Article taken from Decider.
Say what you will about their big screen baddies, but you gotta give it to Marvel for pulling zero punches when it comes to their Netflix villains. Kingpin, Kilgrave, Punisher, Elektra, Cottonmouth–it’s a real murderers’ row of murderers! While Luke Cage Season 2 does feature a new big bad (Mustafa Shakir’s captivating and Biblically vengeful Bushmaster), the real scene-stealing villain in this new batch of episodes is actually a holdover from Season 1. I’m talking about queen Alfre Woodard, who’s back at it again as the politician-turned-gangster Mariah Dillard.
Can! We! Just! Talk! About! Mariah! Dillard! Question mark? Getting living legend Alfre Woodard into a Marvel role was a real casting coup, and that role being a politician with shady inclinations was perfecto. I keep thinking about how Luke Cage Season 1 gave us scenes between 4-time Emmy winner Alfre Woodard and Oscar-winner Mahershali Ali and, honestly, what did we do to deserve it? The loss of Ali’s Cornell Stokes halfway through Season 1 was a major surprise, and also kind of a major letdown since his demise paved the way for more Diamondback instead of more Mariah. Ms. Dillard broke bad when she beat her cousin to death, but we didn’t really get to see the fallout.
Until Season 2.
We catch up with Mariah in the season premiere, while she’s taking a meeting in Ginny’s Supper Club, an old school jazz joint. Mariah and her partner-in-crime-and-more Shades are doing the typical thing criminals do: wheeling and dealing and getting some illegal insider tips that they plan to make millions off of. It’s a scene we’ve seen before… except we’ve never seen Alfre Woodard in a scene like this.
This is where we meet the new Mariah, a fearless and cool AF woman, a menacing heavy in a politician’s clothing. When the waiter asks Shades what he and “his aunt” are celebrating, Mariah doesn’t flinch. She wraps her arm around her young lover’s, coiling like a snake, and begins sucking on Shades’ fingers, staring at the presumptuous waiter dead in the eyes.
Pause. Mariah: “… We good.”
Woodard gets to do a whole helluva lot as Mariah this season, but that menacing, finger-sucking moment is definitive. This new Mariah looks as polished and put together as Alfre Woodard on the outside, but on the inside–with every biting line and withering staredown–she’s fully villainous. And when Mariah gets going, when she lets those beneath her feel her wrath, she has way more in common with Heath Ledger’s deviously unpredictable Joker than pretty much any Marvel villain we’ve seen before.
This role, what it’s evolved into, is one that you know don’t come along often for Women Of A Certain Age. But lets compare her to Sigourney Weaver, the primary villain in The Defenders, and Janet McTeer, the main antagonist in Jessica Jones Season 2. Both women are within a few years of Woodard, but the mysterious Alexandra and the maternal terror Alisa are nothing like the cruelly nicknamed Black Mariah. Weaver and McTeer got to play intimidating, Weaver more commanding and McTeer more unhinged. But Woodard brings something totally new, and totally unexpected after watching her slow descent into villainy in Season 1.
Woodard plays this new phase of Mariah’s life with the scenery-chewing swagger of an actor half her age. Truly, this radically redefined Mariah feels more in line with Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger when it comes to the way she dominates the screen. Through Mariah, Woodard gets to let loose a side of her we haven’t seen before, the kind that shouts and cackles, that manipulates and pulls the trigger.
Mariah is terrifying, and Alfre is enjoying every second of it. All hail the queen.