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Luke Cage's Surprising Season 2 Finale, Explained

Shades Alvarez

Theo Rossi as Shades in Luke Cage Season 2

Hernan "Shades" Alvarez (Theo Rossi) cites the Rum Punch Massacre to Misty Knight as his reason for turning evidence on his one-time employer and lover Mariah Dillard, but the fissure opened before that. He had urged her to sell her beloved Basquiat painting, sign Harlem's Paradise over to him and just walk away from the life, sure, but he knew much earlier there was little hope for redemption, for Mariah or for him.

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However, what weighed so heavily on Shades was his own execution of Darius "Comanche" Jones (Thomas Q. Jones), his trusted right hand and former cellmate at Seagate turned police informant. It turns out Mariah had known for some time that Comanche was a snitch, but she also suspected he was Shades' prison lover; always observant, she was right on both counts. She also had a hunch that Hernan was wearing a wire when he returned to Harlem's Paradise, in the season's penultimate episode, purportedly to make amends. He nevertheless convinces her to give him her pistol so he can defend against Bushmaster's assault on the club, only to later hand over to Misty the weapon tied to at least three murders, right in front of Mariah.

Mariah has the last painful laugh, though, as her death at Rikers Island nullifies Shades' deal with the district attorney. He's arrested by Misty for the murders of Comanche and Candace Miller, the waitress from Harlem's Paradise used by Mariah in Season 1 to try to frame Luke Cage for the death of her cousin Cornell. If that weren't enough, the police "mysteriously" receive a coded ledger that will no doubt connect Shades to illegal gun sales. Still, Shades loved Mariah, and she apparently loved him, in her own way. After all, it's Hernan whom she sheds tears for in prison, not her daughter.

Tilda Johnson

Luke Cage Season 2

Ever suspicious of her estranged mother Mariah Dillard, Tilda Johnson (Gabrielle Dennis) still makes small steps toward reconciliation, setting up Mother's Touch in Harlem out of a desire to come "home." But with the revelations that Mariah murdered Cornell Stokes and that the late, great Dr. Jackson Dillard wasn't actually her father, and that she was never wanted by her mother, Tilda's heart is finally hardened. She feels sympathy for Bushmaster, whose family has been repeatedly, and horribly, wronged by the Stokes, but goes well beyond a moral obligation to render medical care when he's near death.

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Perhaps every bit as manipulative as her mother, she tells Bushmaster that Mariah murdered his dear uncle Anansi, and then provides him with everything he should need to exact vengeance: a secret entrance into Harlem's Paradise, and a concentrated dose of nightshade that very well may kill him, but will imbue him with the enhanced strength and stamina he'll need to fend off the gunmen, and Luke Cage, within. Although he fails, Mariah is nevertheless arrested for her crimes. But as she wages war from behind bars against virtually everyone who can testify against her, Tilda sets out to stop her mother once and for all, with a poison kiss.

However, much as she does Shades and Luke Cage, Mariah haunts Tilda from beyond the grave. Although she'd asked her daughter to check in on Harlem's Paradise, because "it's home," and talked of its legacy, in her will she only leaves Cornell's keyboard to Tilda. Despite the nature of their relationship, and Tilda's role in Mariah's death, the slight obviously stings. When Tilda reappears in the closing moments of the finale, to a Harlem's Paradise now owned by Luke Cage, it's no accident she more closely resembles her villainous comic book counterpart.

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