Black Lightning – Season 4 Episode 8
“The Book of Ruin: Chapter Three: Things Fall Apart”
Black Lightning furthers Tobias’ plan to take everything away from Jefferson as Jennifer starts to define her new life.
“The Book of Ruin” as an arc title is proving to be very accurate as Tobias is dead set on ruining Jefferson’s life by using the considerable resources at his disposal. With his wealth and influence he is able to manipulate the legal system to make it look like Jefferson is committing criminal acts. He has planted evidence that points to Jefferson embezzling money from Garfield and this brings him under the scrutiny of the FBI who search his home early in the episode. There is a brief indication that the leading Agent is a Metahuman which suggests an actual connection to Tobias though that’s an extra detail that isn’t necessarily relevant at this stage since the legal system can do the work for him.
A big part of Jefferson’s identity is his reputation. He has worked hard to earn respect within the community, build Garfield to be a pillar of academic excellence as well as opportunity for black teenagers and generally be regarded as a pillar of integrity by everyone. Tobias manufacturing evidence that points to him being dishonest and underhanded puts that reputation at risk and could result in his reputation being irreparably damaged. This show has tackled the issue of black people receiving less chances than white people so even if he’s proven innocent the damage may already be done. This isn’t at the forefront of Jefferson’s mind at this point because his attention is diverted in so many different directions but he will eventually have to consider the impact on his reputation.
Tobias takes great pleasure in making Jefferson’s life miserable as shown through him watching the footage of the house being searched and making sure to mention the accusations during his speech detailing his plans to help Garfield bounce back stronger than it ever was. It’s a clever addition to the speech because it creates the association between Jefferson and the broken Garfield which will naturally lead people to consider him part of the problem with Tobias offering the solution. Once again he proves himself to be a master manipulator and seems untouchable at this point.
Another thing Tobias is attacking his his heritage as well as his legacy through taking away his father’s house by buying all the houses in the block in order to demolish them to make way for a new hospital. The general public are obviously on board with this idea because a hospital is something the city sorely needs and it seems like an unconditionally good thing especially when the true intentions remain hidden. It hits Jefferson hard because he has a strong emotional connection to the house since it’s all he has left of his father who left it to him. He mentions intending to leave it to his daughters and that he considers it a symbol of generational wealth. It has extra significance because a black man was able to own property in a world where that was a very difficult thing to do so it represents many things to him. Letting go of it is hard and having Tobias take it away from him isn’t something he can easily reconcile. Added to this is Tobias offering Marcel a new home and the support he needs which directly attacks Jefferson’s desire to help others with Marcel once again acting as a strong case study for a larger issue.
Jennifer advises him to allow the house to be sold because the family don’t need it. She offers a good counter to Jefferson’s sentimentality even if her advice is bordering on insensitive. Whether her transformation has altered her outlook on her heritage or if she simply recognises that some things aren’t meant to last forever is unknown but it offers the other side of the argument for Jefferson to consider. Jefferson’s reaction to that is suspicious which continues the ongoing subplot around him being wary of the new Jennifer for what might amount to irrational reasons. The fact that she calls him “Daddy” raises a red flag because she hasn’t called him that in a long time though it could simply be attributed to the alterations. There is a hint of something more to it judging by the “unstable” result on Lynn’s final test.
Outside of Jefferson’s suspicions Jennifer has her first day back at Garfield with the fake backstory of her being Jennifer’s cousin who goes by JJ. Prior to her going back to school there is the expected trepidation that is brilliantly featured in a conversation with Anissa who still fully believes that she’s the same old Jennifer despite the obvious differences and encourages her to treat the new body configuration as if it’s a new pair of heels that she needs to walk around in for a while in order to get used to. It’s an effective analogy that helps simplify the situation for Jennifer and puts her at ease. The fact that Anissa treats her no differently also helps with that.
At school she finds herself quickly accepted through the limited perspective the episode shows. She spends most of her time with TC who already accepts her and makes sure to support her in her first day. Their dynamic is already natural and engaging with a strong back and forth existing between them. It very much eases her into the Garfield setting through their friendship and offers an opportunity for the perspective of those who attend the school to be represented through her connection to it though with so few episodes left it’s unknown how much time there is to properly detail this.
That aside, Jennifer’s connection to Garfield is valuable because it allows the location to be a prominent fixture in the world the show inhabits as it intermittently has over the run of the show. The accusations against Jefferson are the hot button issue on campus with Montel (Jemarcus Kilgore) loudly making assumptions about it in an effort to boost his online popularity. This is immediately called out by Uriah (McKalin Hand) who defends Jefferson and encourages a more balanced viewpoint of the issue at hand. It’s enough to attract Jennifer’s attention and she approaches him to thank him which leads to a clear flirtation. It remains to be seen how far this connection can go but Jennifer feeling more normal by talking to a boy she finds attractive who also finds her attractive is an important step towards acceptance of herself even if Grace advises her she doesn’t need the approval or attention of a boy in order to make her feel secure in her own skin.
Grace’s advice speaks to a larger identity discussion that she is well equipped to weigh in on following her own identity struggles being a shapeshifter. One thing Grace had to learn was to define who she was and feel comfortable in her default skin. This is something she had to do before she could consider letting someone get close to her so she is much further along on a similar journey that Jennifer is only just beginning. The striking thing is that Jennifer actually seems to be very comfortable with who she is and found that her first day of school wasn’t anywhere near as daunting as she expected which causes her to feel uneasy as she anticipated there would be a more significant adjustment period. Laura Kariuki plays this version of Jennifer with an effortless outward confidence tempered with private insecurities that manifest around characters like Anissa and Grace; her short time in the role has made for complex and interesting viewing.
There are a couple of elements that don’t seem to fit well into the ongoing narratives such as the appearance of Ishamel who is looking to bring down Blackbird as part of his initiation into the League of Assassins. It does connect to Tobias in a way because of the plot around the revolutionary medical treatments but it’s a tenuous link at best and only seems to exist to enable a really exciting action sequence. How Ishmael fits in remains unknown but so far there’s little to distinguish him as a character in his own right which feels massively out of place especially in the final season.
Another element that is better connected but is still at odds with the overall narrative is Gambi acting as a mole trying to stop the production of the DEGs. On the surface it works because it gives him a plot where he has engaging chemistry with another character but the execution is lacking because of how unconvincing Gambi is when working to sabotage their efforts. Lauren should easily see through what he’s doing because he’s so poor at covering up so it does her a disservice to be fooled by Gambi’s less than subtle behaviour especially when complications always seem to present themselves when he’s around. This will definitely build to a point where Lauren catches him out but at this point it will struggle to be engaging due to the abundance of opportunity she’s had before this point.
Bringing Khalil in was an unexpected development but certainly a welcome one. His promise to help in the efforts to bring down Tobias could offer a further showcase of the obvious potential in giving him his own show. It’s clear he has a strong setup that can allow him to prove useful and the existing connection he has to Tobias as well as his desire to help Jennifer should make him a welcome addition to the final run of episodes.
A strong episode that furthers Tobias’ plan to tear down Jefferson in really engaging ways while carving out an appropriately compelling place in the show for Jennifer following her transformation. Jefferson being investigated on embezzlement charges attacks him on a really fundamental level as his reputation is a major aspect of his identity that he has worked very hard to cultivate. Combining that with taking his father’s house from him is very effective because it attacks his heritage as well as his legacy. He talks about how the house represents a significant achievement as a black man was able to own property in a world that made it difficult so what it stands for means a lot to him. Jennifer offers a counter argument that it might be time to let go because the family don’t need it which prompts suspicion in Jefferson connected to him being wary of her in this new configuration. Her contribution to this discussion casts some doubt along with the test result that reads as “unstable”. Jennifer’s first day back at Garfield pretending to be her own cousin was really engaging as it allows the perspective of the setting to be reflected through her. Most of her time there is spent with TC but the flirtatious conversation with Uriah helps her feel more normal in a way that unsettles her as she expected a more daunting experience than she got. Anissa’s advice about just needing time to break in the new body configuration and Grace advising her that she needs to feel comfortable in her own skin without validation from others adds more layers to this journey that she is at the beginning of.
Some elements don’t quite neatly connect to the ongoing plots. Ishmael in particular stands out because it’s unclear what purpose he serves beyond enabling exciting action sequences. He is involved in the revolutionary medical procedure narrative in that he attacks Anissa and Grace when they’re investigating it but his desire to join the League of Assassins doesn’t obviously factor into what else is going on and he isn’t really a character in his own right at this point. Gambi acting as a mole is better connected but isn’t well executed due to how obviously suspicious Gambi acts when around Lauren. This does her a disservice as she fails to notice that problems constantly crop up when he’s around and is oblivious to his obviously suspicious behaviour. This is certainly building to a point where she catches him out but based on what we’ve seen so far it’s unlikely to be engaging due to the abundance of opportunity she has had so far. Bringing Khalil in as a potential ally against Tobias was a welcome surprise. He has the setup, clear motivation and a prior relationship with Tobias that could be used well in the final run of episodes.
- Tobias taking pleasure in attacking Jefferson’s reputation, heritage and legacy
- Jefferson’s account of why his father’s house is important to him
- Jennifer offering the alternate perspective on that loss
- Using Jennifer to enable the reintroduction of the Garfield perspective
- her unease around her first day of school being less daunting than expected
- the natural dynamic she has with TC
- the flirtatious conversation allowing Jennifer to feel more normal
- Anissa and Grace’s separate valuable life advice to Jennifer
- reintroducing Khalil in an organic and relevant way
- Ishmael being less than a character in his own right and the lack of clarity around his overall relevance
- Gambi’s obviously suspicious behaviour around Lauren
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