Mariah has gone full Gustavo Fring. The Rum Punch Massacre of the previous episode is a harrowing example of just what happens when someone gets pushed to the limits. Who would have thought that the lady trying to keep the community afloat could orchestrate a full-on civilian massacre, killing children, woman, and helpless diners without remorse? Even Cottonmouth wasn’t this cold.
Mariah spends most of these episodes building a new crime empire for herself, stepping up to the big leagues, building bridges to the outlying crime families. She, in some ways, is moving like Wilson Fisk, who exerts rule through violent communal ways. This time, it’s through the Bushmaster drug, a heroin/bath salt concoction created to drive John McIver out of hiding. Mariah no longer cares about the means. Just the end. And she believes herself to be freer because of that. The last few episodes prove what kind of a villain she can be in the right direction. This is the Mariah we all wanted to see and while it’s cool that we finally get it, it would have been better to see this kind of ruthlessness early on instead of the season’s final stretch.
As Mariah emancipates herself from the chains of her own heritage, Shades breaks off from his American dream. The American Dream doesn’t seem so sweet anymore when innocent people are getting brutally slaughtered for it. He snaps when she openly mocks the death of his prison fling, Comanche. With nowhere else to turn and no other way to claim a victory, Shades does the unthinkable and sells himself out to the law. I’ve had mixed feelings about Shades since the first season. His role as the family consigliere never felt enough for me and like Comanche, I think Shades should have been aimed bigger. A part of that I attribute to Theo Rossi, who plays the character with such subdued charisma and baggage. Amidst that potential, he never quite becomes the character I’ve always wanted to see (I was disappointed enough that they never gave him the eye laser blasters) so when he simply sells everything out and gets nothing in return, it comes off as a very underwhelming end for such a great character.
Sadly, the same thing applies to the fate of Bushmaster, which is arguably the most disappointing element of the finale and why I think it’s one of the weakest ones in all the shows. Bushmaster simply walks away from a fight that’s been primed as the crux of the season. Did the writers simply forget to give his arc any resolution? What the hell happened to him taking vengeance from God’s hands?
Seriously. They had a real good thing going on with Bushmaster and Mariah. Their beef had real depth to it. The episodes leading to the finale do a great job recontextualizing what we know about the Stokes. They aren’t just a mean neighborhood crime family. They’re actual murderers who couldn’t care less whether the blood they had on their hands was from children. We finally see Uncle Pete be a total piece of shit. When he shoots an orphaned Bushmaster, humble and hardworking, selling fruits on the street in spite of the way the Stokes treated his family, you understand why he’s doing what he’s doing in the present day. You understand why he’s Harlem’s own Killmonger, a madman hellbent on making past sins correct on his own terms. All that sharpening and deepening of character for Bushmaster and his pilgrimage of vengeance ends with a whimper, with him accepting defeat and driving off in a van.
In place of a proper ending for Bushmaster are two subplots: one about Harlem falling apart in the wake Mariah’s arrest and another about Tilda sort of fulfilling Bushmaster’s plan.
The former is a new subplot that feels all too misplaced coming out in the final hour of the show, considering that the instability of Harlem is never completely justified in the one hour they focus on it. Why does this happen now when Mariah has been practically incapacitated to run Harlem properly in several episodes? You’d think that Mariah getting undermined by Bushmaster all season would have been a good reason for all the outlying families to start taking over Harlem. Heck, when Bushmaster takes over Harlem’s Paradise, there’s no real shift of power. Like most good things about this season, this subplot suffers from a case of being brought in too late in the game.
They use this premise as a vehicle for Luke to deal with devils in real consequential ways (not as a fun hero for hire gag) but even then, they treat such a major turning point as a cliff note in a 13-hour season. Imagine how organic Luke’s turn at the end would be if he spent more time dealing with compromise in the wake of Harlem’s destabilization early in the season?
The latter subplot has Tilda making the big choice of killing her own mother. A part of me likes it because I’m always down for Shakespearean acts of familial vengeance. At the same time, it would have been more satisfying to stick to Bushmaster’s path of vengeance. It doesn’t help that Tilda’s feelings towards her mother, regardless of how painful they were, never hint at her capacity for killing her mother the way she did.
While I dislike how undercooked the road to the conclusion was, I will say that I love where the show specifically leaves the regular cast. I got my wish when Mariah died. There’s a moment in her death where I actually felt for the loss of someone so prominent in the story. Alfre Woodard and Mustafa Shakir are the true stars of the season and I’m glad they got their shine in the time they were given. Luke being the new king of Harlem is where exactly he should be. Unfortunately in a show with more compelling villains than heroes, Luke as a character gets the short end of the narrative stick. He mostly plods along with whatever is going on without any real plan other than being the Hero of Harlem. But him taking on a controversial mantle in the community should prove an interesting arc next season. I also look forward to the possibility of him and Misty facing off.
2.5 out of 5 deadly kisses. An almost decent collection of last episodes that get undermined by an unsatisfying season finale. Blaming the length of these shows is akin to beating a dead horse but it truly can’t be said enough. So much about the finale – and the overall season in general – could have been salvaged if written into an air-tight narrative.
Major respects to this show for actually making an effort to film overseas. Remember that bullshit in Iron Fist when they flew to China?
Sugar and D.W. are such fun additions to Luke’s barbershop posse.
That suit is a great nod the Sanford Greene Luke Cage look.
I gotta say, it was kinda hard seeing Alex die too. Dude may have worked for a crooked politician but he never was in the killing game.
Bushmaster and Luke teaming is easily a season highlight.
Being a main component in Luke’s arc this season, Rev. James Lucas’ absence in all the neighborhood shootings was surprising. Didn’t they mention on TV that churches and nuns were being shot at?
Not gonna lie. That Carbone lady is kind of hot.
Bringing the Yangsi Gongshi in from Iron Fist is a very welcome addition. More crime crossovers, please! I want the Yardies referenced in a future show.
I’m amazed how big Ben Donovan’s role is here. With Wilson Fisk slated to make his return in Daredevil Season 3, I wonder if they’ll reference the events here.