At the start of Luke Cage‘s 11th episode, “Now You’re Mine,” the villains Hernan “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi) and Willis “Diamondback” Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey) have a heart to heart amidst the wreckage of Harlem’s Paradise. Cage (Mike Colter) is on the loose somewhere in the club, protesters trapped inside have now become hostages, and the police are on their way. Shades isn’t particularly fond of the situation and thinks everyone should bail, but Diamondback — who only just entered the picture three episodes prior — won’t budge. For reasons unknown to Shades and somewhat understood by the audience, he won’t rest until both Cage and his cop friend, Misty Knight (Simone Missick) are dead.
“With them dead, we control the story,” Diamondback explains. “The bigger the stall, the more time we have for other diversions. Misty will be dead, I’ll have another shot at Cage, and there’s bound to be another way out of here. We’ll cross that bridge soon enough.”
Unimpressed, Shades quips, “That’s your plan? That’s it?”
The playful (but serious) animosity expressed between the two speaks volumes about their relationship. After all, Diamondback serves as Luke Cage‘s Thanos-like big bad, pulling the strings throughout the first half and ultimately showing up to do it himself. And Shades? Considering just how often he coerces individuals and manipulates events throughout all 13 episodes to serve the whims of Diamondback, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), he’s more like Loki’s string-puller (or as Rossi explains to us, the Marvel/Netflix world’s closest equivalent to Game of Thrones‘ Littlefinger).
However, this scene (and others like it) also demonstrates what the Marvel/Netflix partnership has accomplished that — aside from a handful of examples — its cinematic forebears never could: The creation and execution of complex, well-rounded villains whose individual story arcs are almost as complete as their heroic rivals. David Tennant’s Kilgrave achieved a horrifying version of this in Jessica Jones, and if Rossi and Harvey’s performances alongside Ali and Woodard are any indication, so too has Luke Cage.