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|“||You like my Biggie photo? Me too. You know what draws your eye when you look at that? The crown... Wanna know why? 'Cause everybody wants to be the king.||„|
Cornell Stokes, also known as Cottonmouth, is the secondary antagonist of the first season of the Netflix hit series, Marvel's Luke Cage. He is the owner of Harlem's Paradise, a nightclub in New York City.
After three young men from Harlem attack one of Cottonmouth's weapons deals and escape with Cottonmouth's money, Cottonmouth starts hunting down the three to get his money back. While hunting the last remaining assailant, Cottonmouth's henchmen accidentally kill Pop, a respected man around Harlem. Pop's friend Luke Cage intends to avenge Pop and, to do so, starts coming after Cottonmouth's operation.
He is portrayed by Mahershala Ali.
In his youth, despite his family being heavily involved in criminal activities in Harlem, Cornell for quite some time did not become part of it. Eventually, his grandmother, the crime lady Mama Mabel, decided that he needed some 'dirt' on him and sent Cornell with his uncle to kill someone who sold drugs on her territory.
When he was fourteen years old, during a conversation with Mama Mabel, Cornell informed her that her brother-in-law, Pete Stokes, was making deals with the Puerto Ricans without her consent. Mama confronted Pete and had him shot by Cornell. Although Cornell really liked Pete, who shared his love to music, payed for Cornell's piano lessons and drove him to music auditions as he thought that Cornell had real talent, he killed Pete after both Mama Mabel and her cousin Mariah, whom Pete had sexually abused, urged him to shoot Pete.
Eventually, Cottonmouth became a gangster in Harlem. He was part of Pop's gang and was known as 'Thing One'. As he had lost three teeth in a fight, he was afraid to smile for a time. After the gang was caught and disbanded, Cottonmouth continued on alone.
Deal gone wrong
In his nightclub, the Harlem's Paradise, Stokes watches the performance of the band he hired for the evening from a balcony, visibly content with their performance. He then returns to his table where he is meeting with his cousin, councilwoman Mariah "Black Mariah" Dillard. He claims that he built the place from scrap and turned it into a high-class night club. Stokes tells Mariah that an associate of his will be making a sizable donation into his pocket and her real estate project. Mariah implores Stokes not to waste his time with such low-life criminals and tells him that it is politics in which the true power lies. She also reminds him that a criminal empire can swiftly topple, as the empire of Wilson Fisk did.
Another associate of Stokes comes to the table and is welcomed by Cornell and Mariah. They discuss business and Mariah is annoyed, claiming that Cornell is turning their families legitimate money illegal again. Stokes however replies that their project is hardly illegal, as it is protected by the constitution. It is revealed that Stokes is selling high-tech weapons to the man, who is a gang leader. The man agrees to the deal but later, during the exchange, both parties are attacked and shot by three other gangsters who escape with Cornell's money.
Meanwhile, back at the Harlem's Paradise, Cottonmouth's table orders some alcohol. One of the waiters bringing it up is Luke Cage, who is normally a dish-washer in the club but has taken the place of a friend who got sick. In truth, this waiter, Dante, is one of the men who attacked the deal and was able to plan this due to his inside knowledge. When Luke turns to leave, Cottonmouth stops him and asks him where Dante is, Cage tells him that he turned in sick. Cottonmouth also offers Luke a job that is better paying, but Luke politely declines, as he does not want anything to do with Cottonmouth's crime empire. Soon after Luke has left Cottonmouth's table, Stokes is informed about the deal-gone-wrong.
The next day, Cottonmouth is forced to calm the angry gangster whose men got shot during the deal. After the furious man hangs up the phone, Stokes is visited by Shades, who has come on behalf of his employer Diamondback. Diamondback was the one who provided Cottonmouth with the high-tech guns. Shades bluntly tells him that after the botched deal, the weapons are in a police lockup and that the money is gone. Shades wants to know whether it was an inside job and Stokes replies that it was most certainly not, reminding Shades that he needed the money too. Cottonmouth is concerned, believing that Diamondback wants to take over his operation. Shades, however, assures him that this is no takeover and offers his help in solving the problem.
During a garden party in Harlem, Cottonmouth visits Mariah. She is uncomfortable with the two of them being seen together but also tells him that she urgently needs the money her cousin promised her. Stokes again promises that the money will be there in time. After Mariah has gone, Stokes speaks to Shades and another henchman. The henchman confirms that Dante, whom he found dying at the scapyard where the deal went wrong, was one of the men who attacked the deal. Dante also gave up the names of two who were with him. One of these boys is invited to the Harlem's Paradise, where the henchman brings him to Cottonmouth. When the boy is brought into Stoke's office, Stokes interrogates him and demands to know where his money is. While he hits the boy, he hits him with the flat hand and not the fist, claiming that he will slap him like the pussy he is. Cottonmouth makes clear to the boy that they have already obtained his part of the money and also knows that a boy named Chico was the other attacker. From the boy, he wants to know where Chico is so that they can get the money he stole too. When the boy defiantly spits in his face, Stokes laughs and claims that now, he will hit him like a man. He throws the boy to the ground and viciously beats him to death. He then tells Shades and the other henchman to get rid of the body and to get him his money.
Hunting for Chico
While Pop and Cage are talking about Cottonmouth and the deal in Pop's Barber Shop, they are surprised when the man turns up to get shaved. Cottonmouth insists that Pop uses a real razor. While he is getting shaved, he and Pop talk about that nowadays, everyone wants things go fast. Stokes claims that he is a man who enjoys taking things slowly, thus the shave at a real barber. While he is shaving Stokes, Pop notices the marks on his hand Stokes obtained while beating the boy to death.
While being shaved, Cottonmouth also recognizes Cage. He asks him whether he works at this place too and inquires of his name. Once Luke has told him the name, Stokes comments that the name is biblical. After thanking Pop for the shave, Stokes turns to leave but Cage reminds him that he still has to pay Pop. Although Pop tells him to forget it, Cottonmouth orders his henchman to pay Pop. The trio then leaves the store, continuing their search for Chico. After Cottonmouth and his group are gone, Pop implores Cage to find Chico before Cottonmouth does. Pops thinks that once he has Chico at his barber shop, which is known as neutral ground for all gangs, he can fix the matter with Cottonmouth and ensure Chico's safety. Before he continues hunting down Chico, Stokes delivers the money they already reobtained to Mariah. However, she reminds him that that money is not nearly enough and that they urgently need the rest of the money too. The two have a brief dispute and Cottonmouth, Shades and Cottonmouth's assistant then leave the office.
After Chico has indeed come to the barber shop, Pop asks Cage to talk to Cottonmouth, as the police might have eyes on the barber shop and Cage, working at Stokes' nightclub, has a legitimate reason to go there. Cage heads up to Cottonmouth's private zone and tells him that Pops wants a parley. Pop claims that all of Stokes' goods will be returned, Pop only askes for safety for Chico. Pop also gave Cage a photo of Pop's and Stokes' mutual past, which Cage hands over to Cottonmouth. Cottonmouth agrees to meet Pop at the barbershop but before Cage leaves, Cottonmouth tells him that he is fired. Cage replies that he is not, having resigned before he walked in. After Cage is gone, Stokes' assistant tells him that one of his informants has eyes on Chico and asks how to deal with the situation. Stokes tells the man to kill Chico should he be on the street but that, should Chico remain in the barbershop, he himself would deal with him the next day. Shades and the assistant then drive to the barber store.
Back at the nightclub, Shades and the assistant meet with Stokes and Mariah on the roof. There, while Shades claims that they should have waited, the assistant tells Cottonmouth that he made an 'executive decision' at the barber store where they know Chico was at that time. Cottonmouth is amused about the term 'executive decision' and asks whether the two got Chico when he tried to slip outside. When he is told that the assistant instead shot up the store itself, his amused facade swiftly crumbles. Shades tells Cottonmouth that he advised the assistant to wait, to which the assistant replies that "shit got loud because it needed to be loud". When the assistant claims that people should know what happens to people who rob Cottonmouth, Stokes loudly screams that Cottonmouth is not his name. The assistant does not understand why Cottonmouth is so furious, claiming that all that counts is that they got the money back. Although he is still angry, Cottonmouth calms down, claiming that Pops can always rebuild and that he himself will donate money for that cause. When he is told, however, that Pops died in the attack, Cottonmouth grabs the assistant and throws him off the roof. He then hands Mariah the rest of the money. Although she is not happy with the murder, she takes the money nonetheless.
Clash with Cage
Cottonmouth is deeply affected by the death of Pop. After Shades gives him his condolences, Cottonmouth returns to his office where he starts to cry. The next day, he visits the morgue to arrange Pop's funeral. Luke Cage is already there. When Cottonmouth claims that Luke cannot afford a proper burial for Pop, Cage replies that the service should match the man's integrity. Cottonmouth asks the coroner to leave the room. Once the man is gone, Cottonmouth tells Luke that while he and Pop did not see eye to eye, they always had each others back. Cottonmouth also claims that Pop would not want the two of them to fight but Cage replies that what Pop would not want is Cottonmouth paying for his arrangements with blood money. Cage accuses Cottonmouth, who promised them a parley. Stokes defends himself, claiming that his former assistant was responsible for the attack and has been punished. Cage, however, tells him that the death of Pop is still on Cottonmouth. Before he leaves, Cottonmouth arrogantly asks Luke how the job-search is coming, given that he has now lost both his jobs. To avenge Pop, Luke decides to go after Cottonmouth by taking all his associates from him before taking him down himself.
After Cage has attacked several of Cottonmouth's safehouses, Stokes decides to bring all of his money together in one fortified safehouse. After Cottonmouth informs Mariah, she advises against it as she sees it as idiotic to keep 'all your eggs in one basket'. Cottonmouth tells her that the building is secure and that nobody will be able to attack it. During their conversation, it is also made clear that while Mariah really cares about her in initiatives and plans to create affordable housing in the area, Cottonmouth sees her projects only as the 'loundry mat' for his money.
Losing his money
In his nightclub, Cottonmouth is visited by Domingo Colon, the gangster whom he tried to sell the weapons. Colon shows an extremely arrogant attitude and compares Stokes to one of the birds sitting between a crocodiles teeth, picking away the scraps in order to get a free meal. Colon claims that he, in turn, is a crocodile and that Cottonmouth is picking up his scraps. Colon behaves absolutely disrespectul, eventually asking how Diamondback feels about Cottonmouth's failure, revealing that he is aware who Cottonmouth's supplier is. Colon demands a refund but Stokes refuses. The gangster and his men leave the club, declaring war on Cottonmouth while doing so.
Stokes' evening gets even worse when he gets word that the safehouse where he put all his money has been busted by Luke Cage. Cage left the money behind for the police to find, thereby taking 80 percent of Cottonmouth's money off the streets. When he finds out, he starts beating up his nightclub in fury. Both he and Mariah angrily scream at each other, Mariah being angry that her reputation has suffered. They are interrupted by the corrupt police officer Rafael Scarfe, who reveals to him that he killed Chico for Cottonmouth. Scarfe also reveals that it was Luke Cage who attacked his operation. Furious, Cottonmouth drives to the place where Cage lives, sees him sitting in a restaurant and blows the place up with a rocket launcher. Although Luke Cage and the owner of the restaurant are buried under debris, Cage and the woman survive and, through Cage's powers, are able to free themselves from the ruins.
In his nightclub, Cottonmouth call together his gang. He is informed by his lawyer that he is more or less broke. Luke Cage is also mentioned as a problem. When a henchman mentions that maybe, they should just ignore Luke Cage and he will leave them alone in turn, Cottonmouth draws his gun and shoots him in the head. To the rest of his men he orders to hit every business around to bring in money, telling them to call it a "Luke Cage Stupidity Tax" should the owners ask why. Shades tells him that this will hardly cover the money he lost and Cottonmouth asks why Shades is back anyhow. Shades tells him that Diamondback sent him to Cottonmouth once more because Cottonmouth's empire is crumbling hard. Indeed, the attacks start rallying the people of Harlem against Cage, many come to him for help to get their money and priced possessions back.
Shades later advises Cottonmouth to sell the nightclub to get back at least some of his money. Cottonmouth refuses, claiming that this place is his blood and his legacy. Looking into the nightclub from his office, Cottonmouth sees that Cage has arrived. From his balcony, he addresses Cage while his men surround Cage. Cage claims that he wants Cottonmouth to stop messing with Harlem but Cottonmouth replies that Harlem is his home and that Cage knows nothing about it. He sends his men against Cage who swiftly defeats them and is not even affected when one of the goons shoots him into the chest thrice. When Cottonmouth comes to the ground floor, not believing what he has seen, he tells Cage that if Cage wants war, that is what he will get. Cage replies that Stokes does not have enough men for that. Before leaving, Cage tells Cottonmouth to stay away from him.
After Cage is gone, Shades shows him video footage of a special ammunition, called "The Judas", which is incredibly strong, even against bullet proof vests. Cottonmouth is interested, but the price is much to high for Cottonmouth to afford at that point. Cottonmouth tells Shades that Diamondback can front him on the payment, but Shades replies that Cottonmouth made too many mistakes to receive credit from Diamondback. Cottonmouth grabs his phone to call Diamondback to ask Diamondback to deal with Cage but Shades tells him that if Diamondback does Cottonmouth this favor, he will take Harlem from him in return. Cottonmouth then decides to get Domingo Colon his weapons to settle his debts, so that Diamondback will then lend him the money to buy the ammunation with which he will in turn kill Luke Cage.
Betrayed by Scarfe
Cottonmouth uses his contacts in the police department, including Scarfe, to get back the weapons from the GCPD lockup. He later attends Pop's memorial. He is one of those who speak, calling Pop his mentor and oldest friend. He urges the attenders to stay true to themselves and to Harlem. After his speech, he is greeted with applause.
The next day, Cottonmouth meets with Scarfe near a warehouse at the dock, where Scarfe brought the weapons from the lockup. When Scarfe demands more money, Cottonmouth smacks him in the face. Scarfe attempts to draw his gun but in the struggle that follows, he drops it. Cottonmouth picks it up and shoots at Scarfe, who is hit in the stomach multiple times. Scarfe dives into cover behind his car and Cottonmouth is prevented from finishing him off as the noise has alerted attention. Before he drives off, Cottonmouth threatens to use his bare hands when he kills Scarfe.
After being threatened by Luke Cage, Mariah heads to her cousin's club, where Cottonmouth tells her that he shot Scarfe. She chides him for being stupid enough to shoot at a cop and tells them that both their empires could fall should Scarfe survive. Mariah then goes to the next topic - Luke Cage - and tells her cousin to deal with him. Cottonmouth replies that it is not so easy, as he has witnessed himself that Cage is impervious to bullets. Mariah reminds her cousin that he can still drown, burn or poison Cage. She also tells Cottonmouth that Cage might have a woman, which would be a weakness. Cottonmouth promises her that she shouldn't worry about Cage and that he will take care of him. After Mariah is gone, Cottonmouth contacts another of his men inside the police department, Officer Perez, telling him what happened at the docks and ordering him to deal with Scarfe.
Scarfe hides in the remains of Pop's Barber Shop, where he is found by Luke Cage. He tells Cage that he has information that can bring Cottonmouth down and that he hid a notebook detailing Cottonmouth's operations and associates in his appartment. When Perez, who is investigating Scarfe's disappearance with Scarfe's former partner Misty Knight, finds out that Luke Cage is helping Scarfe, he calls Cottonmouth. Cottonmouth then sends one of his henchmen to spread the word that Cottonmouth has put a bounty on Scarfe's head. This causes various gangsters to hunt down the van in which Cage is transporting Scarfe to the police precinct. Although Scarfe dies on the way there, the evidence in the note book proves to be enough to charge Cottonmouth for police corruption, extortion and murder. Police arrive at the Harlem's Paradise and arrest Stokes. After Cottonmouth's defeat, Cage starts hunting down his remaining henchmen and destroys the weapons they are trying to sell.
Back on his feet
Despite his arrest, Cottonmouth can leave the police department as the only evidence against him are the claims of a dead, corrupt cop. Cottonmouth returns to his night club, where he is awaited by Shades. Although Shades is worried, Cottonmouth is in high spirits as he murdered a cop and got away with it. He also reveals to Shades that, after he shot Scarfe, his men returned to the warehouse, got the weapons and brought them to Domingo. Shades, however, tells him that he still won't get money from Diamondback, as he has too much attention on him right now. Nonetheless, Cottonmouth tells Shades to organize a meeting between Diamondback and Cottonmouth.
Later, while he is playing piano, Cottonmouth is visited by Luke Cage. Cage claims that he has come to take Stokes in and that Cottonmouth will come with him to the police precinct and confess all his crimes. Cottonmouth refuses and instead threatens Cage to reveal his criminal past to the people of Harlem. Cottonmouth tells him that, should Cage oppose him once more, he would be returned to Seagate Prison, Cottonmouth claiming that he would charter the yacht himself. After Cage is gone, Cottonmouth meets with Shades whom he tells about his conversation with Cage. When he tells him that he informed Cage that Cottonmouth knows about his past, Shades is aghast as Diamondback did not want Cage to get spooked, having plans for Cage himself.
That night, Cottonmouth is once more visited by Mariah in his office. Mariah urges him to let his business with Luke Cage go, as it is destroying her political career - her party already demanded her resignation. It comes to a severe argument between Cottonmouth and Mariah. When Cottonmouth, enraged by the argument, mentions how Mariah was abused by their uncle Pete when they were younger and must have wanted it as she was always 'dancing around half-naked', Mariah loses her temper. She hits Cornell over the head with a wine bottle and then throws her dazed cousin through the window of his office into the empty club below. There, she finishes off Cottonmouth by grabbing a microphone stand and smashing his head in with it. Moments later, Shades arrived. He is delighted by the sight, having lost faith in Cottonmouth, and tells her that they will blame Luke Cage for Cottonmouth's death.
- Despite constantly being called Cottonmouth by various characters, Stokes hates that name and reacty violently when being called that to his face.
- Luke Cage observes that Cottonmouth likes his 'girls' a little older.
- Despite his cruel and uncaring ways, Cottonmouth is shown to have been close to Pop, viewing him as a good friend from his past, not hesitating to murder his assistant Tone for killing him and give Pop a proper funeral.