This article contains Luke Cage Season 2 spoilers.
Mustafa Shakir has made his Marvel Netflix debut in Luke Cage Season 2 as Bushmaster, a character that viewers might view as a villain. However when asked if he considered Bushmaster a villain, Shakir said, “A villain? No, not too much. There has to be a better way to describe Bushmaster. Villian is too simplistic of a word or at least our definition of villain is. I’m leaning more toward the middle as far as you know your mustache twirling villain who wants to blow stuff up. He’s not Joker like.”
Shakir makes a point that I wholeheartedly agree with, Bushmaster isn’t a villain, he instead is the hero of his own story. And there are plenty of parallels between Bushmaster’s Journey and Luke Cage’s this season. “I think they want similar things,” Shakir says. “I feel like it comes down to sense of purpose, a desire to help out and make change where possible. Luke and Bushmaster just have different styles in doing it.”
To Shakir’s point, season two features similarities between Bushmaster and Luke Cage that go deeper than the tough skin and uncanny strength. They are both dealing with the baggage that comes with their names, and dealing with it in their own different ways as he alluded to.
Bushmaster’s aunt tells Luke in a conversation that he and her nephew are more similar than he believes. While Luke internalizes his anger, which is harmful in its on way, Bushmaster let’s it out, also harmful in it’s on way. They both see evil and want to get rid of it. Bushmaster returns to Harlem to seek justice for his family. It is revealed that the Stokes and McIvers were in business together, but things went sour between them, resulting in the death of both of Bushmaster’s parents. Bushmaster wants Mariah’s soul for his mother’s. He prides himself on his name, feeling the sole responsibility to get vengeance for his family and to take back what the Stokes stole from them.
“I think their (Bushmaster and Luke) love of family is pretty strong,” Shakir says of the similarities between the two characters. A running theme in Luke Cage Season 2 focuses on the idea of family and how one deals with the baggage brought on by their familial ties. Luke Cage had his freedom robbed of him because of his father’s lies and infidelity. Luke spent time in prison after being framed by his half brother, Willie Stryker, after he framed him for a crime because of his jealousy of Luke not being denied the privilege – as he was – to call himself a Cage. Luke has to pay for the wrongdoings of his father, burdened by his name and the unfortunate luck of being the son that his father claimed. Luke’s father also blamed him for his mother’s death, blaming him for bringing on the cancer that ultimately takes her away. This anger and resentment towards his father obviously affects Luke but his internalization of it is setting him up to let the anger consume him.
Luke ultimately decides to forgive his father when his father seeks forgiveness from him and apologies for the wrong which cost Luke his freedom. Mariah, however, is nothing like Luke’s father and the option to extend forgiveness is never a possibility because there are no apologies coming from Mariah Stokes. So Bushmaster isn’t left with much of a choice to go about seeking his vengeance in what he feels is the best punishment for the crimes against his family by the Stokes. When Bushmaster finally confronts Mariah about what her family did to his, she’s unremorseful, giving validation to Bushmaster and his convictions that Mariah Stokes must be killed. There is no room for forgiving this kind of evil. Bushmaster believes the McIver family can’t be at peace until the last of the Stokes is gone.
Bushmaster’s rage leads him down a path of destruction, the same path Luke’s father warned him of if he let his gifts become a curse. A plant called nighshade brings out the strength that Bushmaster possesses, but it comes at a cost. Nightshade makes his body weaker with continued use but Bushmaster’s single goal of taking out the last Stokes makes the sacrifice worth it to him. Bushmaster takes on the burden of his family’s name, doing what he feels is necessary to seek justice for what the Stokes did. The same way Luke takes on the burden of wanting help Harlem, the darkness that it can bring, and how he holding on to the anger it causes him. Luke’s nightshade is his internalized anger.
In episode 211, Luke attempts to convince Bushmaster to help him take out Mariah the “right” way. To which Bushmaster replies that there is no right or wrong, the world is far more complicated. These complications blur the lines between villain and hero. One’s personal convictions will have them to believe that they are the hero of their own story and that anyone in their way is the villain.
It seems as though Tilda Johnson’s personal convictions give her reason to lend help to both of them, understanding their common enemy is her mother, Mariah. Neither Luke nor Bushmaster are wrong in wanting to remove such an evil force from existence. Tilda even goes as far as to keep Bushmaster alive even after he attempts to kill her mother and burns her family’s brownstone to the ground in the process. After she learns about what exactly her family did to his, she is able to understand his plight and look past his methods of dealing with the last of the Stokes family. She understands just how dangerous her mother is. Shakir believes that it’s “kind of inevitable” that Bushmaster and Nightshade could team up in the future. I have to agree especially since Tilda ultimately is the one to take out her own mother by the end of the season, understanding that Mariah would never stop, unless someone stopped her for good.
All through season two, Bushmaster is in Luke’s way of taking Mariah off the streets in the way that he feels is right, as Luke is in Bushmaster’s way of taking Mariah out in what he feels is justice for his family. Both heroes and antagonists depending on whose convictions one sides with. John “Bushmaster” McIver is no more a villain than Luke Cage is a hero.