Black Lightning – Season 4 Episode 6
“The Book of Ruin: Chapter Two: Theseus’s Ship”
Black Lightning explores the fallout of Jennifer returning with a vastly different face as Tobias Whale progresses his slow burn plan.
It’s an amazing coincidence that two comic book properties come out with a reference to the Ship of Theseus in close proximity to one another. Marvel’s cloak of secrecy around WandaVision makes it all but certain that this is nothing more than an amusing coincidence. It’s also very fitting for the main plot of this episode as the thought experiment question whether an object -such as a ship- is still the same thing when all of the component parts have been replaced gradually. In this case Jennifer’s physical form has changed considerably but everything else is the same.
It’s a big question that has persisted for so long because it invites so much debate. If you replace a part of an object then arguably you have changed what it is because something it originally had has been replaced with something new though it can also be argued that the majority of it is the same so the identity isn’t changed. Over time as more components are replaced until no original parts remain then it’s arguable that the identity of the object has completely changed even though the process has been gradual. It’s a thought experiment that touches on identity, perception, sentiment and many other areas so it’s the source of fascinating debate.
This episode explores this to an extent through Jennifer -now played by Laura Kariuki- coming out of being reformed in the previous episode looking and sounding entirely different. It’s a source of confusion initially as nothing actually went wrong in the complicated process conducted to restore her physical form and all tests point to her being the same person in pretty much every measurable sense. It doesn’t take long for Lynn to suggest that even though here genes are identical to before they have likely expressed themselves differently in the same way that identical twins can have differences due to their genes determining a different eye colour for example. Ultimately what has happened is that Jennifer has been restored but her genes prompted this change meaning that she is inwardly the same but outwardly very different. It’s a lot for everyone to take in but most quickly accept that this new face is still Jennifer with Grace even pointing out that her Leopard senses detect no difference.
Jefferson struggles with this new reality and is barely able to look at her at first. He keeps trying to find evidence to prove that something went wrong or that it might not be “his” Jennifer. it’s a reasonable stance to take given his experience with the Multiverse but it speaks to his inability to accept that Jennifer now looks very different and there’s no way to resolve that. For him it would be easier if there was a flaw in the process that could be corrected as he wants his daughter back as he remembers her but the reality is that they were lucky to get her back at all and this change is something he just has to accept. Beneath the surface of this there’s an undercurrent of a “coming out” story with Jefferson taking on the role of the parent who can’t accept that their child doesn’t conform to what they think they should be. Jefferson has never been intolerant as shown by his casual acceptance of Anissa being a lesbian but the Jennifer situation is something he really struggles with and he has to work his way towards accepting who she is now rather than fixating on who she was before.
It’s a believable reaction and further reinforces Jefferson being far from at his best at this point. He is taking steps forward but lingering issues hold him back. This approach is incredibly realistic as healing takes time with no quick fixes so even though there are steps in the right direction there is still a lot of work to do before something resembling normality exists. He does come to accept Jennifer as she is now by the end of the episode after fighting alongside her and apologises for treating her the way he did which makes for a really sweet moment that starts a new dynamic between the two characters that immediately feels natural.
Jefferson has other issues that he is working through as shown by his key exchange with Lynn around identifying what powers Tobias’ right hand woman possesses. He casually tells her to inject them into someone to find out what they are but Lynn objects because given her vast experience with doing that she’s the most logical candidate. Jefferson sees no issue with that as it relates to bringing down Tobias but Lynn rightly puts him in his place because it means undoing the work she has done towards conquering her addiction. Jefferson’s lack of sensitivity to that caused in part by his fixation on bringing down Tobias causes an argument between them once again highlights that a lot of work needs to be done before they will be on the same page and that Jefferson has to find a way back to his own morality.
In general, Laura Kariuki fits nicely into the cast with no issues. She shares key scenes with everyone to establish a basis for the slightly altered relationship. Her conversation with Lynn highlights that there will be difficulties explaining this change, her conversation with Gambi establishes that he accepts her completely without question, TC is basically the same and Anissa fully accepts her as a sister. One of the strongest scenes in the episode is her conversation with Anissa where they list films that use the body swap, identity shifting of face changing concepts showing they are able to apply some levity to what amounts to a very unusual situation. It’s a great exchange and the two actors bounce off one another wonderfully.
The key takeaway from this scene is that Anissa fully accepts her sister as she is and is able to open up to her about marrying Grace. Jennifer was the first to learn about their relationship and now she’s the first to learn about their marriage so it’s a very clear indicator that there has been no significant change as far as Anissa is concerned. This exchange is important for Anissa as it gives her the necessary clarity to celebrate her marriage rather than resolving to hide it. For the first time since Grace woke up from her coma her inclusion in the episode hasn’t been about resolving a manufactured marital issue and it makes their relationship seem more natural as a result. Grace herself still doesn’t seem to be as central as she needs to be given her proximity to the family but at least her relationship with Anissa isn’t defined by easy to solve problems for this episode.
Jennifer’s new face also comes with something of an identity crisis. She has come to question how she is being perceived as Lightning as she believes that people see her as nothing more than an engine of destruction so the new face could be the perfect excuse to escape that. TC points out that people don’t see her face as such as Lightning as a symbol is more what they’re interested in. He shows her some moving testimonials from people that Lightning has protected and inspired. It’s a really powerful sequence that shows Jennifer the impact she can have on the people she protects and helps give her a sense of purpose knowing that she can be a positive influence on others.
Tobias’ running for Mayor is hardly a surprise but that isn’t a bad thing as the show has done a great job deliberately building towards this eventuality by having every move he makes be meticulously thought out. It was mentioned in the previous episode that he revels in the fact that the Pierce family may gain some ground because he believes that he will win the game in the end and plans to enjoy playing it until he does. He has Freeland fooled into thinking he is out to save it so his Mayoral platform is a very strong one all while he schemes in the background in pursuit of his own goals. Once again he’s an endlessly fascinating villain deployed wonderfully.
Freeland remains a character in the show and this is explored in a few different ways. Once again the rivalry between Destiny and Lala continues with them representing powerful forces at work within the city. Destiny’s casual extension of a loan period shows that she does subscribe to her own version of compassion but the punishment being doled out is very severe. Encasing Lala in concrete and displaying him like Han Solo in Carbonite is a striking image that also showcases how easily the balance of power can shift in Freeland. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that Destiny has the upper hand.
With Black Lightning back on the scene there’s a clear shift in how hopeful the people of Freeland are. Showcasing how bad a situation could get without Black Lightning intervening before rewinding to insert him into it so that it can play out far more positively was effective. Splicing in the real footage of violence during protests reinforces the need for a protector capable of standing up for those who need it. Black Lightning is that for people in Freeland and this episode provides a great display of the difference he can make on both a small and large scale.
A strong episode with a complex exploration of the new reality surrounding Jennifer, continues to impressively showcase Jefferson’s slow road to recovery and constantly highlights Tobias’ strengths as a villain. Jennifer’s new reality starts off being a confusing proposition for everyone around her but is quickly accepted by most. Jefferson has trouble with it and keeps insisting they find a way to get the “real” Jennifer back when he should actually accept that Jennifer’s change is permanent and he has to accept her has she is. Jefferson’s lingering issues prevent him from doing so until she fights alongside him and he is able to accept her for what she is. The scene they share establishing their new dynamic is really strong. Jefferson and Lynn’s relationship continues to be strained as shown by his insistence that she undo the good work done on conquering her addiction by injecting herself with powers to find out what Tobias’ right hand woman has. His fixation on bringing down Tobias blinds him to the problems with his suggestion and further highlights how much work needs to be done for them to be on the same page as well as return Jefferson to his baseline ethics. Laura Kariuki fits into the cast well with key scenes shared between Jennifer and every major character to establish their dynamic. The strongest scene is with Anissa who fully accepts her as a sister and opens up to her about Grace just as she did before. Jennifer helps Anissa achieve clarity on a relationship issue and for once her marriage to Grace isn’t defined by an easy to solve problem. It’s still unclear how Grace fits into the cast but this is a step forward.
Tobias running for Mayor is no surprise but continues the strong work on deliberately moving his plan forward. He has won over Freeland and is in pursuit of his own goals while taking delight in having the Pierce family as a challenging obstacle for him. He continues to be an engaging villain and his plan is moving well. Freeland as a character within the show is explored in different ways such as the gang warfare represented through Destiny and Lala. Destiny’s victory over Lala creates a shift in the balance of power that will be interesting to explore. The impact of having Black Lightning back is explored through seeing how a situation would play out without him before showing how it plays out with him involved. This emphasises him as a protector for those who need it and shows the difference Jefferson can make both on a small and large scale.
- the complex exploration of Jennfer’s new reality
- taking the time to establish the new dynamics between Jennifer and the major characters
- the strong scene between Anissa and Jennifer
- Jefferson’s realistic difficulties accepting this change in his daughter
- further highlighting that Jefferson has a long way to go on the road to recovery
- the moving examples of how Jennifer has helped inspire people as Lightning
- Tobias progressing his plan to a Mayoral campaign
- exploring Freeland as a character through the gang rivalry
- showcasing how a situation would play out both with and without Black Lightning involved
- a lack of clarity around how Grace fits into the show at this point
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