Black Lightning – Season 1 Episode 10
“Sins of the Father: The Book of Redemption”
Black Lightning continues its build towards the the season finale by further fleshing out the history of Freeland and the backstories of the characters involved.
All told this is an episode about the past coming back to haunt various characters. Gambi is at the mercy of the A.S.A. and forced to confront the questionable decisions he has made, Lala is confronted by the ghosts of people he has killed and Jeff faces the possibility of Freeland’s past repeating itself in the distribution of Green Light.
Gambi is in a very difficult position because he is unable to remove himself from the A.S.A. as they are always going to come for him and want something from him. Proctor is an engaging antagonist despite how one dimensional his attitude is because he’s smart. He figures out that Gambi pointed Black Lightning in the direction of the warehouse full of kidnapped super powered kids. This isn’t information that is easy to come by because the A.S.A. have covered their tracks really well which means that any information must have been leaked. As far as Proctor is concerned it could only have been Gambi who did this because he’s the only operative with knowledge that he can’t account for.
It’s a brutal episode for Gambi who is tortured to confirm Proctor’s suspicions though he has been trained a little too well and refuses to give in. This can be looked at as his penance for past sins. The warehouse is a physical representation of the bad choices Gambi made in the past and the torture could be the punishment he deserves for helping the A.S.A. find some of the captured kids. He has done a lot of good since those days by helping Jeff and his family and working to make Freeland a better place in his own way but the questionable things he has done never go away and the warehouse is a reminder of that. Even if that problem is solved then it will still be something he has to live with.
The torture is difficult to watch in a CW torture sort of way. We’ve seen a lot of this on Arrow and it’s effective because it’s clear what is going on without it being too graphic though it does go about as far as it can for a network TV show. James Remar’s performance sells both the pain and determination to resist that pain in order to protect those he cares about. Despite that it doesn’t take much for Proctor to connect Jeff to Black Lightning because he knows that Gambi helped raise Jeff after his father was murdered and suspects that Gambi is working with Black Lightning so its an easy conclusion to reach. Once again, Proctor is smart and that makes him dangerous because he has the resources to cause significant problems.
Jeff and Gambi’s relationship is still fractured after his confession. It seems that Jennifer forgiving him for his own dishonesty hasn’t been an inspiration for him to consider extending a similar understanding to Gambi so we have a temporary situation where Jeff insists that he is through with Gambi and he isn’t interested in being convinced otherwise. This feels strangely out of character for Jeff though it’s largely down to the show failing to fully convey the weight of that betrayal as Jeff hasn’t spent much time reflecting on it so it comes across as a stubborn refusal to forgive rather than a complete inability to trust his father figure.
The relationship is on the road to being repaired by the end of the episode when Jeff saves Gambi and sort of accepts his apology. It’s not a complete reconciliation but at least Jeff is at the point of being willing to talk to Gambi again. It does take the prospect of losing him to encourage this but it’s a step in the right direction. There are consequences to Jeff saving Gambi as doing so confirms Proctor’s suspicions about him being Black Lightning which allows the stakes to raise even further.
Lala’s efforts to run The 100 gang also create an opportunity for him to be haunted by his past. We have seen in previous episodes that a manifestation of LaWanda stays with him as a reminder of what he is done and as a representation of the fact that he will never escape his guilt. The same thing happens with Will (Dabier) in this episode who forms another tattoo on his chest and a secondary reminder that there are things he will never be able to make up for.
The handling of Lala at this point is really interesting as he is trying to get on with his life as it was before Tobias killed him and is trying to actively ignore his conscience. “Will” calls him out on his decision to kill the real Will but Lala is able to justify his action by insisting that Will had it coming. His face betrays no remorse for his actions even though there is some force at play whether it be inside his mind or some kind of external influence trying to make him consider the consequences of his actions. Dying didn’t seem to be enough to get Lala to change and for the moment the ghosts of murder victims past aren’t enough to encourage different life choices either so I wonder if the writers are setting Lala up as someone who can now never be redeemed because he has no capacity for compassion.
Another issue Lala faces is the gang potentially losing respect for him. They aren’t out selling drugs as per his orders because there is no Green Light to sell. Lala points out there are other drugs but his subordinates have lost faith in selling those because nobody seems to want them now that Green Light is on the market. Everyone sees Lala talking to himself and doubt whether he has what it takes to lead them any more forcing Lala to violently remind them that he’s still in charge. It’s an approach that seems to be working for now but their loyalty is motivated by fear rather than respect which will only take them so far. I get the impression that members of The 100 gang both fear and respect Tobias so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out once Tobias returns as it’s clear the gang are looking for strong leadership and at this point Lala just isn’t that.
As I’ve repeatedly mentioned in the past one of the best things about this show is that Freeland is much more than a backdrop for Black Lightning to fight criminals. It’s a fleshed out dynamic collection of communities with its own defined sense of identity. Young people taking and/or selling drugs is one of the most prominent systemic issues and this episode takes time to deal with that on a micro level.
Jeff uses the resources available to him as a school principal to offer a young boy named Malik (Caleb Thomas) a better alternative. He takes it upon himself to become his mentor in an effort to discourage him from a life of crime and give him the chance to make something of himself. This is something he has done many times in the past and shows that Jeff understands that there’s more to being a hero than punching bad guys. Black Lightning is a short term solution to specific problems but helping kids like Malik as Jefferson Pierce is how Freeland becomes better in the long term.
Malik is open to what Jeff has to offer after seeing the value of the educatiom being presented to him. The scene where Jeff shows him respect and lets the benefits of having an education sell themselves. It’s inspiring and adds to the tapestry that makes up Freeland as a setting.
Despite taking steps toward accepting her powers and understanding the reasons the truth was hidden from her, Jennifer is still struggling to accept her new reality and has no interest in having powers. Anissa doesn’t make her feel any better about it as she continues to tell Jennifer that she has a responsibility to use her powers to help people. It’s not a flaw in the writing as it’s easy to see why Anissa thinks that so her failing to realise that Jennifer is a very different person is a character flaw that she needs to overcome. The conversation becomes heated -literally- when Anissa calls out all of the things she has given up on from track to Khalil. It’s clear that the hits a nerve as it triggers her powers indicating that on some level Jennifer agrees with Anissa and dealing with that is partly responsible for her mndset. The best way to describe it is that Jennifer is ashamed of herself but isn’t prepared to admit it. I suspect her self confidence will develop along with her powers and build up to some sort of conclusion but I hope the show keeps Jennifer and Anissa’s views on having powers from becoming identical.
This episode does a great job with the superhero action. Jeff and Anissa have already built up a great rapport in the field using their powers to compliment one another seamlessly and working together as a well oiled duo. It’s a sign of a strong and respectful relationship that they are able to work together so effortlessly and the execution of the action in this episode was excellent from the visuals to the choreography.
Another excellent episode that focuses on character history as a motivating factor for the present. Gambi is tortured by his former associates and encouraged to give up the identity of Black Lightning which he refuses to do out of loyalty to Jeff. Proctor is able to make the connection and has it confirmed by the end of the episode but Gambi’s refusal to give Jeff up is a clear example of his loyalty. There is also the sense that he considers the torture to be his penance for the questionable choices he has made so feels that it is deserved. The rift between Gambi and Jeff starts to be resolved when Jeff saves his life which doesn’t carry the necessary weight as the show hasn’t really done the work to convey the weight of the betrayal.
Lala is really well handled with his past haunting him through the manifestations of guilt taking the form of the people he has killed. He refuses to accept the guilt and dismisses them though it’s clear that he’s denying how he really feels about what he has done. The added detail that the gang is losing faith in him because they can see him talking to himself is a nice touch as well and sets up an interesting problem when Tobias inevitably returns. Jeff becoming mentor to an underprivileged kid is a great way to develop Freeland as a fully fleshed out and dynamic setting. It also shows Jeff’s approach to improving the city as mentoring people to make something of themselves is a long term positive solution where Black Lightning is a short term solution to a specific problem. Jennifer’s reluctance to accept her powers is done really well by creating a conflict between her and Anissa who sees helping people as a responsibilty that comes with the powers. This is a character flaw for Anissa as she is unable to accept that Jennifer thinks differently which allows two different perspectives to come through. The handling of the action in this episode was great showing effortless teamwork between Anissa and Jeff who already work seamlessly together.
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