Black Lightning – Season 4 Episode 2
“The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter Two: Unacceptable Losses”
Black Lightning continues to explore the fractured Pierce family dynamic as the situation in Freeland continues to deteriorate.
Two episodes into the season it’s clear that a major theme for at least the first arc of the season is grief. This is framed through Jefferson but the major characters all touch on it in different ways. Jefferson grieves the loss of Henderson, Anissa grieves because Grace is in a coma, Jennifer grieves the loss of her own innocence though is in denial about that, Lynn grieves the loss of her own support structure brought on by her addiction and Gambi grieves the loss of Black Lightning as well as his inability to make Jefferson understand how much Freeland needs that symbol. In some cases these are very broad interpretations of grief as a concept but the whole point is that it can take many forms and isn’t wholly limited to the traditional understanding of it.
It’s interesting to see how everyone’s grief informs their actions. Anissa is really struggling to deal with the Grace situation and is at the point where she needs a break from it. Considering it has been a year this is completely understandable as the emotional toll of constantly sitting by the bedside of someone who may never make up won’t be easy to deal with. It was established in the previous episode that she has held out hope over that year and waiting for Grace to wake up has consumed her to some degree. Jennifer pointed that out and Anissa is starting to realise that herself. Her colleague Darius (Todd Anthony) becomes an outlet for her after she reaches the point where she needs that break. At the right moment he offers her some drama free company and the opportunity to socialise so she takes him up on his offer and goes for a drink. The shift in her demeanour when she spends time with Darius speaks for itself and there are direct references to her responsibilities getting in the way of her actually living her life. As viewers we know her responsibilities are numerous with two distinct vigilante identities, the work she does at the hospital, looking out for her family and her commitment to grace. It’s a lot to shoulder and she’s starting to feel the weight of it. Her scenes with Darius also brought some much needed levity to what would otherwise be a uniformly grim episode but that levity is well placed and fits in naturally with everything that surrounds it.
Lynn’s addiction combined with her desire to be a vigilante that helps clean up Freeland is a plot that doesn’t entirely work and has always felt out of place. Christine Adams does great work with what she’s given and elements of it feed nicely into the overall family dynamic in interesting ways but how the show got there and what the audience is expected to accept feels disconnected from who Lynn is. It’s fair that she wants to do something to help Freeland and it does lead to a particularly strong scene where she is confronted by her daughters for putting herself in danger without the proper training. Anissa and Jennifer were both trained by Jennifer and are prepared for what awaits them when in the field but Lynn hasn’t had that training and is far from in her right mind because of her addiction. The intervention comes from a place of love and Lynn’s current mindset means that she’s ill equipped to recognise that her daughters want what is best for her. Instead she throws it right back at them because it’s coming from two people she brought into the world. To her that means their advice is less valid because in her mind the advice is supposed to be given by her.
Some reason for Lynn’s behaviour is suggested in her solo therapy session when she is directly asked what it is she liked to do and is forced to admit that she has no hobbies. Her life is her work and her family with nothing she can truly call her own. Her vigilante activities and temporary super powers could be her version of trying to claim something as her own but it’s incredibly unhealthy as she is forcing herself into the role that the rest of her family have naturally found themselves in. It’s dangerous for her and others though she is yet to recognise that. There is a sense that she’s on the way to gaining clarity on this issue when Jefferson points out that she has traded one addiction for another and is doing exactly what she has accused Jefferson of in the past when it comes to being addicted to powers as well as the vigilante life. Those words return to her when she shoots up with more powers towards the end of the episode which might make for a breakthrough or could be something she finds a way to dismiss.
Jennifer’s loss of innocence is brought up when Lynn asks her about sitting tests that are important for her academic future. With an occupation and a War in the rear view mirror for the characters in this show it can be easy to forget that Jennifer is a young woman attending high school and it looks as if this is something she is also looking to forget. She sees her future as being tied to the Lightning identity which makes her studies pointless as far as she’s concerned. Lynn insists that she needs an identity outside of Lightning but Jennifer doesn’t see things that way at this point. This raises an interesting debate around the whole dual identity concept. Lynn sees it as the accepted norm because Jefferson has always done that so she thinks it’s vital for costumed vigilantes have an established civilian identity to go back to. There’s a good chance that the end of Jennifer’s arc will have her see the value in Jennifer Pierce as a member of society as well as Lightning being a defender of Freeland but having a character turn their back on civilian ambition in favour of their costumed identity could be interesting as it would directly address the identity debate in a way that has been rarely explored in shows like this.
The real tragedy here is that Jennifer has missed out on growing up because of what she has experienced in such a short time and is burdened with responsibility that arguably should be reserved for those far beyond her years. We’re very much at the beginning of this potential debate but the foundation of it is interesting and Jennifer’s current perspective is certainly worth considering. It’s possible the show is building to a story around Jennifer coming to harm due to reckless behaviour though it’s strange that the cliffhanger of her falling out of the sky in the previous episode doesn’t come up here at all.
Gambi is actively considering his own future as well as his own past. The reason he rejected the job offer extended to him in the previous episode is revealed to be because he feels that it’s simply more of the same. He does reconsider it when he finds out the company are manufacturing anti meta-human weapons unlike anything that has been encountered before so he feels the need to take steps that allow him to get in front of this problem. This is very consistent with Gambi’s previous actions as he always takes a proactive approach to any issues that may occur. Everything he does is always in service of protecting the Pierce family so it’s easy to see why he’s positioning himself the way he is. His conversation with Lauren (Elena Varela) has him take a different job in R&D at the company which will give him unrestricted access to the problem that needs to be solved which is a perfect position for him to be in. The Gambi/Lauren dynamic already feels lived in and has a lot of potential now that they will be working closely together especially if Gambi finds different aspects of his life in conflict with one another.
Jefferson is completely unable to process his grief over the loss of Henderson. He doesn’t sleep and in this episode finds himself going outside to scream into the night while releasing energy. This is especially concerning because it causes him to collapse and be awoken hours later on the porch by Lynn. He refuses to accept that this is a problem and continues with his day to day life. There is no healthy outlet for his grief because he refuses to accept that he needs one and this is exacerbated by the clear rift that exists within his family. How far apart they are when sleeping in the same bed is a common yet effective visual indicator of how much they have grown apart and there’s little to no interaction with his daughters in the episode at all indicating that they are living lives completely separate from him. Jefferson feels lost and alone though he isn’t doing much to mitigate that.
Turning his back on the Black Lightning identity is a major consequence of his grief and it acts as a metaphor for the damage he’s doing to himself. It is established and frequently reinforced by Gambi that using his powers when not wearing his costume isn’t good for him yet he ignores that advice and continues to use them freely. At this point he’s unwilling to listen to reason and carries on doing things that are actively damaging him. It’s a great example of the impact of grief through the lens of superheroes and super powers. It is used very well within the context of the narrative playing out and Cress Williams portrays it excellently. Once again he goes after someone seeking to punish them outwith the Black Lightning persona and savagely beats them which is obviously concerning behaviour. Jefferson ha a lot of healing to do and isn’t willing to let himself take steps towards getting better. A moment of realisation will be on its way but it is unclear how far away that is or how much damage will be done fore it happens.
As with Lynn, Jefferson’s solo therapy session is very telling about his emotional state. It is identified that he is struggling and he is explicitly told that he has to be willing to find a way to help himself before he can heal. This reinforces what his actions establish elsewhere and his general demeanour heavily suggests that he’s lost hope and can’t do anything to help those who need it. In order to get to the point where he can act as Black Lightning and help others again first he has to help himself and he at least has a therapist willing to help him through that.
Tobias hasn’t really done much by this point but remains a great presence. He is starting to set things in motion and it is revealed that he is immune to Jefferson’s powers which sets up a really interesting final conflict where Jefferson’s advantage has been lost. Their scene together is excellent with Tobias casually savouring the position he finds himself in and making it very clear to Jefferson what he plans to do. His plan is to simply take everything he cares about away from him and he seems to be starting with Lynn who is his current focus but he wants Jefferson to fight back because it’ll be more fun destroying him that way. It’s a testament to the writers that Tobias has been sustained throughout the entirety of the show without being extraneous our overused.
The current state of Freeland is explicitly explored through two main plot points. The first is the teacher Marcel (Kedrick Brown) losing his child in a gang shoot-out. His family have been living in the car because following the occupation and War rent is something he can no longer afford. Normal people are suffering greatly and something needs to be done to fix it. Marcel is a case study for what amounts to a much larger issue and Jefferson realises that he had no idea how bad things have gotten for many because he lives outside that so never really sees it. It could be the first suggestion that he needs to be more involved in his city and do more to improve things because savagely beating people who harm or kill one person isn’t really doing anyone any good in the broad sense. It certainly doesn’t bring back the dead and arguably doesn’t really avenge them either.
Anissa takes steps to improve things by forcing a meeting with prominent gang leaders as Blackbird. She makes the reasoned case for them leaving certain areas alone so that the homeless have the chance to take steps to rebuild their lives without fear of being caught in the crossfire. Lala and Destiny (Teesha Renee) accept this as a necessary compromise because it will benefit their long term interests as it will provide more customers for what they provide. Of course it’s less than ideal to be pandering to criminal gangs but those gangs can’t simply be stopped so the situation needs to be worked with in order to keep people safe. It feeds into Freeland’s overall complexity as a location and continues to make the city a character within the show with its wide variety of moving parts constantly receiving attention. It’s telling that Anissa is the one to do it which shows that Jefferson is disconnected from the city while also showing that Anissa and Jennifer’s efforts in the previous episode weren’t all that effective. The Blackbird identity being unconnected from Thunder always has been a great fixture because it allows Anissa to tow a moral line without tarnishing Thunder’s reputation.
A strong episode that gives close attention to the ongoing struggles the characters are experiencing, uses the Pierce family rift brilliantly and continues to develop Freeland as a complex setting. The different examples of grief present in each of the characters are incredibly varied with each character having something unique that ties them back to that theme. Anissa’s grief is around Grace’s ongoing coma and she reaches a point where she is unable to deal with the weight of responsibility imposed on her so takes her colleague Darius up on his offer of a drink which allows her the rare opportunity to relax while also introducing natural levity into what would otherwise be a wholly grim episode. She juggles a lot of responsibility and there’s a sense that she is crumbling under the weight of it so this was a needed break for her. Lynn’s addiction plot still doesn’t make complete sense for the character but it informs her actions and interactions in really interesting ways. Anissa and Jennifer’s intervention was a particularly strong scene that highlights her lack of willingness to accept other points of view. A possible reason for her behaviour is suggested when she admits in therapy that she has no hobbies outside of her family and work so her vigilante activities could be an attempt to claim something for herself. Jefferson calls her out on this and there’s an ambiguous moment that could be a marker of clarity or something else that she ends up dismissing.
Jennifer’s lost innocence is addressed though the need to apply for testing that will benefit her academic future. Her current stance is that there’s no need for her to pursue that because the Lightning identity is enough. This brings up an interesting debate about the need for a civilian identity outside of a costumed one. Lynn is firmly on the side of Jennifer having a life outside of Lightning but I’d be interested in seeing the show explore this issue through Jennifer’s experience. It’s likely the direction will be to have Jennifer embrace a civilian life and there’s the strong suggestion of reckless behaviour being a problem for her though it’s odd that the cliffhanger from the previous episode goes completely unaddressed. Gambi recognising the threat and using his connection to Lauren to put himself in a very powerful position close to the anti-metahuman weapons is a perfect use of his character and in line with everything that has been established about him. The Lauren/Gambi dynamic is also very interesting and comes across as very lived in so there’s a lot of potential there. Jefferson’s grief has consumed him even though he’s unwilling to admit it. He uses his powers without considering the harm he’s doing to himself which is a strong metaphor for grief and being unwilling to accept help that’s needed. It’s identified that he needs the help but needs to recognise within himself that he needs it. He’s not there yet and feels hopeless as a result. Resuming his role as Black Lightning can’t happen until he takes that step. It remains concerning that he savagely beats people motivated by vengeance which feeds into everything he is dealing with nicely. Tobias being positioned as an ever present threat slowly working through his plan is working really well. His immunity to Jefferson’s powers increases his threat level and sets up a more compelling conflict. Freeland is still positioned as a character within the show and a location that has many moving parts. Marcel as a case study for the consequences of the occupation and War for normal people highlights both the declining situation as well as Jefferson’s distance from it. Anissa using the Blackbird persona to create a truce where the main gangs agree to leave certain areas alone shows the complexity of the setting as well as Anissa’s realisation that her activities as Thunder weren’t really helping.
- varied and unique examples of grief being explored through the characters
- Anissa reaching a breaking point and taking the rare opportunity to relax
- Anissa and Darius’ interactions introducing some natural and much needed levity
- the exploration of Jennifer’s lost innocence
- raising the question of the need for a civilian identity to be explored
- Anissa and Jennifer’s intervention and Lynn’s lack of willingness to accept it
- strong reasoning given to Lynn’s behaviour
- further evidence of Jefferson being consumed by his grief
- his powers serving as a metaphor for his lack of self care
- acknowledgment of his need to accept the need for help and take the first step
- Gambi being put in a compelling position and his interesting dynamic with Lauren
- Tobias being positioned as an ongoing threat and setting up a strong conflict
- Marcel acting as a compelling case study of the consequences of the occupation and War
- making the best of a bad situation by petitioning the gangs
- Anissa accepting that she needs a different approach
- Lynn’s addiction still not making complete sense
- the cliffhanger ending from the previous episode not being addressed
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