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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Netflix’s Luke Cage episode seven, “Manifest.”]
Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) pushed his cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) too far on Netflix’s Luke Cage and ended up paying the ultimate price.
Although the charges against him were dropped at the beginning of episode seven, “Manifest,” the damage had already been done to the family name thanks to his arrest, and Mariah’s political career was in jeopardy because of her association with him. The stress of losing all she had worked for ended up causing a rift between the two cousins, and things got ugly when they started to argue in Harlem’s Paradise.
Long-simmering resentments came up, like how Mariah got to escape the family business when she was sent away to a fancy boarding school. But Mariah revealed that the only reason she was sent away was so she wouldn’t be molested anymore by Uncle Pete (Curtiss Cook). That’s when Cottonmouth got nasty and said that she had “wanted it,” and that pushed Mariah over the edge: She pushed her cousin off the second story balcony, and when he survived the fall, she took a microphone stand and, filled with rage, bashed his face in until he died.
Elsewhere in the episode, Luke got a taste of his mortality when a mysterious figure in the shadows shot him with a Judas bullet, and it actually pierced his skin. The episode ended with him severely wounded, bleeding out in the street, with no idea who shot him or how the bullet was able to hurt him.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Woodard, Ali and Colter about episode seven’s violent end, what those twists mean for the series moving forward and more.
Out of all people, Mariah killed Cottonmouth. That’s a big twist.
Woodard: I know. They made us take a drop of blood, put it on the Marvel contracts. My agents didn’t know. They made us swear. My husband who knows every secret of mine, we’ve told state secrets because we work around the president, and my husband didn’t even know about this.
Were you surprised when you read that violent scene in the script or did you know it was coming?
Woodard: Most people that are brutalized or even taken out, it’s by somebody they know. Usually it’s somebody close to them. A lot of times, it’s by family because those are the people that can get your passions going. They know the place where your wounds are. It doesn’t surprise me [that Mariah did that]. I tear up just thinking about it. I resisted that whole idea all of the time. … I still refer to that act, after Cornell left, I still can’t say it. I said to my husband at the end of that work day, “We had a good day. But I’ve gone somewhere that I will honestly say I will never go again as an actor. I will never, ever go there again. I knew I could go, I’m glad I did, but there’s no reason to ever, ever do that again.”
Do you think she intended to kill him when she pushed him?
Woodard: I wasn’t trying to push him out of the window, I was just trying to get him to stop talking. Nothing is ever black and white.
Ali: It just kind of happened.
But what Cornell was saying to Mariah was so incendiary, it was like he was goading her into it. Like he didn’t believe she would actually do it.
Woodard: I wanted to stop him. Those repressed things have been pressed down for so long, you don’t know when they’re going to come out. And when they come out, there she blows.
Everyone assumed Cottonmouth was going to be the big villain of the entire season. When you initially signed on to Luke Cage, did you know your role was going to be limited to the first half of the season?
Ali: Yeah. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get too attached to it. I was just blessed to be doing it. As an actor, I felt so fortunate to be getting written for. I was invested but I wasn’t attached. Because then ego and stuff starts popping up, and I didn’t have space for that. That didn’t belong there. So in that way, it really doesn’t matter because when you go, you go. Whether he met his demise the way he did, whether it was a gunshot, none of that really mattered. If anything, it’s more interesting, harder for her, the way it happened because it takes you by surprise and felt very organic. Of all things to get him, it was a result of something that he said.
Mariah wasn’t even registered as a threat, unlike everyone else Cottonmouth surrounded himself with.
Ali: Yeah. Not Domingo [Jacob Vargas] and them, all these people who could have easily, because he’s not Luke Cage and he’s not bulletproof, but of all the things he said, who would he have his guard down the most with? He has an ego and is in some ways arrogant, and who’s he going to be able to do that the most with would be her. That accidentally bit him in the behind. I really appreciated how it ended up unfolding because I knew it was going to happen anyway. But how it ended up happening was really interesting to me.
How is this going to be affecting Mariah going forward?
Woodard: There are survivors and then there are strivers. She finds a way to keep going because certain things happen in a moment of passion. She can block that out and stay with the love of Cornell, the love she has.
Mike, Luke ended this episode in a very precarious and ominous place. How worried should viewers be about his fate seeing as how the series is literally named after him?
Colter: Well, as you can see from watching that, it hurt. Now he’s vulnerable. This is a new chapter for him. He’s never been mortally wounded. Now what does he do? How does he recover and how does he deal with this? Essentially, he has a human problem now. He isn’t used to that.
How will this change the way Luke jumps into danger in Harlem?
Colter: He’s going to have to be very resourceful now. Obviously, Harlem is not safe for him anymore. He can’t just jump in front of bullets without thinking. He’s in trouble and it’s not going to be resolved in an episode or two.
What can you reveal about the identity of the shooter?
Colter: He’s a person from Luke’s past. Luke is very familiar with this person. All I can say is that there is definitely history there.
Luke Cage season one is now streaming in full on Netflix.
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