The Four Color Catch Up - Part 2 - Black Lightning (Week 16 - 19)
The Four Color Ark
THE FOUR COLOR CATCH UP
Between the mid-winter blahs and a case of the flu, The Four Color Ark is in need of a great deal of maintenance to get us up to date. To get caught up we’re going to do quicker recaps and review episodes in groupings of four. In our last part we looked back at the last four weeks’ worth of episodes of Legends of Tomorrow, and in part two we’re going to jump in to get caught up on Black Lightning.
Black Lightning Season 1, Episode 6: “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder” WEEK 16
When last we left Black Lightning, he’d been pretty badly beaten by Joey Toledo; still unable to get to his feet things get much worse as Toledo has tipped the police to Black Lightning’s location and are on their way. Gambi manages to get Jefferson to the safety of the tailor shop and an angry lecture from Lynn. Still learning about her powers Anissa has resumed her social activist activities and leads a protest of Confederate statues that gets her arrested. Jefferson tries to convince Anissa that her activism is dangerous and could get her killed. Lynn is given a copy of an MRI of someone who was using Green Light and recognizes it as being eerily similar to Jefferson’s MRI scan. Jennifer decides that Khalil’s injuries are putting a burden on their relationship, and while she is trying to be understanding Khalil’s rage goes further than she anticipated – even to posting attacks against her on social media. Gambi attempts to get Jefferson to back off of his hunt for Tobias Whale – firstly because he fears Jefferson will try to kill him and also to keep his own secret. Anissa hears that a white nationalist killed a protestor at the Confederate statue she suits up and uses her powers to destroy the statue. Jefferson manages to track down a doctor who treats Tobias for his albinism and sets up a trap to catch him. Anissa asks Lynn to do some research for her on the data she found in her grandfathers storage shed. Jennifer breaks up with Khalil. Two guys show up to rough up Lynn and steal her data, while she is on the phone with Jefferson. Jefferson drops his efforts to take down Tobias and races to Lynn’s lab, but isn’t the first one there. Anissa shows up in costume and takes care of the guys who attacked Lynn, and when Jefferson shows up he can’t tell that the superheroine Thunder is Anissa – the two fight and Jefferson kicks her ass. Lynn, finally untied, reveals that Thunder is Anissa – together Lynn and Jefferson rush Anissa to Gambi’s. Tobias promises Khalil he’ll walk again. And Anissa wakes up to see her father is Black Lightning.
We’re ramping up on the idea that Gambi has a deep and dark secret that he needs to keep from Jefferson, and is connected to some incredibly large conspiracy related to Tobias Whale, Green Light and Black Lightning. I’ve already devoted some column inches to the real origin of Peter Gambi, so I won’t do so again here, but clearly this is going in much the direction I’d expected. The fight between Black Lightning and Thunder was excellent to watch, particularly because it showcased the standard Superhero crossover trope where the two heroes have a fight scene caused by a misunderstanding before teaming up. Lynn Pierce is slowly becoming my least favorite character. I appreciate that she is meant to be a foil for Jefferson, but the way her opinions of Black Lightning and Jefferson’s actions spin on a dime is getting incredibly irksome as it’s not handled with any real consistency.
Jordan Calloway who brings an incredibly realistic rage to his scenes as Khalil, this episode allows him to deliver perhaps the most chillingly realistic performance of the entire series thus far.
Black Lightning Season 1, Episode 7: “Equinox: The Book of Fate” WEEK 17
We rejoin Black Lightning with Lynn diagnosing Anissa with a concussion after her title bout with Black Lightning, and Lynn trying desperately to convince Anissa to not follow Jeff into the family business of superheroism. Meanwhile Gambi and Jefferson have a serious conversation about Gambi’s withholding of information about the return of Tobias Whale, which Gambi again simply attributes to not wanting to see Jefferson become a murderer. Jefferson and Lynn go to the police about the break in at the lab and a composite sketch is generated of Lynn’s assailants. Lady Eve gets a copy of the sketch and has her henchmen go off to “take care of it” before notifying Gambi that the situation is being dealt with. Inspector Henderson reaches out to Black Lightning to try to figure out who the mysterious meta is who destroyed the Confederate statue, while Gambi has a parley with Lady Eve about Tobias and how he has broken the agreement. Anissa and Jefferson argue about Anissa’s role as a superhero, and Jennifer picks up on the tension. Anissa discovers that her father’s editor has been killed for giving her information that led to her finding the mysterious vial and data. Gambi murders Joey Toledo. Anissa and Lynn have an argument about being a hero. Lynn, swayed by Anissa’s argument, realizes Anissa won’t give up and asks Jefferson to train her to do it right so that she’ll be safe. Lynn then asks Gambi to make Anissa a super suit like Jefferson’s. Jefferson and Anissa have a conversation about Jeff’s father, and Jefferson agrees to teach her. Jefferson and Henderson tracked Joey Toledo’s movements to a jazz club set to reopen – Jefferson reasons that this must mean Tobias Whale is behind the jazz club. As Black Lightning, Jefferson heads to the jazz club and is drawing close to Tobias when Whale’s guards catch sight of him and attack. A massive shootout erupts and in the fracas both Tobias and his sister Kiesha take bullets, Tobias manages to escape and Jefferson stays with Kiesha trying to stabilize her – but unfortunately she dies in his arms. Across town at Lady Eve’s mortuary Tobias’ henchmen arrive with lightning guns and kill Lady Eve, framing Black Lightning for her murder. Inspector Henderson calls Black Lightning and accuses him of Lady Eve’s murder, saying that this time he has gone too far. In a mysterious hotel room, Lala wakes up – very much alive.
First off… Lala’s alive? Quoi? As twists go, that was the last thing I expected. Speaking of twists, I also didn’t expect that we were going to lose Lady Eve this early in the shows run. Also surprising, the death of Kiesha. This episode really seems like the writers room brief was: “do every unexpected thing you can imagine.” It’s an incredible thing to hit episode 7 and just completely flip the script on where the show is going. The slow burn on the growing tension between Jefferson and Gambi over the mysterious secret is being played razor tight, which is great to see. A conflict like this one would have blown up swiftly if it were taking place on any of the other CW/DC series. Gambi’s excitement over creating a super suit for Anissa is definitely a highlight of the episode, my only complaint here is that Jennifer seemed conspicuously absent in this episode – yes she had a single scene where she commented on the tension between Jefferson and Anissa, but beyond that she was just kind of gone.
Kyanna Simone Simpson’s Kiesha really sold the portrayal of the power behind the throne that is Tobias Whale in this, her final episode. She also had an incredible death scene where she without saying a word out-acted Cress Williams.
Black Lightning Season 1, Episode 8: “The Book of Revelations” WEEK 18
In Gambi’s basement, Jefferson is in full on Yoda mode – walking Anissa through a training session against holographic criminals. Word has gotten out that Black Lightning is being blamed for the murder of Lady Eve, and the city is not reacting well. Black Lightning as a murderer isn’t the only shocking thing going on, as Lala walks into his own nightclub as if nothing has happened – confusing the hell out of his surviving henchmen. A mysterious member of the ASA named Martin Proctor (Gregg Henry) meets with Gambi to inform him that he is bringing in a team to kill Black Lightning. Anissa and Jefferson break into the morgue where Lady Eve’s body is being held and get information that enables Gambi to determine that she was killed with a weapon that would need a nuclear power cell. Gambi begins trying to track the radiation, and ends up heading to church to try to seek some guidance on what to do. Jennifer and her friend Keisha are hanging up posters at school when Keisha begins to fall off a scaffolding – in reaction to the tension - lightning erupts from Jennifer: destroying her cell phone. Gambi manages to track the radiation signal, goes off to investigate; while Lynn discovers that the mysterious vial found in Jefferson’s father’s locker is in fact a vaccine for Green Light and informs Anissa and Jefferson. The two heroes go off after the radiation Gambi found and manage to find a cache of weapons buried in the woods. Jefferson calls Henderson as Black Lightning and asks him to send officers to their coordinates so that he can clear his name. Instead, a crooked cop shows up to the scene and tampers with the evidence. Lynn confronts Gambi about the possibility of a cure for Green Light, and correctly senses that Gambi knows much more than he’s letting on. Gambi tells Lynn that he needs to speak with Jefferson immediately. Lala is wandering around Freeland talking to the ghost of Lawanda, who is trying to shepherd him back into his old life. Jefferson arrives to talk with Gambi, and Gambi confesses his role in everything that has happened in Freeland. Gambi was a member of a government agency known as the ASA that began experimenting on the people of Freeland almost 30 years ago with the drug that came to be known as Green Light. When Gambi realized that the drug was making children sick, he turned the data over to Jefferson’s father, which is what got him killed. He felt responsible so he took Jefferson under his wing. Jefferson, unsurprisingly, does not react well and storms out – blaming Gambi for the death of his father. Jennifer tries to get assurance from Anissa about the electrical damage to her phone being nothing major, but Anissa realizes it means that Jennifer also has powers.
Finally the Gambi reveal, and with a neat twist that he isn’t really even named Peter Gambi. Thankfully, as expected, they keep Gambi out of actually being involved in the death of Jefferson’s father in this version – which makes his actions questionable but not reprehensible. Honestly the Jefferson and Anissa plot where they’re trying to clear Black Lightning’s good name is fairly straightforward, and there is much more interesting material to be mined in Jennifer’s experience with her emerging powers and the incredibly insane return of Lala who is haunted by a very different ghost of Lawanda. It raises so many questions, and answers exactly none of them; Is the means of Lala’s return the same thing that keeps Tobias from aging? Could Lady Eve return the same way that Lala did? Or even Kiesha? Had she lived, would Lady Eve have been there to help Lala through the process in a more constructive way? Jennifer’s first steps toward becoming Lightning are interesting, and it’s nice to see her powers emerging in similar but different ways than Anissa’s powers at the start of the season. Perennial sleaze Gregg Henry showing up as the leader of the ASA is a brilliant casting choice, and once I’m surprised the CW/DC Universe hadn’t already made – Henry would have just as easily been at home as cutthroat executive alongside Moira Queen on Arrow.
James Remar really blew the doors of his performance as Gambi in this episode, showcasing a man at a crossroads with perfect internal conflict – as he finally confesses his truth to Jefferson even we as the audience start to see Gambi differently than we had before. Beautifully played.
Black Lightning Season 1, Episode 9: “The Book of Little Black Lies” WEEK 19
Jefferson is not a happy man; he’s mad at Gambi for his long held secret, he’s mad at Henderson for sending a crooked cop to retrieve the weapon that would exonerate Black Lightning for Lady Eve’s murder. Meanwhile, Anissa is incredibly tactless in dealing with the concept that Jennifer has powers. She brazenly demonstrates her powers to Jennifer and blurts out that Jefferson is Black Lightning, causing Jennifer to run to her father for confirmation. When Jefferson admits who he is, Jennifer storms off. Lynn has some words with Anissa about how she handled the revelation about the family issues to Jennifer, and after accepting an apology on the issue: Jefferson begins working with Anissa to devise their plan to finally get Green Light off the streets of Freeland. As they work through the old research and courthouse documents, Lynn reaches out to Jennifer to try to talk her through the trauma of her emerging powers. Jefferson and Anissa hit pay dirt in their researching, discovering payments to Jefferson’s father from a company called BendsCorp. Meanwhile, Gambi is trying to track down the lightning weapons used on Lady Eve, and he is willing to stoop to some old school black ops techniques to get the info from a Russian agent. Anissa and Jefferson don some Presidential Halloween masks to break into a law firm where they can shake down information about BendsCorp. Afterwards, Anissa and Jennifer have a heart to heart about their powers. Gambi tracks the guns down and goes to investigate the warehouse, discovering that the weapons were created by the same organization he was a part of and that they have the kids affected by Green Light 20 years earlier in cryostasis. Gambi reaches out to Anissa to try to get her to convince Jefferson to trust him and go after the ASA and Martin Proctor – and true to his word he gives Anissa her new super suit. Jennifer talks to Lynn about how she feels like a freak and how she would just rather have a normal life. Elsewhere, Jefferson and Anissa are following Martin Proctor – while at the same time Inspector Henderson is on the trail of some crooked cops who are trading in high tech weaponry. Henderson and Black Lightning converge at Proctor’s warehouse and a fight ensues – Proctor manages to escape, Henderson arrests a chemist working on Green Light for the ASA and Black Lightning/Thunder torch the ASA warehouse. Later that night at home, Jefferson finally approaches Jennifer and apologizes for keeping his secret from her. The two drop their plans and have a father/daughter movie night so that they can reconnect.
This ASA conspiracy is so twisting and deep that I simply cannot predict exactly how it’s meant to conclude. I mean this government agency has released a drug that gives people increased strength; has cryogenically frozen a group of teenagers who are in fact older than Jefferson; are potentially responsible for Jefferson getting powers; are definitely responsible for Lady Eve’s ability to resurrect the dead; and equally responsible for the agelessness of Tobias Whale – all in the name of trying to control the inner city population of Freeland? Is the ASA like a really militarized version of DARPA? Anissa and Jefferson’s continued quest to clear Black Lightning’s name feels like it dominated an episode that lived in the aftermath of a whole host of unanswered questions – both about the ASA and about Lala and about Jennifer’s emerging powers. It was nice to wrap out that storyline and put Jefferson back in the suit, alongside the reveal of the Gambi created Thunder suit for Anissa – which looks excellent. I’m glad that Gregg Henry’s Proctor was able to slink away to remain a threat for Gambi and Jefferson. One of the best moments in the whole episode though was the quiet moment between Jennifer and Anissa where Jennifer informs Anissa that she has more fans online than Black Lightning does.
China Anne McCLain finally gets a chance to really shine as she struggles through her own powers, as well as the fact that her sister is Thunder and her father is Black Lightning. She doesn’t overplay it, nor does she go too subtle – which given her history as an actor on more didactic Disney channel shows – it is a deft piece of acting that she was able to thread that needle so well.
UP NEXT: In Part Three of The Four Color Catch Up, we’re bringing it home with our look at Arrow and The Flash.