After the arrest of Cottonmouth at the end of episode 6, Harlem seems to be heading in a new, brighter direction and justice has been served. At least, that’s what Luke would like to believe. Episode 7, “Manifest” opens with Luke interrupting a gun deal. he doesn’t understand why they are still trying to do business with their boss locked up but learns that Cottonmouth is being released without charge. With Scarfe being both dead and a crooked cop to boot, his evidence is useless and the cops have no choice but to release Cottonmouth. But all is not well in the Stokes empire. Despite being released the attention has soiled things for both him and Mariah. He learns from Shades that Diamondback wants to drop their deal for the Judas bullets and Mariah learns from councilman Boon that she is being asked to step down as councilwoman. She refuses to step down and makes the councilman leave. That’s when Shades emerges from the shadows telling her they need to talk.
On the other side of the law, Misty is having problems of her own. The deep levels of corruption within the force have triggered an overhaul of the police department and the chief is forced to resign. She is replaced with another woman, Priscilla Ridley – someone who has worked with Misty before and appears to have an antagonistic relationship with her. Misty is determined to continue going after Cottonmouth but Ridley tells her to focus on Luke Cage due to his proximity to every crime scene. This obviously makes Misty uncomfortable but there is nothing she can do about it.
With his back to the ropes and dependent on a meeting with Diamondback to regain his trust, Cottonmouth plays his music, as seen in previous episodes. This leads to a flashback showcasing a teenage Cottonmouth who is revealed to actually have been a musical prodigy. While his his uncle Pistol Pete encourages it, the matriarch Mama Mabel wants him to focus on the family business. Pete insists that he’s not “made for [that life]” but Mama Mabel will hear none of it. She wants Cottonmouth to become hard like, in her opinion, a man should, and for Mariah to focus on her studies and become a lawyer or doctor. When a boy under uncle Pete’s employ is revealed to be selling drugs, a big no-no, she makes Cornell be the one to punish him, despite Pete’s protests. When he emerges from the room, hands shaking and bloodied from beating the boy, he sits at his piano in shock. Mama Mabel puts her hands over his, as if to say, he’s done well.
Back in the present day, Luke has been asked to come to Harlem’s Paradise to speak to Cottonmouth. Luke arrives confident but leaves shaken when Cottonmouth reveals that he knows exactly who he is. He knows all about his former life as Carl Lucas and his escape from Seagate prison. In his first “semi-victory” against Luke, Cottonmouth tells hum to fall in line or he will expose him and have him sent back to Seagate. Luke leaves, defeated and return to the Pop’s barber shop where he immediately starts to pack a bag. When Claire questions him, he tells her that he is leaving Harlem. He tells her that all he ever does is bring trouble to people and he can’t allow Cottonmouth to reveal him. Claire
responds in disappointment and anger. She insists that he is no different from anyone else in Harlem, to not think so highly of himself, and to be the hero the city needs rather than running.
Back at Mariah’s brownstone, Shades gives Mariah a bit of a history lesson of his own. He speaks to her about Mama Mabel, what she created and what she meant to the community. The Stokes legacy has been tarnished, they are now no more than 2-bit thugs because of the war between Luke Cage and Cottonmouth. But Shades insists with a sickening amount of tenderness that she has more power than she realizes, then leaves, allowing Mariah to reflect. The warm, encouraging Shades disappears quickly though, when he returns to Harlem’s Paradise and learns about Cottonmouth’s meeting and blackmailing Luke Cage.It i here that Shades makes an interesting revelation: Diamondback has plans for Luke.
We then return to Cottonmouth’s teenage years where we see him get in trouble with Mama Mable for disappearing with Pete to an audition and leaving them undefended. Cornell initially tries to brush Mama Mable off, insisting that music is his calling but he quickly realizes he’s said to much. Just before Mama Mable can let him have it, he let’s slip that Pete also had a meeting with the Salvatore’s in Spanish Harlem and that he spent much of his time hanging out and playing video games at there place. Suddenly, Mama Mable changes her tune. This revelation eventually leads to a confrontation between Mama Mable and Uncle Pete. Pete feels that the business is rightfully his and that he should be able to work his way up under the Salvator’s and eventually “own the city”, but to Mama Mable, Pete’s act of betrayal has only one result. Death. And Cornell is the one she gives the job to. Cornell reluctantly holds his Uncle Pete at gunpoint and walks him outside. Mariah sees what’s going on and joins them, showcasing far more enthusiasm for the deed than her cousin. Pete pleads with Cornell that he doesn’t have to go down this path, but before he can say anymore, Cornell shoots him dead.
Back in the present, Luke utilizes a local source to find the guns Cottonmouth traded in his botched gun deal. Spurred by Claire’s words, he is determined to use the guns as proof of Cottonmouth’s crimes. He tracks them down at Domingo’s hideout, leaving a slew of mayhem in his wake. Mariah, meanwhile, get’s the official news thaat she is being muscled out of her position and will have to give a press conference teh following day, “voluntarily” stepping down. But Mariah is having none of it! She tracks her cousin down at his nightclub and chews his out.Tensions run high between the pair which leads to all the decades of resentment we just learned about spilling from both of them. In a heartbreaking explosion of emotion, Cottonmouth confesses that he never wanted to be the person he is. All he wanted was to make music – he could have been a prodigy – and he resents that Mama Mable only ever focused on her studies. Him being a gangster paid for her schooling and advancement. But Mariah has her own catharsis to get out. In an equally heart wrenching outburst, Mariah asks: who do you think has covered for you all these years? She then goes a step further and tells him that the only reason Mabel kept sending her away to school was so that Pete couldn’t get to her, implying that Pete was abusing her. But Cottonmouth is not willing to allow Mariah to make such an accusation against the one person he felt was on his side and oversteps by accusing her of flaunting herself in front of Pete and wanting him.
This was a mistake. A big one.
Mariah snaps. She grabs a wine bottle and hits him over the head with it. She is punching, screaming and kicking, and pushes Cottonmouth out the viewer window. Incapacitated, Cottonmouth struggles to crawl away but Mariah is in a rage. She grabs the mike stands and beats him to death with it, screaming all the while, that she ‘didn’t want it’. When it’s over, Mariah notices that Shades is there. He looks very pleased with what she has done and reassures her that everything will be fine. The episode ends with Luke providing the guns to the police department then walking the streets with Claire. All seems peaceful until an unknown assailant shoots him with a Judas bullet. The bullet pierces his skin and lodges in his gut. Luke falls to the ground, shot and bleeding.
Or at least that’s what I think happened. To be completely honest, I was too distraught after Cottonmouth’s death to pay attention to whatever happened after that.
I feel so incredibly conflicted over this episode. On the one hand, it was beautiful, symbolic and a perfect way to reveal who Cornell/Cottonmouth and Mariah are. On the other hand… NO! I’m so blown Cottonmouth is dead yet so excited to see how Mariah evolves from this.This scene, it seems, has been something Shades has been waiting for, for a long time now. As each episode passed, you saw his irritation with Cottonmouth grow and his admiration for Mariah grow in kind.
It’s unfortunate though. Like with Pop and with Scarfe before him, I saw Cottonmouth’s demise coming from a mile away. I wasn’t sure if it would be in this episode and I wasn’t completely sure who would be the trigger man, but I knew, once I realized we were delving in to Cottonmouth’s backstory, that he was a goner. My initial belief was that Diamondback would kill him during this supposed meeting he was setting up with him, but after Shades talks to Mariah at her house, I wondered if she would end up killing her cousin as a means of gaining sympathy and holding on to her position of power. It is interesting as well to see how Mariah and Cottonmouth mirrored Mama Mabel and Pete by the end. She may be in shock now, but I have no doubt she will shake this off disturbingly well and finally become a true player in this game.
By comparison, the rest of the episode felt flat, save for a few noteworthy scenes. The raid on Domingo’s hideout, for example, felt good considering how smug he was when last we saw him. And of course, there is the ending where Luke is shot and the look of genuine shock spreads across Luke’s once confident face.
I’m beginning to feel that Luke Cage’s villains are compelling to a fault. I like them so much that they overshadow the anything Luke, Misty or Claire do, which can be a detriment. But with the show’s main antagonist now out of the picture, will this change things?
Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.