Season 1, Episode 7 "Manifest"
GODDAMMIT MARVEL/NETFLIX. Just when I was starting to unreservedly hate Cornell like one should do with a villain, episode 7—titled "Manifest"—had to come along and give me ALL of the confusing feelings. In Manifest, we finally get some backstory on Cornell, Mariah, and the now infamous Mama Mabel. See, Mama Mabel is a bad person, but for good reasons—she may have been a hardass gang leader who wouldn't think twice before wiping out a bunch of people, but she was a pillar in her community—whether you needed a turkey or were having problems with domestic abuse, if you were in Harlem, Mabel had your back.
Mabel was grooming Cornell for the family business (re: killin' dudes), but Cornell was a musical prodigy and just wanted to go to Juilliard. The only person who believed in his musical talent and supported his Juilliard dreams was his Uncle Pete, which made me bawl like a baby when young Cornell was forced to kill his beloved Uncle after he went behind Mabel's back by doing business with a rival gang. Pete was the only person who believed in him, and he was keeping Cornell from getting into the "family business".
When he kills Pete, Mariah looks satisfied. Flash forward to present day, when Mariah confronts Cornell in Harlem's Paradise because she's PISSED that his crimes and obsession with Luke Cage are dragging her hard-won reputation through the mud, and Cornell fires back. Turns out Cornell has been jealous of Mariah for years because while he was forced into a life of crime, Mariah was sent to a fancy boarding school. Mariah reveals an earth-shattering secret in return—turns out the only reason she was sent to the boarding school is because Uncle Pete was sexually abusing her, and Mama Mabel sent her away rather than deal with it. Cornell responds by insisting Mariah must have asked for the abuse, which causes Mariah to fly into a frenzy and smack Cornell with a bottle before pushing him out the window onto the club floor. Shades helps her cover up the crime.
This episode is simultaneously one of the best and one of the hardest to watch in the series so far. We finally get the consistent comparisons to Biggie and a good idea of why Harlem's Paradise has such a meticulously curated array of talent—Cornell could have been a brilliant musician if he wasn't forced into being a criminal, and he still has a passion for it. The image of his hands on the bloody keys of the piano is powerful imagery, and manages to not be heavy handed.
Mariah's character continues to blossom into something incredibly sinister and Alfre Woodard is absolutely selling it in the role. I'm really going to miss Cornell, as well—especially after this episode and learning how conflicted and tragic his arc was. The villains in Luke Cage continue to be more well rounded and complex than the heroes, and learning more about the backstory of Cornell and Mariah is more interesting than learning about Luke's. Shades continues to be super creepy, and there's some weird chemistry between him and Mariah in this episode and I'm gonna throw up in my mouth a little if they bone. My only worry is that because the music is so central to Cornell's character, the incredible soundtrack we've been enjoying through the series is going to be thrown on the backburner. I AM, however, looking forward to Mariah coming into her own as a villain, though—watching her descend into crime is going to be FUN. Not a lot of Luke in this episode, but everything about the Stokes family legacy was so compelling I didn't feel a loss.