A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“Manifest” opens with a dark note on justice that takes my halfhearted optimism on Cottonmouth’s fate and takes it completely to the point where the realism of what would happen in those circumstances takes over. It makes sense that Cottonmouth would get off completely free, although it turns out to be a brief moment of reprieve, especially as it becomes readily apparent that Stokes didn’t leave much evidence behind. As far as Perez is concerned, just having his confessional recording doesn’t help Misty’s case much because the only thing it does is criminalize Perez. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch to imagine why Perez chooses self-preservation over testifying against Cottonmouth. A man like Perez, who gave up any integrity his uniform theoretically brought with it for the semblance of something that is probably some form of a financial benefit, would probably hold onto to that self-preservation more tightly than ever before. Knowing how corrupt the system can be from the inside as a member of the corruption, Perez also likely knows that as far as he’s concerned, he would bet his safety on the side of Cottonmouth. That decision is likely to haunt him if he ever learns of what transpired at the end of this fantastic hour that is, much like last week, a stunning improvement over its predecessor. But he is, as far as Misty is concerned, Perez simply became another man like Scarfe who took advantage of the system but failed when it came to upholding the just aspects of it alongside her. Misty’s strong espousal of the justice system she represents is both a strong and weak aspect of her characterization. At times her espousal of her work makes her a one-note character who can’t beyond the limitations of her career pathway, especially considering how often the system she is a part of abuses black individuals, especially women. Here Misty cuts a sympathetic figure, one who is set off towards a pathways of isolation with vultures crawling all over her. Luke says that she should trust him, but he simply hasn’t given her a concrete enough reason to do so.
Claire’s emotional labor in this episode brings another shimmering layer to its foreground’s formidability. Rosario Dawson is excellent and she brings forth a natural chemistry with essentially everyone she works with and here her natural charisma gives Luke himself a significant boost. Luke is a man who is honorable in many ways and physically formidable but those consistences, like Jon Snow on Game of Thrones for example, don’t make him into the most magnetizing character on screen. Honor without conflict isn’t that interesting and Claire galvanizes him again and again and again to go forth and protect the city that he cares for and more importantly the people within it. It’s not unusual to see a woman constantly picking up the emotional heft from a man, but it is unusual to see that displayed so effectively on screen and even more so in a comic book property, a genre well known (in spite of the actual fandom) to largely center on straight, white men. Shades’s reveal of Luke’s past did more damage than could have possibly been foreseen, even if it does make complete sense in hindsight. Cottonmouth is able to use Luke’s past to pin him down, at least momentarily, with the threat of revealing to the authorities exactly what transpired with a certain man named Carl Lucas. Luke isn’t having that part of his past overwhelm his present once more, so he decides to make a run for it. Claire snaps him out of it, rightfully noting that if he ran this time, then he would just keep on running again and again and again. At what point was he going to use his formidable strength and his code of honor to stand up and well, take a stand? What was the point of all the good he had done before if he wasn’t willing to follow it up at the time it really counted? It is just one of the instances in this episode alone where Claire has to pick up the emotional labor as women are so often expected to do and it seems to at last strike a chord. The Judas bullet, however, is what pierces Luke physically and suddenly even that dynamic garners a deeper dimension by having its rules altered so thoroughly and with such suddenness.
This episode’s most valuable player, however, is Mariah. Largely being given a couple of dimensions to play off of, Alfre Woodard’s corrupt politician arrived strongly into the limelight this week and here the tragedy of the Stokes’s past is laid forth. Cottonmouth, in spite of his bluster, is terrible ineffective in a variety of ways as a crime boss but here we learn that he was never constructed for this life. He always wanted to be a musician and suddenly his focus on the music takes on a whole new paradigm of tragedy. Mariah was sent to boarding school to keep her away from her abusive Uncle Pete but the environment she was raised in was hardly less horrifying. Mama Mabel ran her family with an iron fist, her priorities twisted and corrupted in spite of how firmly she tells herself that she really does believe in family coming first. It’s the slogan of an episode that finds its strongest focus by focusing on a family that is torn apart and whose vestiges remain vaguely close to one another and little else. Cottonmouth never wanted the legacy of Mama Mabel and as Shades insinuates with such disquiet, Mariah is the one who is inheriting that legacy in truth. Mariah doesn’t necessarily want it, either. Both cousins are warped and twisted by childhoods bursting with a pain and hurt whose boundaries don’t exist. Cottonmouth raises the specter of the abuse Mariah faced and that is the snapping point for her. The use of rape and assault is so often used as the vantage point for a female character that it has become an exhaustive effort to find a usage of that horror that isn’t written with an understanding of what it actually means. In Akela Cooper’s worthy hands, this unevenly edited episode nevertheless finds a strong voice to understand Mariah’s abuse without turning it into the crux of it being the defining element of her existence. Cottonmouth uses the crass verbiage so many victims of abuse hear: that she wanted it and he “knew” that because of the way she dressed. That drove Mariah, who’s made sacrifices of her own for Cottonmouth, over the edge. Screaming how she didn’t want it over and over and over again, Mariah kills Cottonmouth in a powerful display of her grief and rage. There isn’t a moment of triumph here, only the results of a tortured human being whose grief at a childhood of abuse didn’t find a sympathizer but another abuser.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Your family name meant something.”
+“Enough with this defeatist bullshit.”
+“…Save the community and free yourself.”
+“You got this one in a double XL?”
+“Pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered.”
+Cottonmouth killing Uncle Pete was his defining moment and it was difficult to see it unfold
+Akela Cooper’s script humanizing both Mariah and Cottonmouth without one feeling expendable at the expense of another is a masterstroke of writing
+“The system is not your enemy.” That depends, doesn’t it?
+“People fear what they can’t see.”
Episode Title: Manifest
Written by: Akela Cooper
Directed by: Andy Goddard
Image Courtesy: Vulture
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