Black Lightning – Season 1 Episode 7
“Equinox: The Book of Fate”
Black Lightning reflects on the events of the previous episode and takes steps forward into the second half of the season.
I was more critical of last week’s episode than I have been of some of the others because it focuses on the elements of the show that don’t quite work and pushed the more interesting aspects into the background. This episode helps me understand why that focus shifted though it doesn’t retroactively become a better episode because this one made good use of what had been set up.
The entire first half of the season was largely focused on world building, character development and moving the major pieces around the board in an effort to explore how they relate to one another. It’s been a massive success creatively and laid out a strong foundation for the show to build on. Now that the halfway point has been passed it’s time to start cashing in on what has been set up and exploring the fallout of that.
One of the more significant alterations is the shift in Anissa and Jeff’s relationship due to them both finding out the truth about one another. I was pleasantly surprised that the episode skips Anissa’s reaction to finding out that her father is Black Lightning because those types of scenes don’t usually tend to be that interesting. Instead of this we skip right to the interesting part which is considering the implications of this.
Anissa is far more interested in understanding the real world impact of being a superhero than being shocked that her father exacts vigilante justice by night. Lynn has a really open and honest conversation with her about the reasons behind her and Jeff’s separation. With it comes a warning about the reality of being a superhero and the effect that can have on those in the life of one. Lynn points out that working to protect others means that the personal life suffers to a massive degree and there’s the fact that anyone who knows the truth will have to constantly live in fear of their loved ones never returning. She tells Anissa that she never knew for certain that Jeff would come home and she isn’t eager to revisit that fear with her own daughter so there’s a lot to consider.
Of course Anissa is very idealistic and seems to think -perhaps naively- that she can have it all. She has a profound desire to help people and doesn’t understand why Lynn doesn’t approve of her becoming a vigilante considering she was raised to help others. Lynn would rather she did so through her activism and other such methods rather than risking her life fighting criminals.
Jeff holds a similar position at first but quickly realises the hypocrisy in his resistance to Anissa following the same path he did. His emotional reaction to the prospect of his daughter fighting crime and being hurt is very relatable understandable barrier to his acceptance of her decision to follow in his footsteps but there’s something fundamental that he’s missing when considering this. He fails to consider the fact that whether he approves or not she’s going to do it anyway and she will be far more effective as well as a lot safer if he has a hand in it. A conversation between Jeff and Lynn is about convincing him to accept his daughter’s decision and train her to be a better hero who is better equipped to face everything that’s out there. It’s a very brief character arc but a natural one.
Anissa’s response to Jeff admitting that he’s something of a hypocrite makes for a great scene. She praises him for his accomplishments as a principal, a father and a superhero. Anissa approves of everything her father has achieved and wants to follow in his footsteps because she is immensely proud of him and wants to live up to his example. Jeff’s response to this is a sincerely positive parental desire for Anissa to be better than him. A potentially cheesy sentiment is easily enhanced by Cress Williams’ excellent line delivery.
Despite her idealistic nature Anissa isn’t blind to the real world and is given a very visceral example of collateral damage and what it means to have to deal with that. She learns that David Poe was hit by a car and killed which can definitely be no accident. This much is obvious to her and it’s clear that his death is a direct consequence of her looking into her grandfather’s research so she has something to feel guilty about and experiences the first of many instances where her resolve will be tested in such a way. This underpins her conversation with Jeff later in the episode as he acknowledges his own mistake and gives her some very practical advice on how difficult this will be the longer she continues to try to help people.
Jeff’s choice to be honest with Anissa and pass on his knowledge in order to protect her is in direct contrast to the choices Gambi makes seemingly out of desire to protect him. Gambi keeps secrets and is openly deceitful which Jeff seems to realise to some extent though has no idea of the true extent. I’m left wondering if Gambi is being set up as an antagonist for later in the season because his behaviour is very concerning. With each passing episode he becomes less trustworthy and his actions in this outing are arguably villainous. We’ve seen his pre-existing relationship with Lady Eve before and this is fleshed out even further through a really interesting conversation where they talk about Tobias Whale’s tendency to let his ego take over and step over the line of acceptable actions. Gambi mentions that Tobias’ behaviour threatens to tear apart the ecosystem they’ve created over the years.
I found this really interesting as it blatantly establishes that Gambi and Lady Eve are in some way responsible for the way Freeland is and I’m fascinated to learn more about that. It’s possible that pragmatism is at the root of this with an acceptance of the fact that Freeland can’t be free of corruption so the best that can be achieved is controlling that in some way. Gambi clearly respects -if not trusts- Lady Eve so it could be that he’s happy to let her run the criminal element because he realises that she has certain standards and lines that she won’t cross and now that Tobias is putting that at risk he has no choice but to step in. The conversation plays out in part like a negotiation with Lady Eve accepting Gambi’s point and offering him Tobias’ right hand man as a sacrifice because Tobias is too valuable an asset to lose. This results in Gambi killing Joey Toleedo brutally and without remorse.
Adding extra complexity to Gambi is the fact that he definitely does care about the Pierce family. Not telling Jeff about Tobias is definitely out of some form of misguided attempt to protect him and his desire to shelter Lynn when her life is in danger is entirely genuine. Similarly he seems all too happy to build Anissa a suit to aid in her crime fighting so for whatever reason he is happy to play both sides as long as they don’t intersect. I still find Gambi to be the weakest part of the show but I find his actions in this episode really interesting and I wonder what the endgame for this character is. It would also be interesting to spend some time exploring his back story to flesh out his complicated and seemingly contrasting motivations.
The villain story is moved forward in really surprising and interesting ways. Lady Eve’s death is definitely a shock considering how promising she was as a character. The death definitely has purpose as it affects Freeland in really fundamental ways. She is described as one of Freeland’s most successful businesswomen meaning that she was a pillar of the community for many people and an example of a successful black woman that has now been taken away from them. Based on what we know of her as of this episode she did have her criminal interests and played fast and loose with the lives of others but also had a real sense of balance and order which arguably helps Freeland work as a society as well as it does. The vacuum created by her absence will need filled and the lack of supervision for Tobias definitely creates its own problems.
Lady Eve’s death was handled in a really clever way. Tori comes up with the idea of using advanced comic booky lightning guns to take her out therefore framing Black Lightning for her death and potentially solving that problem too. Henderson calls him to simply say “you went too far this time” before hanging up strongly suggesting that Black Lightning is blamed for the deaths and will become a fugitive from now on.
Tori is also killed in the exchange of fire. Technically she’s a victim of friendly fire but Jeff is indirectly the cause of that so there’s plenty of blame for Tobias to throw in his direction. The potential is there for Tobias to become more unhinged than he already is with a more direct vendetta against Black Lightning resulting from this. They face off however briefly for the first time in 30 years in this episode and there’s clearly a lot of animosity there that will only grow after the death of Tori. As with Lady Eve this was a character with a lot of potential who seems to be dispatched far too soon though as long as the death has purpose then it may prove worthwhile.
Death may not be as permanent as it first appears thanks to the cliffhanger ending involving Lala waking up in a motel room alive and well with LaWanda asking him if he believes in resurrection before dissolving into ghostly dust and becoming a tattoo of herself on his skin. It’s a really effective yet bizarre ending that further embraces comic book lunacy in a way that feels somewhat out of place for this show. I’ll reserve full judgement until more answers are given and I was certainly intrigued by this ending and what that means for the show as a whole. It has certainly built up enough good faith to introduce more fantastical elements but as with everything else there needs to be a purpose to it otherwise it all amounts to fantastical nonsense. Is LaWanda really a ghost or a manifestation of Lala’s guilt? How was Lala brought back to life and what will he do now that he is? My thinking it has something to do with the serum that Tobias uses but only time will tell.
Jennifer once again fades into the background and has nothing to do beyond sensing the tension within her family based on the lack of normal behaviour. At this point she seems to exist to be lied to by the rest of her family who are in on the secret which basically makes her the early Arrow Thea of this show which isn’t necessarily a good template to follow. More could definitely be done with this character but she still remains too passive to be truly effective.
An excellent episode that moves into the second half of the season in really surprising ways. Jeff’s reaction to finding out the truth about Anissa and his small arc around coming to terms with what she wants to do and embracing the idea that he’s better off training her to protect herself works really well. Anissa appreciating everything Jeff has done while learning the pitfalls of being a costumed hero after experiencing her first example of collateral damage is also well handled and sets her up as a naive hero with a lot to learn. Sadly Jennifer is thrown into the background with this familial bonding but the handling of what to do about Anissa and her abilities makes for excellent and mature character drama.
Gambi becomes more interesting in this episode with further insight into his connection with Lady Eve along with the suggestion that the current state of Freeland is at least in part calculated by the two of them. Tobias’ behaviour crosses that line and forces Gambi to interfere after negotiating with Lady Eve over how best to solve the problem. While this is going on he clearly cares about the Pierce family and even supports Anissa’s heroics by offering to build her a suit. Where this character will go is unclear but the ambiguity is interesting. Tori’s idea to kill Lady Eve and frame Black Lightning ups the stakes in a big way though removes two interesting characters from the show. As long as there’s continued purpose to this decision then it’s acceptable but if it turns out to be for shock value then it will be a waste. Black Lightning as a fugitive is an interesting problem for the coming episodes certainly. The ending scene is really bizarre with the resurrection of Lala and LaWanda’s appearance as a ghost tattoo. It feels out of place for this show though it remains to be seen what the plans for this are.
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