Black Lightning 1x13 "Shadow of Death: The Book of War"
Jefferson Pierce is a hero who has never really been happy being a hero, at least not of the superhero variety. He’s not only burdened with his own ideas and thoughts about who Black Lightning really is, he must deal with those of his family, friends and the community at large. Everyone has an ideal superhero and Jefferson has struggled over the course of the season to meet everyone’s expectations. The finale of Black Lightning was interesting; in many ways the first half fell a little flat, but the second half blew it out of the water.
It’s hard to move a show forward when the protagonist is unconscious for half of the episode, but Black Lightning managed. I loved the use of black and white as a backdrop for the narrative of a young Jefferson Pierce growing into the man, using his powers for the first time against police officers (fitting) and giving the audience a chance to get to know Alvin Pierce outside of mentions from other characters. I loved seeing just how much of his father Jefferson continues to bring forth into his life (and the lives of the students he teaches), ensuring that his father’s legacy and memory never dies. In fact, Alvin is the originator of the “Whose life is this?” mantra. They’re strong words to give to a Black boy living in an area like Freeland and I’m proud of Jefferson for using them as a self-fulfilling prophecy and trying to motivate other youth with it.
One of my favorite parts of the episode is when Jefferson gets a chance to communicate with his father (probably just his subconscious but I’ll take what I can get here). In this moment, Jefferson finally gets to tell his father that he loves him, after so many years, but he also gets to be that vulnerable boy, the one who never got to ask his father of “doing the right thing” was worth losing a lifetime with his son. The scene was poignant enough, but the addition of “Stairway to Heaven” (as sung by The O’Jays — which I’m listening to as I write this review) really kicked it up a notch.
Alvin will never get the chance to know if his sacrifice was worth it. But I’m going to say yes. If Alvin had never exposed the experiments Jefferson never would have become the man he is, and I’m not talking about Black Lightning. Without his father, Jefferson has chosen to devote his life to helping his community. With his Olympic runs and his apparent intelligence, Jefferson could have chosen to do anything, but it was his father’s loss that gave the community of Freeland a hero to look up to in an Average Joe — a principal, a father of two, a husband. In many ways, Alvin’s sacrifice has saved so many other young lives in Freeland, not just those affected by the experiment, but those who Jefferson educates daily.
Of course, Jefferson is actually asking himself this question, as Alvin isn’t really there, and Jefferson is just speaking to his subconscious self. Is being Black Lightning worth the possible sacrifice of family, friends and even his own life? And it’s important that Jefferson realizes that he’s the only one who can make that decision, no matter what anyone else says. This moment is only heightened when Jefferson awakens only to discover his powers gone. He’s spent the time he was unconscious debating with himself about whether or not using his powers is worth losing those he loves only to have that choice snatched from him.
I will say that I think that this is one of the missteps the show made in the finale. I would have been extremely interested in seeing what Jefferson does without his powers. We know Anissa can hold her own as Thunder, and Lynn and Gambi are a force to be reckoned with when they’re working together. Even Jennifer gave one of the SWAT team a jolt. Jefferson’s powers being restored to him in about 2 minutes didn’t really impact his development, and only served to give the audience a brief moment of uncertainty. I enjoyed seeing that Jefferson had made the decision to go face the men with or without his powers, to be a hero regardless of whether or not he had powers or not (which is the true essence of Jefferson — that he’s a hero in or out of his suit, or should I say no matter which suit he’s wearing).
We also get to see Anissa stay behind to defend her family as well. This isn’t surprising; Anissa has always been willing to put herself on the front lines to save others, being arrested for protesting, arranging demonstrations. There’s a reason she was known as Harriet Tubman and a large part of that is her fortitude when standing up for people who can’t necessarily stand for themselves. Anissa pushes this thought even further. She’s not just thinking about saving her family; she knows that if Black Lightning and Thunder leave Freeland, if they run, then the community is at risk, and she’s not willing to let that happen. It’s a common enough choice, especially for those of us who “make it big”. Do you leave the place you came from or do you stay and help, and for Anissa, that’s not really a question.
In the end the Pierces stand together, and it’s a pretty well-done fight. Another of my highlights was seeing Lynn grab that rifle from Gambi and use it well. There’s nothing like seeing a woman stand for her family and even if Lynn is the only non-meta in her family, her heart is certainly big enough to make up for her lack of superhero prowess.
I do think the finale’s ending, with the Pierce family somehow winding up in the facility where Proctor was hiding the kids felt a bit rushed. Proctor got off a few lines that pegged him for what he really was, a racist man in a position of power (sounds familiar these days, right?) before Gambi shot him. We do find out that Proctor’s division was no longer running with the support of the ASA, but where does that leave Kara and how does this affect her plot going into Season 2? I have no doubt that the competent writing and directing team behind the show know that these are questions the audience will have, and I have no doubt they’ll find some way to address them in Season 2.
Now that Proctor is gone, Tobias Whale seems pretty firmly in control of the underbelly of Freeland, even managing to gain control of Proctor’s suitcase, which was full of a lot of mysterious green light, and two new henchmen to liven things up next season. It’s an obvious setup for the big bad next season, but Tobias doesn’t know that he’s got a whole family to take out if he really wants to run Freeland. And none of them are afraid of a fight. No matter what happens, Freeland is protected, because the Pierces are watching over them.