The one person who is more interesting than Luke Cage is Cottonmouth. For the past six episodes, we’ve seen him fluctuate in his temper. On one hand, he can beat up a person to death; at other times, he seems to be too gentle to be a villain. You could blame this on bad writing, but the seventh episode shows that it’s anything but. “Manifest” goes in Cottonmouth and Mariah’s history, showing that Cottonmouth isn’t a victim to bad writing; he’s just not cut out for the life of a villain.
After the death of Officer Scarfe, Cottonmouth is quickly out of prison, making Luke’s victory seem like nothing. Cottonmouth is unhinged by Luke’s influence on the drug trade and will do anything to get rid of him.
Soon after, we get flashbacks of him and Mariah as teenagers under the care of “Mama Mabel.” Over the course of the season, we have heard horror stories of this woman, and she definitely lives up to the hype. On the surface, she looks like a motherly figure but, behind the scenes, she is the head of the prostitution and weapons trade. We get a taste of Mama Mabel’s wrath when she cuts off one of her dealer’s fingers with a flower clipper after hearing that he was selling drugs without her knowledge. Cottonmouth was just an innocent pawn in his family; all he wanted to do was go to Juilliard and become a musician. But Mabel made him grow up too quickly by forcing him to kill at a young age.
Mariah’s career is pretty much unsalvageable at this point after accusations of her using drug money to fund her campaign arise. After being asked to resign, she feels essentially powerless until Shades unexpectedly pays her a visit. Shades reminds Mariah where she comes from and what the Stokes name means to Harlem. He encourages her to not back down and take out any competition. Theo Rossi has put on a quiet performance so far, but his influence is starting to become more apparent. We don’t know what he wants, but it’s clear that he’s playing the game from both ends.
While the flashbacks seem to put the spotlight more on Cottonmouth, we see little hints of how Mabel influenced Mariah. Mariah tries to become a matriarch but is consistently stopped by her cousin’s stupid mistakes. She is finally brought to her boiling point when Cottonmouth angrily tells her that she wanted her uncle to molest her. She pushed him out of a window and beat him to death with a microphone stand. Shades uses this incident as a perfect opportunity to set Luke Cage up and finally get the police on his heels.
In the climax, Claire and Luke are talking about his past when someone snipes a bullet into his stomach. Unlike any other weapon, this doesn’t ricochet off of him; instead, he starts to bleed out on the floor. Ladies and Gentleman, it looks like we have our new villain.