written by K.C. White
SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT
The blackness of Luke Cage compels you with yet another episode! This one is a game changer in every sense of the word with more twists and turns than my attention span during yoga class.
We start with another day in Luke’s world, as he busts up a gun ring without even lifting a finger. Luke’s feeling superior as hell, hoodie in full effect, only to lose the wind in his sails when he hears that Cottonmouth is being released that day. Sure enough, after an exchange of words (and some insults), Cottonmouth goes home to watch the news and laugh in black amusement because he just got away with murder scot-free (R.I.P. Detective Corrupty McCrooked…I’m honestly amazed you lasted this long). But it’s lonely at the top, and Cottonmouth has pissed off more people than he knows. Shades
‘ fine ass is still present for now, but as we all know: these sidekicks ain’t loyal. True to form, Cottonmouth thinks he’s ahead of the game, but the game always keeps it moving and folks tend to get left behind (MESSAGE.)
I’m going to shake things up and leave Luke out for most of this story. We’ve already seen him have a few “remember who you are” moments, and (God help us) we’re sure to see more. What really interests me are the “villains” in this story. You see, at first the message of this episode is hard to catch, but once you focus on people other than Luke it becomes crystal clear: what makes you who you are? And when was the moment you realized what you were capable of? Through a series of flashbacks, we see not only Cottonmouth’s past but Mariah’s as well. We also get a good look into Mama Mabel’s world, and the impact it has on the teenage versions of our soon-to-be “villains”.
We witness Cornell (Cottonmouth)’s alone time and see the musician he wanted to be, then get to watch as Mabel deprives him of that future, bit by bit. Mabel teaches him hard lessons, first making him witness to a murder and later forcing him to take the life of his uncle – the one person who supported his dreams and had his back. At the same time, Mariah is preparing for a golden future, constantly studying even as her cousin’s dreams are snatched from him. Young Cornell’s resentment doesn’t show but that, along with Mariah’s failure to act in her own defense (or Cornell’s for that matter), comes back with a damn vengeance when we return to the present.
Cottonmouth tries to fix things with Shades, but while he was feeling himself, a card was played: Shades went to work on Mariah, and brother…that shit is about to be paid back with interest. Before Cornell killed his uncle, Mabel told the victim “Pigs get fat, but hogs get slaughtered.” Cottonmouth’s need to brag, to taunt, to come out on top, only makes things worse for him. His ambition to rule everything comes back full circle, and bites him in the ass. Hubris. It’s a motherfucker.
This last throwdown is a jaw-dropper because even though you should see it coming, you don’t. All this time I was focusing on the advice being given to Cottonmouth during his flashbacks, and forgot about the girl standing to the side. Shades’ pep talk, losing her City Council seat, and a side of Cottonmouth’s victim-blaming takes its toll on Mariah, and she finally s.n.a.p.s. Ohhhhhhhhh, and it is a thing of glory. Both of Mariah’s faces were revealed a long time ago, but we never knew what she was truly capable of. In the end, Shades gets his puppets dancing, Mariah gets the nerve, and suddenly Cottonmouth regrets telling Mariah to get her hands dirty.
*siiigh* Girl, I guess I’ll mention Luke again because the show does end with him and all that. Some people say it with flowers, but someone from Luke’s past decided to say it with a bullet to the gut. For the first time in the series, Luke goes down in the fifth and no one knows what the hell is going to happen next. The Judas bullet is almost as real as the struggle, and the only person with more disbelief about it than us is Luke.
Stay tuned, kids.
- Shout-out to the natural-haired ladies! I saw so many on point twistouts in this episode that I had some serious hair envy! Detective Knight’s hair was especially laid for the gods, and I am here for it.
- Shout-out to Young Cornell’s New Jack City fade. I see you boo, but you’re not really your brother’s keeper, now are you?
- Shout-out to Cottonmouth for resisting the urge to skip the parley and just go straight “into some gangster shit”.
- Shout-out to Mariah and her fellow councilman David giggling and sipping on lattes like BFFs for the press, then going inside like “Seriously tho, I can’t stand your ass.”
- Shout-out to the Harlem Nights callback in the flashbacks. Too bad Della Reese couldn’t be there for this.
- Shout-out to the lighting and set designers for the final Cottonmouth/Mariah scene. From the crown to the color = nailed it.