Black Lightning -Season 2 Episode 4
“The Book of Consequences: Chapter Four: Translucent Freak”
Black Lightning continues to complicate the Pierce family dynamic as Tobias experiences the workings of the justice system.
Last season did a really good job of building an open and respectful relationship between all immediate members of the Pierce family. They had their issues and disagreements but on the whole their connection was strong and there was the sense that they could weather any crisis as long as they were together. As cheesy as that sentiment sounds it was really well put together and worked as a pillar for this show.
This season seems to be about testing that relationship to the extreme by having more serious issues cropping up between them that can’t be resolved by time and a cool headed approach. Chaos defines this season and the Pierce family aren’t immune to that. One of the issues that is affecting them is Jennifer’s powers. Even though her time with Perenna is improving her ability to control them she still isn’t even close to having the kind of mastery that she needs. Lynn comes to realise this when she accidentally breaks another laptop so there is a collective decision between her and Jefferson that Jennifer can no longer attend Garfield and has to be home schooled.
For Jennifer this option is unthinkable as her perception that she is a prisoner is solidified by the fact that she is being told that she basically can’t leave the house. Naturally her reaction is a purely emotional one so she doesn’t really consider the risks associated with her being in a public place where her powers can seriously hurt people. Jennifer sees this as removal of her freedom and the loss of whatever normality her life had. This way she will lose the social experience, access to her friends and the general sense that she can forge her own destiny. All Lynn and Jefferson can do is explain why they have made this decision. They’re open and honest at least but they really don’t explain it all that well which makes the situation even less palatable as far as Jennifer is concerned.
Her isolation is causing her to resent her family to some degree which causes her to hide things that she wouldn’t normally such as texts from Khalil. For most of the episode she ignores them but Jefferson and Lynn deciding that she has to be home schooled pushes her into engaging with him. This is likely a fairly bad idea but it makes sense given that she feels somewhat betrayed by those closest to her who impose rules on her rather than actually take into account what she might want. Her judgement on the matter is heavily biased and somewhat incorrect considering the situation but it makes sense why she would feel like that. It’s the classic teenage assumption that nobody else understands her so she will naturally seek out someone who’s likely to be able to relate to her on her level. Khalil could represent that because he knows what it’s like to come to terms with unexpected powers and she can at least be confident that he does care for her so it seems like a reasonable enough idea from a certain point of view.
Khalil is also looking for someone to understand where he’s coming from and help him through it. He feels as trapped as Jennifer does though in a slightly different way as he is being forced to do horrible things that he doesn’t want to do where she is simply being isolated inside a controlled environment. On an emotional level there are similarities but even if there weren’t then it’d still be valid for Khalil to look for someone he could trust to confide in and seek support from. He sees Jennifer as that person so naturally they would be drawn to one another because of the feeling that they don’t really have anyone in their lives that truly understand them.
Anissa does a lot to confirm that as far as Jennifer is concerned. When she learns that Khalil is messaging Jennifer she demands that she cut him out of her life and is very critical of her for not doing that. The right sentiment is behind her reaction but it’s a very short sighted one as she fails to consider what Khalil might be going through and is quick to forget everything that he’s lost. It’s well established that desperation was a huge motivator behind his decision to make a deal with Tobias so that he could walk again. That deal came with some pretty hefty strings attached and Anissa doesn’t even consider that because it’s easier for him to demonise him for the benefit of Jennifer’s protection. It’s easy to see why that happens and it clearly establishes that Anissa has a long way to go before she can truly call herself a hero.
Her vigilante exploits similarly come from a limited tunnel vision viewpoint. She sees stealing from the corrupt to fund the needy as an innately good thing that doesn’t require any justification on her part but Jefferson is quick to point out that she is failing to consider the big picture when deciding to take action. Robbing dangerous criminals and passing the money onto a particular organisation or group of people means that they will most likely be targeted by those who want their money back. Anissa dismisses this as being untrue because in Freeland everyone who does good is a target and her actions don’t make them any more of one than anyone else. This proves to be completely inaccurate but there’s more to this problem than that.
Jefferson points out that being a hero means that there is a code of conduct that has to be followed otherwise there’s nothing to separate them from the criminals they’re trying to bring down. Jefferson is referring specifically to Anissa stealing money from the corrupt. Anissa is of the opinion that if her intentions are morally upright then she can justify any action no matter how immoral or illegal it is. This is a really strong argument that puts them on different sides of a really interesting issue and makes for something that isn’t easily resolved because the belief in certain points of view is so strong.
The effect it has on the family dynamic is also significant as Jefferson takes a hard line stance and offers her the ultimatum of either following the rules that exist under his roof or leave. She chooses the latter because she firmly stands by her views and doesn’t want to compromise her values for the benefit of continuing to live in the family home. This has a knock on effect for Jennifer who is distraught that her sister is leaving when she has to say and serves as a reminder to her that Anissa can make that decision because she’s legally an adult where Jennifer is stuck where she is.
One of the interesting things about the divide between Jefferson and Anissa is how black and white it is. The chaos in Freeland might have something to do with them sticking so rigidly to their guns rather than considering the full picture. When there’s no real law then it makes sense to enforce rules that have no exceptions so that the chaotic world makes more sense. This is why Anissa can’t see that Khalil is also a victim because her focus is entirely on getting rid of criminals and he’s one of them. Jefferson can’t see the benefits to funding ordinary citizens to challenge the corrupt system because he’s sticking to his believe that costumed vigilantes should abide by a set of unshakeable principles. In simpler times there might be room for nuance but he lives in a time where he feels that decisive action is required which prevents him from seeing alternate points of view. This rigid way of thinking is dangerous on its own and I feel that the show will delve into that further especially with Gambi trying to occupy that middle ground.
Opposing binary viewpoints also exist elsewhere. Lynn and Dr. Jace are on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to those in the pods. Dr. Jace sees scientific curiosities that exist as vessels for whatever experiments she can think to run. She doesn’t see the human angle because as far as she’s concerned they’re already dead so it’s not worth considering them outside of their scientific potential. Lynn sees them as people with a past, feelings, relationships and lives that they need to get back to. The contrast between that thinking makes for some interesting interactions and actually allows a balance to creep in to some degree in terms of the work that they are doing.
There is some room for nuanced thinking. Jefferson breaks up a fight at school and Lowry catches wind of it so immediately expels one and suspends the other because his regime has a zero tolerance policy to violence of any kind. The difference in approach here is fascinating and says a lot about the sort of people Jefferson and Lowry are. Jefferson sees the kids for their unlimited potential and focuses on teaching them what their actions mean in a larger sense. It’s a good lesson about how hatred can be all consuming if left unchecked and there’s a sense that this has been learned at least to some extent. Lowry’s decision tears apart all of Jefferson’s efforts and the resulting argument is brilliantly done.
Jefferson makes strong points about why it’s more valuable to give the kids a chance to learn from their mistakes because Garfield is a safe place for them. Expulsion exposes kids to the possibility of becoming violent criminals. At Garfield they can be protected but out on the streets they are on their own. In some ways it’s too simplistic a viewpoint but he speaks from a position of experience and tries to change Lowry’s mind by refusing to support his authority but Lowry reminds him that it’s his job to do so and if he can’t do that then he has no place there. As good as this is it means that there’s no real discussion had as such as it amounts to a statement of beliefs with no exploration but the idea of Jefferson’s hard work building the school into what it became is being undone is interestingly tragic. Lowry still needs some work as a character as he so far does little more than embody the opposite viewpoint to Jefferson without any real context for why he thinks the way he does.
Tobias’ arrest last week was never going to be a permanent fixture due to his status but that doesn’t mean that interesting things can’t be done with it. As far as everyone who opposes him is concerned this is very much a win as he has been brought to justice but the complexities of the legal system allow Tobias to turn this to his advantage. Since there is no concrete proof that he has done anything unlawful he can’t be kept in custody for long.
The only person with any chance of testifying against him is Jefferson but this is unlikely to work as it would mean changing his story from when he was a child and fighting an uphill battle to convince a jury. The scene with the lawyer where he lets his emotions get the best of him is great because it clearly outlines the stakes and features an excellent performance from Cress Williams. Jefferson immediately realising why his side will be difficult to argue following his outburst is a really good display of self awareness as well.
Tobias being set free is a game changer because it means that he is now legitimised as a presence within Freeland and no longer has to act from the shadows. He even managed to play the public by delivering a speech about being a positive influence in the community. This suggests to me that he’s going to have a legitimate front facing operation that hides his criminal activities which will only make him more dangerous. By trying to bring him down Jefferson has only made him more powerful and therefore more dangerous.
Another strong episode that tests the Pierce family dynamic in new and interesting ways. The main point of friction is Jennifer who resents that all choice is being taken away from her in her own life because she is considered too dangerous at this point. Home schooling is a huge step back for her as it limits her social interactions and takes away whatever hope for a normal life that she had. Being a teenager she has no real say in it which adds to the frustration. Anissa by contrast is an adult who can make her own decisions though that doesn’t mean she necessarily makes the right ones. Jefferson disagrees with her vigilante methods because he believes that heroes have to abide by a certain code of conduct that separates them from the criminals. Anissa feels that her actions are innately good and that the ends justify the means. There’s no middle ground for either of them so Anissa takes the only course of action available to her and moves out. Anissa’s journey into becoming a hero manifests in other ways such as demonising Khalil rather than seeing him as the victim of circumstance that he clearly is.
Binary viewpoints fill the narrative of this episode such as how Dr. Jace and Lynn view the people in the pods; Jace sees them as research subjects where Lynn sees them as people. Jefferson breaks up a fight at school and Lowry expels one while suspending the other because he has a zero tolerance policy to violence within the school. Jefferson sees the issue for how complex it really is and tells Lowry that giving up on the kids effectively dooms them to being picked up by gangs and corrupted. Jefferson sees Garfield as a haven where kids can learn from their mistakes but Lowry enforces his rules and makes it clear that Jefferson won’t be welcome unless her abides by them. Having them on separate sides of such a powerful issue works really well though more work needs to be done to establish some context for Lowry’s reasons for feeling this way. Tobias’ arrest was never going to be permanent and he ends this episode stronger than ever as he is found to be innocent meaning he no longer has to operate in the shadows. Jefferson’s realisation that even his testimony won’t be enough is brilliantly done and Tobias being a legitimate businessman while continuing to build his criminal empire has so much potential.
- Jennifer feeling that her freedom is being taken from her piece by piece
- the argument between Anissa and Jefferson over what makes a hero
- Dr. Jace seeing the pod people as research subjects while Lynn sees the humanity
- Jefferson’s nuanced and thoughtful approach to dealing with violence at school
- Lowry opposing this and threatening Jefferson with severe consequences if rules aren’t followed
- Tobias legitimising himself by being proven innocent
- Lowry coming across as slightly shallow at this point
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