Black Lightning – Season 4 Episode 3
“The Book of Reconstruction Chapter 3: Despite All My Rage…”
Black Lightning delivers a fight club episode as Lynn starts to understand the root of her addiction and Jennifer worries about her public image.
It’s fair to say that the final season so far has been a slow burn but that’s not a bad thing in this case as there’s a real focus on the consequences of the events of the previous season and the lingering long term effects they have on the characters who experienced them. There are obvious visual consequences such as Grace remaining in a coma as well as strong emotional impact rippling through the Pierce family. They are far from a cohesive family unit with underlying issues pushing them apart and a long way to go before they go back to some level of unity.
This is best exemplified by Jefferson and Lynn’s continued arguments over largely the same things. Jefferson continues to berate her about her addiction and the excuses she makes for it. He takes an aggressive stance and reminds Lynn that she’s not actually a Metahuman and isn’t like the rest of her family in that respect. Lynn offers the ultimatum of stopping her vigilante activities if he returns to his role as Black Lightning and Jefferson calls her a hypocrite for opposing his activities for years only to be championing them now. There are mitigations behind all of this and neither party is willing to try to understand where the other is coming from. Everyone is so focused on their own pain that they are unable to properly consider what others are going through which causes serious communication problems.
Steps forward are made by both Jefferson and Lynn inspired by their unique experiences. Jefferson still resists the idea of resuming his roll as Black Lightning but when he learns that Marcel has become involved in a fight club run by Lala he can’t help but get involved. Even though he has lost a lot of hope and no longer sees the value in Black Lightning his urge to help people remains strong. Marcel is connected to Garfield and Jefferson has spent a lot of time making Garfield a safe place for all connected to it. I mentioned in in my review of the previous episode that Marcel was an excellent case study for the problems being faced by the people of Freeland following an occupation and War and his contribution to this episode continues that. He gets involved in the fight club -genre shows usually get around to this plot eventually- because winning makes him more money than he’d get through legal means and he needs it to get his life back together. His children have been taken from him by child services, he has lost his son and he has nowhere to live so things look incredibly bleak for him. His involvement in the fight club doesn’t make him a bad person but it does make him a desperate one and the implication is that there are a lot of cases like his throughout Freeland.
Jefferson steps in and wins a fight on his behalf in order to free him from this dangerous life he has decided to live. He gives Marcel a place to stay in the form of his father’s old house and offers to use his clout to help with Child Services when Marcel feels ready to pursue that. In effect Jefferson uses his resources to give a man who needs it hope and stability. By itself this doesn’t solve the problems plaguing Freeland but equally it does help one person who needs it which is a start. It helps Jefferson see the world a little more positively as he was able to help someone as Jefferson Pierce in a way that feels better to him than anything he ever did as Black Lightning. It’s enough for him to conclude at least for the moment that Black Lightning is dead and never coming back. Of course that won’t be the end of it as there is likely to be an arc geared towards finding balance between the Jefferson Pierce and Black Lightning personas upcoming.
In the early days of the show Jefferson was heavily fixated on the people he could help as a high school Principal and prominent public figure. Early on he talked about helping more people in that role than he ever did as a vigilante. Of course circumstances led him to conclude that a return to that life was required but for now he seems to be getting back in the space of recognising what he can do as a person of influence which is certainly a positive step and possibly moves him away from doling out savage beatings as punishment.
Curiously Gambi is constantly fixated on making sure that Jefferson never turns his back on Black Lightning. This makes sense as he sees the value Black Lightning has as a symbol within Freeland though it has always been oddly ignorant of what Jefferson wants from life. It makes sense from Gambi’s point of view as he has always lived a double life and he seems to have a solid grasp on the boundaries he sets himself but also has a blind spot when it comes to others not finding it as easy. He does offer unconditional support to Jefferson and the rest of his family but he continues to push Jefferson in the direction of Black Lightning even though he has no current interest in pursuing that. Arguably him becoming a positive force in Freeland using his influence is enough for now with the rest possibly coming later. Unfortunately it isn’t a debate the show seems interested in having at this point even though it is prominently featured while being ignored.
Much of Gambi’s contribution to the episode focuses on the energy weapons that threaten Metahumans. He “borrows” one and learns that it’s far more dangerous than Lauren led him to believe. A direct hit tears through the original Black Lightning suit which clearly tells him that there’s currently no defence against this threat. Lauren mentions it being rolled out to law enforcement so there’s clear cause for concern there as they have been frequently depicted to be incredibly trigger happy and having questionable morality at best. Gambi’s biggest fear is that a blood bath is in the offing and he isn’t entirely sure what can be done to prevent it but as with everything he approaches it methodically so will arrive at an answer eventually. Hopefully before it’s too late.
Lynn opens up in therapy about coming from a military family and being told to stay away from that life because she wasn’t one of them. In hear head it’s disturbingly similar to what Jefferson, Anissa and Jennifer have been saying to her and making that connection helps her realise that the root of her addiction is feeling ostracised from her family unit. Feeling that way makes her take extreme actions to feel more connected to her family unit whether that be her parents of her husband and kids. Her realisation of that pattern of behaviour makes for an important step forward in her repairing those relationships as well as her own mental state. Her willingness to meet Jefferson for dinner and start down the road to a shared understanding shows how effective that realisation is but there is also recognition that a lot needs to be done in order to repair the fractured relationship.
Her interaction with Anissa and Jennifer highlights that the realisation by itself isn’t enough to repair things. There is still a tension associated with how they interact and her dismissive comments over Jennifer’s actions in the field as well as the perceived inability to change public perception of Lightning are definitely less than helpful. It’s easy to see why Jennifer felt that Anissa and Lynn were ganging up on her in this instance and Jennifer does make some reasonable points about Anissa not exactly being in the best position to be advising her on lessening collateral damage.
Jennifer takes a lot of positive steps when it comes to improving her image and fighting back against the manufactured narrative the news is presenting about her heroics. She tracks down the original footage and distributes it herself in order to show what really happened. Using her own social media presence as Lightning she is in better control of the narrative and highlights the fiction that the mainstream media has created in order to paint her in a particular light. Jennifer is best placed to carry this story as she has been established as an avid user of social media so is in the best position to understand it. Her ability to manipulate it in order to change the narrative in her favour shows her understanding of how that works as well as her commitment to making sure the truth is known. Superheroes and their relationship to social media isn’t something I’ve seen a lot of and it’s interesting to set this up as an avenue for Jennifer to develop particularly with her currently feeling that her civilian identity isn’t as important as her vigilante one. It’s possible a social media presence and control of that could be her way of finding balance or it could be a distraction on the road to her family reconciling their differences.
Other than arguing with Jennifer, Anissa has a really positive experience when Grace wakes up. Prior to that she talks about how proud she is of what she did in terms of creating a safe space within Freeland for the homeless using her intelligence and a minimum of violence. Even though Grace is unresponsive Anissa clearly feels that the benefit in thinking out loud because it helps her resolve what she is dealing with. It’s a strong scene that summarises what she did while also detailing her emotional reaction to it.
Grace waking up is definitely a good thing but things move far too quickly from there. Instead of taking the time to reflect on such a happy event Anissa rushes straight to the point of them getting married in the hospital without witnesses and dismisses Grace’s concerns because she is so caught up in the romance of the moment. Wanting to formalise her commitment to Grace after they were prevented from doing so before makes sense and the mention of not wanting to add to the very full plates of the rest of her family is reasonable at least from her perspective but from a narrative point of view this could have waited as there’s no time to take stock of the fact that Grace is back and perhaps get her perspective on the year she has missed out on. That can still come and the hasty approach to the marriage will likely feature prominently in future episodes but the whole approach to Grace waking up quickly transitioning to a marriage was far from well handled.
Tobias is very much playing the long game in a number of respects. He promised to take everything that Jefferson holds dear away from him and he starts to make inroads towards doing that here. His meeting with the Mayor where he makes a case for diverting city funds away from Garfield in favour of a new hospital shows how powerful a weapon philanthropy can be when deployed in the right way. He also casually threatens the Mayor while calling Jefferson’s reputation into question by highlighting the horrible things that have happened under his watch while neglecting to mention that he was responsible for many of them. Framed a certain way it’s easy to paint Jefferson in a negative light and it could result in consequences for him that means he loses that part of his life.
Another thing Tobias is going after is Lynn but not in a way that directly endangers her at this point. Instead he appeals to her fixation on her “otherness” by making it clear that he wants her intelligence and knowledge so that she can find a cure for ALS. The catch is that he wants her fully committed to that project and in exchange he promises continued funding for her institute. From a professional point of view this is difficult for Lynn to refuse because there’s so much more at stake than her principles. By doing what Tobias asks she could end up finding a cure that will benefit countless people and ensure that her colleagues continue to be employed. Her hatred for Tobias is obvious and she has an awareness of an additional agenda on his part but it’s hard to deny that Tobias is playing a very shrewd game and seems to be completely on top of things for now.
A strong episode that allows Jefferson and Lynn to move forward in positive directions, finds Jennifer a natural niche to explore and shows how delightfully philanthropic Tobias’ current brand of villainy is. Jefferson and Lynn are initially depicted as being completely at odds with neither party willing to understand where the other is coming from which causes significant communication problems. Both take important steps forward in their own way with Jefferson feeling positive after helping Marcel largely using his resources as Jefferson Pierce rather than Black Lightning which helps him conclude that there’s no need for Black Lightning any more. Curiously Gambi continues to encourage him to embrace his vigilante identity because of the value that brings to Freeland but he seems strangely ignorant of Jefferson’s lack of comfort with that. It makes sense from Gambi’s point of view but there’s a debate in the background that there doesn’t seem to be much interest in exploring. Lynn’s realisation comes when she confesses in therapy that she felt othered from her family growing up because they were in the military and didn’t believe her to be cut out for it. The same has happened in adulthood with the rest of her family being Metahumans and she realises that the pattern of behaviour is repeating and is the root of her addiction. It’s an important realisation that motivates her to find a way to beat it but her argument with her daughters indicates that there’s a long road to travel.
Jennifer taking control of the narrative around her public perception by releasing footage that sets the story straight in regards to her vigilante activities is an interesting angle for her. It has been previously established that she understands social media and refining her focus to be about the truth being out there in opposition to the preferred mainstream media angle aligns with Jennifer’s current rejection of her civilian identity in favour of the vigilante one. This could be her way to find balance between the two and it’s a relatively unexplored angle in a superhero story. Anissa’s strongest scene was when she talked to Grace while Grace was still in a coma to reflect on her actions in the previous episode and relay how proud she was of what she accomplished. It serves as both a reminder of those events as well as detailing her emotional reaction to it. Grace waking up is definitely a positive event but everything around it is dealt with in a really strange way. Rushing into the marriage aspect even with all the surrounding justification is really jarring as there is no time to take stock of her return to consciousness. It’s oddly rushed and would have benefited from a slower pace. Tobias using philanthropy to further his villainous agenda works really well especially when threatening the Mayor to divert funds from Garfield while calling Jefferson’s reputation into question. Appealing to Lynn to do what she does best as a contrast to feeling like an outsider in her own family is another strong act on his part and puts her in a difficult position where other people potentially suffer if she gives into her hatred of him. She is also in a position to benefit countless people. There’s no denying that Tobias is playing a very shrewd game and using his position brilliantly.
- Jefferson finding hope by helping someone using the resources available to him in his civilian identity
- Marcel continuing to be an effective case study for the impact of recent events on people in Freeland
- Lynn coming to an important realisation as to the source of her addiction
- Jennifer controlling the narrative around the public perception of Lightning using her knowledge of social media
- Anissa reflecting on what she is proud of by talking to the comatose Grace
- Tobias using philanthropy to further his villainous agenda by starting to chip away at what Jefferson has
- Tobias manipulating Lynn by appealing to her desire to be wanted for what she can offer
- Lynn being in a difficult position following Tobias’ offer
- failing to recognise the debate underpinning Gambi’s ignorance of Jefferson’s desire to leave Black Lightning behind
- the rushed nature to Grace’s awakening leading directly to the wedding
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