With Mariah (Alfre Woodard) in court, finally, at the beginning of the season finale of Luke Cage, episode number thirteen, of season 2 of Luke Cage, the queen of Harlem is up against charges not only for murder and financial fraud, but also for her part in the “rum punch massacre”, as the media has dubbed the murder of Bushmaster’s (Mustafa Shakir) family. Her speech to the jury, which is grudgingly allowed by the judge, is a barely veiled threat, that if she is put away, hell will break loose in Harlem, even more so than it has already.
Meanwhile, Misty (Simone Missick) pays a visit to Tilda’s (Gabrielle Dennis) shop. She wants to know if she’s still making nightshade for Bushmaster. Tilda is offended at the suggestion that she’s helping Bushmaster, and just wants to move on from the blood that her mother has shed. She tells Misty that she doesn’t know where Bushmaster is, and tells her she’ll need a warrant if she wants to look through the shop. When Misty leaves, Tilda lets Sheldon (Kevin Mambo) in through the back door. He brings Bushmaster and Ingrid (Heather Simms) with him. Bushmaster weak and is being held up by Ingrid, just barely. He still manages to tell Tilda that her mother must die, that it’s the only way for things to be resolved, before collapsing.
Back at Pop’s, DW (Jeremiah Craft), Luke (Mike Colter) and Sugar (Sean Ringgold) are going over the possible culprits behind the surge in violent crime in Harlem when Shades (Theo Rossi) shows up. He fingers the Italians as responsible, but Luke doesn’t believe him. He thinks Shades just wants to take over. But he can’t. Everyone knows Shades informed on Mariah. What he can do is help Luke win back Harlem. Shades is watching the laws that the street ran by get broken left and right, and with nobody in power, everything is going to hell. Shades may not like it, but Rosalie Carbone (Annabella Sciorra), the head of the Italians, wants to take over Harlem, and Luke is the only one who can make it right. Harlem needs an option other than Rosalie or Bushmaster.
Luke decides that it’s time to pay a visit to Rosalie. She keeps her feet planted against his accusations, but after finding a way to display that he is not one who can be pushed aside, she tries new tactics, but at every turn Luke has an answer for her. If it’s money, he’ll disrupt her cash flow. If it’s intimidation, he can’t be intimidated. Finally he gives her the option to tell her people to back off, and gives her the boundaries of Harlem as her line not to cross. Once they reach an agreement she shifts her tone, just slightly. There is respect now, of one crime boss to another.
In prison, Tilda’s mother has already killed two people, and put two others on payroll, which Donovon (Danny Johnson) is making sure can’t be traced back to her. Donovan and Mariah spin a story together to frame Shades as the mastermind behind everything, having taken her down a dark and winding path, and set her up to take the fall. Nobody else has testified against her or turned themselves in to the cops, but Mariah doesn’t want to take that chance. Quickly, methodically, all of the people that worked for Mariah or at Harlem’s Paradise, begin to be killed, from security, all the way to Alex. Luke asks Misty to let him see her, to try to talk some sense in to her. When Misty says she can’t help, Luke finds someone else to ask.
When Mariah’s hired guns try to take out Shades, he forces her people to make an appointment for him with Mariah. When he does finally see her, she questions if he ever loved her. He wanted to rule Harlem with her, he was committed to her. She talked to him about light, about being Hernan, not Shades, but she is the one who lost her soul. They could have done it together, and they could have done it clean. She tries to stop him from leaving, but he tells her that this is her life now, with nobody she can ever trust.
Tilda decides she is finally ready to see her mother. Mariah tries to apologize, in her own way, a very sideways, underhanded way. Tilda realizes that her mother actually believes that she’s going to get out, that she is going to get a chance to start over with Tilda. Mariah believes that Tilda is better for having been hurt by her mother as badly as anyone ever could, that it was somehow her motherly duty. Before she leaves, Tilda kisses her mother on the lips, tells her she loves her and that she hopes that Mariah finds peace.
Luke has gotten his request, and has an appointment to see Mariah. He tells her that he’s repaired the wall around Harlem, and asks her to stop killing people, to let him keep the peace. She tells him that Harlem will need a king, and she’s glad that it’s him. As she tries to come up with an answer to one of his comments, she begins to spit blood. She realizes quickly that Tilda has poisoned her. Nobody is coming to save her this time, but Luke keeps her company in her last moments.
After D.W. kicks Luke and Sugar out of Pop’s Barbershop, declaring that he’s going to take over the lease in order to keep the shop the Switzerland of Harlem, just like Pops always did, Luke is summoned, along with Tilda to the reading of Mariah’s will. The Basquiat is donated; her millions go into the Family First Foundation; Cornell’s keyboard is left to Tilda, and Harlem’s Paradise, the club, the deed and the name, is left to Luke.
Once the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted, Misty makes it clear that she will take Luke out if she has to. He expects nothing less, but truly believes that he is doing the right thing. We close out the season on a renovated Harlem’s Paradise, with Luke in its roost.