This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 4, Episode 5
This episode of Black Lightning is impressive, and it raises the stakes in several exciting ways. The family discovers Jennifer blew up in the ionosphere but Jefferson can feel Jen’s energy so he suits up and goes up there to absorb her. The amount of power is almost too much for him, but he is able to capture her particles. They are able to store Jennifer’s essence while they use a hadron particle condenser—which Barry ran over to them, off-screen naturally— to convert her energy to matter. (“I have a friend in Central City. He’ll get it here in a flash.” is a cute line, I guess.) After several tense and uncertain hours, they reconstitute Jen’s body— they 3D print her! Except, the body that steps out of the machine belongs to actress Laura Kariuki, not China Anne McClain who originated the role.
Jennifer isn’t dead, but she is effectively reincarnated. She will have to be someone different to everyone but her closest friends and family, which creates a new dimension of character for writers to explore if they so choose. A major character death is one way to catalyze the story, but this choice by Black Lightning writers allows the show to deal with change and loss, without evoking even more pain and trauma for the characters or the audience. Jennifer has to deal with the loss of identity, and her loved ones have to adjust to their new reality, all the while having to protect Lightning, Jennifer’s vigilante alter-ego, who has been dubbed Public Enemy Number One by Chief Lopez. I look forward to seeing Laura’s take on Jennifer Pierce, and watching Jen navigate this new experience. I also can’t wait to see whether the writers fully embrace the character’s new face, and use that to Jen’s advantage amidst the Lightning slander.
Chief Lopez meanwhile is hating from outside the club, she can’t even get in. This woman does not like metas, and all of her energy since replacing Henderson seems to be spent toward their elimination or oppression, at the very least. Lopez assigns Detective Shakur to head the Meta Task Force, which he doesn’t want to do. She decides to blame the death of Lidell—a member of the 100 that Jefferson roughed up, but Lala killed— on Lightning, to further taint the public’s trust in metas and vigilantes. One might wonder why an Afro-Latina would go so hard to be somebody else’s oppressor, but she is absolutely doing the thing women do in roles traditionally held by men, where they emulate men to avoid being seen as emotional, soft, or weak. If Lopez is being centered—and I am for it if she is—I hope that writers are making conscious and deliberate choices about her characterization that give her nuance, in the same way that they seem to be doing with Detective Shakur.
“Black lightning has been gone long enough. He is and always has been the hope of Freeland.” Gambi is able to convince Jefferson to return to the game and the timing is perfect because Freeland is under so many threats. In addition to coming for metas, Lopez is going hard on the local gangs after Tobias successfully framed The 100s for the mayor’s murder. Destiny reaches out to Lala for a truce, and she sets him up with the local PD. Lala is gunned down, and killed, but he comes back to life… publicly. This is not a new power, but it is perhaps the first time his power has been on display in front of law enforcement and his rival gang. Lala is now a known meta. This adds another layer to his characterization, and makes his relationship with the city even more contentious. His gang causes active harm in the community, but they also kept food in people’s mouths during the occupation and fought back against the Markovian insurgents. The narrative that paints metas as enemies of the city are at odds with the heroics of Black Lightning and others, but Lala might make Lopez’s villainization of metas easier.
Lala behaves consistently despite a seemingly constant shift in motivation. Getting Tobias up out the paint is the one thing Lala has remained firm on though, and with the way Tobias is plotting, having Lala on Team Moby Dick—Tobias Whale, you get it?— could be useful to the good guys. Lala’s relationship to Freeland is protective and exploitative in equal measure, which makes him an interesting character to spend time with. His relationship with Black Lightning mirrors the one with Jefferson Pierce, antagonistic but reverent. After the two chop it up about Tobias, and the Mayor’s murder, he holsters his DEG and says “glad to see you back, Freeland’s been needing someone to look up too.” Black Lightning is Lala’s hero as much as he’s anyone else’s and that is a really great dynamic.
The Pierces are finally coming to resolutions with one another, which leaves room for their hostility to be turned outward. They are at their best when they are a team, and they’re going to need to be on point for whatever’s coming in The Book of Ruin.
TC is slightly more realized this season but I still struggle with whether he’s Black Lightning’s Magical Negro. I like that he was given narrative space in this episode but he needs to have more agency and function outside of how he can help Gambi and the Pierces.
When Hassan chased down Devonte, this exchange actually made me laugh out loud.
Devonte: I can’t breathe.
Shakur: That’s cause you fat, I ain’t even on you like that. Stop disrespecting the dead.
If it’s one thing Black folks gon’ do is find a way to bring levity amidst pain.