Black Lightning – Season 1 Episode 4
Black Lightning deals with the fallout of the previous episode as a dangerous new drug hits the streets and Tobias Whale becomes concerned about his reputation.
Collateral damage is the name of the game in this episode. Jeff is still working on getting back into the costumed hero game and is a bit rusty in some areas. The intention to do good is there, the spirit’s willing but a lot of his skills have atrophied over the years. I’m not talking about his fighting prowess or ability to read a situations as those are still apparently as sharp as ever. The thing I talk about is his ability to deal with the consequences of his actions.
Khalil’s injury sits at the centre of this episode in pretty much every conceivable way despite Khalil only appearing in a relative handful of scenes. What he represents is more important than who he is though there is that personal connection the character with him being a fixture of the show prior to his injury. His relationship with Jennifer helps round him out as someone determined to overcome impossible odds and walk again.
Unfortunately for him Black Lightning just isn’t that show and he is told that his injury is so severe that he’ll never walk again. It’s heartbreaking and very telling of the sort of world this show inhabits. There will be no miracle chip to heal the damage or some form of magical cure that will undo this sad situation so the characters have to live with it and endure all the hardship that comes with it. Jennifer struggles most of all as she plays the role of the supportive girlfriend to her own academic detriment and tries to remain positive when she is clearly being torn up inside. We see this take a toll when she goes out to the corridor to cry and furtive glances indicating how frustrated she is that she can’t be of more help to Khalil. It’s one thing to be supportive but the helplessness that comes with an inability to actually solve the problem is the really difficult part. This is really strong stuff but so far Jennifer’s more of a reactive character than a proactive one which means she more often gets swept up in whatever story is being told rather than having any real agency in it. It’s not a huge problem but it could easily become one if not dealt with.
For Jeff, Khalil represents failure. Black Lightning failed to protect those at the march that were injured. The Reverend’s death isn’t really explored here but Khalil is the living embodiment of that failure and the thought of it really gets to Jeff. He knows that he did pretty much everything possible based on the knowledge he had of the situation but his best wasn’t good enough and others paid the price for it. I mentioned last week that Khalil is basically the living embodiment of everything that Jeff accomplished as a Principal and now he’s the embodiment of his failures as Black Lightning. It’s fascinating to have such widespread representation for fundamental aspects of the lead captured in a single character.
Jeff isn’t one to turn his back on accepting responsibility for his failings. He may have trouble processing his misdeeds but he faces up to them. Jeff is the one to break the news about the extent of Khalil’s injury because he feels that it’s his burden to do so after having a hand in making it happen. Whether it is Jeff’s fault or not is completely up for debate but the important thing is that Jeff feels at fault and how he deals with that becomes fundamental to his growth as a character. Certainly this injury represents the possibility that all Jeff worked to build could be torn down around him.
Khalil isn’t only representative of the collateral damage Jeff has to deal with; he’s also important to the criminal element. The episode takes some time to establish that Khalil is something of a celebrity within Freeland which means that publicity surrounding his injury is going to have either a positive or negative effect on his community. Nothing happens in a vacuum in this show as has been made clear on several occasions so the consequences of Khalil’s injury are felt in other areas of the show. Lady Eve and Tobias are in a position to take advantage of this as they have the problem of the people of Freeland rallying behind Black Lightning as a symbol of hope. He hasn’t made a noticeable dent in their earnings yet but it’s heading in that direction and a plan needs to be formed to combat this.
The idea is to turn the people against Black Lightning starting with Khalil. Tobias provides him with expensive gifts, pays his medical bills and helps his mother out with rent seemingly out of the goodness of his heart. In return he gets the opportunity to talk to Khalil and whisper poison in his ears about Black Lightning. With some work it may be possible to skew Khalil’s opinion towards hating Black Lightning which may lead to public statements decrying him, ultimately resulting in enough of the echoing the statements. It’s a long and subtle game very much in keeping with Tobias’ murky methods so far.
Tobias has another problem; he’s losing respect in the criminal community because it has become obvious that he didn’t actually kill Black Lightning. His entire reputation is built on that achievement so having it outed as untrue has a negative effect on his reputation. Lady Eve points this out and makes fun of him for it as she poked around the insides of a body while the subject was still alive. Several things are made clear from this scene. Lady Eve is very much in charge and Tobias appears to be afraid of her for reasons that we aren’t privy to. If we never see a flashback fleshing out this connection then I’ll be ok with that as enough is established through the way they play off one another with plenty of hints as to their history without explicitly stating what that is. She is also fiercely cunning and intelligent with an accurate outlook on how things work in the real world. She sees Tobias’ loss in reputation and knows exactly the reason why as well as how to fix it. Lady Eve doesn’t respect Tobias, she appears to barely tolerate him but keeps him around because he’s useful to her for now. It’s a great scene for building the villainous element of the season and giving Tobias a clear goal.
Some attempt is made to humanise Tobias with the arrival of his sister Tori (Edwina Findley). Once again very little time is taken to explain their relationship but a sense of how close they are is delivered through the warm and familiar performance from both actors. He calls her in because she is apparently very good at killing people so there could be a brother/sister manhunt coming in the next episode or two.
Another thing going on in the episode is the appearance of a new drug called Green Light that is lethally dangerous. Jeff’s first encounter with it is when a student nearly ODs in the school bathroom. The Drug appears to give him super strength causing Jeff to use his powers in order to subdue him. Drugs in his school signifies a much larger problem linking back to the possibility of the safe haven for kids being torn down around him. Combatting a drug problem takes finesse as well as a lot of resources and Jeff seems to have neither of these things in this situation. His first instinct is to help Bernard (Michael King) when his parents appeal to him directly for another chance. A flawless record prior to this and genuine remorse makes Jeff sympathetic and grants Bernard that second chance. His main goal as Principal is to provide kids with a chance to reach their full potential and expulsion for a mistake will only send Bernard down a path counter to that.
The school board aren’t on Jeff’s side with this one and make the point that the students have to meet him halfway on his desire to improve their lives. In order to really do it the opportunity has to be accepted rather than taken advantage of. Jeff makes the point that the school board don’t know the students at all so he’s best place to make unilateral decisions about how best to handle situations like this. He is told that he would have the opportunity to present evidence to support his decisions and the situation will be debated. It’s definitely not what Jeff wants and a compromise of sorts is reached when he is allowed one vote among several in such instances. Once again the thing that Jeff built is crumbling around him and he has no choice but to accept the compromise or be fired when his contract is up. This show exists in a harsh world where actions have far reaching consequences and being self righteous doesn’t really get you anywhere.
Green Light is becoming more common on the street and Jeff takes it upon himself to track it down. He has no luck beating up members of the 100 gang because they’re organised in such a way that information is “need to know” among different cells. This forces Jeff to try a different tactic and visit an old friend named 2-Bits (Jason Louder). Their initial scene together drops a lot of information about their history without saying very much about it. It is established that they basically grew up together and there’s a palpable sense of familiarity to their interaction but also a great deal of distance. Their lives took them on different paths but there’s the hint that Jeff could have gone down a similar path given different circumstances.
Jeff doesn’t achieve much in this initial conversation but learns enough to set his alter ego on the case. Black Lightning has much more success before encouraging him to stop dealing drugs with the threat of dire consequences should he decide to ignore this advice. Cress Williams manages to be intimidating despite being dressed in a bright neon costume that fails to look scary no matter what the backdrop is. Black Lightning’s reputation is clearly enough to do the scaring and amusingly the criminal element has some reverence for him as seen by 2-Bits attempt to get a selfie before he is knocked out.
After this it looks like the episode will culminate in a raid on a warehouse which feels all too common in the CW DC shows so it was refreshing to see it go a different way. Black Lightning raids a drug house after learning that Bernard has relapsed. Part of his arc this episode is accepting that he can’t save everyone but that won’t stop him trying and his determination to save Bernard is inspiring. He put his career on the line for this kid and won’t let him succumb to addiction without doing everything he can to prevent that. It may be a bleak show but Jeff’s actions send a positive and heroic message.
Anissa’s journey into being a hero takes some massive steps forward. Her first attempt comes after catching two guys trying to sell drugs to some of her students. She puts on a hoodie and goes after them in the dead of night only to learn that the consequences of injuring the bad guys aren’t as easy to live with as she thinks. Anissa looks on in horror as she sees the injuries she inflicted and rethinks her whole approach. This comes after her coming to Black Lightning’s defence over a family dinner attended by Inspector Henderson. His position is what it has always been, that Black Lightning is dangerous and his actions cause more problems than they solve. Anissa plainly asks what anyone would do if they had the power which firmly solidifies her story as being about what might happen if someone with a desire to do good suddenly found themselves with super powers.
Her story is more formative than some of the others we’ve seen and she’s learning as she goes with a good amount of trial and error. Part of the problem is that she doesn’t have anyone to share it with yet really wants to talk about it. Grace helps her put things in perspective when Anissa mentions feeling like she’s outgrown opening up to her parents about everything. Grace sees her point but tells her that she wisher her parents were still around for her to do that. The advice given isn’t about the responsibility she has to involve her parents it’s about the opportunity she has to involve them which paints things in a very different light.
Causing injury to the drug dealers is an example of a mistake to learn from and saving Grace later on shows what happens when her powers are unleashed without any restraint. It’s a very emotional reaction and the scale of the damage inflicted afterwards reinforces that. We only hear the fight from Jeff’s perspective a short distance away rather than seeing it which is more effective and it furthers Gambi keeping information from Jeff for reasons we aren’t told yet. My prediction is that Gambi will end up training Anissa without Jeff’s knowledge which will eventually cause friction but I’m unsure why he’s keeping other information from him. I’m hoping that there’s a good reason for it and that he at least has Jeff’s best interests at heart even though that excuse is something we’ve heard before in other places.
An excellent episode that explores the idea of consequences and collateral damage using Khalil’s injury as the focal point. He represents Jeff’s failure to protect the people of the city during the march and acts as an example of unintended collateral damage that inevitably results from his exploits as Black Lightning. Khalil also provides strong material for Jennifer who is more reactive for now but definitely comes across well in their scenes together. He is also important to the villains as he can potentially be used to turn the public against Black Lightning. Tobias gets on that job while trying to restore his fractured reputation not that his claim that he killed Black Lightning has been proven false. This is a good episode for fleshing out Tobias as well as his connection to Lady Eve.
The appearance of a new drug also gives Jeff plenty to do such as fight the corner of a student who nearly ODs on the drug. It puts him at odds with the school board and furthers the idea that what he has worked to build is crumbling around him along with the injury. Using Black Lightning to raid a drug house to retrieve Bernard is a strong example of how committed he is to protecting everyone he can. Anissa’s journey into being a hero is really interesting as well. She learns that beating up the bad guys comes with regrets and also realises how powerful she is when she lacks discipline. The devastation inflicted when she saves Grace is a powerful example of that and sets up a lot more lessons for Anissa to learn. I’m not onboard with Gambi keeping secrets from Jeff mostly because these types of character stories rarely play out in interesting ways.
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