Unlike everyone else in the world, I didn’t watch all of season 2 of Luke Cage until this weekend. So that meant I didn’t get to be thoroughly and properly freaked out by this season’s “It” couple, Mariah Stokes Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Hernan “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi), until June 30, a full week after everyone else had already freaked out. So I was alone in my freaking out, just flipping out at every kiss, grope, bite and ass grab, just mini-meltdowns all the time of “How am I supposed to be feeling!”
As my friends can attest, I love Theo Rossi’s intensity as an actor. I was first drawn to it when he played the goofy, then tragic Juice on Sons of Anarchy. Basically, Rossi seemed to be game for just about anything, no matter how envelope pushing or ridiculous, and he would do it all while acting his face off. Which is why I’ve always liked his character Shades since season one, because Rossi is so committed to Shades—his stares, his snarls, his non-moustache twisting villainy mixed with his thug moral code and uncharted depths of character. He’s a bad character, but he is so good at this bad character. You can feel it. It’s a very visceral performance. You either love it intensely (like me) or wonder, “what the fuck?”
Plus, Rossi possesses the innate ability to have chemistry with almost anybody—a block of wood, a sandwich, Thomas Q. Jones’ Comanche, the wall, me, animals, etc. So, naturally, when you pair him with a woman old enough to be his mother (or really sexy auntie) and have them make out in front of you over several episodes, Rossi makes you feel every bit of it. And every bit of it is creepy! It’s not that Alfre Woodard isn’t a beautiful woman. She is! And she’s a fantastic veteran actress who knows what works and what doesn’t. She’s brilliant as Mariah Stokes Dillard, the best role I’ve ever seen her in. I love her on Luke Cage. But her and Rossi’s unconventional, villainous love story is just ... no. No no no no no no no no. Noooooooooo.
I still devoured the entire series, though the second season was better than the first (Diamondback sucked as a replacement for Cottonmouth in season one), and loved both Mariah and Shades in all their badness, even together. But I wasn’t mature enough to handle their mature love.
My friend and deputy managing editor Yesha Callahan tried to warn me about it. I asked her, since she’d seen the season before everyone else to review it, two questions—Did they go for it with Mariah and Shades relationship and does Shades die? (Notice, all my questions were in relations to Shades.) She said yes they went for it when it came to that relationship. (You’ll just have to watch the season to find out if he bites it.) And I thought, OK, that’s kind of cool. I wonder what that will look like. My third question was “But they don’t show them doing it, right?” And she was like, “God no,” but alluded to all the rest of the eye fucking, groping and kissing and I thought—I’m pretty progressive about sex. I can handle this.
But I could not handle it! I couldn’t handle it at all!
Nothing prepared me for Woodard becoming a temptress in sensible, jazzy flats and Rossi staring at her like he’s a starving man and she’s a delicious ham sandwich. It was the hungriest, nakedest, weirdest performance I’d ever seen and it shook me to my core. I found myself shouting at the screen, “Please stop!” but they ignored me and made out in front of me anyway, like a pair of horny teenagers.
Of course, because I love intensity in an actor, Theo Rossi grossing me out only made me love him and Alfre Woodard more. Made me respect their choices and trust in each other as actors and love Luke Cage even more. But, if I rewatch, I’ll probably still be looking through slightly closed fingers, screaming to the good lord to blind me because I can’t look away from ShadyMariah.
I can’t look away.