Luke Cage recap: Season 1, Episode 7
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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
The flashbacks go a long way in explaining why Cornell is the way he is today, why he feels so insecure in his position of power, and there’s that aforementioned distance between him and the business. It’s because he never really wanted it. He wanted to become a musician. As a former musician, I found the shot of Cornell’s bloody hands hovering over his piano particularly powerful because it showed you just how much he was losing and how those hands probably weren’t meant for that.
His recent brush with the law and Mariah’s political problems bring all of these memories bubbling to the surface and it leads to an explosive scene. Cornell admits to Mariah he’s always resented her because she got to go to a fancy boarding school while he was forced into this life. And, Mariah resents Cornell because the only reason she was sent to that boarding school was so Mabel didn’t have to deal with the fact that Pete had been sexually abusing her, which is a shocking and upsetting revelation. (Watching Mabel protect victims of domestic abuse in the neighborhood while she did nothing for Mariah probably made living there even worse for Mariah.) Unfortunately, Cornell is so filled with resentment that he accuses Mariah of wanting it. And that sends her over the edge.
“I did not want it,” she screams as she knocks Cornell over the head with a bottle and pushes him out of the window of his office. He falls onto the Harlem Paradise dance floor and Mariah, filled with rage, runs down and starts beating him with a mic stand in front of the stage, which is rather symbolic, until he dies. Woodard’s performance in this scene is visceral and incredibly moving.
That’s when Shades walks out from the shadows and applauds her for going this far. And, that’s when you realize the show has been building toward this moment: Mariah is the real villain of the story. She’s been trying to keep her hands clean-ish for most of the season so far, so it only makes sense that something would push her over to the dark side. Luckily, Shades is there waiting for her with open arms.
Meanwhile, one of Diamondback’s men uses the Judas gun on Luke Cage while he’s walking through a park with Claire and telling her about his past. Once he’s hit, he starts bleeding and collapses to the ground.
- Make sure you read our postmortem with Mahershala Ali.
- Because music is so integral to Cornell’s life, you could make the argument that running the business out of Harlem’s Paradise is just as intimate as Mabel operating from her home. That’s his most personal space, and he’s letting both parts of the world — the Harlem he cares so much about and the crime world — into it.
- It’s super interesting that Luke Cage has introduced this sexual assault plot given that Jessica Jones did such a fantastic job of exploring the trauma of sexual abuse. It’ll be interesting to see how the show handles this going forward. I’ll admit, I’m kind of worried because the show is already juggling so many ideas at once.
- Inspector Priscilla Ridley for Internal Affairs is putting pressure on Misty Knight to focus her efforts on Luke Cage since he’s at the center of all three crime scenes they’re dealing with.