Black Lightning: The Shadow of Death: The Book of War

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Tobias Whale’s Injustice League…

Black Lightning comes to the end of the first season (thankfully, we already know they’re coming back) with The Shadow of Death: The Book of War. The show has a lot of flashbacks, conveniently differentiated by being in black and white, and sheds a lot of light on Jefferson’s relationship with his father Alvin and his origin as Black Lightning. It also deals with the big cliffhanger we saw them leave us with at the end of last episode. With this being a season finale, there will be spoilers below. Be warned.

Most of the flashbacks are some thirty years ago, when Jefferson was a kid. Alvin is getting Jefferson ready for school when a very upset Gambi shows up. Gambi was leaking him information to slow down the ASA project. Instead. Alvin released everything, which set in motion so much of what comes later. An upset Gambi stalks off while Alvin takes young Jefferson to school.

Next up is Alvin’s funeral, after his brutal murder by Tobias Whale which we’ve seen earlier in the series. Gambi attends, off on his own, crying at the loss of his friend. Later, there are riots in Freeland after an unarmed black man was killed by a cop. Jefferson, for reasons we never learn, is out in the streets during the worst of it, and two riot cops grab him. This turns into the first manifestation of his powers, surprising everyone. Jefferson runs away, drains an electric fence, and passes out in an alley. A surprised Gambi find him and goes to help him, getting a minor shock of his own. I’m not really sure how likely it is that there’s an electric fence in the middle of a city, but that’s a minor detail I suppose.

Back in the present day, Gambi has the Pierce family hidden at some remote cabin we’ve never seen before the end of last episode. Jefferson is really not looking good as Lynn does what she can and the others fret. Gambi finds Jennifer out on the porch (what happened to “Everybody stay inside”?), and talks to her, among other things, about different superhuman classifications. He also breaks some bad news to her about Khalil, which she doesn’t want to hear. Gambi is kind, but firm, in telling her things she needs to know.

Whale is luxuriating in his office, although his good mood is darkened by Khalil’s not following orders and (as far as they know) killing Black Lightning last episode. We get a partial, and odd, explanation of Khalil’s powers. Whale offers Painkiller, as he dubs Khalil, some advice and plots about how to deal with Proctor.

Speaking of, the ASA Agent isn’t having a great day. They have no leads on Black Lightning or where Whale has gone to ground. Power failures are affecting the pods where they hold their captive metahumans. He gives a lecture to his people with ugly, psuedo-patriotic images, and essentially talking about a metahuman arms race. He ends with a familiar political quote and sends people off to find Lala, the only part of Whale’s network they have a clue about.

Out in the woods, Gambi is gathering wood and talking to the girls about Jefferson’s powers. I get Jennifer not helping him, that’s wholly in character, but I was sort of surprised Anissa didn’t. Gambi talks about Jefferson’s background, and Anissa wants to go after Proctor, but Gambi talks her out of it. Lynn, with no one else around, shows just how worried she is, and lays her head on Jefferon’s chest talking about the link between them and his finding his way back to her.

Lala gets brought to Whale’s office, getting mocked by Whale. Whale seems to be a lot more anti-African American then even some white racists I’ve heard rant. Lala actually attacks Whale, and just demonstrates exactly how strong Whale is. We hear what Whale actually did to Lala, although the explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense. It doesn’t sound like Lala has a bright future ahead of him.

Jefferson has another flashback about his childhood with his father, this time the aftermath of Jefferson being suspended for fighting. We learn where some of Jefferson’s ideas and mantras come from, and Alvin’s interesting idea of how to discipline his son. In the present, Jefferson starts throwing off sparks of energy as Lynn delivers a bad prognosis.

Proctor’s group has captured Lala, which gives Proctor another chance to spew horrible racism. They’re doing everything they can to make Proctor an irredeemable human being, and I have to say they’re succeeding. Lala coughs and gives away what’s about to happen, allowing Proctor to make a getaway and leaving us unsure of Lala’s fate. Proctor also seems indifferent to the welfare of his own men.

As Lynn announces Jefferson’s vitals are failing, the grown version of Jefferson has a black and white scene with his father. It’s a well-done scene which is emotional but affirms some of Jefferson’s choices without getting cloyingly sentimental. Alvin sends Jefferson on his way, which, naturally results in Jefferson waking up. Good news: he’s ok! Bad news: Jefferson came back but his powers didn’t. Naturally, this is when Proctor figures out where Gambi and the Pierces are hiding. They send a tactical team after the metahumans, and Whale orders his people to follow them.

Lynn can’t find anything wrong with Jefferson to explain his loss of powers, and comes up with an unfortunate analogy to possibly explain it. Naturally, this is when Gambi’s alarms go off as the ASA tac team closes in. There’s a lot of debate about what to do next as Gambi reveals there are at least 20 of them, they are Delta Force level, and they have special weapons along for Thunder. Things are looking grim, and then something finally changes their fortunes for the better. With this change, they redeploy their forces to take on the ASA. As their fight rages on, both Whale and the Freeland police hear about what’s going on. Whale is disgusted by Black Lightning’s habit of “rising from the dead.” Who is feeding Whale’s people info from the ASA we never learn.

The supers take out most of the attackers, but some get inside. Gambi and Lynn team up to drop a few more, although their part of the fight is a bit less likely or even believable. We do see the anti-Thunder weapons at work, and they’re actually kind of clever. Whale, Syonide, and Painkiller attack the ASA, slaughtering most of them as Proctor weasels away, only to end up in a final confrontation with the Pierces, and honorary Pierce Gambi. Gambi reveals a few things that make the Pierce’s odds of getting through all this much better, and then takes some decisive, although not exactly heroic, action. Henderson gives a press conference with a grudging nod to Black Lightning. There are two wrap up scenes with Jefferson and his daughters, and then we see what Whale is up to for the last of the season.

What I liked: The Pierce’s last stand in the woods was well done. Points where they’re due, the ASA’s weapons for Thunder were slick. Proctor is a throughly vile opponent but consistent. I liked how well the Pierces worked together. Gambi’s revelations at the end made a lot of this more believable. I’m hoping they manage to figure out how to save the surviving captives, which might give Black Lightning a lot more trainees next season. I think flashbacks are overused in general, and on hero shows in particular, but the ones with Alvin worked. I’m glad Jennifer finally stopped whining and stepped up.

What I didn’t: I didn’t care for the way Whale suddenly gained superhuman allies. They needed to build to that more to make it work. Still not sure I buy the electrified fence in the middle of the city.

I really liked this season, and the episode was good. I’ll go 4 out of 5 for both. I’m very glad there will be a season two. This has earned a spot near the top of my list of favorite running hero shows.

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