Black Lightning: The Book of Ruin: Chapter Two: Theseus’ Ship

Ishmael the camo-ninja

What do you do when one of the lead actors in your show decides to leave? There have been a lot of ways to approach it in the past, from killing the character, to recasting and pretending nothing’s different, among others. Well, you have a lot more options on a show where comic book logic and science play a part. China McClain announced her intention to leave the show, which seems both a moot point and odd timing with this being the last season. Well, after her character, Jennifer Pierce AKA Lightning had a major incident with her powers, Gambi and TC did their best to save her. They mostly succeeded, but now Jennifer looks completely different, which gives them a new story to explore and covers for the actor’s departure. That’s just one of a few plots going on in “Black Lightning: The Book of Ruin: Chapter Two: Theseus’s Ship.”

Maybe she couldn’t handle the long titles anymore? While the Ship of Theseus is a fairly well known philosophical discussion point, it’s a little weird that it showed up in two different superhero shows, from two different companies, within two weeks of each other. Coincidences happen, I guess.

Last episode ended with the shocking reveal that Jennifer had gone through some substantial changes while Gambi and TC fought to restore her body after her energy incident up in the ionosphere. At first she doesn’t realize why everyone is acting so strangely, and, when TC shows her what she looks like now, she completely freaks out, understandably enough. Gambi, TC, and Lynn all turn to science babble to try and figure out what’s going on, while Anissa does her best to reassure Jennifer. The scientists finally come up with an explanation for what happened, and TC suggests they give her a few minutes to come to terms with the big changes. While she runs off to another room, Jefferson starts asking questions that show he’s not anywhere close to accepting what’s happened to Jennifer.

One brilliant thing they did was have Grace be the one to talk to Jennifer. As a shapeshifter, she knows something about going through major changes, and offers some insight that no one else there could have. Grace eventually brings her back to the main room of the Sanctum, where there’s a big Pierce family hug… except for Jefferson. The man’s been through a lot, and apparently has hit his limit. It’s not a great thing for him to do, but I can understand where he’s coming from.

The next day, Lynn is running more tests, and Jennifer is getting impatient, so at least that hasn’t changed. Lynn gives Jen a lecture full of restrictions, and then Val, Tobias Whale’s aide, comes in for a checkup. Lynn and Jennifer bobble trying to explain who Jennifer is, although the girl does come up with a new nickname for herself. Val goes back and forth from looking bored to mildly confused. While news of the manhunt for Lala plays on the TV, Gambi cleans up his lab. Jefferson drops by, and once again expresses doubt about Jennifer 2.0. Gambi tries to talk some sense into him, but the hero doesn’t seem to be in the mood to listen. Switching to other topics, Gambi shows some footage of the assassination of Mayor Black, which brings some interesting new wrinkles to the case. Their speculation gets interrupted when Tobias holds a news conference to announce more DEG’s for the cops and his own bid for mayor. None of this is good news.

Intrigued by what he’s learned, Black Lightning sets up a meeting with Detective Shakur. The Detective and the hero spar for a bit about the new Metahuman Task Force before Shakur gets around to why they’re meeting. They keep discussing “the ballistics” which isn’t quite accurate, but what Shakur produces is the actual bullet that killed Black, bagged up in its evidence container. Shakur reveals something interesting and unique about the bullet, although several small technical details of the scene don’t make much sense. They part after the hero assures the cop he’s not going to disappear again. Gambi goes back to flirting with Lauren at Monovista. It’s interesting to watch. On the one hand, I do believe he’s attracted to her. On the other, he’s very definitely using her for access to Monovista’s facilities. She shows him several interesting things over the course of the scene.

The Pierce sisters have a movie night, although Jen complains about the selection. It’s a fair complaint. They discuss movie plots and then Anissa finally shares the news about her and Grace with Jennifer, or JJ as she’s calling herself now. JJ makes some suggestions that Grace considers.

Destiny has a meeting with her Cobra Cartel thugs out on the streets, which is bad place for a criminal meet up and worse when people are hunting for you. There’s a whole series of surprises and reversals as Lala shows up with his crew, then there are reinforcements, and then a new meta shows up: Ishmael. Ishmael is very dangerous, and comes up with a way to deal with Lala. It’s sort of clever, although what he did has been done before with a similar character, and the end result is a definite visual nod to an iconic sci fi movie. Gambi brings Lauren a present which definitely has more than one meaning, and she responds with an interesting employee incentive program.

I’ve had my issues with Lynn off and on since the series started, but sometimes, she’s actually right. in the next scene, her workup of Val’s blood show both something they expected and a surprise result. This leads to a discussion about how to stop Tobias and a special test. By the end of this, Jefferson has said something potentially unforgivable, and Lynn quite rightly sends him packing. Val reports in to Tobias and brings news of a new development with the Pierce family. Back at the Pierce home, TC and JJ have a chat, and he makes her a generous offer which does solve one of the things I was wondering about with Jennifer 2.0. By the end of the conversation, TC has been more persuasive than he wanted to be, and has a new set of worries as JJ takes off. She meets up with Gambi, who addresses something else about the change I thought they’d gloss over, so a nice touch here, too.

The show takes a very anti-cop slant in the next scene, as the police show up for a no-knock warrant and do everything wrong. This leads a confrontation, and a brief “what if” sequence they then undo because instead of the potential tragedy, Black Lightning showed up to attack the cops. On the street, the hero is getting outnumbered by the police and their new weapons, but then he gets backup from an unexpected source, that ends up leading to Jefferson finally getting himself together about the new Jennifer.

After the big action sequence, the show ends with two interesting scenes. Grace comes home to find Anissa taking JJ’s earlier advice, which gives us a rare scene of people happy at home and with each other. It’s kind of nice. The final scene shows Destiny making Ishmael an interesting offer that bodes ill for our heroes, although I think they made a small mistake during the scene. There’s a nod to a group that was a big factor over on Arrow, so we got another small nod the larger Arrowverse, which I appreciate, and it’s an ominous note to end on.

What I liked: Having Grace be the one to go to Jennifer first made a lot of sense. The Pierce family and allies are a formidable organization, and they do some great things with the changes around Jennifer, and cover some details I thought would just slip through the cracks. Anissa does a few positive things, all of which I appreciated. I’m curious to see what Gambi’s endgame is with Lauren. He’s going to have to make a choice somewhere along the line, or he’s a lot colder than I thought. I like Shakur and Black Lightning working together, but it makes sense they’re not instantly best friends. TC seems like a great kid, and I like how he’s developing. Ishmael is interesting, although I wish they’d brought back Instant instead. They handled the change of an actor in a new and unique way that worked within the show’s logic.

What I didn’t: I hate what Jefferson asked of Lynn, although points to her for standing up to him. I get where most of it’s coming from, but I didn’t care for the scene with Black Lightning versus the cops. The stuff they did with Lala was a bit derivative, and that to one side, wouldn’t work quite like they showed. The ballistics scene had several flaws in it.

It was a good episode on most fronts. I’ll give them a 3.5 out of 5. They’re doing a lot of great things, which makes me sad this is the final season.