Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn't seen Luke Cage Season 2, though no major plot points or twists will be discussed.
Luke Cage Season 2 is an enjoyable mixed bag, depending on which of the series' elements you're into the most. There are plenty of positives to cheer on, from Alfre Woodard going full-dark as Mariah Dillard (Stokes) to Simone Missick's continued rise as one-armed wonder Misty Knight. But one of the most unexpected joys of Season 2 was the late actor Reg E. Cathey, whose performance as Luke's father, the Reverend James Lucas, was as enjoyable as every other season high point. And it couldn't have been more downplayed.
When Luke Cage first introduces James Lucas, it definitely looked like the show was setting up Reg E. Cathey as a religious pillar in Harlem who would take an opposing side against Luke and any other super-powered vigilantes. Which would have been great, since Cathey's commanding presence and unmistakable voice are worthy of standing up to his son's unnatural strength. But it soon becomes obvious that the Rev's issues are more personal than all that, and it's only his son "Carl Lucas" that he believes deserves the brunt of his words while he tries wrapping his mind around what Luke is capable of.
Superheroes have never been free from dealing with parental problems, from the Wayne family murders to Matt Murdock's troublesome childhood, but Luke Cage thankfully doesn't ever get overly maudlin or operatic with its father-and-son relationship, putting both men in the crosshairs for their respective stubbornness. Luke gets to call James out for a lifetime of absentee fatherhood and judgmental guidance, and for not believing that Luke was innocent of the crimes that landed him behind bars. And Reg E. Cathey does a fantastic job of lowering James' guard just enough to accept responsibility for his failures, although not low enough to stop railing on Luke for many of his other choices. The chemistry between the two actors was plentiful, and Cathey got along with more than just Mike Colter.
James Lucas wasn't in Season 2 for the long haul, appearing in a handful of episodes, but Reg E. Cathey stole just about all of the scenes he was in. The creative team was smart enough to set up some group sequences where Cathey was able to mix it up with Alfre Woodard's Mariah, Gabrielle Dennis' Tilda and others, allowing James to show off more character layers outside of being the gruff paternal figure. Cathey has one of those smiles that can impart mirth, longing, sympathy, and intimidation, sometimes all in the same look, so it's just a shame he couldn't act opposite every single other cast member.
Part of what makes the performance so memorable is that Reg E. Cathey, whose February 2018 death came as a result of lung cancer, was ill throughout part of Luke Cage's Season 2 production. There's something very melancholy about seeing the House of Cards vet delivering such great work while knowing the pain and anguish he was dealing with. According to Simone Missick, Cathey's presence was a "gift," and he apparently spent his days on the set sharing stories with the cast and crew about his childhood and career.
Standing proud and tall and outwardly "normal" in a show filled with carefree killers and super-strong vigilantes, Reg E. Cathey's James Lucas was surprising highlight who will be missed when Season 3 rolls around. He may not be widely remembered as one of the greatest MCU characters on Netflix, but he'll always have a spot on my list.