Black Lightning – Season 4 Episode 1
“The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter One: Collateral Damage”
Black Lightning returns for its fourth and final season that starts with reflecting on the events of the previous one to set up what the characters need to overcome.
I haven’t reviewed this show since just over midway through season two. Real life got on top of me to the point that something had to give and that something was unfortunately Black Lightning but I have since caught up with the show and on the whole I was very impressed by what the remainder of season two and season three did. This show is different to everything else in the Arrowverse with its more deliberate long form approach to storytelling. Breaking arcs up into “books” and the episodes making up chapters in them clearly indicates that individual episodes are designed to be considered in relation to the book that they belong to. It’s a refreshing approach that definitely works and the writing is sophisticated enough for the individual episodes to feel meaningful. It’s not something that would work for every Arrowverse show but it gives Black Lightning an identity all its own and there is the constant suggestion of purpose to the way the show is structured.
Last season dealt with an occupied Freeland and the battle to reclaim it from the ASA while also dealing with the Markovian threat. The collective efforts of the main characters allowed them to liberate Freeland but things are far from back to normal. This episode focuses on the aftermath of those events and the baggage that weighs heavily on everyone. Jefferson is the central figure with everyone else orbiting him in one way or another. He begins the season at Henderson’s grave with an inverted camera clearly indicating that his life has been turned upside down. Jefferson is sombre and reflective with no clear direction to follow due to the hopelessness that comes with losing such a dear friend. It is very quickly established that he is rapidly losing patience and no longer sees the value of restraint. This is exemplified through him using his powers on two police officers harassing a young black teen. It’s something he has seen in Freeland countless times and always had a very particular way of dealing with it but now he lacks the patience and goes on the attack with his powers without taking due care or exercising any sort of restraint. He does fry their cameras, and erase their memories but fails to consider the surrounding cameras that so easily implicate him.
This combined with him definitively stating that “Black Lightning is dead” establishes Jefferson as being without hope as the season begins. He no longer sees the value in what he was doing to protect Freeland and operates in something of a daze. Taking action to protect a harassed teen is something he talks about as being a reflex action which reinforces Jefferson’s innate urge to help where he can. The difference for now is how he goes about it; there’s no finesse to what he does to the cops nor is there any real concern about the personal consequences because he i a man who has given up hope and has no desire to get back to the person he was before. This is furthered in the brutal way he deals with the member of the 100 gang that shot Jennifer. He’s merciless and uncompromising with no measure of sympathy or restraint to his actions. It’s very clear he associates those actions with Jefferson Pierce as he has no interest in becoming Black Lightning again at this point. He stands to lose everything that he built as Jefferson if he continues along these lines.
There are a number of factors influencing this with the most significant being his relationship with his family. A Couples Counselling session sets this up by establishing that in the time since the occupation Lynn and Jefferson have drifted further and further apart to the point that there’s a lack of effective communication between them. This episode picks up a year after the end of the previous season and that has been more than enough time to intensify the rift that appeared within what was once an unshakeable family unit. Everyone has their own baggage that they’re failing to deal with properly and the result is complete dysfunction. Lynn references a complete loss of intimacy caused by Jefferson’s lack of emotional availability and Jefferson talks about feeling abandoned by Lynn as well as having daughters who refuse to listen to him. In effect Jefferson feels useless because his family are indicating to him that they don’t need him and when this is combined with the feeling of being no benefit to Freeland as Black Lightning it just means hopelessness.
Gambi does try to snap him out of it by pointing out that his family are looking to him as something to aspire to so if he fails to be the best version of himself then they will also fail to be the best version of themselves. It makes sense with Jefferson being the lead in the show to have him positioned in this way but also makes sense in universe as he is the head of his family so needs to get back to being focused on setting that example. He sees Lynn, Anissa and Jennifer as being off on their own journeys that don’t involve him and he has no idea what to do to get through to them. Some of it will involve understanding their points of view and the rest will likely be showing them the road to a better way but until he’s willing to put the work in nothing will happen. It’s a fascinating dynamic and Gambi being on the fringes of it offering “tell it like it us” style support is the right place for him to be. Gambi is a character who operates on the fringes generally and having him be part of the Pierce family while having that outsider perspective provides clarity that otherwise wouldn’t exist. The time spent on suggesting a different job for Gambi to do within the city was obvious setup for later episodes but came across as superfluous in this one.
One of the few scenes where most of the family was present resulted in a heated argument. Tobias Whale appearing on TV talking about how he has made it his mission to use his wealth and resources to restore Freeland prompts strong opinions especially from Anissa. Her argument is that Tobias deserves to die because of the threat he represents. Her desire for vengeance is at least partly prompted by having to deal with Grace being in a coma for the past year and it puts her in a similar emotional place to Jefferson when the show began. Black Lightning’s original purpose was to kill Tobias and over time it became so much more than that. Jefferson moved beyond his desire to end Tobias’ life because he realised it wasn’t going to solve anything and it wasn’t something he was capable doing. Anissa’s different in that she has taken lives so currently doesn’t see a problem with taking more when it services what she considers to be the greater good. Jennifer isn’t present to speak for herself at that point but she shares Anissa’s sentiments so Jefferson has an added problem of bloodthirsty daughters who are unwilling to even consider his outlook on the situation.
It can’t be denied that Tobias is a major threat. That has always been the case but that threat has intensified because he knows who they all are which means it’s only a matter of time before his influence allows him within striking distance. This happens sooner than expected when he donates a large sum of money to her lab in order to get closer to her which naturally raises a few red flags. She does have protection for now considering how well known she is in that place and Tobias’ clear desire to maintain a positive public image. This still heightens the tension considerably because it’s unclear exactly what Tobias wants. It also provided ample opportunity for Lynn and Tobias to interact, Their scenes were always really strong last season so having their back and forth develop is most likely a very good thing.
Lynn has her own issues to deal with in the form of her addiction and her denial about it. She has convinced herself that her dependency is in the name of research. It’s a problem that looks like it will continue to escalate as the perceived need for more data increases. For now she’s noting information following taking vigilante action of her own while being ignorant to the impact it’s having on her overall. The impact this has is far reaching as shown in the way she interacts with Jefferson and the effect this has on her mental state will continue to intensify.
Jennifer and Anissa have firmly stepped into the vigilante role with an ongoing campaign to keep Freeland safe from the 100 gang. On the surface this seems positive as they’re going out there at night in costume and putting a stop to criminal activity but there are concerns within that mostly where Jennifer is concerned. She has become arrogant because she believes her power can’t be matched and is becoming reckless as a result. There’s a violent edge to the way they go about bringing down the gang members that could be considered excessive. This ties into Anissa’s willingness to kill Tobias as well as Jennifer’s history with lethal force. It is strongly suggested that they are comfortable with crossing a line that will end up consuming them with the added problem of Jennifer’s reckless behaviour causing them issues.
It’s also worth considering that they are actively escalating a conflict without managing it properly. The situations they deal with are relatively random so there’s no real sight on a larger objective which means all they’re doing is aggravating a gang with a lot of resources. It takes almost no time for Lala to want to deal with this problem and break out the anti-meta weaponry. Naturally Jennifer’s reckless and careless approach to crime fighting sets her up perfectly to be injured. It appears to be fine after her healing factor kicks in but it’s a symptom of a larger problem and a strong suggestion that her attitude will create more issues for her down the line. The episode ends with her powers failing her before she falls out of the sky so there is a consequence for her carelessness and it remains unclear whether it’s something she will learn from. Jennifer has previously shown that she doesn’t easily learn from mistakes so it’s possible she’ll conclude that this was simply bad luck and continue to assume that she’s practically invincible. Between that and Anissa’s unchecked rage due to Grace’s condition they are far from the most effective crime fighting duo.
Freeland has always been a character within the show treated with the same importance the others are. This episode continues that trend by devoting a lot of time to the state of Freeland following the occupation and war as well as how the death of Henderson changes the city that he leaves behind. His successor is Chief Ana Lopez (Melissa De Sousa); a woman with a very clear agenda when it comes to metahumans. She wants every meta in Freeland catalogued with clear visibility of their power levels. This is all in the name of keeping people safe and it makes a degree of sense that some people might think upon those lines. If you consider metahuman abilities to be a weapon that people carry then having them registered makes sense in the same way that people might be licensed to drive a car or carry a gun. Fans of X-Men will be familiar with this mindset as it comes up in the films or comics periodically.
The argument is rooted in super powers being dangerous and there should be things in place to limit that danger wherever possible. One of the major problems with that thinking is that people choose to be licensed to drive or chose to get a license that allows them to carry a gun but the super powers aren’t something that they chose to have. For many they are a curse because they’re difficult to control for example so having to add yourself to a government database because of something that was done to you is a terrifying prospect. Those without powers do want to feel safe but those with powers want to live their lives without being controlled in the way that mandatory registration mandates. The show is very much at the beginning of this debate with it only being brought up in Lopez’ speech but the implications of it already carry weight and there’s a lot of scope for different viewpoints to be explored. It didn’t need to be raised in this episode as there wasn’t enough time to do any more than that but it’s interesting nonetheless.
Lopez is a really complex character so far. She is introduced as the public official with a clear agenda and is later shown to be very personable with a great deal of humanity when she is interacting with Jefferson at the school. It would have been easy to depict her as the less ideal version of Henderson acting as a complication to vigilante activities in the city and leave it at that but there’s a clear intention to make her a complex figure within the DNA of the show as it exists now which is certainly welcomed.
Another major figure in post Henderson Freeland is Detective Hassan Shakur (Wallace Smith). He contacts Black Lightning using Henderson’s phone to set up a meeting and offer his support. Like Lopez he’s a complex character as he had trouble deciding if he hated Black Lightning along with every other vigilante or recognised that they’re a necessary force within Freeland as Henderson did. This explains why he waited a year to reach out as that was how long it took for him to resolve these feelings but he still has a degree of uncertainty around his decision to reach out and seems ready to end this alliance at the first sign of trouble. This establishes him as an interesting ally for Jefferson when he inevitably resumes his role as Black Lightning as there will be constant challenges associated with their connection.
There is a built in contrast as Shakur is wary of Jefferson after immediately catching onto the fact that he’s lying about his involvement in the incident involving the two cops. He doesn’t have enough information to draw a connection between Jefferson and Black Lightning but his instincts are sharp enough to pick up on the fact that he’s being less than truthful. It could be interesting to see Shakur support Jefferson as Black Lightning while working to find evidence that incriminates Jefferson without realising the connection. It’s not an uncommon plot to find in a superhero property but when handled well it can be really compelling. It’s also worth noting that Henderson’s function within the show is filled by two characters which subtly speaks to Henderson’s importance since no one person could take his place.
A strong opening to the season that sets up the expected character arcs well, establishes some important narrative through lines and consistently plays to the show’s strengths. Jefferson starting the season bereft of hope in the wake of the occupation, the war and the death of Henderson sets up a clear arc for him to progress through. The impact this has on the way he conducts himself is used well with his careless attitude creating unintended consequences for him while also positioning him as a man who has given up because he feels like a failure. His family feed into this with Lynn distanced from him and his daughters refusing to listen to what guidance he has to offer. Gambi tries to help by pointing out that his family look to him for guidance so being hopeful is what he needs to be so that they can follow his example but he’s not in the right emotional state to accept that. Lynn remains in denial about her addiction which affects her considerably and there’s a really heated discussion where Anissa makes it clear that she would rather see Tobias dead because of the threat he represents. This puts her in a similar mindset to Jefferson when the show started clearly setting up her journey to realising that her desire for revenge won’t get her anywhere just as he did but she’s far from realising that particularly when distracted by Grace being in a coma for a year. Anissa and Jennifer are working together as vigilantes against the 100 gang which seems to be a good thing on the surface but actually has its own problems as there’s no strategy to their heroics so they are inviting retaliation. Lala very quickly wants to put a stop to it and Jennifer’s overconfidence means that she gets hurt while Anissa’s anger results in a really violent approach. Tobias’ reintroduction as the saviour of Freeland sets up an interesting conflict and having him force himself into a situation where he directly interacts with Lynn allows their strong dynamic to continue.
The introduction of Henderson’s successor, Chief Ana Lopez is promising so far as she’s a public official with a clear anti-meta agenda but also appears very personable when interacting with Jefferson. She will likely be an antagonist of sorts with her vendetta against metahumans and her desire to have them all registered with clear indicators of their power levels but there will definitely be layers to the character that may go some way towards justifying her views. The argument around metahumans and whether they should be registered probably didn’t need to be raised in this episode considering how busy it was otherwise but it remains interesting nonetheless. Detective Hassan Shakur is also a compelling character as a potential ally for Black Lightning as well as an obstacle for Jefferson. Such dynamics are common in superhero properties but can be compelling when done well. Shakur is interesting because his views on vigilantes are already complex so there’s potential for him to aid as well as challenge Jefferson when he inevitably resumes his role as Black Lightning. This was a very tight episode with a lot to offer but it still contained minor superfluous elements such as setting up a potential new job for Gambi.
- a clear arc for Jefferson to follow
- Jefferson’s hopelessness mirrored in those around him
- Lynn’s denial over her addiction and the depiction of the rift that exists between her and Jefferson
- Anissa’s violent streak being well justified
- Jennifer’s arrogance having clear consequences
- providing an opportunity for the Tobias/Lynn dynamic to continue
- Chief Lopez being introduced as a compelling and complex character
- Detective Shakur already having a complicated dynamic with Jefferson in both identities
- Chief Lopez’ bringing up an issue that could have waited until there was more time for a proper introduction
- Gambi’s job offer feeling superfluous
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