As the justice system fails once again, the we get a deeper look at the seasons two villains. Luke works to figure out his next move in the face of the truth coming out.
Beware the Spoilers
The chapter on Cottonmouth was effectively closed by the end of the run time even though his release from police custody without being charged at the top of the episode made it seem like the beginning of round two. The lead up to that bloody conclusion was fascinating. Seeing how both he and Mariah got to be so screwed up just adds layers to a compelling set of antagonists. Their grandmother left one hell of a legacy for the two to live up to. In flashbacks we meet the woman Pops once described as “the devil’s ex-wife.”
Mama Mabel (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) ruled Harlem by running women (and some men dressed as women), guns, and protection pay. If anyone disobeyed her, like selling drugs for instance, she would take a finger before she had them beaten to death. Mabel always claims family first, but that lesion is tainted when she allows Uncle Pete (Curtiss Cook) to molest young Mariah (Megan Miller) and will order a young Cornell (Elijah Boothe) to kill him when he tries to make a deal behind her back.
Cornell’s obsession with his club and music, but lack of gangster instinct stems from childhood. A piano protégé, the boy everyone calls Cottonmouth should have been bound for Julliard. His Uncle Pete did his best to foster the talent, but Mabel’s plans for her grandson always took priority. When Cornell had to shoot and kill his one supporter, it sealed his grim fate, but his venom for Mariah (who openly encouraged the killing of her abuser) simmered over the years. His dismissal of her and her plans for Harlem, the willingness to place his stash house in her headquarters to make sure she is just as culpable as him, are proof is his indignation. That resentment lead to his bloody end.
Shades involvement in the death of Cottonmouth and the potential rise of Mariah is fascinating on its own. He may work for Diamondback, but he grew up on the streets of Harlem around the same time as Cornell and Mariah. The name Stokes was important and Mama Mabel was the queen of it all. Anyone from the neighborhood needed anything, food, clothing, protection, Mabel took care of it. Shades seeing how ineffective Cornell has become, how the crusade against Luke Cage has torn the empire to shreds, pushes him to turn to Mariah and remind her of the legacy the name Stokes had. Reminding her she doesn’t need to step back and let Cornell have all the power.
When Cornell steps over the line and blames Mariah inviting the abuse she suffered at the hands of Pete, the anger of the accusation and Shades’ words push Black Mariah to the surface and Cornell out the window. Luckily Shades is nearby with a convenient scape goat in mind.
On the other side of the coin, Luke is preparing to run after Cornell threatens to use the information about Carl Lucas to work for him. Luke is afraid of the public learning he was in prison and being sent back to Seagate (like he would be sent there, most likely the government would intervene and he will be forced to choose between working with what is left of the Avengers or be sent to The Raft). Claire points out a majority of those in Harlem have been to prison or have family in lock up. No one is going to look down on him for doing time. The pep talk worked in helping the still struggling hero to change his mind. He goes after the weapons sold to Domingo and “anonymously” returns them to the NYPD thru Misty, earning him a little bit of trust from the detective.
That trust if going to be put to the test when Mariah starts claiming her cousin was killed by Luke Cage. The NYPD are going to be happy to hop on the accusation and push Misty to bring him in. Due to the implications of corruption by both Lieutenant Perez and the deceased Detective Scarfe, Captain Audrey is fired and Misty is under investigation by IA to make sure she is not dirty. The investigating officer is someone Misty has known from her beat cop days, Priscilla Ridley (Karen Pittman). Inspector Ridley encourages Misty to stop looking so hard at Cornell in the string of violent crime that started at the junkyard shooting, but look at the one person who is connected to all of it. Luke Cage.
Cornell Stokes is an evil the powers that be at the NYPD can understand. Someone who runs the streets is infinitely predictable in what he wants and how he is going to get it. Luke Cage is a wild card. The man is making the cops look bad by breaking up gun deals and stopping thugs from robbing the citizens of Harlem. But what truly makes him dangerous is he is different. He is powerfully strong man who is (nearly) impenetrable. How do you make a man like that obey the law?
“Manifest” ends with a mysterious person (Diamondback maybe?) shooting Luke with magic bullet calling him Carl and stating “one Judas for another” before pulling the trigger. The weapon does its job by getting thru Luke’s skin and exploding internally. Claire is with him when he is wounded (and has a lawyer friend who could help) so of course she is going to find a way to save his life, but that is one hell of a cliffhanger.
One last thought… In the comics Luke was sent to prison when he was betrayed by his best friend, Willis Stryker, a criminal Luke used to run with before going the straight and narrow. I have a feeling Diamondback will be Willis.
Nina Simone opens the episode with the soulful melody “Plain Gold Ring” while John Lee Hooker’s “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” scores Cornell’s memories and Nathan Bartell’s “Top Going Down, Bottom Going Up” makes a small appearance.
What scores a lot of the episode is Adrian Younge’s “April Sonata.”
What did you think of “Manifest”? Were you shocked by the death of Cottonmouth at the hands of Mariah? Who do you think shot Luke? Do you think Misty is going to believe Luke when he will claim he is innocent in the death of Cornell? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Please do not post spoilers for future episodes, not everyone gets to binge. Come back tomorrow for “Blowin’ Up the Spot” and click here for all Luke Cage episode breakdowns.