Anxiety Vexes the Hero and the Villain in Black Lightning
This week on Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce starts experiencing intense headaches, leading to bouts of rage and loss of control. This naturally concerns Lynn Pierce and Peter Gambi, the latter of whom is normally supportive of Jefferson’s efforts as Black Lightning.
Meanwhile, the show provides more background on Tobias Whale and what drives him. We’re given a look at his family structure, and how his past hangups are preventing him from self-actualizing in the present. Despite some missteps, it continues the show’s slow and steady exploration of its main villain.
Note: This review doesn’t contain major spoilers for episode five.
The Hero’s Future
Previous episodes of Black Lightning have had very solid writing and story structure. They’ve been paced well with clear rising action and climax, in addition to well-rounded individual character arcs. Unlike previous episodes, this week structure was a bit all over the place. Individual arcs focused more on necessary explication and plot developments rather than well-rounded stories within the episode.
Jefferson’s work as Black Lightning starts to take its toll. Intense headaches and heavy stress make those around him worried. We clearly see that it’s having an effect on Jefferson, as he starts the episode cool and collected, using restraint when faced with a violent drug user. Later in the episode, he uses less restraint and becomes more reckless, much to Gambi’s dismay. However, other than those two points of Jefferson being in control at the beginning of the episode and his problems at the end, the structure of his story just feels messy.
We also see more of his role as a father in how he relates to his daughter Jennifer. Though teen drama can slow things down, it’s good to see Jefferson’s pride in and concern for his daughter. It keeps the Pierce family from being one-note characters that exist merely to round out the cast. That being said, these segments didn’t mesh as well with the superhero and crime segments. This adds on to the structural issues in this episode.
The Villain’s Past
Jefferson is not the only character with this problem. Tobias’ story this week gives us some necessary background. We see into his past family life in a unique flashback sequence where his sister and father are their younger selves, but Tobias remains an adult. It’s a fresh and interesting way of doing flashbacks, and even hints that Tobias might have some mental health issues.
The show reveals that Tobias’ father was abusive, and hated him for his albinism. Moreover, we see that he and his sister were allies in surviving their father’s abuse. This gives greater depth to their relationship as adults. Black Lightning also encourages thought on the parallel family structures of Jefferson and Tobias, with heavy consideration toward father figures. It’s an engaging symmetry in an episode with overall weaker writing.
This was the strongest moment of Tobias’ story this week. Other sections seem to exist for the benefit of future episodes, rather than being their own arc within this episode. While this is understandable in a serial show such as Black Lightning, it leads to some awkward explication and clunky scenes.
It’s Not All Bad
Surprisingly, Anissa’s arc was the most well-written and engaging this week. We follow her doing research into superhuman powers and Freeland’s history. She finds links to her journalist grandfather and a story he worked on before his murder. The whole plot hints at some of the larger things happening behind the scenes in the city. For the first time, Anissa’s story is moving at a solid pace in a way that fits into the larger story of Black Lightning. This is in contrast to previous episodes, where Anissa seemed to be doing her own thing on her own time.
Overall, this episode works as part of the ongoing narrative, and less as its own episode. This is to be expected at points, but it means that it’s less compelling on its own than other episodes. Perhaps in the context of the entire season it will feel stronger.
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9 PM on the CW.