A character takes a step to the dark side, and someone sets their sights on Luke Cage
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The Stokes, as portrayed by Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard, continue to steal the show away from Luke Cage. I’m not critiquing Mike Colter’s performance; I think he’s been pretty solid throughout. It’s just that the show has been giving its villains some of the best material, and that’s definitely the case in “Manifest,” which was an episode that dived into their history.
It’s no surprise the charges against Cottonmouth were dropped. But, walking away a free man doesn’t mean damage hasn’t been done to the family name. The streets are in chaos and, more importantly, Mariah’s job is in peril because of the allegations. As the empire comes under fire, “Manifest” flashes back to Cornell and Mariah’s youth and we finally meet Mama Mabel, who we’ve heard so much about.
As a teenager, Cornell was more interested in playing the piano than a life of crime, and his Uncle Pete encouraged that because he knew he “wasn’t built for it.” Mabel, on the other hand, took every opportunity she could to bring him into the family business and made sure Mariah just stayed focus on her studies.
I liked the way the show drew comparisons between how Mabel ran her business and how her heirs run theirs. The flashbacks, and an impassioned speech Shades makes to Mariah, suggests Mabel was both a hard criminal boss, but also a strong force in the community. If you had problems — whether you needed help with a Thanksgiving turkey or dealing with an abusive spouse — you turned to her. Her entire operation felt rather intimate, too; she ran it outside of her home. Now, compare that to how Cornell and Mariah currently rule. Cornell operates out of Harlem’s Paradise, which feels like it places a big distance between business and his personal self, and Mariah only seems to interact with the people of Harlem on a superficial level (remember that scene in the park in the first episode?).
When he was younger, Mabel pushed Cornell into the family business when he tipped her off to Uncle Pete making a deal with the Salvadors in Spanish Harlem. Seeing Pete’s move as a betrayal, she forces Cornell to walk his uncle out into the back yard and kill him. Mariah takes a break from studying to watch him do it because she wants Pete gone, too (for reasons we’ll get to in a minute). With tears in his eyes, Cornell pulls the trigger on the one man who’s supported his dream.
NEXT: A huge twist and a cliffhanger ending