This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 4, Episode 3
Jefferson said in the season premiere, “Black Lightning’s dead.” In this episode, Jeff relinquishes his suit to Gambi, putting another nail in the coffin of his vigilante alter-ego. It’s one thing to have the suit and not wear it, and something else entirely to put the suit out of reach. Jefferson is unsure about a lot, but one thing he is sure of is that being Black Lightning endangers his family and wearing the suit does not protect them. When Marcel returns to work after grieving the loss of his son (in last week’s episode) Jefferson notices his bruises, and follows him after work. When Jeff discovers Marcel has been fighting in Lala’s illegal live-streamed cage matches, he takes on Lala’s “ringer” himself. He wins, and gives Marcel the earnings, in addition to letting Marcel stay in his childhood home. The feeling of helping someone as himself and not Black Lightning solidifies for Jeff the choice to let Black Lightning go.
What is Freeland without Black Lightning, though? Black Lightning answered this question in season one– gangs ruled the city while local law enforcement remained corrupt or ineffective. It is no coincidence then that Tobias and Lala have re-emerged as power players this season, while Jefferson’s suit has been collecting dust. Jefferson has to contemplate whether his personal stakes are more important than the wellbeing of the entire city. He will have to decide if he can hang up his suit for good while his daughters–the people he wants to protect most– take up the fight in his absence. This is an existential crisis befitting of a final season, and Black Lightning writers should seize the opportunity to take Jefferson to places they do not have to pull him back from, bad or good.
I want Black Lightning to continue to be unapologetic in its depictions of the Pierce’s mental health journeys, be it Jennifer coming to grips with her power, or Jeff and Lynn working to rebuild their faith in each other and themselves. It is still rare to see heroes, powered people, Black people, openly engaging with their emotional realities in a healthy and productive way. Therapy is not just a way for Jefferson and Lynn to work through their emotions in-universe, but a way for them to have a conversation with the audience, without vagueness. We don’t have to wonder why they make certain decisions or what the thought process is behind them, we are told, explicitly. More importantly, we see them doing the necessary work to heal.
Lynn tells the therapist about her family, of which generations have served in the military. She was smarter than her parents and brother which meant she didn’t enlist, but that made her an outcast. Now in the present, she is the only person in her family who isn’t a meta, and she’s experiencing the same feelings of Otherness. We know why she’s experimenting on herself — to protect her family and to fit in— and we know why she might consider Tobias’ offer to fund her genetics research while she works on a cure for ALS. He wants her because of her intelligence, her “superpower” he calls it. We don’t know what Tobias is doing or what he’s actually after, but we know it’s nefarious, and so does Lynn. She knows she can’t trust him, but she has worked with people she doesn’t trust before, and doing so has allowed her to be a hero even at great personal cost. I enjoy that Lynn is an imperfect person who tries to do good and make the world better, but who doesn’t get bogged down by arbitrary definitions of what is right and good. I’d love to see Lynn come into her own power, independent of borrowed meta abilities or Tobias’ illicit wealth, but mostly I hope to see her become the best version of herself–whatever that means for her.
Anissa is already a fully realized hero, as herself, as Blackbird, and as Thunder. She’s not just a vigilante, who uses her powers to stop drug deals, or an organizer, who makes treaties with gangs to create safe spaces in Freeland, she’s also a Doctor. Anissa has been the most consistent with her goals and her relationship with her meta abilities, and it is comforting to see her so established in the roles she’s taken on in the city. I want her to stay the path, and to be happy. And now that Grace is awake, and the pair are officially married, I hope to see more of them as a couple, and as a team.
Jenn, like Lynn, has completely reversed her position on meta powers and vigilantism. When Jennifer discovered her abilities, she wanted nothing to do with them, and nothing to do with being a hero. But now, Jenn is Lightning through and through, and her power is not just a part of her but maybe the most important element of personal identity. When Rebecca Larsen (Amanda Baker)– this universe’s Tomi Lahren– uses doctored video of a Lightning altercation with the 100 to spread “fake news” about her lethality, Jenn takes pains to find and release the original video. She wants to use social media to control her own narrative, but social media makes heroes and martyrs everyday, and it is a huge part of the culture. It’ll be interesting to see Jenn navigate this new, and volatile element, while grasping with her evolving powers.
Black Lightning has put so much on the table, that it almost feels like there are no secrets left to discover, but one thing this show gon’ do is throw down a wildcard when you least expect. Gambi is playing with fire, Tobias is plotting, and there is still Chief Lopez and her anti-meta agenda. There are so many things we’ve yet to explore in this universe, and I am excited to take the ride. I only hope Black Lightning doesn’t spend too much time setting the stakes for this final season only to rush to an unsatisfying conclusion.