Black Lightning – Season 1 Episode 8
“The Book of Revelations”
Black Lightning focuses on Anissa’s training as a number of long buried secrets that could change the Pierce family threaten to become known.
It should be obvious by now that family is at the core of this show and will inform the bulk of every episode in some fundamental way. After coming to the realisation that there was no way to prevent Anissa putting herself in danger when trying to use her powers to help people. This episode is focusing on him showing her how to be a hero and making sure she’s prepared for what she’s likely to face out there.
Jeff’s dynamic with both of his daughters has always been interesting and the superhero training takes his relationship with Anissa in compelling directions. The first thing to note is that Jeff is trying not to be overprotective and let their familial connection get in the way. His approach is the same as it would be for any of his students which makes him an effective teacher as the lessons are both practical and realistic. It’s a complex attitude because he doesn’t let their familial connection get in the way but he doesn’t forget it either. He keeps reminding her that everything he is teaching her is so that she is kept safe and prepared for everything that can come her way.
The holographic training is to test her ability to identify and deal with threats while also teach her an important lesson about what actually makes a threat. She makes the mistake of attacking a holographic white male in an offensive T-shirt because he’s clearly a racist. Anissa sees that as a threat but Jeff reminds her that just because he shares a different point of view doesn’t mean that he’s a direct threat to her. Black Lightning’s ethos is about saving all innocents even if they have an alternative viewpoint. This turns out to be the beginning of a theme that carries through the episode. The theme is indirect threats and how they are constantly lurking beneath the surface. Anissa’s pre-emptive action against the hologram of a racist white man shows her capacity to anticipate indirect threats which comes up again when she has insight Jeff lacks and uses that to save his life when he wanders into a potentially deadly situation based on his own instincts.
Indirect threats crop up here and there throughout as well such as Gambi’s associate Martin (Gregg Henry) who clearly has no respect for the people of Freeland who he sees as nothing more than an experiment. Martin’s world view is that makes him dangerous as his disrespect for others means that he doesn’t treat them as people. The same sort of idea applies to the holographic man that Anissa attacks because she sees what he represents as the threat. She considers someone who publicly promotes hate and intolerance to be a threat which ties in with her background in activism and offers something unique that she brings to the hero table that her father doesn’t.
When Jeff realises this he reacts with intense pride and excitement. He mentioned last week that he wants Anissa to be better than he is and this tells him that she’s capable of being a more effective hero than he ever could be. When training her he failed to factor in that she was different to him in the way she reads people.
Jeff also gives her a hard time with the intention of teaching her a lesson. He’s very tongue in cheek about it because he knows that she’s taking the training seriously so he can afford to help her arrive at lessons without dictating to her. One such example is the way he directly questions her about her limits by pointing out everything she doesn’t know about herself. Listing it so completely helps her realise how dangerous that lack of knowledge is because she could end up in a life threatening situation after assuming that her powers would be enough to deal with it. Such thinking is very dangerous and Jeff helps her realise this. Another example is when he makes her consider how much force she should apply to take down a wall which teaches her that brute strength isn’t enough as she also has to make intelligent use of it. Anissa’s eyes are opened to everything it takes to become a superhero and she takes in everything she learns.
The training also allows Anissa to learn more about Jeff specifically around what led him to be the hero he is today. This provides insight into Jeff for the audience as well and fills in some of the gaps about his backstory. What gave him his powers isn’t revealed though we do learn that he doesn’t know where they came from so it makes sense that this isn’t discussed. Like Anissa Jeff simply realised that he had powers one day and then took a long time to decide to become Black Lightning. Gambi was the one to train him which we already knew but the fact that Gambi trained him before he learned that he had powers is new information. The way this show teases back story and reveals it only when relevant is very refreshing as it immediately makes it more organic than stopping the plot to fill in character backgrounds. For this show the present day is the most important thing but it is informed by the past.
Lynn’s research into what Jeff’s father was looking into leads her to discover that the sample that accompanied his notes shares the same active ingredients as Green Light which means that the present day version is a refinement of a project from long ago. This makes her, Jeff and Anissa aware of a conspiracy that people have worked very hard to bury which naturally increases the stakes for them but also affects them personally.
Jeff’s suggestion to speak to Gambi to see what she finds out ends up being the start of long buried secrets becoming known. It has been clear since very early on that Gambi is lying to Jeff about what is really going on but what hasn’t been obvious is the reason he does this.
Even Gambi’s version of honesty is very selective as his confession to Jeff doesn’t feel anywhere near like the whole story. It comes across as a selective compromise that gives him enough without revealing everything. Gambi coming to Freeland as part of an organisation known as the A.S.A. who used it as a test bed for a drug designed to make people more docile. There’s a lot of precedent for similar social experiments in the real world which makes this nefarious plan feel more real while still allowing for a decent comic book style conspiracy. It appears that Gambi’s conscience gets in the way when he realises that the drug both creates metahumans and kills children and he chooses to leak that information to Jeff’s father. This ultimately led to his father being killed which is something that weighs heavily on Gambi.
His way of making up for that was to vow to protect the family that was left behind. He took Jeff under his wing, trained him and hid him from those looking to study him and cause him harm. In effect Gambi has been playing both sides for a very long time and I get the impression that he’s lost sight of what the “right” one is. At this point he seems to be juggling a lot of volatile things and is just waiting for one of them to blow up in his face.
Jeff is understandably devastated by Gambi’s confession as he feels heavily betrayed by the man he regarded as a father figure for pretty much his entire life. I suspect he will eventually realise that Gambi’s intentions were honourable and that there’s no way he could have predicted that leaking the information would end up the way it did but the sting of being lied to for such a long time may not be easily forgiven. Using this as the emotional cliffhanger of the episode was a great decision because it raises a lot of questions around how Jeff will choose to proceed.
There’s a lot more to Gambi’s role than Jeff knows about and the writers are teasing this expertly. His motivation remains murky but it’s clear that he feels Green Light has to be a fixture in Freeland because otherwise the A.S.A. will step in and that will somehow be worse. He tried to ensure this would happen by maintaining a professional relationship with Lady Eve who controlled the distribution of the drug while understanding that Freeland is a delicate ecosystem that needs to be managed carefully. Now that she’s dead it appears that everything Gambi put in place is starting to crumble and he’s unsure what his next move should be. Of course this analysis could all prove to be incorrect once more is revealed but the writers are delivering enough information each week to generate theories and develop Gambi’s true nature. It also adds extra weight to his enigmatic nature in prior episodes and grounding his actions in the father/son connection he shares with Jeff is the right move to help humanise the character.
Lala’s surprise resurrection in the previous episode is slightly developed here by having him make his presence known once again and generally get used to no longer being dead. He’s portrayed as someone struggling to maintain his sanity which makes sense given that he was dead until recently and is being haunted by the woman he murdered who encourages him not to trust anyone. Lala’s appearance is all questions and no answers. LaWanda’s presence is a surprise to him and it’s far from clear what she is other than a representation of his guilt and an external force encouraging his paranoia. Whatever she is only he can see her which raises its own set of questions. Seeing him cry at the end of the episode when she disappears as she kisses him shows that being resurrected is something he’s having difficulty processing and constant reminders of the murder he committed aren’t making things any easier. These scenes are a little bit repetitive but beyond that Lala’s return starts strongly.
Jennifer’s powers begin to manifest in this outing. I suspected she would inherit abilities as well but I didn’t think it would be this soon. Her powers activate in a moment of panic when she thinks her best friend is going to end up seriously hurt. This mirrors Anissa somewhat but also offers a unique spin that works for Jennifer. Afterwards her reaction shifts to shock as she ties to make it happen again to prove that she isn’t going crazy. Once she’s sure of what she can do she immediately goes to Anissa to look for help. Jeff and Lynn clearly raised their daughters to look out for one another and be honest about major developments in her life. No matter how much they wind each other up Jennifer feels that she can go to Anissa for help. This also happens much more quickly than I would have expected which is good because it avoids the tedious secret keeping that bogs down so many of these narratives. Jennifer has a problem and looks to her family for support which is a very reasonable reaction.
This will hopefully pull her out from the sidelines and make her a more active participant in the series as a whole. Showing that she is aware that there’s something going on that she isn’t being told about is a great piece of characterisation as it shows how well the family know one another but it’s not something that could endure forever and Jennifer’s powers could be just what she needed to bring her into the fold and provide opportunity for yet another fresh perspective on superheroes.
An excellent episode that develops the characters, key relationships, Gambi’s motivations and teases compelling things yet to come. Jeff training Anissa is an excellent story as it covers a lot of ground concerning what it means to be a hero. He challenges her to question her own limits, identify threats and improve her reflexes so that she’s ready for anything. Jeff is also impressed when she demonstrates a greater level of insight than he does and uses that to great effect. Gambi’s unclear motivations are used to great effect when he’s forced to confess part of the story to Jeff while leaving much of it unsaid. There’s still a lot of mystery to the character though it seems like he has been struggling to play both sides for a long time now and Freeland is beginning to crumble after the death of Lady Eve.
The return of Lala brings with it a lot of questions and his interactions with the disembodied LaWanda are really interesting especially when taking into account that only he can see her. She could be a manifestation of his guilt or something more than that. The scenes are somewhat repetitive but Lala’s difficulty dealing with being alive once again makes for an interesting addition. Jennifer’s powers manifesting and her near instant decision to tell Anissa potentially brings her into the fold and stops her being a passive participant in the overall story while showing how strong the family dynamic is in the Pierce household.
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