Throughout much of the first episode, the one feeling I couldn't quite shake was that the rapidly escalating conflict between Luke Cage and Cornell Stokes seemed destined to come to an end fairly soon. It has just begun to feel as though, unless something drastic were to change, there was a very real limit on how long it could be extended. Also, with Cottonmouth's efforts to deal with Luke Cage proving to be increasingly ineffective, as he found himself almost entirely out of his depth up against his invulnerable foe, it became increasingly difficult to see him as the genuine threat he had seemed to be in the first episode.
Well, in the season's sixth episode, that is exactly what happens (the later, rather than the former) – as we watch what is left of Cottonmouth's operation crumble, once again seemingly entirely through his own recklessness.
The previous episode had left me feeling somewhat uncertain about Detective Scarfe's true intentions, when he suddenly chose not to respond to Cottonmouth's message. His own past actions had, after all, made it seem very unlikely that he know felt a sudden twinge of conscience at the thought of delivering Cornell's guns – but, it was certainly possible. Of course, as this episode quickly makes clear, Scarfe's decision was entirely due to greed.
Demanding a rather substantial increase to his usual payment ($100,000, to be precise), Scarfe intention is obviously to try to capitalise on Cottonmouth's weakened position. Much to his own surprise, though, Scarfe's plan quickly backfires as Cottonmouth, instead of letting himself be blackmailed, opts to simply shoot Scarfe. Unfortunately, potential witnesses force Cottonmouth to flee the scene before he can actually finish Scarfe off. So, now, Cottonmouth finds himself in a position even more precarious than before – as, he now has to contend with someone who has enough information to send him to prison for the rest of his life, and who has good reason to put that information to use.
Now, with a severely wounded Detective Scarfe offering up the detailed collection of notes he has compiled in exchange for protection, Luke Cage finds himself dragged into the centre of the conflict, once more – as, with the assistance of Claire Temple, he finds himself forced to protect a man he has every reason to despise. It's a basic set-up which provides us with some entertaining moments of action, as the reward offered by Cottonmouth (which, amusingly enough, happens to be the exact amount that Scarfe tried to blackmail out of him) sends the criminal underworld after Luke and Claire.
As exciting as it was to see Luke in action, once more, there was also an aspect of this episode that felt very strange, to me – that being, the fact that there was never really a moment in which I believed that Cottonmouth could actually 'win', here. Even if Cottonmouth's men had been able to get at Detective Scarfe before he could be turned over the the authorities, there was still the matter of Scarfe's notes – which we saw Luke acquire early on in the episode. So, in order to prevent the seemingly inevitable, not only would Cottonmouth's men have needed to kill Scarfe, but they would also have needed to recover the Scarfe's notes from Luke – something which would have been almost impossible, even if they had actually known about them.
Because of this, there was an odd sense of Cornell Stokes railing desperately against a seemingly inevitable defeat, throughout this entire episode. Combine that with the fact that Mariah Dillard suddenly found herself facing significant challenges of her own, in the form of a seemingly harmless interview which suddenly turned into an ambush, and it quickly began to feel as though this episode was all about seeing the 'villains' be defeated, quite convincingly.
That being said, though, this was still a great episode for both Mahershala Ali and Alfre Woodard – as each was given ample opportunity to portray characters feeling the increasing pressure of seemingly overwhelming odds. It was also a great episode for Frank Whaley, whose character arc over the season suddenly became something that was not quite redemptive (since, he was still clearly motivated more by self-preservation) – and, who was able to play the character's mix of fear and determination, even as his life seemed to be coming to an end, extremely well.
In the end, it was very strange to see exactly how neatly this episode seemed to wrap everything up (considering that there is so much of the season still to come) – but, much like with the 'Punisher v Daredevil' arc which began the second season of Daredevil, it is also obvious that this is only intended to be the first act of a longer story. Also, as we learned from Wilson Fisk's appearance in that second season of Daredevil, being sent to prison does not necessarily count as the true defeat, that Luke Cage intend, for Cornell Stokes. Whatever Luke Cage has in store, as we move in to what appears to be the season's second act, I can only hope that it remains just as compelling as what we have already seen.