WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel’s Luke Cage Season 2, streaming now on Netflix
The Season 2 finale of Marvel’s Luke Cage completely upends the status quo the Netflix drama, with control of Harlem no longer in the hands of Mariah Dillard or, for the first time in generations, any member of the Stokes family. However, it’s not fierce new rival John “Bushmaster” McIver who ends up on the perch at Harlem’s Paradise.
In a twist somewhat reminiscent of Marvel Comics’ 2010 “Shadowland” storyline, in which Daredevil assumes leadership of The Hand, intending to turn the cult into a force for good, Luke Cage reasons that the neighborhood doesn’t need a queen but a sheriff.
“Look, I’m bullet-proof, all right?” he tells his doubting friend D.W. “You can’t burn me, you can’t blast me, and you can’t break me. And, most importantly, you can’t buy me. I’m the only person that can make Harlem great again.”
But how does Luke get the keys to Harlem’s Paradise, and where does that leave the season’s other major players?
Although Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Dillard seemed as if she might take the millions earned from insider trading and go straight, her unwillingness to give up Harlem’s Paradise, from which her family has long ruled the neighborhood, signaled otherwise. Any lingering doubts were extinguished in Episode 10, “The Main Ingredient,” in which Mariah embraces the Stokes name as she orders the massacre at the restaurant owned by the relatives of her new rival, Bushmaster, and sets fires to his uncle Anansi before executing him with her treasured pearl-handled pistol. It’s that act that seals Mariah’s fate, and places all the key players on a collision course that meets in the finale.
Betrayed by her estranged daughter Tilda Johnson and her ex-lover Shades Alvarez, Mariah is arrested and arraigned on 12 counts of murder, which includes her cousin Cornell and the so-called Rum Punch Massacre. But Mariah remains defiant, even from Rikers Island, where she orders the deaths of anyone connected to Harlem’s Paradise who might testify against her, with the exception of her attorney, her former henchman Sugar (whose wife showed her kindness), and Tilda. However, that last exception proves fatal. Mixing a slow-acting poison called “Beso de la Araña” (“Kiss of the Spider”) and applying it to her lips, Tilda pays one final visit to her mother, then kisses her goodbye. Although she had only moments earlier asked Tilda to look in on Harlem’s Paradise, Mariah realizes by her daughter’s use of “mother” instead of “mommy,” that she “didn’t mean a damned thing she said.”
While Mariah may not realize (yet) that she’s been poisoned, she nevertheless hurries her attorney to record her will, in which she leaves Harlem’s Paradise to “someone who loves Harlem as much as I do”: Luke Cage. However, it’s not a gift to her enemy, but instead a curse. “You know the story of the Sirens?” she explains to her baffled attorney. “The beauty of their voices compelled men off-course to crash against the rocks. This club will be his Siren. He’ll be lulled by its song, lulled by so-called greatness.”
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