“See, you thought I only had a hand in one of the pies. But I own the whole goddamn bakery, son.”
Cottonmouth is back, folks! That was a quick legal turnaround for the Harlem crime lord. Free from jail and fuming, he’s ready to reap vengeance on Luke. Unfortunately for him, Shades won’t give him the Judas bullet. Luke is also in a bit of a funk, suffering from the setback of Cottonmouth being released from lock-up. They come to agree to a parlay at Harlem’s Paradise. And while Luke thinks he’s going there to take Cottonmouth in, the old snake’s called into Diamondback to get the lowdown on Luke.
With the knowledge of Luke’s criminal past in hand, Cottonmouth blackmails him in serving as a superpowered henchman. This doesn’t please Diamondback, according to Shades. Preparing to flee, Luke gets a stern talking to from Clarie that really elucidates how she’s becoming an anchor for him, getting him to see the potential in himself and perhaps the hero he will become.
Taking matters into his own breakable hands, Luke goes after Domingo to take the guns he bought from Cottonmouth in a fight scene that we’d previously seen bits of at the end of the second season of Daredevil. Regardless of the previous exposure, the scene is still exciting. Watching Luke Cage tear through goons is always satisfying.
While plenty is going on in the present, this episode is equally focused on the past. This is another flashback-heavy episode. Much like how episode four showed us how Carl Lucas became Luke Cage, in this instalment we see what forces shaped Cottonmouth and Mariah. And that force is Mama Mabel.
During one of the flashbacks, she removes a guy’s fingers because he was selling drugs. She’s the real deal, a real O.G. She definitely wasn’t one to mess with and held a strong grip on her family. The formidable matriarch, along with “Uncle Pete”, created the criminal cousins. Cottonmouth wasn’t allowed to be the musician he wanted to be because Mama Mabel needed him to learn the ways of the “business”. On the other hand, Mariah was sent off to school to get her away from Uncle Pete.
Cottonmouth resented the protection Mariah got and made the fatal mistake of blaming her for attracting Uncle Pete’s attention while they were arguing at Harlem’s Paradise. The darkness that she’d been keeping at bay erupted and resulted in her beating her cousin over the head with a bottle, pushing him out of a window, and then pummeling him with a mic stand.
This was a fantastic scene that came off as unexpected but logical in the context of the story. And the fallout from Cottonmouth’s death is where things truly get interesting. With Shades whispering in her ear, he gives Mariah the idea to set up Luke for Cottonmouth’s murder. Shades shows a particular interest in Mariah in this episode and he really seems to be trying to worm his way into Mariah’s trust. And with her political career cratering after the arrest of Cottonmouth, she’s quite open to suggestion.
Now while it may be sad that we’ve lost one villain, as the episode ends it is revealed that we’ve gained another, Diamondback. Attacking Luke and Claire while they’re walking in the park, Diamondback makes quite an entrance when he actually shoots and injures Luke with the Judas bullet. The previously spoken of in hushed tones, the boogieman-like arms supplier hits the scene with style and menace.
The use of music in this episode was particularly strong. Enhancing and extenuating important scenes while also calling to mind some of the more funky and fun scores of 70’s blaxploitation movies. It fits the series like a glove. And the use of flashbacks really helped explain and contextualize the villains in a way that you almost felt bad for them. Both Mariah and Cottonmouth grew up around crime and violence so it’s no surprise that they’ve turned out the way the have. Though for Cottonmouth’s sake, he probably would have been better off as a musician than a gangster. The scene where a young Cottonmouth is forced by Mama Mabel to kill Uncle Pete for double dealing is heartbreaking and illustrative of the complex criminal and familial elements at play in this show.
Five Out of Five Murdered Mob Bosses: This episode turned in an interesting way that allows for the series grow beyond a simple one-man against a gangster narrative that’s already been explored by previous series such as season one of Daredevil.
Possible Ghost Rider reference when Zip is selling guns. “Got that John Blaze shit.”
Wilson Fisk’s lawyer from season two of Daredevil shows up representing Cottonmouth. One of our heroes needs to get a hold of this guy’s client list.
Musical performance by D-Nice