Black Lightning – Season 1 Episode 5
“And Then the Devil Brought the Plague: The Book of Green Light“
Black Lightning dives into character back stories to develop Tobias Whale and explore the Pierce family history.
World building isn’t one of this show’s problems. Most of the scenes so far have been instrumental in building Freeland as a well developed location that the characters have an intimate connection with. Everything from the gangs to the school to the Pierce household all feel like part of a large and varied community which is definitely a testament to the talents of those producing this show.
It was arguably inevitable that there would be an episode like this one where the history of Freeland would be explored from the perspective of certain characters. In this case the focus is on the Pierce family as well as Tobias Whale which makes sense given that Jeff and his family are the protagonists where Tobias is the villain.
Usually episodes like this attempt to make the villain sympathetic in some way but that’s not a route this show wants to go down. We do learn that Tobias grew up in a household with an abusive father which makes for an easy justification for his hardened edge and brutal attitude. There’s a really effective flashback scene where Tobias relives the moment and puts his adult self in the position of his younger self so when his father Eldridge (T.C. Carson) insults him for being an Albino before hitting his sister. It’s a very visceral memory that means something to him in the present day as it shows he never stopped being the abused defensive little boy in many ways.
The reason for this particular memory being dredged up is well justified as well thanks to his sister making reference to his “first enemy”. It’s not a random flashback based on idle thought at the time, it’s a wound that has been reopened causing Tobias’ feelings of inadequacy to come to the surface. There’s a notable change in his attitude after this point as he seems a lot more unhinged than usual. This builds on the added depth to this character that has been slowly creeping in.
As I’ve said this knowledge doesn’t make him sympathetic and there’s definitely no chance for this character to be redeemed because of all he has done and all he will continue to do over the course of the season. Tobias isn’t a good person and has no intention of being a good person. His reaction to the treatment he and his sister received at the hands of their father is a vengeful one but it isn’t painted as the cause of his attitude to the people of Freeland. Getting revenge on his father is to do with removing an obstacle that holds him back from defeating Black Lightning.
One of the problematic aspects of this show is somewhat addressed but not made any better. The scene between Tobias and Gambi is well acted and implies the history that exists between these two characters but it comes across as really clunky. My issue with Gambi is that he’s very much a vehicle for exposition and scenes like this do nothing to change that. The reasons for him keeping Tobias’ presence in the city a secret from Jeff are still unclear and the constant teases of the secrecy are becoming frustrating at this point. Jeff is outwardly concerned that Tobias is back in town and Gambi still says nothing despite the fact that he is surely aware that the truth will eventually come out and once Jeff learns of his involvement their relationship will be negatively affected by the breach in trust. It’s entirely possible that Gambi is hiding the truth out of a desire to protect Jeff but that motivation is flimsy considering how he routinely puts himself in danger and actively investigates the gangs in an effort to learn more about their leadership.
Another thing is learned from this conversation. Tobias has access to a serum that prevents him ageing which makes for a true “comic book” element that this show has introduced. Excluding Black Lightning and Anissa this show has been relatively light on those sorts of ideas in favour of more grounded and realistic struggles both societal and personal. Very little is know about this serum beyond its existence but I wonder if it can be used for healing with would make my statement about there being no miracle cure for Khalil in last week‘s review somewhat inaccurate. Perhaps the intention is to gradually introduce more fantastical comic book elements so that they feel organic to the show. Tobias’ serum isn’t organic but neither is anything else in that scene but intention and execution are often two very different things.
This episode brings in another fantastical “comic book” element to this show in the form of hover tech added to Jeff’s suit. Watching him practice with it makes for a fun scene and it’s easy to see how it will make his exploits as Black Lightning a little easier. The upgrade has consequences for Jeff in the form of headaches that escalate to him passing out in one instance and cause him enough pain for a fight to turn the other way for him resulting in him being kicked repeatedly as he writhes in pain on the ground. I found the former reasonable as it’s an unintended complication that exists as part of the story but the latter is less acceptable because Jeff foolishly puts himself in unnecessary danger because for no good reason other than really wanting to get his hands on a particular suspect. There’s no story reason that we are made aware of that the mission couldn’t have waited another day so it’s an artificial way to create jeopardy that doesn’t work within the confines of the story being told. It also shows Jeff as being reckless and pig headed which is inconsistent with the character we have seen even if dialogue adds that his emotional state is affected. It certainly isn’t affected to that extent at any other point other than the convenience store so it’s simply a moment that doesn’t work.
Anissa’s story in this episode adds to the exploration of history that makes up Tobias’ contribution to the episode. Her angle is investigating a story that her grandfather was looking into that seems to have a lot more to it than a surface level glance suggests. She is warned off looking into it because it’s too dangerous and it’s heavily implied that this story is the reason her grandfather was killed. So far it’s an engaging mystery that suits Anissa perfectly as a character as it encourages her curious nature and fierce determination. It also ties into her growth as a hero as it gives her a mission to follow that will eventually require the use of her powers and will likely test her by presenting her with a situation where she is completely in over her head. The montage of her picking out her rudimentary costume and going straight for something distinctively colourful made for a really fun sequence with the end result being a costume that looks charmingly home made.
Jennifer still has the problem of being more reactive to circumstances than anything else. This makes for a clear contrast between her and Anissa which may be deliberate as Jennifer seems more aimless than her older sister. There are other ways to show that rather than having problems thrown at her that some time is spent dealing with. Her problem this week does add to the framework of the show as others resent her for being the Principal’s daughter and have a very violent jealous reaction to that. In this case two of her classmates insult her looks and attempt to attack her only to have the tables turned on them because Jennifer has been taught to defend herself. It’s a fun scene showing that the Pierce family have been prepared for the world that they are likely to encounter and foreshadows a potential heroes journey for Jennifer as well.
Jeff and Lynn react as you might expect two parents who find out their daughter has been fighting to react. Lynn plays the “bad cop” and reminds Jennifer that she can solve problems non violently even though it’s evident that Jennifer was only defending herself. Ultimately the situation is smoothed over following a conversation between both sets of parents and the issue appears to go away for now.
This plot highlights the different parenting styles of Jeff and Lynn. Jeff’s approach is different as he waits for the situation to cool down before speaking to Jennifer about it reminding her that the problem was more around the fact that she didn’t tell them about it. Defending herself isn’t the issue but Jeff raised her to be honest and forthcoming which is ultimately why Lynn is so disappointed. Amusingly Jeff is quietly proud of his daughter that she successfully fended off two girls without any problem.
Naturally Jeff doesn’t condone violence as a father but also appreciates when it might be necessary. This is evident in the guise of Black Lightning as he is frequently seen trying to talk his way out of a confrontation rather than resorting to using his powers right away. Examples of this can be seen in every episode. His exchange with the cops who are trying to take down a kid high on Green Light proves this point within this episode as he forcefully suggests that the cops use a taser instead of a gun next time they’re faced with a situation like this. Another example is when he tries to talk to the owner of the farm storing the raw materials to make the drug before realising that won’t get him anywhere. Black Lightning doesn’t escalate a conflict unless he has to and that’s pretty much as inspiring as it gets particularly when it is reflected in his parenting style.
A solid episode that explores the history of the characters in interesting ways. Tobias is fleshed out thanks to an artistically rendered flashback showing his relationship with his abusive father. It helps provide context for Tobias’ hardened attitude without allowing the character to become sympathetic. The mention of defeating his “first enemy” allows for a powerful resolution to this conflict within the space of a single episode. The scene between Tobias and Gambi is well acted but awkward all the same. It seems to exist to dump exposition on the viewer and it’s not all that interesting. So far Gambi is the most problematic aspect of the show as his main purpose is to explain things. There is no justified reason for him continuing to lie to Jeff either and I highly doubt that his reasons will be accepted by Jeff no matter how well intentioned they are.
Anissa’s story allows her to organically explore the past while developing her arc as a superhero. She digs into something that is more dangerous than it appears and fashions herself a really unique costume that looks great. It’s clear that she will eventually be in over her head but the arc is progressing nicely. Jennifer is still largely reactive but her role in the episode is still an interesting one that highlights her upbringing as well as the parenting styles of both Lynn and Jeff. In particular Jeff’s is reflected by his approach to being a superhero as he is routinely seen trying to reason with people before attacking him. This falls by the wayside when jeopardy is manufactured by Jeff foolishly taking on a dangerous mission that could wait a day until the issue with his new hovering tech is resolved. This show apparently isn’t above letting the needs of the plot outweigh common sense.
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