WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel's Luke Cage Season 2, now streaming on Netflix.
From the moment Marvel Comics fans read Gabrielle Dennis had been cast as Tilda Johnson in the second season of Marvel's Luke Cage, speculation swirled about what role the 1970s supervillain better known as Nightshade might play in the acclaimed Netflix drama's sophomore outing. Perhaps the gifted scientist would be responsible for Misty Knight's bionic arm, or maybe she'd be another antagonist battling Luke for control of Harlem. But when the season arrived, it turned out Tilda wasn't a robotics expert, or even a villain. Well, at least not yet.
Instead, she's the estranged daughter Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) who followed in the footsteps of her late, sainted father and became a physician before discovering holistic medicine. Opening the perhaps ironically named Mother's Touch healing center in Harlem, Tilda draws the attention of both her Mariah and John McIver, aka Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir), who's in need of her services.
Introduced in 1973 in Captain America #164, the Nightshade of Marvel Comics is perhaps most notable for her twin Afro puffs and distinctly '70s sci-fi attire of leather bikini and thigh-high boots.
A criminal scientist who can secrete pheromones that allow her to control certain animals, Tilda developed a way to transform humans into obedient werewolf-like creatures, and used robots in an effort to take over Harlem's criminal underworld, which brought her into conflict with Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Nightshade later helped to create serums that turned Captain America into a woman and, on another occasion, a quasi-werewolf. She's reformed in more recent years, but that's the "classic" Nightshade in a nutshell.
Unsurprisingly, the Tilda Johnson of Luke Cage does none of those things. She's a holistic health practitioner who resists the manipulations of her mother Mariah, knowing the source of the Stokes family's money and power. Early in Season 2 she sells nightshade to Bushmaster, which he uses as part of a ceremony to grant himself enhanced strength, speed and stamina to fight Luke Cage. However, what begins as a mere nod to Tilda's comic book alter ego becomes integral to the season's story, as Bushmaster requires more and more nightshade, which grants him superhuman abilities while also slowly killing him. Tilda becomes caught in the middle of an escalating war between her mother and Bushmaster, and ends up sympathizing with the latter, who was robbed of his family, and his birthright, by the Stokes.