villains drove most of the plot rather than Luke himself. In season 2, motivated by being so out of his depth with the Hand in The Defenders and seeing Misty lose her arm, Luke tries to take back control of his life. The problem with that no one is ever really in complete control of their lives, and in trying to get total control, Luke winds up becoming more controlled than ever. We open the season with Luke attempting to hunt down every stash house selling heroin with his name on it. Not because this drug is particularly more lethal than any other, but because it is using his name without his permission. This focus on controlling his image is one that hounds Luke throughout the season. Hes reluctant to sign promotional deals not so much because he doesnt want to make money, but rather because he doesnt want to be bought. He doesnt want Nike or whoever to have any control over him. He wants to be his own man. Yet thanks to that Harlem's Hero app, he can be found by almost anyone with a camera. While Luke is sometimes able to promote himself his Yo, Im Luke Cage speech with all its chest-thumping and dabbing following Arturo's attempt on his life being the most prominent it also means that when Bushmaster sneak-attacks him in the street, the video goes viral, and is sold without his permission to ESPN, leaving the narrative entirely out of Lukes hands. Unable to have control of his public life as a hero of Harlem, Luke shifts his focus to control of his personal life. He refuses his fathers efforts to reach out to him, and when Claire pushes for them to reconcile he dismisses her. When Claire questions his excessive force with Cockroach, he accuses her of castrating him. Given that Luke doesnt much demonstrate many other signs of toxic masculinity, this hyperbole has less to do with her unmanning him and more to do with taming him, making him docile, under someone elses control. While Luke was never in any risk of hurting Claire, he does get angry enough to break her wall, losing control of himself and losing her. Once again the quest for control backfires on him. Even the fan-service-y cameo episode with Danny Rand serves toward this theme of need for control, as Luke works on self-control of his anger through Dannys advice. To a certain degree this works; Luke is in much more control of his emotions towards the end of the series than towards the beginning, but that doesnt solve his biggest issue, his frustration with trying to control the criminal world that swirls around him.
Much of Luke's vigilante work involves him chafing at the restrictions and controls presented by legal options. Hes not alone in this. Misty has a similar path of trying to determine how comfortable she is with following the law versus going her own way. She was this close to going full Scarfe and planting evidence when the lawful means of going after Cockroach werent working, and turned in her badge because she felt that shed crossed a line and could no longer be police. She scorned at Ridenhours compromises, and started assuming a vigilante role. Misty, however, has power thrust upon her unexpectedly when Ridenhour is killed, and she is made the temporary boss of the 29th Precinct detective squad, and being in actual control makes her realize how much she misjudged people who had been in control of her before, like Ridley. Heavy lies the crown as they say, and instead of becoming more rogue in her new role, she becomes more conformed to the establishment of the NYPD, more willing to strike deals and work in the system, with Nandi even saying Misty is acting very much like Ridenhour. The downside of this is Misty having to accept that her wins might be fewer and far between. The upside is that she probably the only main character of season 2 to end the season in a better place than where she started. To gain control, Misty has to give up some control, albeit on her own terms.
Contrast this to the walking disaster that is Mariah Dillard, er Stokes, in season 2. Mariahs miserable childhood has left her unable to develop trust with anyone, and so she takes on all decisions by herself and keeps control of her assets in her hands, despite repeated efforts by Shades to convince her that he wants to help her share her burdens. Probably due to the stress of taking all of this on herself, Mariah spends about half this season drunk and thus very not in control of herself, making more and more bad decisions as she faces pressure from the NYPD on one front and Bushmaster's revenge on another. Trusting someone else means giving up control, and when shes done that shes been hurt, horrifically. So she trusts no one, betrays everyone, and winds up alone and dead.
Misty's and Mariah's two parallel paths offer two possible models for where Luke goes. This season ends with Luke deciding to take absolute control of Harlem, taking Mariahs place as the power-broker of Harlem's Paradise keeping a wall around the neighborhood and making deals with the bad guys to keep them out. Yet the utter irony is that Luke only winds up taking this position of dictator as an option of last resort. He is forced by Mariahs machinations to take her position, with Mariah specifically having chosen him as her heir over Tilda. He loves Harlem as much as she does, and Mariah finds he is the only person to be reliable around her - reliably against her, that is. And of course she also chooses him out of spite, to see how long he can remain incorruptible if he follows her path. It is a trap. Donovan tells him so, bluntly. But Luke walks into it because he believes hell finally get his control in the end, and because it is the only option he sees left. It's hard to imagine what alternatives Luke really had. Luke stops a gang war by becoming the boss of crime, he ends bloodshed, and the scale of what was unleashed on Harlem was beyond anything anyone was prepared to handle by other means. So perhaps this is the best choice among bad choices for now.
Less forgivable is his decision to turn away Claire in the final scene. That is a decidedly Mariah move, pushing away the one who loves you because to love is to let someone else have some control over you, if only your heart. (There are direct scene-for-scene parallels between some of Lukes moments with Claire, and Mariahs moments with Shades, for precisely this reason.)
This arc for Luke seems to borrow heavily from the Bendis run on Daredevil, where Matt Murdock defeated Fisk, declared himself the new Kingpin of Hells Kitchen, and established a peace by force much as what Luke is planning. It did not end well for Matt; he wound up losing all his friends, his girlfriend, and went to prison. Luke is in the same boat. But at the very least, he seems open to continuing to work with Misty, though that door-closing shot (a direct reference to the end of The Godfather) doesnt bode well for that relationship continuing. But we also got a glimpse of connection between him and Danny that promises maybe, maybe he can be convinced to be a true dictator. Because, as Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight, "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain," and mentioned that ancient Roman dictators were an emergency position created to deal with crises, at the end of which they were supposed to give up their power. Can Luke make the hard choice, the truly strong choice, and know when its time to relinquish his quest for total control, to be vulnerable, to allow himself to not be omnipotent?
During Luke and Danny's team-up, both of their "theme colors" are on display...but they are also wearing the color associated with the other character, as Luke is wearing a grayish green t-shirt, and Danny is wearing a yellow button-down shirt. Later, when they are attacking the warehouse, the warehouse is prominently bathed in purple and red lighting (the colors of Jessica and Matt), very much a nod to absent friends.
In a season 2 flashback, Scarfe suggests to Misty that they plant drugs on a guy scamming old ladies out of their social security checks. He then laughs it off as a joke when she is appalled by the suggestion. With hindsight, Misty realizes that Scarfe was testing her out. She didn't bite at the easy option, so he kept her out of his shit from then on.
Early in season 2, Mariah's publicist is telling her that her reputation has taken a bit of damage as a result of the scandal surrounding Cottonmouth. Mariah sarcastically asks if her best chance at restoring her image is to hand out Thanksgiving turkeys, like Harlem gangster Nicky Barnes did when Mariah was a kid. Nicky Barnes was a notable drug lord in Harlem who became known as "Mr. Untouchable" for successfully beating numerous charges and arrests,note to the point that President Jimmy Carter was enraged enough to task his attorney general, Griffin Bell, with prosecuting Barnes to the fullest extent of the law kinda like Mariah's ability to escape prosecution up until this point. The fact that Barnes was a drug lord eventually foreshadows Mariah's eventual involvement in the heroin later in the season when she sets up a deal with Hai Qing-Yang.
The painting/photo that gets displayed pride of place in the Harlem's Paradise office has particular significance
In season 1, the B.I.G. photo. One crown. Cottonmouth even draws attention to it. When he's talking to Shameek in episode 1, the framing is such that it looks like he's the one with the crown.
In season 2, the B.I.G. photo is gone and replaced with the Basquiat. More abstract, because the "who" doesn't matter, only the "what" does. Two crowns. Two rulers: Mariah and Shades.
When Bushmaster seizes Harlem's Paradise, he replaces the Basquiat with a photo of Marcus Garvey, and has no crown. Bushmaster doesn't see himself as a king. But Marcus Garvey still has a fancy hat, and using the image of a black nationalist with influence in both the US and Jamaica gives a fitting parallel to Bushmaster's self-image.
When Luke takes over Harlem's Paradise, he now uses a photo of Muhammad Ali. A fighter. And one mentioned earlier in the season by DW as an analogy for Luke. No crown, but still a king.
The crowns of the Basquiat can be used in season 2 to highlight Mariah's and Shade's control over the situations.
It's not until episode 6 of season 2 that we see the kind of framing that Cornell and the B.I.G. photo got in season 1. Until then, the painting is barely seen, always just in the background, often out of focus or cut off so we can't see the crowns. When we first get full framing, in episode 6, Mariah stands in front of it, but her head doesn't line up with the crowns, they're well above her head. She wants to be Queen. She thinks of herself as being Queen. She's not Queen.
The first time there are any crowns lining up is in episode 7. Shades' head is lined up with the crown on the left, but on the right, the other crown is still a little above Mariah's head. Shades is in control. Mariah thinks she is, and she's closer than before, but she's rattled by Piranha's death and she is not living up to it.
After the massacre at Gwen's, the Basquiat is replaced by the B.I.G. photo again. The Basquiat goes downstairs to the safe room. Shades doesn't want to be involved in the stuff Mariah is getting into anymore. And she sees he's drawing back. One crown. One ruler. Mariah.
Finally, as it is all coming to an end in episode 12, when Shades has turned on Mariah and is wearing a wire, and they go into the safe room, Shades tries to convince Mariah he's still on her side. But as he's leaning down to kiss her, standing in front of the painting, the crowns foreshadow the truth. Mariah has one. Shades does not. Mariah's in control, she knows he's lying. Shades is at her mercy.
How does Bushmaster know that Nigel has met with Mariah for the gun deal despite not having spoken with Nigel in a while? Well, as revealed a few episodes later, Stephanie, Mariah's new hostess at the club, is Sheldon's cousin who they sent into the club to gather inside information. She told them about which gangsters went to the meeting.
Their use of Stephanie as an insider, and Stephanie being used by Mariah in a scheme to blackmail Mark Higgins, explains why the Stylers go after Cockroach, Higgins and Ray-Ray for their severed head display, as well as how they know the date and time of Piranha's party. Stephanie knew where Higgins lived, while they knew about Cockroach because he was alongside Arturo and Nigel at the meeting with Mariah. And Ray-Ray was guarding Mariah's box when Bushmaster visited her in Harlem's Paradise. Having a mole in the club is how Bushmaster gets the upper hand in the first and second acts without Mariah ever realizing it.
In the first episode of season 1, Mariah expresses to Cottonmouth her discomfort with him having some of his henchmen be bodyguards for her while she's doing a public event outside Crispus Attucks. Cottonmouth counters, "They pass out flyers, get contributions, tributes. Just like in Jamaica, you know?" In season 2, it's revealed the Stokes family had traveled to Jamaica over 30 years for arbitration with Bushmaster's mother (and then later, to kill her). Meaning that here, Cottonmouth is remembering what he saw of the local gang culture.
The reveal in season 2 that Tilda was conceived as a result of Mariah being raped by her uncle explains in hindsight why Cottonmouth's victim blaming caused Mariah to snap and kill him: because Tilda exists as a living reminder of the trauma that Mariah had to go through.
Turk Barrett's appearance in the show helps prove the Punisher's point about criminals and jail. Matt Murdock interrogated him and left him for the cops towards the beginning of Season 2. The first few episodes of Luke Cage line up with the last few of Season 2 of Daredevil. That means Turk really did get out of jail in just a few weeks, at most. And he's headed back to Hell's Kitchen, in time to be abducted by the Hand. Not to mention his involvement led to the death of Pop. Meaning you might recall Castle's rooftop argument with Matt over which criminals deserve death. This is only tempered by the fact that Frank wants to kill all criminals. Petty thugs or people who commit crime to survive. All are the same to Frank, all deserve to die. People like Chico and Squabbles as well. Criminals? Yes. Deserving to be gunned down? No. The problem with Frank's way there are no shades of grey. Only dead bodies.
High tech weaponry is being used by ordinary gangsters, on top of every other crook that Luke, Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock deal with. With the more realistic tone of those series compared to comic books, you can see just how bad the street crime in New York City is. Imagine the Crips fighting the Bloods with rocket launchers and mecha.
During her conversation with Cottonmouth, Mariah showed herself far more capable of thinking outside the box for ways to get around Luke's Nigh-Invulnerable skin to kill and/or hurt him by exploiting his Logical Weaknesses. Come season 2 this will make her a far more fearsome adversary than her cousin ever was.
Related to an above Fridge Brilliance, the last few years in the MCU have seen massive, public arrests for corruption at all levels of government, from the Vice President, to SHIELD, to the NYPD. Misty clearly doesn't trust her fellow officers, and they don't trust her in return because they see her as dirty by association with a known dirty cop (Scarfe). With this amount of mistrust, how are the people they serve and protect supposed to trust the NYPD to live up to the "Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect" motto painted on their squad cars? This adds to how quickly Harlem residents rally behind Luke Cage, and paves the way for other vigilante heroes. But it also makes you wonder how much the Sokovia Accords was a power play by the government to attempt to earn back the people's trust, and how justified Steve Rogers' fears about people and their changing agenda were. And what this means for street-level MCU heroes like Luke, Matt, Jessica, and Danny.
Except the Sokovia Accords weren't written by the US government, they were written by the UN because the Avengers kept going into other countries (mostly brown people's countries) and destroying things, leaving the US government and Tony Stark to pick up the tab. The also call for accountability and transparency between all law enforcement which would lead to LESS corruption, not more, if anything the arrests we've seen are a direct result of the accords.
Tone's usage of two submachine guns to shoot up Pops' barbershop seems over the top and hilariously inefficient. But if you'd already watched season 2 of Daredevil, you'd notice that the barbershop shooting more or less looks like a scaled down version of the Kitchen Irish bloodbath, or the guys that shot up Samantha Reyes' office and Karen Page's apartment. Which almost certainly means Tone was trying to imitate the style of overkill that the Punisher and the Blacksmith were associated with. Blake Tower's mentioning of Frank Castle's name during his conversation with Inspector Ridley at the hostage situation, has more meaning knowing that there are copycats trying to emulate his M.O., especially since Tower was there when Reyes was taken out.
We learn in "Manifest" that Mariah was molested by her Uncle Pete, that Pete and Mama Mabel, aka Maybelline Stokes, were a thing before Mama Mabel chose his brother, Mariah and Cottonmouth's grandfather, and he seemed pretty bitter about that. Also, Pete's nickname for Mariah was "Little May". Could Pete have molested Mariah partially because he saw her as a substitute for Mabel?
When interrogating Shades in "Soliloquy of Chaos," Inspector Ridley says "You should be at Rikers right now, but I held you." Then you remember that Wilson Fisk assumed control of Rikers after orchestrating Dutton's death and Frank Castle's escape. If Fisk controlling Rikers is common knowledge, it would easy to assume that Inspector Ridley probably kept Shades away from Rikers because he would've change alliances and began working for Fisk.
Misty's BSOD in the season one finale when Mariah Dillard walks free from Cottonmouth's murder and arranging Candace Miller's death. Most people probably saw this as the straw that broke the camel's back, but for Misty, it was a lot more personal: Candace was just was another dead young black woman that nobody gave a shit about. Candace changed her statement before she was murdered, and because of her being dead, it is now practically worthless for pinning Mariah. Even mere seconds after finding out, Mariah was smug enough to call her one of "[Cottonmouth's] whore[s]", because no-one can ever counter that without her to defend herself. This situation is similar to Misty's cousin being raped and murdered, which as she told the therapist in "DWYCK", was what motivated her to become a cop, to prevent that from ever happening to others, or ensure that the culprits are caught and taken down when it does. Now even the justice system has failed Candace, as it has failed Misty's cousin.
Furthermore, part of the reason Misty had decided to do what she did with stashing Candace, was that Scarfe being shady made her lose faith in handling anything else by the book at that point. By not doing that (regardless of whether taking her to the precinct would have gotten her killed or not) she became responsible for a death.
This whole season, in fact, had instances of the system totally messing up, which further contributed to the system failing Candace. Not notably, Cottonmouth being released so quickly, and having cops on his payroll. The problem with the justice system is that it's slow, and if you have money and connections, it's a real pain to get the big fish. And harder to stop them. Nelson & Murdock may have put Wilson Fisk down through legal methods (Marci leaking confidential work product, Hoffman naming corrupt cops on his payroll), but it didn't even matter since he's just running things from prison now since everyone who works there is dirty. Likewise, Mariah may have been exposed for her dirtiness, but she's out on the streets because she was able to discredit and then kill the one witness who could incriminate her.
Remember how Luke got pissed in Jessica Jones when he learned that Jessica had withheld from him the fact that she had killed Reva? Well, for him, that moment's going to be a lot worse for him knowing now that Reva was not an innocent pawn in Seagate's machinations. While she probably legitimately felt sorry for her involvement and was trying to make it up (given that she helped Luke escape and stayed with him without turning him back in), he still feels betrayed since the angelic version of Reva he's held up all these years is a lie. He got pissed at Jessica for not coming clean with her involvement in Reva's death, but to realize that Reva was being just as selective as Jessica with what she told Luke is going to make things with Jessica that much more complicated...
Going into The Defenders (2017), there's also Fridge Heartwarming: learning the truth about Reva puts Luke in a better position to patch things over with Jessica. He put Reva on a pedestal for years. Now that he realizes she wasn't perfect, he can now forgive Jessica completely for Reva's death. His whole affair and marriage to Reva was to an idealized person that didn't exist, and sooner or later he would have figured it out. When he was dealing with Jessica, Luke saw the world as a little more black and white, but now he can recognize the world is a little more gray. Indeed, he's incredibly friendly with Jessica when they do first meet up again in The Defenders.
The sad fact is that Cottonmouth is a pretty mediocre pianist (notice how people mostly SAY he has talent but we really only hear him play a few simple bars) whose talent is only remarkable because it was never given the opportunity to flourish. In fact, in present day scenes, he seems to be playing at a similar level to that at which he played when he was a teenager. He still plays like a kid, which reflects how his growth as a person has been more generally stunted by trauma.
Season 2 ends with Luke running Harlem's Paradise and more or less allowing the gangs to talk shop in club. Who knows how the crime world will be shaken up now that the Stokes are lit and a hero is in charge. And that crime will continue, just not in Harlem.
In Daredevil season 3, Wilson Fisk is actively going after gangs involved in corruption to recruit into his new extortion racket. Among those he charges a street tax on is Rosalie Carbone. Which would mean nothing if not for the fact that when Foggy outlines his theory to Karen about what Fisk is doing, his web map also lists gangs that were affected by Davos in Iron Fist season 2, which suggests that Fisk went after Carbone specifically because she was falling under more scrutiny in light of Mariah's downfall and Luke's truce deal.
Another boss at the table during Fisk's parlay is John Hammer, a black gangster. While we don't see where in the city his body shop is when Nadeem and Dex are sent to pick him up, he might very well be based in Harlem and have been picked by Fisk for the same reasons as Rosalie Carbone: someone who's been badly affected by Luke's new control of Harlem's Paradise.
The removal of the Stokes from power may have also been a contributing factor as to how Fisk was able to re-cement his power base with little interference. The Stokes are shown in Luke Cage to have operated in Harlem for over 40 years, and had enough connections that they would've posed a problem for Fisk if Mariah was still alive and on the streets when he got out (they even share a lot of associates in common, like Ben Donovan). It's very likely that if Mariah was still alive and on the streets when Fisk got out, she would've likely sought to go to war against him rather than pay his extortion tax.