The eleventh episode of Luke Cage ends with an expression of remorse from Luke to Misty — the pair has finally arrived at Gwen’s, and at what the news will later call “The Rum Punch Massacre.”
“You were right,” says Luke, taking in the scene. “I should’ve let that bitch burn.”
“Hey,” says Misty, “you’re bulletproof. Not clairvoyant.”
But Misty’s words are’t enough to reassure Luke. He tells her how he and Danny had left Harlem’s Paradise the day before. They should’ve ended it there, he says. Harkening back to this season’s aggression, Luke adds that he should’ve snapped Mariah’s neck — and it looks like any window for retribution toward Mariah has closed. But, at the scene, Luke and Misty find that there may have actually been a survivor from the shootout. Spotting a trail of blood on the tile, they follow it to one of the restaurant’s exits. There is, it turns out, a living witness after all.
Luke and Misty can only hope to find that survivor before Mariah, or even Bushmaster, does. But when we next see Bushmaster Tilda’s still working some nightshade into him. He isn’t entirely conscious. He’s slowly recovering. But he definitely won’t be in any shape to fight without pure nightshade. What Tilda’s been able to manufacture on her own just isn’t enough.
And with Bushmaster temporarily out of the loop, it’s the perfect opportunity for a flashback: We get Kingston in the ’80s. We see Bushmaster as a kid. We see Mariah lounging in the vicinity. And there’s a meeting between his mother and Mama Mable alongside them. They’re debating the 50 percent split between the club that their husbands held. With their respective lawyers in tow, along with Mariah’s Uncle Pete, the women reach an unsteady agreement. Gwen will receive half her husband’s share of Bushmaster rum, and continuing profits at Harlem’s Paradise. But, as we know, that deal doesn’t hold; Bushmaster’s mother is killed in an arson fire by the stokes before it’s validated. We watch as Mama Mable watches the house burn, flinging the legal documents into the flames in front of Bushmaster.
After some time passes, we watch as Bushmaster grows older. He finds a job selling fruit in Kingston, supporting himself, but he hasn’t left his family’s misfortune behind. Pete arrives, out of the blue, to shoot him in the gut. A younger Anansi shepherds him into the mountains, where Bushmaster is introduced to his first doses of nightshade. That brings us back to the present, where he’s fighting for his life yet again.
In the present, we watch as Mariah and Shades come to terms with their massacre. But where Shades is repentant, Mariah takes solace in the killings. She has her club back. She has her money back. She’s even building a safe room into the bottom of Harlem’s Paradise. The next move, she thinks, is to enter the drug game. It’s an industry that’s historically been shunned by the Stokes, but even as Shades reminds her of this, Mariah doesn’t want to hear it. She tells him that she’s fulfilling her purpose.
Elsewhere, we watch as Misty struggles to piece together the restaurant massacre — but Luke interrupts her train of thought before she can piece everything together. Eventually, the pair concludes that Ingrid is the incident’s lone survivor. And Luke seeks her out, once Misty is sidelined as the police department’s spokesperson for the murders. When Misty protests, Chief Ridley tells her that, as the lead investigator (and possible one day commissioner), she’ll need to get used to wearing the face of the department.
So Luke tries searching the hospital for Ingrid. A nurse tips him off that he should check the local clínicas as well, citing Ingrid’s documentation status. And it’s exactly where he finds her — after beating one guy senseless, and sending another to warn Mariah. Ingrid is initially resistant toward Luke’s assistance, but eventually he convinces her to to let him bring her to safety. And, for the second time this season, Luke leaves behind the person he’s protecting — and Ingrid is found by Shades. He holds her at gunpoint, but he can’t pull the trigger, taking off before Luke can grab ahold of him.
The run-in is enough for Ingrid though — she tells Luke that she won’t be traveling to Harlem or the police department. All she wants to do is see her husband’s body. And Luke finally agrees — notifying Misty that he’s found Ingrid, and then that he won’t be bringing her to the police station after all. She isn’t happy to hear that, but the day isn’t entirely without good news: Misty’s pieced together that Mariah’s revolver could be the concrete evidence that puts her away.
Later, Bushmaster regains consciousness. He asks Tilda about the bodily cost of his recovery, and she tells him that the nightshade poisoned his internal organs. But he still hasn’t found out about the murders at Gwen’s — until all of a sudden he does. He visits the restaurant that night with Tilda and his associate. “This attack was meant for me, not them,” says Bushmaster. He decides to let Tilda go free, thanking her for her help.
When we return to Shades and Mariah, the two are arguing again — first about Mariah’s reluctance to follow the “rules” of the street, and then about Shades’s reluctance to kill Ingrid.
“Are you a vegan now?” says Mariah.
“You lost your heart, Mariah,” says Shades. “It was the best part of you.”
Maria recalls the time that Shades was there for the death of Cornell, noting that Shades knew the depths of her viciousness all along. But then, the conversation takes a turn when Mariah brings up Comanche’s death.
“You have been off-kilter since dirty-ass snitch died,” she says. “So y’all was just gay for the stay? Or was it a true brokeback romance?”
And after another moment of deriding Comanche, Shades puts his hands on Mariah. They struggle, briefly, but before Shades kills her, he he pulls up short, changing his mind.
“You ain’t even worth the effort,” he says. “You’re pathetic.”
And then he leaves.
Tilda arrives at Harlem’s Paradise shortly afterward. She asks if her mother really gave the order at Gwen’s. And rather than demur to her daughter, the one ally she might have left, Mariah is offended that Tilda showed up at all.
“I lit the goddam match,” says Mariah, “and pulled the trigger.”
Tilda leaves her mother, seemingly for the final time. Across town, Shades approaches Misty, and turns himself in. He says, “Mariah’s gone too damn far this time. She’s gotta go. And I’m gonna help you do it.” He allows Misty to cuff him.
But the episode reaches its ending as Luke brings Ingrid to the morgue. That’s where they find Bushmaster waiting, and Ingrid immediately defuses the tension between the two men.
“Don’t start,” she says, asking them to leave her to her husband’s body.
Luke and Bushmaster talk in the hallway. Bushmaster thanks him, noting that “the kindness will not be forgotten.” Luke tells him that it doesn’t matter, and they argue about who carries more pain inside, and Luke says, “To be honest, I’d love to see you and Mariah kill each other. But in this story, I guess I’m the good guy. And I can’t let that happen.”
“We’re not so different, you know,” says Bushmaster. “We could’ve been brethren.”
But that isn’t enough for Luke. He tells Bushmaster to step away from the situation, or Luke will be there to stop him. And Bushmaster declines, but he isn’t happy about the decision. He says, “Me not looking forward to killing you, yeah?”
Luke leaves Bushmaster and his aunt at the morgue. As the episode ends, we’re allowed to take a breath before all the pieces on the board begin their climactic clash.