This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 1, Episode 5
You can tell a lot about a show from a mediocre episode. “And Then the Devil Brought the Plague” was a mediocre episode of Black Lightning. While it teased some information we need to better understand the superhero mythology of this world, it was too uneven in its tonally disparate plots to be truly great. Still, if this is going to be what a medicore episode of Black Lightning looks like, then this show is something special.
Jefferson Pierce was firmly in his Black Lightning persona this episode, pushing himself past his limits to find the people behind Green Light. In a particularly strong moment, Jeff jumps down to stop the police from shooting a kid high on Green Light. Try a taser next time, Jeff angrily tells the cops. It is one of two scenes in the episode that comment on the frequency with which white people shoot black people and get away with it. Another comes later, when Jeff confronts an older white man (in a red hat that doesn’t seem like a coincidence) who is connected to the Green Light operation. The man tells him that he if he shoots Black Lightning on his property, he will be lauded as a hero.
It’s the kind of persistent, racist noise that Jefferson regularly has to put up with as a black man in both his “real” life and his superhero-ing, but, when nursing a headache caused by some new hover tech Gambi has put in the suit, Jefferson has even less patience for it. Jeff’s aggressive reactions to the deadly racism all around him is one thing, but the aggressiveness he displays in relation to interactions with Gambi doesn’t track in the same way.
While it’s becoming clear that Jeff has a weak spot when it comes to his father’s killer, aka Tobias Whale, I’m not sure I believe Jeff would risk his own health for a mission that could wait until tomorrow. It’s particularly unbelievable in an episode when Jeff is also being a level-headed, caring dad and partner. This is where some of the episode’s unevenness comes in. While it was much easier to follow Anissa from her Veronica Mars-like investigation into her grandfather’s censored newspaper stories about people with enhanced abilities to her development of a superhero costume, Jeff can seem like a completely different person when he is Black Lightning. Perhaps this is what Lynn was talking about when she called Jeff’s superhero-ing an addiction?
A superhero moment in which Jeff seemed more like the man we know from Garfield High and the Pierce family home was in his interaction with Inspector Henderson. This is the first time we’ve seen them working together, though it does seems like there is a history there. In general, this show did a good job of giving this superhero world a sense of history. From Alvin Pierce’s investigation to the feud between Tobias Whale and Black Lightning, this world has depth. While I missed the grounding of this episode in the school, church, and local community that we have come to expect from this show, I appreciate the show working to give this part of the world more history.
The Pierce family wasn’t the only family into whose history we garnered greater insight. As you might have suspected, the childhood of Tobias Whale was not a particularly pleasant one. While Tobias seems to genuinely love his sister, they grew up with an abusive father who regularly berated Tobias for his Albinoism. When Tori suggests that Tobias needs to defeat his first enemy, aka his father, the two visit the house of their elderly dad. Tobias breaks his father’s back and, rather than let Tori shoot him, leaves him there to die a slow, painful death. It was a particularly dark moment for an episode that also included a superhero costume montage.
Earlier in the episode, Tobias paid a visit to Gambi in an attempt to learn the name of the Black Lightning. Gambi played dumb, but the fact that Tobias a) has some sort of relationship with Gambi and b) is too afraid of the repercussions of killing Gambi to even threaten him gives us some more information about how Gambi fits into all of this. The A.S.A. is mentioned, which is short for American Security Agency. In the comics, the ASA was in charge of a national team of super-agents called the Force of July.
Not enough TV shows have montage sequences. That is all.
Jennifer totally owns two of her classmates in a physical fight, teasing the question: just when will Jennifer’s superpowers develop? Perhaps during a track meet? She’ll have to rejoin the track team first… Also, high school girls can be mean.
Jefferson calls the cell phone he gives Gambi “The Black Signal,” which is exactly the kind of dad joke you’d expect from Jefferson Pierce.