Black Lightning: The Book of Ruin: Chapter Four: Lyding

Thunder gets a new look

I’ve been enjoying Black Lightning, and was sorry to hear it was being cancelled. They’ve had some great storylines, and done some fantastic work with a lot of the characters. The spinoff pilot they did was interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of that. But every show has ups and downs, and “The Book of Ruin: Chapter Four: Lyding” was definitely on the down side. There were a lot of flaws in the episode, and I have to admit I was generally disappointed.

The episode starts off with a very disturbing scene that, as it goes, gets worse and worse. To no surprise, this proves to be a nightmare Lynn is recounting to the still-nameless therapist. The therapist offers some insights, and lets Lynn draw some important conclusions. Uriah, JJ’s new friend, is working his food delivery gig when he gets a very unexpected visit. Lightning drops out of the sky and offers to help him with the GoFundMe page he set up to save Garfield High’s music program. It’s an entertaining scene that ends with Lightning getting an odd headache and hearing voices, leading to a hasty exit. Oddly, Ishmael is lurking in the shadows, doing some research on his arguably most powerful target. How he knew Lightning would randomly be at this location is never revealed.

 Chief Lopez still hasn’t given up on her obsession with Lightning (I’d still love to hear the motivation behind this, unless she’s in Whale’s pocket, too), and has a tech monitoring social media for her. Shakur hears the alert and manages to shoot Black Lightning a warning. In the Sanctum, Anissa is working out on the heavy bag. Judging from what we see, Nafessa Williams, who plays the character, has no martial arts or boxing background at all. Gambi shows up with the newest version of her Thunder costume, and we see a few new features built into it demonstrated, although Gambi is quite a bit more reckless than usual in the process.

In a sort of family meeting (minus Lynn), Jefferson and Anissa both express their displeasure at JJ doing social media stunts in costume. The older Pierces make some very good points, that JJ naturally ignores because she’s sure she knows everything. Gambi backs up Jefferson with a less emotional, more fact-based approach, citing the new DEG’s and Lopez’s crusade against Lightning. TC and Gambi then give the meta-family a briefing and warning on how dangerous Ishmael is, which JJ also refuses to take seriously. In the morning, JJ tries to apologize to Jefferson about their argument by making breakfast (oddly wearing a jacket while doing so). Instead, it turns into another argument about Lightning’s social media, and Jefferson once again instructing her that “Lightning is grounded.” I presume the electrical pun was unintended. Lynn attempts to go to work, only to find out that the out of control FBI Agent Mason has rescinded her clearance to the lab (not sure he can do that) and taken all of her records and research. To say the least, she’s not happy. Jefferson has his research on Ishmael interrupted when a furious Lynn arrives home to blame him for the actions of a Federal Agent under the influence of a master criminal. Because somehow that makes sense to her.

There’s been a lot written over the last few years about people with high intelligence and horrible social skills, the IQ vs EQ dilemma. It’s become a bad stereotype, although broadly accepted, as over and over again we see brilliant characters who are unable to deal with “normal” people. I kind of wonder if that’s some of what’s been going on with Lynn over the years, although I’m not sure they thought it through that much. It would explain a lot about her, though.

Some men enjoying a bored looking exotic dancer get a rude awakening when Painkiller comes calling. Khalil and his more vicious alter ego are still fighting over control of their body, but apparently both of them agree that Jefferson’s being framed is bad. Or Khalil thinks that and Painkiller will take any excuse to commit violence. At any rate, the two men sharing the one body get some great fight choreography as they wade through a few thugs to get to Tobias’ money man, or one of them, and get a lead on where to go next. At Garfield, we see Uriah has some good musical talent and then get an awkward scene between him and JJ. Suddenly nighttime, there’s a scene between Shakur and Black Lighting involving thanks, a plan, and basketball.

One of the writers looked at some old episodes and remembered that Jennifer used to like hanging out on the roof outside her bedroom window, so JJ and TC get a scene there. She’s complaining about how adults treat her and smoking weed, while TC defaults to his 80’s upbringing, a nice nod to the time he spent in one of the ASA’s suspension pods. JJ gets a text from Uriah and once again won’t listen to anyone that is telling her something she doesn’t want to hear. What we learn is that this is not what it seems, and JJ is about to get herself in serious trouble, and not just of the “violating being grounded” kind. Anissa is at work, where we can hear part of her conversation on the phone with Grace (as close as we get to Grace showing up this episode). She has a tense and ominous conversation with her coworker Darius, who does everything possible to set off all the “This Character Is About To Die” alarms.

Black Lightning does some planning with Gambi and then sets a trap to lure Ishmael out of hiding, although part of it revolves around security cameras having sound, which none of the ones I’ve ever worked with do. Tobias Whale has a meeting with Bates, the higher up in Monovista we keep seeing, and then goes into full villain mode with menacing cliches (“Show Mr. Bates out”), long monologues, and sinister laughing. He really seems more like a caricature than the intelligent and complex villain we’ve seen so far in the series. He also spends some time at the tomb of his sister, who died way back in Season One and largely hasn’t been mentioned since.

Ishmael takes the bait and shows up, making a cool but not really logical entrance. For someone who dresses like a ninja, he really does favor showy, dramatic entrances. They exchange barbs and then launch into a big fight. And this is the point the episode really shifts into high gear and a lot of bad things happen, both in terms of developments for the characters and the writing.

Lynn is futilely trying to access her work servers via her tablet when the doorbell rings. Agent Mason is there as logic begins to break down in the episode utterly. He’s on an arrest that’s important enough to do in the middle of the night, but with no backup. Mason arrests Lynn for “civil rights violations,” although exactly how a research scientist has done this isn’t really explained. That’s generally something bad cops are charged with. JJ is all excited to meet up with her potential new boyfriend, does something that makes no sense to preserve her secret identity, and then walks right into Lopez’s trap. I’d kind of like to know how the police are justifying hacking a kid’s social media account, and either getting an exact duplicate of Uriah’s bike, or stealing his from him. Fortunately, Lightning and Lopez are equally overconfident, and the fugitive metahuman manages to get away, barely. Speaking of the aforementioned bad cops, Lynn gets booked in by someone with a grudge who violates so many procedures (and common sense) that I could probably do an entire page on them. Essentially, it’s a scene to make you feel bad for Lynn and make the cops look absolutely as bad as possible, in case their vendetta with Lightning wasn’t enough for that.

Tobias goes into another monologue with villain laughter as he goes mad scientist and activates the newest Very Bad Device. They never come out and explain what’s happening, but reading between the lines, they have somehow managed to connect Val’s power, Lynn’s research, and Bates’ machine for a result that is really stretching things, even by comic book science standards. As the VBD kicks in, we see its effects somehow spread all over the city remarkably quickly. Anissa makes a dramatic, if predictable, discovery, does something dumb, and we see what the machine did to her. The effects also manifest in the midst of the Black Lightning vs Ishmael fight, which doesn’t look good for our hero. Gambi tries to help which is when we see TC have problems also. And Lightning, ignoring everyone’s instructions, warnings, and advice, gets put in immediate mortal danger by her own actions as the device catches up with her.

What I liked: I hate to say it for a lot of different reasons, but the only character I consistently like on this show is Gambi. He’s wise, calm, devoted to the Pierce family, and a great tactician. He does his best for everyone this episode, but it’s not enough and, even saying that, I don’t get why he agreed to Jefferson’s plan. The poor nameless therapist is another voice of reason. The acknowledgements of various bits of the show’s past, like JJ on the roof, TC actually being an 80’s kid, and Tori Whale being mentioned were nice. I do think Jefferson is doing the best he can with JJ. It was good to see the new version of Painkiller/Khalil again.

What I didn’t: Sadly, most of the episode. JJ really does double down on refusing to either listen or learn, even after barely escaping a trap she waltzed right into. Anissa did some questionable things, particularly at the end of the episode, and her work on the heavy bag was really not good. Lynn was in one of her less rational moods, which really says something given her track record. Jefferson did exactly what he told everyone else not to, taking a huge chance based a little on his experience and a lot on ego. Ishmael, despite how dangerous and efficient he’s supposed to be, favors the dramatic over the tactical. Whale was out of character in a lot of what he did, as was Gambi, at least in that test with Anissa.

I get the current tone of things in the world, and I do not for a moment disagree that law enforcement has a long way to go in their treatment of minorities. That said, the depiction of both the FBI and the police in this episode were remarkably heavy handed and not internally consistent, as well at variance with how pretty much anything is supposed to work. As a very minor part of this, Lopez at one point refers to “Detective Hassan.” Hassan is the man’s first name. Not only are first names almost never used in law enforcement, but Rank First Name is something I’ve never heard of happening. I mentioned some of the issues above with what Mason, Lopez, and the nameless cop booking in Lynn did. The one thing I’ll give them credit for is that the bad cops were all non-White, so they have moved away from what they were doing for a while with the vast majority of bad folks in law enforcement being white.

This was a deeply flawed episode on almost every level. I’m giving it a very low 2 out of 5, and it might be a 1 if it wasn’t for the callbacks to various older things on the show helping offset some of the very bad choices they made.

A quick Google search of what the title is supposed to mean turned up nothing of any use or that made any sense.

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