Welcome back to our reviews of each episode of Netflix and Marvel’s Luke Cage. Check out my earlier reviews below:
And, now, as Pops would say, Always forward.
Episode 7: “Manifest“
Through what we professionals call “fancy lawyering” the evidence against Cornell Stokes is ruled inadmissible, and Misty and Luke can only stand and watch as he walks free. With Shades having filled in Stokes on Luke’s true identity, Cornell meets with Luke and threatens to expose him and send him back to prison.
The heart of the episode is given over to an extended flashback showing us how Cornell became entwined in a life of crime. The flashback is set in Mama Mabel’s house, which doubles as her headquarters as Harlem’s ruling crime lord. Mariah is also there, though she is sheltered from the family business by Mabel, who wants her to focus on her studies and make something of herself. Cornell meanwhile wants little to do with the business himself, preferring to focus on making music, a talent at which he is gifted and encouraged in by his Uncle (and Mabel’s right hand man) Pete. As the flashback unfolds we learn how Cornell wound up turning to the criminal life, leaving behind his dreams, and what he had to sacrifice to do so. All of this leads to a fateful confrontation between Cornell and Mariah, that ends with a shocking turn.
Episode 7, written by Akela Cooper and directed by Andy Goddard, finds the series righting itself after the minor wobble of the previous episode. I mentioned in my last review that I suspected the production team was deliberately painting Cornell as increasingly ineffective, and “Manifest” proves that. The young Cornell we see is textbook example of how a young man’s life can be turned from the right direction onto a dark path so easily and tragically. The episode clarifies Cornell’s attachment to Harlem’s Paradise, and his refusal to sell it for cash, as hosting musicians was probably as close as he could ever get to the life he knew he should have been leading all along. The revelations in this episode about Cornell add a tragic dimension to his story, and make his decisions throughout the series make far more sense.
The episode also is a showcase for Mariah Dillard, too. We see her struggle to hold on to her position following the firestorm of controversy in the wake of Cornell’s arrest. The flashback also illuminates her character, and shows us both where the steel in her spine comes from while providing the context for the twist that arrives in a climax that literally changes the show.
Like Episode 4, which gave us greater clarity and context for Luke’s character, this episode winds up being fascinating not just for the exposition it provides, but for how it reveals more about the characters and their behaviour in the present day. And like Episode 4, it’s a much better decision to place this information where it comes, in the middle of the series. As a result, both Mariah and Cornell become richer and more interesting and benefit from the added dimension.
The episode also doesn’t drop the ball on the other characters or the ongoing narrative. Luke faces his own crisis of confidence, needing Claire’s advice to help him see a way forward. And Misty finds herself increasingly alone and lost, facing a hostile department following the loss of her partner and her superior, and still suspicious of Luke’s motivations. You can see that simply not knowing what kind of game is going on around her is wearing more and more on her.
Episode 7 is a really solid episode, one that equals the best of the series so far. It represents a massive turning point for the series, and serves to kick everything up into a higher stakes game, which is difficult to pull off when the majority of the story is flashback episode. From here I’m eager to see where the series heads to next and for the first time, couldn’t wait to hit play on the next episode. 9.5/10