From showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, Season 2 of the Netflix original series Marvel’s Luke Cage sees the man himself (Mike Colter) learning to adjust to having become a celebrity on the streets of Harlem. While kids love the bulletproof superhero, Luke Cage is feeling the heat, with an increased pressure to protect the community from formidable adversaries that are both familiar, like Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Shades (Theo Rossi), and new, like the mysterious Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), that will cause him to evaluate just where the line between being hero ends and being a villain begins.
At a press day for the new season, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with executive producer/writer Cheo Hodari Coker to chat about his hopes for the reaction to Season 2, his desire to have Luke Cage be one of the best shows on TV, getting to dive deeper into the characters, the Luke Cage take on Iron Fist, and why the “48 Hours with superpowers friendship” between Luke and Danny is so much fun to watch. He also talked about the experience of writing the script for Nightwatch for director Spike Lee, how working for one of his biggest influences is a dream come true, and wanting to make “the best Spike Lee/Marvel superhero joint possible.”
Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: Congrats on a great Season 2! I really enjoyed being able to watch the entire season, prior to talking to you.
CHEO HODARI COKER: Well, thank you! It was important for me to release the whole season because I knew that people were so burned by what we did with Mahershala [Ali] as Cottonmouth, they were not gonna give us the benefit of the doubt, and I didn’t want for reviews to come out with asterisks saying, “Oh, these episodes are great, but you know what happened last season.” So, I wanted people to love or hate the show on its full merits. It’s a risk, releasing all 13, but I hope it’s a risk that pays off because we’re the superhero show no one’s talking about anymore. I think that Season 1 was underappreciated, and I really want Season 2 to be the show that people are talking about, not only in superhero terms, but also because I’ve always had higher aspirations for the show. I don’t aspire to just be the best superhero drama on television. I want to be one of the best shows on television, period.
You’ve really stepped everything up this season.
COKER: Oh, yeah!
It’s interesting because it seems like everyone is really having to confront who they are and how they got to where they are. Was that something you intentionally wanted to explore, or did that just come out of the story you wanted to tell this season?
COKER: Well, Season 1 is always about building the world, and then with Season 2, you’re always able to go deeper, if you focus it correctly. I always base almost everything I do on music. I’ve always looked at a show as an album. My private joke about Luke Cage is that it’s a bulletproof version of Lemonade, and that essentially it’s a concept album that has a video component. I think about the show in an audio sense, before I think about the visual sense. That stems from me being a huge music fan, but it also stems from me being a former music critic. I thought about those groups that had second albums, after a big debut, that solidified who they were. I wanted Season 2 of Luke Cage to be Ice Cube’s Death Certificate, or Fugees’ The Score, or Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, or my favorite, The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest. It’s that second record that not only takes what made the first record work, but with new sounds and new momentum, it takes things to a higher level. That was one of the things we really wanted to do. The other thing was that Anjelica Jade Bastién wrote a lot of recaps that just massacred us, but they were so well-written. They were my favorite reviews. I read them, and it was painful sometimes. Sometimes she hated the show, but they were so beautifully written that it inspired us, frankly. She became my Pauline Kael, from the standpoint of just being the critic that knocks you down, but in a way that is so artfully written that you learn things and you approach things differently. And so, it was important for us that we really explore who Luke Cage was as a man, and not just as a hero.
We also get to see your take on Danny Rand and Iron Fist, this season, and we get a lot of humor there, which is fun. What did you want to do with that dynamic that we haven’t gotten to see yet?
COKER: Well, you know, Akela Cooper is one of our best writer-producers on our staff. She wrote the episode that killed Cottonmouth, and I’m proud of the fact that she’s now running a show for Netflix, called Chambers. Aïda Croal is now running Y: The Last Man. Jason Horwitch is now running Berlin Station. The fact that people have left the show and are now running shows is definitely cool. When I was a journalist, I didn’t care how many people talked to Ice Cube before I talked Ice Cube. I just knew that when I talked to Ice Cube, it was going to be different than what anybody else had done, and it was the same with any group. I couldn’t compete with all these different magazines, but I knew that when I get my shot, it was gonna be different.
What we, as a writing staff, wanted was that, if we were going to have Iron Fist, it was gonna be different than The Defenders and his own show. We were gonna do it our way. We were lucky enough that both Marvel and Netflix allowed us to play a little bit because I wanted to give him a different swagger. Conventional wisdom was like, because Iron Fist Season 1 had so much against it, in terms of critics, we shouldn’t want to have him in our show. I was like, “No, fuck that!” My attitude and arrogance as a showrunner is like, “Just because this player didn’t run your offense, it doesn’t mean that he can’t come on our team and fit perfectly.” In Akela’s episode, he did. In that moment, for that warehouse fight, I think people are gonna look at that and be like, “Wow, holy shit! This is fun!” Knock on wood, and I’m probably gonna get in trouble for saying this, but I would love to do a Power Man and Iron Fist spin-off. I think that would be a lot fun. It’s something that reflects their friendship. They have a 48 Hours with superpowers friendship, and I think that would be cool.
It’s the strangest odd couple relationship.
COKER: Watching them together is great fun. Episode 10 is one of those episodes where everything comes together. You’ve got that moment with them, but then you also have Mariah Dillard becoming Mariah Stokes, and when she does, she truly becomes the real big bad of Season 2. With Bushmaster, once you understand his intention and who he is, you forgive him for some of the evil things he does, along the course of the season, but Alfre [Woodard] as Mariah is next level. I’m hoping that, in the end, people consider her one of the great Marvel villains.
You leave Season 2 in a really interesting place because it seems like both Luke and Tilda are right on the edge of that cliff and you leave them at that tipping point. Does that make you more excited about where you could take this next, if you’re able to tell more of this story?
COKER: Oh, absolutely! Knock on wood, if we get ordered for a third season, we’ve got places to go with Tilda’s character. At the same time, seeing Luke on the balcony is interesting. You can see how intoxicating that kind of power is. I think that’s really one of those moments that makes it seamless. It leaves a lot of interesting places for Luke Cage to potentially go, for Season 3, if we get a Season 3.
You also wrote Nightwatch for Spike Lee to direct.
COKER: I’m writing Nightwatch.
What kind of superhero movie will we get with that?
COKER: Well, Spike Lee is one of my biggest influences. What I love about Spike, other than he’s just a fun guy to hang around, is that Spike is fearless. As much as people talk about him being politically outspoken, let’s not forget that he’s one of the best screenwriters, ever, in addition to being a visual master. People talk so much about Spike’s politics, but they don’t talk about how he moves the camera. When you see what he did in Malcolm X , Mo’ Better Blues, Do The Right Thing, Inside Man, He Got Game and Clockers, all of which are movies that I’ve watched, over and over and over again, trust me, it’s intimidating. I can’t believe I’m writing a movie for Spike Lee. You know, no pressure. But I’m hoping that the experience that I’ve gained on Luke Cage will help with Nightwatch, from the standpoint of we’re just making the best movie we can.
I’ve gotta be careful because we haven’t officially acknowledged it. The thing is that I’ve gotta finish the script before we know what we really have. So while I can’t ask you to not use a quote, the only thing I can say is that it’s not really real until he reacts to the script. But I’m hoping that I do my best because I think that, with us collaborating, it could be a really cool thing. It could be a different thing because every project is different and you bring a different energy to it. Just because he has a certain way of doing things, and people can assume the kind of superhero movie that I would write, being the creator of Luke Cage, it’s not that, at all. Nightwatch is different than the comics, the same way that Luke Cage is different than the comics. There will be elements that we preserve, but we’re also gonna bring different stuff to it, and fun stuff. Not fun in a happy, shiny way, but fun from a dramatic, “Oh, yo, I can’t believe they went there” way. So, I’m just trying to finish the script. It’s crazy right now because I’m pulled in all these different directions, but the fear drives you. It drives me, as a writer. When I get scared is when I get the most focused, and when I get the most focused, things take off. The fear galvanized Season 2 of Luke Cage, and I’m hoping the same fear galvanizes Nightwatch.
With so many TV shows to choose from, it’s exciting when someone like you makes something like Luke Cage, which is why I’m also excited about Nightwatch.
COKER: Yeah. Just the opportunity to work with Spike is a dream come true. He’s such a huge influence. My thing is, let’s make the best Spike Lee/Marvel superhero joint possible.
Luke Cage Season 2 is available to stream at Netflix on June 22nd.