Last night’s Black Lighting was, well, a little off. With Jefferson finding out that Tobias Whale, the man who killed his father in cold blood, is still alive, he wants revenge. Seems straightforward and reasonable enough. Only, last night’s “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder” labors through a familiar hero’s dilemma and muddles the debate in the process.
For starters, let’s look at Black Lightning as a character. While he’s not exactly a pure vigilante like Arrow or even Batman at times, he’s not the unblemished Superman either. He doesn’t seem afraid to get his hands dirty and beat some 100 Gang behind in the process. Now, I’m not saying Tobias “deserves” to die but between the new havoc he’s released on the city of Freeland compounded with his past transgressions… let’s just say I wouldn’t be mad.
But really, it’s the way Jefferson labors through this question that started to become bothersome to me. Putting on more of a detective hat, Jefferson eventually tracks down Whale’s shrink and sets a plan to lure him back for a much-needed emergency session. In the midst of this, Lynn and Peter Gambi both try to get through to Jefferson and try to talk him down.
Lynn’s objections are fair enough. She’s been reluctant to embrace Jefferson’s return as Black Lightning and killing Tobias Whale might put him in too deep. (On the other hand, it would rid Freeland of one of its most notorious criminals). But it’s Peter Gambi’s motivations that feel totally muddled. Does he really have Jefferson’s best interests at heart? I’ve often criticized how coy the show has been with Gambi. We recently found out that Gambi had a history with Whale. Now, this week, we find out he has a history with Lady Eve, too. Gambi pops into Lady Eve’s weird morgue hideout where the two talk about their time at “The Agency.” Gambi agreed to not out Tobias (about what exactly, who knows), if Lady Eve agreed to stay away from the Pierce family.
But really, all of this new information just made me feel like the show was still teasing us with Gambi, who appears to have all these kinds of relationships throughout Freeland, though we don’t exactly know how or why. Rather than first unraveling more about Gambi’s history with Whale, we just add another Jenga block to the top of the tower. At some point, the show is just going to have to come clean brick by brick or else I’m just gonna knock the darn tower down myself. (Great analogy, I know).
Interestingly enough, at the same time as Gambi feels vague, he’s also starting to feel omniscient, threatening the credibility and competence of our great hero. If Gambi knows all these people, and Jefferson is just now discovering that Tobias Whale is alive, and struggling to track him down, it just feels like Black Lightning is too far behind the curve. I’m all for complex and well-drawn sidekicks, but Batman has to be Batman, and Alfred has to be Alfred.
Luckily, even with missteps, last night’s episode still had some solid moments. As soon as I first saw a (likely Confederate) statue come into view, and Anissa’s righteous self in the foreground, I knew we were in for some fun. A new generation of Freelanders protests the statue and are later met with white supremacist counterprotesters who evoke the Charlottesville tragedy. I’m not even sure I was ready for all of this, but I’m glad the show wasn’t afraid to tackle an issue that’s still quite raw.
What’s more, Anissa comes out more about her powers, using her abilities to break the statue to smithereens, and later saving her mom Lynn at work when she’s attacked by two mysterious men. Black Lightning also steps in to save Lynn and later dukes it out, unaware, with his own daughter. Everyone eventually figures out what’s up, but I liked that the verbal discovery was delayed a bit by a physical battle.
Jennifer, meanwhile, struggles in her relationship with Khalil, especially when the injured kid makes a meanspirited Instagram post questioning her blackness. Khalil’s evil turn feels a bit rushed, but I do recall an earlier episode where Tobias was starting to get to him. This week, we see him ride with Tobias and his mysterious henchwoman. Tobias promises Khalil he’ll walk again, which sets up some great action in the coming weeks between the Pierces and Tobias’ crew.
Season 1, Episode 6 (S01E06)
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9PM on CW
Ade Adeniji | Contributor