Luke Cage's Shades was only ever meant to be with one person, according to actor Theo Rossi. It's just not the person who comes immediately to mind.
Throughout the entirety of Season 1, Hernan "Shades" Alvarez (Rossi) played the man behind the curtain (or, in his case, the sunglasses), encouraging Mariah Dillard's (Alfre Woodard) reign after she murdered her cousin Cornell Stokes, aka Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali). Shades was happy to do the Stokes family's dirty work if it meant the right person would remain sitting on the Harlem throne. That person was never him, something he was perfectly happy with.
"In Season 1, the only backstory [we got for Shades], besides the fact that him and Cottonmouth grew up together… was how the Stokes were like royalty to him," Rossi told SYFY WIRE. "So I think in his building up of Mariah — here he was, here was his chance to be in the kingdom."
**Spoiler Alert: This story contains spoilers for Luke Cage Season 2.**
The Stokes' Harlem kingdom comes tumbling down in the second season of Netflix and Marvel's Luke Cage, though, and Shades is left to make what audiences might have once thought an impossible decision on his part. Mariah embraces the Stokes name Bushmaster has been pushing on her throughout Season 2 and tries to take back what she sees as rightfully hers. While Shades has always encouraged Mariah to take action, she goes darker than he ever thought possible.
"What ultimately happens is their past comes up to get [Shades and Mariah] in separate ways," Rossi says. "Her past makes her out to be way more ruthless than he ever planned. And, at the same time, his past makes him a lot less ruthless than he thought he was because his heart gets dragged into it. And when his heart gets dragged into it, he starts to see her for who she is and he starts to see himself for who he is. So ultimately their relationship is a consequence of bad timing. And I think that's why everything goes down the way it goes and which is why I appreciate [showrunner] Cheo [Hodari Coker's decisions]."
Caught in the middle of the action is Shades' long-time friend, partner, and "the love of his life," Darius "Comanche" Jones (Thomas Q. Jones). Rossi says Comanche was Shades' heart, his true soulmate, so when Shades finds it necessary to kill Comanche to protect Mariah's (and his own) interests in Episode 7, "On and On," he ends up inflicting permanent damage to himself.
And thus begins the fall of the Stokes empire. Shades may have never desired the throne for himself, but he's been manipulating the game since day one.
"The true power is having the power and no one knowing it. I think that's what he does so well," Rossi says. "He just got a bit rattled this season."
Despite his heartbreak and the upheaval of what he thought were his desires, though, Shades still ends up on top at the end of Season 2.
"It is, ultimately, a world order that he set up," Rossi says. "It's ultimately a position that [he's made] work, so he removed [Mariah] just like [he did when it] didn't work with Cornell. He used to tell Cornell, 'I want you to win,' but he didn't [win] because he had such a deep hate for Luke Cage and that didn't work. And then Diamondback, same thing — he couldn't let it go. And then Mariah — couldn't let it go, couldn't not be doing all these horrific things. So now, he goes this route. He always closes one door and opens another."
And now, with his heart damaged and his plans thus far up in flames, Shades has reached a new, Luke Cage-fueled chapter in his crime-ridden life.
"If the story goes further with him, let's see why he was so hellbent on putting Luke Cage on that perch. Why? And I think that's a really interesting [story] because now we know so much about him. So now what? Now who is he? Now what is he doing? We'll see."
Luke Cage Season 2 is now available on Netflix.