“Luke Cage” Season 2 continues the story of the bulletproof “Hero of Harlem,” picking up shortly after the events of 2017’s “The Defenders,” when he helped his fellow Marvel Netflix heroes defeat The Hand.
But it’s been almost three years since Luke (Mike Colter) was first introduced back in the first season of “Jessica Jones” in 2015, and almost two since the first season of “Luke Cage,” so there’s a lot of catching up to do before you watch his latest adventures. Here are all the story events and characters that have informed Luke’s journey across three shows, to understand everything that is yet to come in “Luke Cage” Season 2.
Luke’s dad and Willis Stryker: Luke Cage was born Carl Lucas, son of Georgia preacher James Lucas. James, through an affair with his secretary, also had an illegitimate son named Willis Stryker. Willis and Carl grew up together and became best friends, often boxing together, though Carl never knew they were half-brothers.
As teenagers, Carl and Willis are arrested after stealing a car. But while James convinces a judge to let Carl off in exchange for joining the marines, he doesn’t do the same for Willis, who is subsequently sent to juvenile detention. Carl goes on to become a police officer, while Willis ends up in an adult prison after he kills another juvie inmate in self defense.
Sometime later, Carl’s is arrested and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, and sentenced to a lengthy term at privately-owned Seagate Penitentiary. Unknown to him, he was actually framed by Willis, who blamed the Lucases for his own bad fortune. Willis would eventually become a powerful gangster using the criminal alias “Diamondback.”
Luke’s time at Seagate: While in prison, Carl is counseled by therapist Reva Connors and menaced by corrupt guard Albert Rackham, who is involved in several criminal dealings including an illegal fight club. One of Rackham’s accomplices is another inmate, Shades Alvarez.
After Shades, acting on Rackham’s orders, almost succeeds in murdering Carl, Reva convinces Dr. Burstein, a shady scientist conducting illegal experiments on Seagate inmates, to test his experiment on Carl in order to save his life. The process transforms Carl, giving him bulletproof skin and super strength. (It also, very briefly, gives him a yellow top, wrist gauntlets and silver tiara identical to the “Power Man” costume Luke Cage wore in 1970s comics.)
Carl escapes from Seagate with Reva’s help, and adopts the alias Luke Cage in order to hide from the law. At some point later, Luke and Reva marry and move to New York City.
Reva killed by Kilgrave: A year so before the events of “Jessica Jones” season one, Reva encounters Kilgrave and Jessica Jones, who is at that time under Kilgrave’s control. Kilgrave forces Jessica to kill Reva, but the trauma of doing so causes Jessica to break out of Kilgrave’s control. She escapes but carries the guilt of killing Reva with her.
Luke and Jessica Jones: Still processing her guilt, Jessica Jones begins surveilling Luke Cage at some point just prior to the first season of her show. They end up meeting and begin a casual relationship, until Luke learns that Jessica killed Reva. Later, Kilgrave uses his powers to control Luke, and forces him to attack Jessica, who only survives by shooting him in the head with a shotgun. Luke survives thanks to his super-skin, though he comes close to dying. He is nursed back to health by Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), but after he recovers he leaves without saying goodbye to Jessica. However, understanding what Kilgrave’s powers do, Luke forgives her for killing Reva.
Luke moves uptown: Some months later, Luke is living in Harlem, where he works as a janitor at a Barbershop owned by “Pop,” who serves as a mentor of sorts for Luke and for several other people in the community. As Luke gets to know some of the people in the neighborhood, he starts to cross paths with a local crime boss called Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, whose cousin, Mariah Dillard, is a city councilwoman.
While investigating Cottonmouth’s weapons-dealing operation, Luke becomes acquainted with two Harlem police detectives also looking into the gangster: Misty Knight and her partner, Rafael Scarfe. Luke also runs into Claire Temple, and the two become friends.
Cottonmouth’s goon kills Pop: After Cottonmouth orders the execution of Chico, an informant working with Luke, one of his henchmen, Tone, shoots up Pop’s Barbershop to get to Chico. Unfortunately, Pop is also killed. Pop was respected in Harlem as an institution and a neutral party, so Cottonmouth throws Tone off a roof as punishment.
Cottonmouth kills Misty’s partner, Rafael Scarfe: Scarfe, as it happens, is a dirty cop who takes bribes from Cottonmouth. But when Scarfe tries to extort Cottonmouth by selling the gangster’s guns back to him after the police had seized them, Cottonmouth shoots him. Scarfe flees to Luke for help, but he and Claire Temple are unable to save him. Scarfe is exposed as a dirty cop, and many of his past convictions are vacated.
Mariah kills Cottonmouth: Cottonmouth and Luke’s battles continue to escalate, and Cottonmouth becomes reckless, interfering with his criminal enterprise. This leads to conflict with his weapons supplier — the far more powerful Diamondback, who orders his lieutenant, Shades Alvarez, to kill Cottonmouth in order to keep him from ruining everything. It also puts Cottonmouth at odds with his cousin Mariah Dillard, a silent partner in Cottonmouth’s criminal empire who uses it to advance her political goals. Mariah murders Cottonmouth just before Shades arrives to do the job himself, and Shades immediately steps up to help her cover up the crime and escape blame. With Shades’ help, Mariah takes over Cottonmouth’s business, while continuing to present a legitimate face to the public.
Diamondback and the ‘Judas Bullet’: In response to Luke Cage’s bulletproof skin, Diamondback begins to sell an extremely rare and powerful bullet made out of alien materials left over from the attack on New York seen in “The Avengers.” Designed to penetrate armor and bulletproof vests and then explode, killing the target, the bullet is also capable of wounding Luke. Diamondback then reveals himself — and his hand in Luke’s wrongful imprisonment — to Luke. After being shot with a Judas Bullet, Luke and Claire locate Dr. Burstein, who manages to save Luke with a new version of the Seagate experiment. Luke is saved and in the process his powers are increased to the point that Judas bullets are no longer effective.
Luke wins the Diamondback battle, but Mariah’s war continues: With Judas bullets ruled out, Diamondback tries to use technology to make himself as strong as Luke. But in a fist fight harkening back to their childhood boxing matches, Diamondback is thoroughly defeated and sent back to jail. Meanwhile, after several run-ins, Mariah is outed as a crimelord, which destroys her political career. However, police are unable to make a case against her, and she goes free, becoming romantic and criminal business partners with Shades.
Amid all this, federal authorities learn Luke’s real name, Carl Lucas. At the end of the season, just as Luke and Claire’s relationship turns romantic, he turns himself over to U.S. Marshals, and is taken back to Seagate.
Luke joins the Defenders: Some months later, Luke is released from prison legitimately, after lawyer Foggy Nelson helps prove his innocence. He returns to New York a free man, resuming his role as the “hero of Harlem.” While investigating the murders of young Harlem men involved in the drug trade, he learns the drug operation is run by a criminal group called The Hand. This leads him to team up with Matt Murdoch (Daredevil), Danny Rand (Iron Fist), Jessica Jones, who are all investigating The Hand independently. The heroes, aided by Claire Temple, Colleen Wing and (eventually) Misty Knight fight and defeat the Hand before they can unleash a world-threatening danger, but in the process Murdoch disappears and is presumed killed in the explosion that destroys The Hand’s base of operations.
Misty Knight loses her arm: During the final battle with The Hand, Misty Knight’s arm is sliced off by one of The Hand’s leaders. Her life is saved by Colleen Wing; when Misty wakes up in the hospital, Colleen tells her the hospital is owned by Danny, and he might be able to give her access to state-of-the-art help to deal with her missing limb.