Black Lightning – Season 4 Episode 9
“The Book of Ruin: Chapter Four: Lyding”
Black Lightning continues to make life very difficult for the Pierce family as various setbacks come their way in line with Tobias’ plan.
“The Book of Ruin” continues to be an appropriate title for this particular arc as the Pierce family are finding their lives being systematically ruined with everything they hold dear being taken away from them. A nightmare sequence opens the episode where Lynn traps her family inside the lab before gassing them to remove their powers. This ties in with her desire to have a normal family life free of the increasingly strange problems that continue to plague them. She is told by her therapist that the nightmare may be her subconscious trying to tell her that she doesn’t need to fix her family and any attempt to do so could end up hurting them. Lynn has been struggling with various things over an extended period of time with a desire to shape her family in a particular way being one of them. On an intellectual level she has come to realise that attempting to control them isn’t healthy but the nightmare indicates that she still struggles with that desire.
This feeds into various other aspects of the episode in that she starts to lose control of a lot of things. Having here lab access revoked and her research taken represents a significant loss in identity for her. On some level she defined herself through her work so to lose that is a crippling prospect for her. Tobias pointed out in an earlier episode that her scientific ability was her version of a super power and it’s something that makes her stand out from the rest of her family. Prior to this point Jefferson and Lynn thought they were using her role at the lab to spy on Tobias without realising just how much control he had over it. All Lynn was doing was following the steps that Tobias wanted her to and now that she has outlived her usefulness she is casually cast aside while her name is dragged through the mud. Her clearance being revoked is because of planted evidence that Jefferson’s embezzled money was used to fund her research which leaves a very distinct paper trail that points to abuse of position on their part.
Lynn’s arrest results in a really harrowing sequence where she is strip-searched on Tobias’ orders. Christine Adams’ performance is excellent as Lynn has her dignity taken away from her and laid bare for the officer to scrutinise her. This is truly her at her lowest point with everything that defines her literally stripped away from her. She has lost her job, her freedom and has to endure the humiliating ritual of being strip-searched when she knows she has done nothing wrong. It’s a further reminder of how powerful Tobias is and how much influence he commands. Everything is going according to plan for him and there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop him.
There is some hope through the intervention of Khalil/Painkiller who tracks down some of Tobias’ henchmen so he can find the location of a hidden ledger that proves Tobias framed Jefferson. The duality between Khalil and Painkiller showcased in the backdoor pilot episode is continued here and reinforces the engaging dynamic that exists between the two distinct personas. In essence they adopt a good cop/bad cop approach where Painkiller does all the violent deeds and Khalil acts as the angel on his shoulder encouraging him to exercise restraint so that he can get results but Painkiller’s interpretation of the situation remains different and ends up getting the desired result. There’s weight to their actions because of their prior connection to Tobias and their desire to bring him down for their own reasons while also having a close connection to the Pierce family even though programming makes it dangerous for Painkiller to be around them. Every character appears due for a reckoning with Tobias before the credits roll on the final episode with plenty of animosity to go around.
Tobias is used in a really interesting way in this episode. Much of the focus on him is around his way of honouring his dead sister. He has always been a layered antagonist and his relationship with his sister is one of the few genuine connections that he had. There was a vulnerability to him when around him -at least by his standards- and it was clear that he cared deeply for her so that loss impacted him greatly. There’s a suggestion that everything he is doing is in some way motivated by that loss based on the scene where he visits the shrine though that doesn’t quite add up as there are numerous examples of him having a wide range of desires though it does makes sense that he would blame the Pierce family for Tori’s death. It’s a visually striking scene that raises the stakes significantly through the montage of Jefferson, Anissa and Jennifer all losing their powers at less than ideal times. This marks another loss for the Pierce family who now have their powers taken from them. TC also finds himself powerless so Tobias has what appears to be an insurmountable advantage.
The episode is light on content for Anissa but she finds herself in the midst of a rapidly escalating situation. Darius tells her that he has been locked out of the database containing the information about the fake cystic fibrosis treatment. He’s incredibly shaken up and is aware that they know it was him who accessed the information. Since he remains a decent guy he’s willing to do the one favour for Anissa by passing on the information to her but knows that he’s a target so resolves to leave town as soon as he hands over the information. Unfortunately he doesn’t get the chance as Anissa later finds him murdered. This makes him a casualty in the ongoing conflict between the Pierce family and Tobias. It wouldn’t be surprising for Anissa to blame herself for this as she ultimately pushed him into the investigation that led to his death so she has that on her conscience. Darius was previously shown to be a natural friend to her so there’s a tangible connection to enhance his death. It’s another unfortunate case of someone being killed for trying to do the right thing.
Jennifer picks up her social media campaign as Lightning and shows that she can find other ways to inspire people beyond fighting criminals. She goes to Uriah and involves him in a live video campaigning for funding to go to Garfield’s music program. It’s an undoubtedly altruistic thing for Jennifer to do while shining a light on other ways that costumed heroes can provide value to their community. She has notoriety, respect and a platform to broadcast a message on so using that to benefit those who need it is a different kind of heroism to what this show normally depicts. Her motivation is somewhat less than noble at least to an extent because she has a crush on Uriah but it doesn’t alter the fact that she wants to use her clout to benefit others. The world is nuanced enough that she can have a selfish reason for doing this while also having a desire to help.
It’s good that the show is leaning into the idea of Lightning being a social media hero as it’s an interesting and unexplored angle in these sorts of stories except from maybe Kick-Ass where he used social media to find out where he was needed. Jennifer’s approach is very different as she is presenting a public face that promotes a given cause that people can rally behind. This connects perfectly to her personality and feels like an appropriate avenue for this character to pursue in particular. It’s unfortunate that her account would be hacked and used as a trap. Detective Shakur gives Jefferson -as Black Lightning- that the chief is going to use social media to target Lightning which encourages Jefferson to play the protective father and demand that she delete her social media presence.
Naturally this causes friction between them as Jennifer believes that the work she’s doing through her platform is worth doing and feels that there’s no real threat to her that’s worth worrying about. Her flippant reaction to Jefferson’s very real concerns is odd to see though it does somewhat support her obstinate behaviour before she completely changed to look the way she does now. Chief Lopez is shown to be capable, intelligent and committed through the way she pursues Jennifer and baits her into a trap. Noticing that Lightning looks different and is taller than she once was speaks to her observational skills and her campaign to bring her down is consistent with what was promised earlier in the season.
The show still has a villain problem through Ishmael who still fails to be a character. There is an extended dialogue exchange where Gambi talks about how much of a threat he is, explains what the League of Assassins is and makes it clear how afraid he is for the safety of the Pierce family. That by itself doesn’t establish him as a threat though the display of skill in his fight with Jefferson is impressive and makes for a really strong action sequence. Beyond wanting to prove himself so that he gains membership into the League of Assassins there isn’t anything to this character even if his motivation is clear. It remains confusing why he’s a part of the show at this point other than acting as another obstacle to be overcome.
A strong episode that raises the stakes brilliantly by having more taken from the Pierce family with them each being impacted on a deeply personal level. Lynn’s desire to control as depicted in her dream ties into the loss of control she experiences through losing access to her lab and all of her research. In effect the thing that defines her is taken from her and she’s left with nothing. The accusations lobbied against Jefferson lead to her arrest and a humiliating moment where she is strip-searched. This robs her of her dignity after everything else has been taken from her. It’s a harrowing sequence wonderfully played by Christine Adams. Khalil/Painkiller’s efforts provide some hope as he finds the location of a ledger that proves Tobias framed Jefferson for embezzlement. Continuing the Khalil/Painkiller duality with Painkiller doing all the violent work as Khalil acts as the angel on his shoulder works really well. Khalil and Painkiller’s connection to Tobias makes his presence meaningful as well and suggests many characters are due a reckoning with him. Tobias is used in an interesting way in this episode with a showcase of his grief. The loss of his sister still weighs heavily on him and there’s a suggesting that everything he does is motivated by that loss which doesn’t entirely track with what has been established about him but moving his plan forward while honouring her makes for a striking moment followed by a montage that excellently raises the stakes through Jefferson, Anissa, Jefferson and TC all losing their powers.
The episode is light on Anissa content but the suggestion that she will feel guilty for Darius being murdered acts as a strong extension to their natural friendship. Once again Darius is shown to be a decent man and he ends up being punished for trying to do the right thing which is truly tragic. Jennifer picks up her social media campaign as Lightning to raise money for Garfield’s music program. Her motivation isn’t entirely altruistic as she is open about having a crush on Uriah but there’s room for her to want to help a boy she likes and help raise money for a good cause. Leaning into the idea of heroism through social media works really well as a different way to show how costumed heroes can benefit people. Jefferson getting wind that Chief Lopez is going to use social media to trap her and highlighting that to Jennifer prompts a confusing response from her that does somewhat tie in with previous obstinate behaviour but doesn’t entirely track that it wouldn’t be taken seriously by her. Lopez noticing that she looks different and is taller highlights her intelligence and overall threat level. The show still has a problem with Ishmael who fails to be a character though is impressively threatening in his fight with Jefferson. Gambi explaining how dangerous he is comes across as more clumsy than anything else and it’s unclear what purpose he serves beyond being an obstacle.
- the harrowing sequence where Lynn is strip-searched and robbed of her dignity after losing everything else
- leaning into Tobias’ grief as he moves his plan forward
- the montage where Jefferson, Anissa, Jennifer and TC lose their powers
- continuing the excellent Khalil/Painkiller duality
- the tragedy of Darius losing his life for trying to do the right thing
- Jennifer continuing her social media campaign and that being a fascinatingly unique plot
- Chief Lopez showcasing her intelligence
- Jennifer’s odd reaction to Jefferson telling her she’s in danger
- Tobias appearing to be wholly motivated by grief
- Ishmael once again failing to be a character and his purpose being unclear
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