While various heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe save the planet, take their battles around the world, or even outer space, there are others who stay behind to clean up the mess. In New York City, still reeling from the destruction caused by Loki during The Avengers, several of those heroes do what they can to protect the most vulnerable citizens. After both Daredevil and Jessica Jones did what they could for Hell’s Kitchen, Netflix took viewers to Harlem to see another hero: Luke Cage.
The title character was first introduced on Jessica Jones as a love interest for the tough-as-nails detective, eventually falling victim to David Tennant’s Killgrave. The two have since parted ways, so when it came time for Cage to strike out on his own, he had to face down a number of nasty villains without the help of his onetime colleague.
From episode 1, it looked as though Luke’s main enemy was the crimelord Cornell ‘Cottenmouth’ Stokes. So it came as a big shock when Cottenmouth suffered a violent death only seven episodes into the first season. Adding to the shock of Cottenmouth’s death was the fact that he was portrayed by Mahershala Ali, who is one of the stars of House of Cards and played Boggs in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2. Since Luke Cage, Ali has gone on to star in Moonlight, the recent Golden Globe Best Picture Drama winner.
Although it was a shock to see such a terrific villain bite the dust, there was a bigger plan in play. As series star Mike Colter recently pointed out on ESPN’s First Take (via Screengeek):
“Look. The decision to do that was done way before production. A lot of people are involved in this. When you’re doing it on paper, it’s like running a play in football. You do it in practice, it works, it looks good. In the game, it doesn’t work and all of a sudden in retrospect – it seems stupid. All of the series have a bad guy. Usually, by the end of the season, everyone is tired of the bad guy and thinks we should have been able to resolve these 10 episodes in 8. So in theory, you’re going wow, you bring another (bad guy) in and the (bad guy) is good and people are enthralled by this guy – now we’ve set the series in a sense and now people are in another direction and they don’t know whats going to happen. You’ve basically knocked them on their heels. It’s like running a trick play and onside kicking at the start of the second half. These things work. But when they don’t work, people will go ‘oh that was redundant’. Some things in hind sight, you know, people look and go ‘we should have done things differently’. I don’t think any one is going to argue that. Listen. The whole thing is subjective, whether we want to admit it or not.”
So basically, Cottenmouth’s death was planned ahead of time to do exactly what it did, shock the audience and refocus the narrative halfway through the season. There were those who found the loss of Ali’s character too much of a detriment to the show, whereas others enjoyed the action brought about by the introduction of Diamondback. As to whether it was a good idea or not, as Colter said, it’s subjective.
Daredevil seasons 1 and 2, Jessica Jones season 1, and Luke Cage season 1 are now streaming on Netflix. Iron Fist will premiere on March 17, 2017. The Defenders and The Punisher will arrive in 2017. Premiere dates for the newest seasons of Jessica Jones, Daredevil, and Luke Cage have not yet been announced.