Black Lightning – Season 2 Episode 5
“The Book of Blood: Chapter One: Requiem”
Black Lightning starts a new arc with a significant loss for the Pierce family that impacts them in really profound ways.
The opening of this episode was very oddly staged. Gambi being attacked and apparently killed was a surprise as this season hasn’t spent much time showing that people might want him dead. It’s easy to accept that Gambi has a lot of enemies but there was no immediate threat to his life. This has me thinking that it was staged for some reason that is as yet unknown to Jefferson, his family and us viewers. It’s unclear if him being attacked out of the blue was meant to be a shock or an indication that it was as staged as it seemed to be. Don’t get me wrong; I thought it was a really well put together sequence and the mystery it sets up either way is compelling enough to carry a run of episodes.
When a character dies the others that are still alive are left to deal with it. Jefferson goes through something akin to the five stages of grief -though three of them feel a little rushed- started with denial when he points out that Gambi is most likely alive because of how prepared he was for everything that might come his way. It’s hard to disagree with Jefferson given that he lives in a comic book inspired world where death isn’t permanent and there are limitless ways to fake it. The lack of a body is the clearest indicator of this as that usually means things aren’t as they seem.
For the purposes of this episode Jefferson is in denial where everyone else is grieving because they accept it at face value. Jefferson’s assertion that Gambi is alive is treated as wrong and other characters work to help him come to that realisation. He transitions to anger when Lynn brings him Gambi’s pocket watch. Jefferson sees this as an affront because he isn’t ready to accept it at that point so asks for the watch to be put back and quickly snaps when Lynn tries to help him realise that Gambi is dead. There’s no clear indication of bargaining though arguably approaching a man for information as Black Lightning could be an example of that notion as the purposes of that conversation is to establish if anyone was seen coming out of the burning vehicle. It doesn’t quite fit but it’s as close as this episode gets. It also comes after depression so I’ll admit that the chronology doesn’t fit and I’m reaching to have Jefferson’s arc fit this model.
The final stage, acceptance is the best portrayed. He breaks down in Gambi’s shop as the full weight of the loss descends on him at once. It’s powerful, perfectly acted and perfectly encapsulates Gambi’s importance to Jefferson. The close-up of the watch with the heartfelt inscription acts as a sobering reminder of the fact Jefferson has lost another father figure in his life and he’s old enough to feel the weight of that loss especially at a time in his life where everything seems to be falling apart and he needs all the support he can get. Personally I’m still in stage one and fully expect Gambi to turn up alive in a couple of episodes but that eventuality won’t detract from the strong characterisation in this episode.
Gambi’s death becomes a jumping on point for most of the characters in this episodes. Jennifer takes it the best which surprised me considering her intensely emotional reactions to having powers and the decisions made to compensate for them. I choose to read this as Jennifer not being as close to Gambi as everyone else so she can act as the emotional rock for everyone else who is falling apart. She shows her support and appreciation for Jefferson to let him know that he has that unconditional love whenever he’s ready to accept it. Once again, the family dynamic shines through as the best thing this show has going for it.
Jennifer is secretly communicating with Khalil after deciding to meet him last week. This adds further complexity to her life but she is also doing what she thinks to be the right thing as Khalil doesn’t have many people he can turn to for support. He’s in deep with Tobias and needs some sort of outlet that isn’t his mother. Jennifer is reluctant to get fully involved but it’s clear her position on that is wavering because she needs an outlet for her own pain and he offers her that peer level support that she can’t seem to get anywhere else. Beyond that, Khalil just needs a friend and she is willing to be that for him though pushes back when he suggests that their relationship be any more than that.
If anyone was in doubt about Khalil being a victim they need look no further than the chilling scene he shares with Tobias. He summons Khalil to witness a meal that was planned to celebrate the anniversary of Tobias adopting Syonide into his family. This meal has to be enjoyed alone because Syonide is dead and Tobias blames Khalil for that because his instructions were to team up with her and protect her. As far as Tobias is concerned, Khalil is to blame for her death because he failed to carry out his instructions with the expected competence. In practically the same breath Tobias calls Khalil the only family he has left and threatens dire consequences should he fail again. It wouldn’t be a TV show if that moment wasn’t coming sooner rather than later which means that Khalil is in a lot of danger.
Tobias has wasted no time in taking advantage of his newfound legal innocence. He manipulates Councilman Kwame Parker (Eric Lynch) into closing the clinic under the pretence of it being in the middle of gang occupied territory. In reality, Tobias is proving a point about how easily he can manipulate those in power to do what he wants and establish legitimate footholds in Freeland controlled by his money. This makes him far more dangerous and having him start relatively small with a single clinic is a great idea as it shows Tobias has a long term plan.
Anissa’s reaction to Gambi’s death is strong. She was close to him and relied on his advice to help her become a hero. Acceptance comes almost immediately for her and she doesn’t waste much time going to Grace for comfort. After they have sex Grace calls her out for only coming to her when she feels vulnerable then forgetting about her when she feels better. Anissa insists that that isn’t what she’s doing but based on Anissa’s previous behaviour it’s difficult to disagree with Grace on this one. She has first hand experience of Anissa forgetting about her when her life becomes too complicated to take time out of her life to give Grace attention. From a certain point of view Anissa can be seen as someone who uses people for what she needs and casts them aside. We as viewers know the circumstances around at least some of that but in other cases such as this one she does appear to be emotionally manipulative.
Grace is concerned that she will get hurt by this because she has strong feelings for Anissa and would rather not have her in her life than be hurt by her lack of commitment. Anissa is shown talking to someone on the phone later in the episode that could be seen as a prelude to a romantic encounter. Considering how she and Grace left things I’m inclined to assume it isn’t Grace she’s talking to. Anissa will have to decide what she really wants from Grace and act accordingly. The tease of Grace having powers of some sort that she is self medicating in order to keep them at bay is intriguing as well and shows that there are plans for this character yet.
Does Anissa’s behaviour make her a bad character? I wouldn’t say so because the show doesn’t paint her actions as being the right thing or try to convince the viewer that she is somehow misunderstood. The audience perspective is on Grace who has someone she has strong feelings for her show up at her home and take advantage of her while seeming to give her everything that she wanted before immediately going back to being cold and distant. It could be that Anissa doesn’t realise that she’s doing this or it might be a flaw that she can’t fix but always claims to be trying to correct. Anissa’s relationships could end up being a string of her trying to turn over a new leaf and falling back on old habits or she could get to the point where she is willing to change her behaviour to be with Grace. Either way it’s interesting to have a main character painted in such an unflattering light in terms of how they handle relationships.
Lynn’s reaction to Gambi’s death is more subdued because they had a complicated relationship though she is there for Jefferson and provides him the support he needs. Her biggest concern is the pod people and keeping Dr. Jace in line. She is quite content to put her plan into effect even though it’s guaranteed to kill at least half of the people in the pods. Her argument is that half will survive which is a good result as far she’s concerned. This calls back to last week where Dr. Jace sees the people as stock for experiments and Lynn sees them as people who need to be saved. Dr. Jace tricks Lynn into running an experiment that threatens the lives of half the people just as she predicted which leaves Lynn as an accessory to this action because she let it happen when under a false assumption. The dynamic between Dr. Jace and Lynn continues to be fascinating to watch as they are both firmly placed on opposite sides of the moral spectrum. Dr. Jace has absolutely no respect for human life and Lynn is fully committed to the oath she took as a Doctor. Any scene they share is great to watch and covers compelling ground when it comes to the morality associated with human experimentation as well as whether it’s morally justifiable to let people die if it guarantees saving others.
An excellent episode that uses a tragedy as the emotional jumping on point for many of the characters. Jefferson goes through the five stages of grief over the course of the episode though the bargaining and depression parts are tenuous at best. The rest are handled wonderfully especially the acceptance portion as it is so brilliantly acted, powerful and encapsulates the connection Jefferson had with Gambi. Jennifer is less affected which could mean that she wasn’t as close to him as Jefferson or Anissa. Her secret communications with Khalil shows that she sees his need for a friend and is willing to answer that to an extent though she keeps him at a distance when he talks about being anything more than that. Khalil’s conversation with Tobias which confirms that he’s in a lot of danger if does something else that Tobias considers a failure. Tobias blames Khalil for the death of Syonide and isn’t prepared to forgive him for that so there’s a lot of tension there. After being declared innocent Tobias is wasting no time manipulating those in power to establish a foothold in Freeland that’s completely legal. It’s great to see him move on this so quickly and take the first step in what looks to be a long term plan
Anissa reacts by going to Grace for comfort and being called out on using her when she feels vulnerable. It’s hard to disagree with Grace on this because from her point of view it does seem like Anissa ignores her until it’s convenient for her. She is also seen on the phone to someone else later in the episode that likely isn’t Grace so this could simply be how Grace handles relationships. It will either be a flaw that she can overcome or something that defines every relationship she participates in. If it’s the latter then it could be interesting to have a main character who always carries this flaw that can’t be fixed. Dr. Jace and Lynn continue to have a fascinating dynamic defined by the difference in how they see the current task. Lynn sees those in the pods as people who can be saved where Dr. Jace sees them as stock for experiments. She tricks Lynn into going with her plan which looks to be lethal to half of them. Their differing views make their scenes compelling to watch as they represent two sides of a morality spectrum and raise fascinating questions about the ethics surrounding letting people die in order to guarantee safety for others.
- the strong handling of most of the stages of grief for Jefferson
- Khalil continuing to be established as a sympathetic character
- Jennifer supporting Khalil while looking to him for support herself
- Grace calling Anissa out on being used when Anissa feels vulnerable
- Dr. Jace and Lynn’s differing moral views and the questions they raise
- Rushed handling of two of the five stages of grief for Jefferson
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