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A Falling-Out Between Criminal Cousins Lets Cottonmouth Learn A Tough Lesson In S01.E07 Of Luke Cage
Even with family, there are some lines you don't cross.
Man, predicting developments on a Netflix series is for suckers. Either you're proved wrong immediately (or sooner) and you look like an idiot, or you're proved right and nobody cares or believes you and you look like an idiot anyway. Such was it with my piece on S01.E06 of Luke Cage. I wrote it, hit "send," watched this episode, and wanted to hit "recall."
But obviously I am far from the only person who must wish for the ability to take back his most recent words about Mariah Dillard. That point got hit hard, if you know what I mean.
Let's back up. Mariah's political career imploded even sooner than I predicted. While it was happening, Shades clearly saw the same half-hidden danger in Mariah that I did, and sought to exploit it. Whether he's looking for a new patron or simply using her to dispose of Cottonmouth on behalf of his own herpetologically nicknamed boss -- the hitherto-unseen Diamondback -- is beside the point. Shades is getting his Iago on.
Meanwhile, this episode's many flashbacks bear out my previous remarks that Mariah and Cottonmouth had very different childhoods. Their "Uncle Pete" (actually their grandmother's paramour, hence the scare quotes) encouraged young Cornell's talent at the piano, even as Mama Mabel all but squeezed the boy until his testicles descended. Meanwhile, Pete was apparently molesting young Mariah all along, which we only find out in the scene where Mama Mabel insists that young Cornell murder Pete for betraying the family. Given that this isn't the first time we've seen a younger version of a Marvel/Netflix villain kill his father figure, there had to be something else going on to keep the parallels from getting too obvious.
After that fraught night in their childhood, things must have gone reasonably well for both cousins in order for them to have ascended to their respectively lofty positions. But now, with both of those positions in jeopardy, old resentments ascend to the surface. Cottonmouth, who just heard from Luke Cage that he has the musical talent to have been somebody, is newly fresh with the regret of having killed the man who could have helped make that happen, and is jealous of Mariah for receiving the education that could have been his. For her part, Mariah argues that she was sent away to keep her safe from Uncle Pete. Furthermore, she retaliates by rubbing salt into Cottonmouth's primal wound of being an abandoned child. Cottonmouth's response is the rhetorical equivalent of what he earlier called gangster shit: he accuses Mariah of having seduced Uncle Pete and of being a willing participant in his depredations. To which Mariah responds with actual gangster shit. First she clubs him over the head with a bottle -- and not some candy-glass prop that shatters on contact, either. Then she shoves him through the window of his office (sigh), follows him down, and hammers her point home with a microphone stand. By the way, in case you haven't been around microphone stands much, those things are heavier than they look. The weighted base must have left Cottonmouth looking as if he'd been trampled by an elephant.
But look at the deeper significance of this moment. The supposed villain of the piece has just been permanently taken off the board, scarcely halfway through the season. And as we know from all those seasons of Buffy, a big bad who gets killed early on was never really the big bad in the first place. So who's going to take his spot?
Well, if you care to delve into the symbolism, take a gander at the image above. All season, that oversized portrait of Biggie Smalls in Cottonmouth's office has helped underscore Cottonmouth's dominance of the space in particular and Harlem in general, with the crown frequently positioned in the background so that it looks like it rests on Cottonmouth's head rather than that of the Notorious B.I.G. But look where it is now. That's not any more of an accident than Cottonmouth's death was.
Cottonmouth has been crossing Mariah to varying degrees all along, but he's learned too late that it's possible to go too far. He went for the low blow, but he's the one who went down.