Black Lightning – Season 4 Episode 5
“The Book of Ruin: Chapter One: “Picking Up the Pieces”
Black Lightning begins a new arc with the Pierce family working to pull themselves together both literally and figuratively.
The previous episode ended with Jennifer exploding during another trip to the Ionosphere. This outing wastes no time in dealing with the fallout of this with the episode being built around trying to get Jennifer back and how this event impacts everyone around her. It very much feels like the start of a new story with a much slower pace of storytelling that sets up the major elements of what this arc will explore.
“Picking Up the Pieces” proves to be a relevant title as this comes across in many of the key interactions. Lynn and Jefferson are at a point where they are on the same page but things are far from being back to what they were. A conversation between them where Lynn approaches him to offer emotional support becomes and argument when Jefferson learns she didn’t tell him that Jennifer has been flying up to the Ionosphere. Her justification for this is believing that she had stopped doing it and thinking that it was no longer relevant for Jefferson to know about it since it appeared to have been dealt with. Jefferson takes a jab at Lynn’s addiction and suggests that it prevented her from being able to see that Jennifer was suffering from the same affliction. Lynn is working on dealing with her addiction but Jennifer was literally destroyed by hers which acts as a really obvious yet effective metaphor for how destructive being an addict could be.
The fact that Lynn and Jefferson’s conversation becomes an argument so easily shows how far they still have to go before true reconciliation is possible, how fractured their relationship is and reinforces the idea that fences aren’t so easily mended when a relationship has eroded so significantly. It’s a grim and realistic portrayal of how difficult it is to come back from issues that went unchecked for so long. Cress Williams and Christine Adams perform this brilliantly with smart writing backing them up in making neither of them more wrong than the other. Both have made mistakes, both react in ways that don’t help them heal and both see the other as needing fixed when without being as aware as they need to be of their own shortcomings. This makes them endlessly fascinating to watch and provides a variety of interactions founded from their complicated relationship. They still love one another and can push aside their problems for a time but it doesn’t take much for them to rise to the surface.
Jefferson’s grief and his actions as a result of it have consequences for those around them. This is exemplified by Jen having the blame placed on her for a recent death that turns out to be one of the people Jefferson savagely beat up in the name of revenge. His grief caused him to lose hope and turn his back on being Black Lightning but he would still use his powers to dispense a questionable form of justice. This is something he confesses to Lynn, Anissa and Gambi which makes for an important step on the road to redemption as he is taking responsibility for his actions and somewhat promising to put what he did wrong right. He acknowledges that Jennifer doesn’t deserve to be blamed for his mistakes and is regretful that the beating he delivered indirectly resulted in a debt. It doesn’t excuse or forgive what he did but it does start the process of moving on from it.
Saving Jennifer is all the motivation Jefferson needs to suit up as Black Lightning once again. This mirrors the decision he made in the very first episode where he stepped back into the role in order to save his daughters. As before the top of his priority list is his family and he will push aside all other concerns if it means there’s a chance to protect them. Wearing the suit is for a practical purpose as it’s the only chance he has to survive absorbing the energy that Jennifer has become but it’s unquestionably a big step towards being Black Lightning again.
Gambi gets him the rest of the way there by reiterating that Black Lightning was a symbol of hope for the people of Freeland. Jefferson’s more positive mindset leaves him more amenable to heeding Gambi’s words and he agrees that everyone needs a measure of hope at this point so embraces his role as Black Lightning at least to some extent. His visit to Lala as a show of strength and a declaration that Black Lightning is back further reinforces the complicated balance that makes Freeland such a compelling setting. Jefferson backs down because he realises that his gang are a necessary evil for the moment and Lala expresses that he’s happy Black Lightning is around to give people something to look up. Regardless of the criminal activities and other questionable actions The 100 gang are responsible for they are committed to Freeland because they feel they belong to it and part of that is acknowledging Black Lightning as a positive force within that community. Lala’s sentiment about not killing anyone in Freeland unless they have it coming is a shaky moral code but it’s still a code.
Jefferson is generally hopeful as shown through his reaction to Jennifer’s situation. When others were looking to accept the apparent hopelessness of the situation he maintained faith that Jennifer’s abilities allowed for the possibility of this not to be the end for her. It’s enough to spur the others into thinking along the same lines and for a plan to form. His conversation with Gambi where he tells the story of the first time he though he lost Jennifer when shopping was a really powerful one that underscores Jefferson’s general fear of loss in the present as well as reinforcing how connected he is to his daughters. It’s a highly relatable story at the same time that almost every parent must have experienced at one time or another. Maintaining focus on the humanity of these people with a lot of power is key to keeping the show grounded and moments like this go a long way towards that.
TC’s reaction to the Jennifer situation is interesting. Their growing friendship is something that flew below my radar to a large extent mostly because Jennifer was keeping him at a distance but I hadn’t quite picked up on how much he had warmed to her. He was obviously concerned about her wellbeing as she made more trips to the Ionosphere and this has obviously extended to caring about her on a general level. He feels responsible for not doing more to stop her but Anissa gives him a pep talk that attempts to absolve him of any personal responsibility because of Jennifer’s fierce independence. In a way everyone is close to mourning as they wait to see if their long shot pays off.
Fortunately it does but unfortunately not as intended. Jennifer comes back looking and sounding completely different. Laura Kairuki is the new face of Jennifer that her family are presented with when she emerges and it produces the level of expected shock in all present. This presents a compelling opportunity for the coming episodes as Jennifer will have to be someone else to everyone outside of her family and those who understand the weirdness that comes with her double life. If it is a permanent shift then she will perhaps have to be declared dead with the new Jennifer having an alternate public identity. Her arc so far this season has been around figuring out the direction she wants to take her life. There was talk of abandoning the civilian identity entirely in favour of being a full time vigilante and the social media angle was presenting her with a way to promote a particular image of herself as well as her exploits. Adding a complete change in appearance to the mix and there is the recipe for a really compelling identity plot whether that be around the loss of it or the gaining of something that is perhaps better than what came before. This new reality will certainly be an adjustment for her family.
Tobias’ movements from the background continue to be interesting. He becomes aware of the fact that the Pierce family are finding a way back to some form of unity. This could spell bad news for him as they will be better placed to project their resentment outward and focus on taking him down. Instead of seeing this as a complication he sees this as an opportunity and views the situation as an ongoing game of chess where some moves are bound to not be in his favour. He sees himself as the overall winner of this game eventually and definitely enjoys playing it. He is a man who enjoys a challenge and sees the Pierce family as people who can offer him one so he’s content to keep playing. His commentary on white privilege is another nice character touch showing his general intelligence and awareness of the world he lives in. He has gotten to where he is by taking advantage of a sense of entitlement, keeping one step ahead of his opponents through educating himself and just generally being terrifying in his own right. This show has done an excellent job sustaining him as a villain and the current iteration of his role in the show may be the most fascinating one yet.
Outside of Lala and The 100, Freeland receives some continued development as a setting through Chief Lopez and Detective Hassan. Lopez is fixated on demonising metas and Hassan just wants to do good within his city. What he really wants to do is solve big cases and not get involved in things he considers unproductive so turning Metahumans into public enemies isn’t something he’s interested in. There is a built in conflict as he has to do as he’s told even if he doesn’t like the job. Positioning Lopez and Hassan on opposite sides of the same issue works really well as it allows for natural debate as well as a natural successor for Lopez when her corrupt motivations are inevitably revealed. Using Jennifer/Lightning as the face of her anti-Meta campaign creates interesting possibilities around the dangers of publicly vilifying people as well as those in power abusing their position.
Lala being gunned down and coming back to life alters things for him as now the leader of The 100 gang is a known Metahuman. This could allow for an easy connection between The 100 gang and Metahumans therefore presenting the campaign against the as the same thing. As I mentioned above Lala and The 100 are important as a protective force within Freeland at this point so it will certainly do more harm than good. In general at this point. All of this adds to a really complex setup with no easy way to navigate it.
As before the Anissa and Grace relationship drags the episode down. It isn’t that what is being done with them is necessarily bad but the handling of it continues to be sloppy. There is an underlying thread of them rushing into marriage without being prepared for it and it looks as if every episode will present them with a specific issue that will be all but resolved by the end. Previously there was the issue of Anissa accepting Grace’s belongings into her space and now there’s the issue of Anissa keeping things from her whenever something traumatic happens. Grace references being on the fringes of her own family and being unwilling to accept that treatment in her marriage. She has to remind Anissa that they’re married which means they are there for one another through everything but in order to do that Anissa has to let her in. It’s in Anissa’s nature to close herself off and try to deal with things alone but Grace rightly points out that their commitment means that they are a partnership though it’s perhaps unrealistic to expect such a radical change so quickly particularly under the circumstances. Grace is supportive when she understands the situation so once again an argument is neatly and clumsily resolved. The two actors are great together and the characters remain compelling, Their relationship as presented feels far from realistic and the handling of it is far too formulaic. which gets in the way of what could otherwise be really engaging drama.
A strong episode that impressively sets up the new arc around how things have changed for the better as a contrast to the challenges that remain for the available characters. The title of the episode is very appropriate as it comes across in many of the interactions. Lynn and Jefferson have found their way back to some common ground but it doesn’t take much for them to argue and the lingering resentments end up highlighting how far they still have to go on their journey back to true reconciliation. Their arguments are very realistic with them being at fault in different ways and selectively ignorant of their own shortcomings. Jefferson’s decision to wear the Black Lightning suit to save Jennifer mirrors him doing so in the very first episode to save his daughters. It reinforces that family is the top of his list of priorities and that there’s nothing he won’t do for them. Gambi gets him the rest of the way back to accepting his role as Black Lightning by reiterating that he’s a symbol of hope for Freeland which Jefferson accepts in his more positive and reflective mindset. His conversation with Lala further shows how complex a setting Freeland is and that The 100 gang are currently a necessary evil. Lala talking about how glad he is that Black Lightning is back highlights how focused he is on Freeland prospering. Jefferson’s generally hopeful attitude is what prompts everyone to accept saving Jennifer as a possibility and leads to a really strong scene where Jefferson tells the story of the first time he lost her while shopping. It’s a very relatable human moment that highlights Jefferson’s devotion to his daughters.
TC’s reaction to the Jennifer situation is interesting. Even though she kept him at a distance he has been feeling close to her and holds himself responsible for what happened to her. Anissa helps him understand that nobody can tell Jennifer what to do which helps but his concern and guilt come through clearly. Jennifer’s return looking and sounding completely different was a compelling surprise and sets up some potentially strong material for her around identity that ties in with her arc so far this season. Assuming this is permanent then there’s a great deal to work with here. Tobias continues to be an excellent villain with his view of his campaign against the Pierce family as a giant game of chess. He’s prepared to enjoy the game because he feels he can win and the way he delights in that is excellent to watch. Freeland’s continued development through Chief Lopez demonising Metahumans and Detective Hassan opposing that but still having to carry out her orders because she outranks him provides a built in conflict to a difficult situation. Lala being gunned down and outed as a Metahuman adds to that as now Metahumans and The 100 gang can be demonised in the same way. This all adds to a complex setup that remains difficult to navigate. Once again the Anissa and Grace drama drags the episode down because of how formulaic it comes across. Every episode is a different issue that is all but resolved by the end therefore feeling less than realistic rather than addressing the potentially interesting aspects of them rushing into marriage. The actors help carry it but what could otherwise be really strong drama is let down by a formulaic approach.
- Jefferson and Lynn’s complicated relationship
- Jefferson’s newfound hopeful attitude moving things forward organically
- acknowledging that The 100 gang are currently a necessary evil
- Lala stating how glad he is to have Black Lightning back
- Tobias continuing to delight as a villain
- adding further complexity to Freeland through Detective Hassan and Chief Lopez
- the formulaic approach to Anissa and Grace’s relationship drama
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