Black Lightning: The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter One: Collateral Damage

I miss Henderson, too.

After a very long hiatus, Black Lightning is back for what is sadly a final season. I have no idea why the show is ending, and, judging from some of the cast reactions, it was a surprise to at least some of them, too. Regardless, the Pierce family is back in Freeland, there’s a new status quo that sounds a bit familiar, and I have a lot of questions about some of their allies from last season. There were new situations but somehow a feeling that we’ve lost ground as the final season kicks off with “Black Lightning: The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter One: Collateral Damage.” One thing that has not changed is their love of long titles.

The episode opens with Jefferson standing over the grave of his friend and confidant, Bill Henderson, who over the course of the series went from Detective to Police Chief in an unlikely and meteoric rise. I’m wondering who footed the bill for his gravestone, as it’s huge and very detailed. Neither police officers nor school teachers tend to have large salaries. Jefferson is looking rough in addition to clearly grieving the loss of his friend. Jefferson gets a visit from an unexpected ghost, although he doesn’t seem surprised. As he drives off, we learn it’s been a year since last season, and that the city has changed, but not for the better.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the show addressing controversial topics. As Jefferson is driving, he sees two white cops hassling a young black man. Showing his judgement is currently not the best, Jefferson, who didn’t see the beginning of this stop so he had no way to judge what was happening, confronts and then attacks the cops, using his powers out of costume. Not a great idea on many fronts. Using his powers to fry dash and body cams (which makes sense) and memories (which is new), he drives off. To be clear, these cops were living down to every bad stereotype and I don’t support what they were doing, but it was a weird scene.

After more news about the mayor losing the confidence of his constituents, although the election is soon, we check in at the hospital. Apparently Grace has spent the intervening year in a coma, with Anissa sitting vigil by her bedside. Jennifer is worried about her sister, and offers some advice that makes a kind of sense, but doesn’t sit well with Anissa. Lynn comes in, because she apparently has doctor privileges here somehow. I though she was primarily a researcher? Not to mention a very erratic work history and the drug problems. She has an idea for a new treatment, so we’ll see where that goes.

Echoing the start of the series several years ago, Jefferson has given up being Black Lightning and is having serious relationship problems with Lynn. They’re in counseling, and it sounds bitter and confrontational. I also don’t know how much help they’re going to get as, so far as I can tell, they haven’t told their counselor about the family secrets in terms of superpowers and homicides. Elsewhere, Gambi is apparently now officially alive again, as he’s out in public for a restaurant meeting. He’s seeing Lauren Caruso, as far as I can tell a new and original character, who has ties to his past and an interesting offer for his future. After that ends, Gambi catches a news report memorializing the late Chief Henderson, where Jefferson ends up speaking. Jefferson’s speech sounds impressive to most, although we the audience know he’s quoting his earlier ghostly visitor. After Jefferson, new plot threads are introduced on the same news broadcast. We meet the new police chief, who has plans for the city’s metahumans that bode ill, and also find out that Tobias Whale survived the attacks on him last season and has remade himself into a respected businessman.

Most of the Pierce family is at home for family dinner when they see the news about Tobias, and no one is happy. While they’re all shocked, they have different reactions from that point. Jefferson is on one side, while Anissa and Lynn have a very different idea about how to handle a murderous gangster who knows their secrets and now has an air of respectability. The argument doesn’t go well, and Jefferson gets even more pissed at hearing that Jennifer isn’t there because she’s “out flying around somewhere.” We see her doing just that, giving off random displays of energy as she soars through the skies. Given what we just heard from Chief Lopez, this seems like a phenomenally bad idea, but then, Jennifer has been the cockiest of the group, even before her powers emerged.

Later in that evening, we see just how well Jefferson is handling everything. Which is to say, he’s not, as he’s in a bar drinking heavily. Recurring character 2-Bits is behind the bar, and directs Gambi to Jefferson when he comes in. Gambi is worried about Jefferson, and Jefferson’s drunken ramblings do nothing to reassure the older man. Gambi voices something I’ve been feeling about the episode so far, and encouraging Jefferson to either stay “retired” or not use his powers without the costume. The Black Lightning gear, we are reminded, not only protects Jefferson’s identity, but helps him safely use his powers. We see that Gambi is still looking out for Jefferson, and Jefferson isn’t going to listen. When Tobias comes on the news again, Jefferson snarls at the tv, and laments Whale being seen as a hero. In the interview, Whale talks about some of his future plans, which also don’t bode well for metahumans.

Also displeased about Tobias’ return is Lala, the eccentric if not outright insane gangster we’ve been seeing throughout the series. Lala makes plans with his righthand man Devonte, which revolve around drugs and guns, but from the sounds of it, not the regular kind of either. Elsewhere, we see Lynn is joining the family business in a new and unique way, and then making journal entries referencing both her husband and their big foe last season, Gravedigger. Jefferson himself staggers out of the bar, gets a surprising phone call, and receives instructions for a clandestine meeting.

In a parking garage, we see a scene that sets up for some problems later. As Lala’s gang unloads one of their shipments, a car pulls up. Leaping into action, Thunder and Lightning fight the gangsters, with Lightning doing all sorts of utterly unnecessary flips and fancy touches. She’s showing off, which is not something you want to do in a fight. To their credit, Thunder and Lightning have clearly been training hard, as they are displaying skill with both their powers and hand to hand in general. I’m curious what car they are using, who the plates come back to, where they keep it, etc. I could see the bike Thunder was using being stored in the Grotto, but this car seems like a needless complication. Lightning even says that it was “too easy.” Foreshadowing, anyone?

Down at the docks (which really makes me wonder where Freeland is, exactly, in Georgia), we meet Detective Hassan Shakur. The Detective was apparently mentored by the fallen Henderson, who had hoped Shakur would take his place as unofficial police liaison to Black Lightning. Unfortunately, Shakur doesn’t trust the masked hero, and Jefferson isn’t in the mood to cooperate. We can see that he’s still not thinking rationally as Jefferson shows up still in his office suit, not his fighting one, and the two verbally spar and generally don’t trust each other and make no progress in that direction. Lala’s gang wait for their strange boss to get out of his car, killing time debating music in an entertaining discussion. Finally, Lala gets out, gives a not-exactly-motivational speech, and has some particular orders to go with the new weapons he distributes.

Jefferson goes to work and has an unexpected meeting. Chief Lopez and Detective Shakur pay a visit. Despite Gambi’s best efforts to cover for Jefferson’s sloppiness, some evidence about the earlier attack on the police has gotten through, and the two cops are paying a courtesy call. The people who really should be on the same side end up sparring with each other, and no one leaves the meeting satisfied. Also, if Shakur is everything Henderson built him up to be in the introductory letter he left behind, the Detective should know who Jefferson is by now. As expected, Thunder and Lightning hit another gang drug deal, but it’s a set up and Lightning gets taken down. Thunder drops the sniper, but shows some really bad discipline with codenames in costume, among other things.

Apparently, the team has a new headquarters, as Jefferson stalks into some kind high tech lab which is not either the Grotto or any of the places that we’ve seen before. Lightning, we’re told, is out cold but healing, having mastered her powers. Jefferson is clearly furious, tells Thunder everything she did wrong, takes over the investigation into the attack, then takes off alone, still not in costume. Very unlike himself, Jefferson stalks the gunman at home, beats him down in front of his family, drags him out to the hallway, and continues to injure him. He doesn’t ask questions, he’s not after information, he just hurts the man. At the risk of saying something wildly unpopular, this is different from police that abuse their power… how? Later, at home, Jefferson is drinking again, and has a very tense discussion with Lynn about recent events. She does start off trying to be conciliatory, and Jefferson isn’t exactly receptive.

We get a series of scenes to wrap up the episode. Shakur and Lopez visit the gangster in the hospital, and talk about the apparent changes in Black Lightning. Lynn gets a very unwelcome visitor at work, and there’s some very tense verbal sparring. And showing she can’t learn, Lightning goes out for a flight, showing off again, and then something not entirely clear but that appears to be very not good happens. Really, by the end of this episode, nothing is looking good for anyone.

What I liked: I’ve missed the show, and it was good to see it return. It makes sense that Jefferson is grieving the loss of his friend. Freeland has moved on in the year since the Markovian attack, and that makes sense. I’m glad that Gambi isn’t playing dead anymore, and his worry about Jefferson is palpable.

What I didn’t: Despite the many criticisms I’m about to list, I do think they did a good job overall. Jefferson is sloppy in almost everything he does. Thunder and Lightning are cocky and refuse to listen to the only person around who could teach them about being heroes. It feels to me like we’ve lost ground in the series as a whole. Like the very first episode, Jefferson has given up being Black Lightning, he and Lynn are having problems, and his kids aren’t listening. Unlike the first season, where the school is so important to him, he’s barely there, and, when he is, it’s just a setting for a scene that has nothing to do with the school. I feel so bad for Gambi. I do not trust this new police chief at all, and her agenda is going to be trouble. If the detective is as good as he was made out to be, he should know a lot more than he seems to by now. What happened to all the allies they had last season? Technocract/TC, and Brandon/Geo-Force and Sgt. Grayle?

This was a depressing way to start the final season. I hope things get better. Just like with Batwoman so far, it would be nice, and make sense, if some of the other heroes came by to check in. I’ll give this a 2.5 out of 5 because there just too many bits of the “heroes” being either sloppy or decidedly not heroic.