The 11 most important moments in Luke Cage season 2

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Marvel’s Luke Cage season 2 production still. Photo: Cara Howe/Netflix

The rise of Mariah Stokes

Alfre Woodard’s performance as Mariah Dillard (or Stokes, depending on who you ask, I guess) in Luke Cage season 2 is, quite simply, stunning. The season follows Mariah’s descent from a self-interested politician into a cutthroat crime lord. Along the way, she betrays her family and her romantic partner, loses everything, gets it back again, and okays the murder of dozens of innocent people. She burns a man alive without flinching.

In short: Mariah is straight up terrifying.

Mariah’s story largely takes over season 2 of Luke Cage. Her family history with Bushmaster drives the bulk of the season’s plot, as does her struggle to decide whether to go legit or embrace life as a full-on gangster queen. In fact, at the end of the day, Mariah gets a more complete arc in season 2 than Luke does. She’s certainly more central to the story.

Woodard’s performance as Mariah is the linchpin that holds all of this together. She runs the gamut from rage to insecurity to fear to anxiety, often within the same episode. Sometimes within the same scene. She’s mesmerizing to watch, because she gives Mariah so many interesting layers. Despite her character’s despicable acts, Woodard still manages to make Mariah’s more human moments ring true. This allows us, as viewers, to feel a certain degree of empathy for her, without asking us to forget that she’s a monster.

Mariah’s exit from Harlem is both extremely tragic and extremely final. Death is a fitting end for her character after all the things she’s done, but after this season it’s hard to imagine Luke Cage without her character. Or without Woodard’s performance to anchor it.