NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Black Lightning” are present in this review
After almost a month of nothing but Batwoman to kick off 2021’s slate of ‘CWVerse’ DC programming, we finally get to check in with another corner of The CW’s shared live-action DC Universe. Black Lightning is officially back for its fourth and final season as of this week (at least, on American CW stations), picking up exactly a year after the conclusion of Season Three, and its season-long Markovian/ASA war in Freeland. The ASA at least may be no more at this point, but Freeland’s streets nonetheless continue to be menaced by a gang war between established criminal outfit, The 100, and new Green Light drug pushers, the Kobra Cartel. Thunder and Lightning have tried to keep the gang activity under control, taking up the mantle of vigilante crimefighters in the months since Freeland’s liberation, but Black Lightning remains MIA, with a drunk and distraught Jefferson still mourning the loss of his closest friend, Bill Henderson.
Black Lightning is making a valiant effort to stretch itself across one more season, even though it’s getting pretty apparent that the show is running out of gas by this point. “The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter One: Collateral Damage” thus feels like a largely middling season premiere for the show, especially when it’s forced to retread several conflicts that Black Lightning has just hammered into the ground after three prior seasons. Not everything is stale, mind you, especially when one considers the promising reinvention for this show’s enduring villains, but the Pierce family still feels beset by the same old tired drama, not ultimately keeping pace with the much more interesting criminal element of Freeland.
This is frustrating, because, on paper, an alcoholic, resigned and increasingly reckless Jefferson is a promising idea. Jefferson has refused to wear his power-regulating and identity-protecting suit since Henderson’s death as well, immediately making Gambi concerned about his recklessness on both counts. This is fine on paper, especially when it meshes well with Gambi being courted for a desk job by an old acquaintance/lover, presenting a stark reminder that Gambi’s imminent retirement feels inevitable, now that Black Lightning is airing its final episodes. Still, this story hook would have worked a lot better if Jefferson wasn’t being catastrophically careless with his secret identity, which is both contrived and out-of-character, even for a grieving, spiraling, beat-down superhero. The very fact that Jefferson is openly endangering his daughters through his antics feels especially impossible to believe, no matter how much pain he’s currently grappling with!
Likewise, the inciting incident for another major conflict for this season’s early stretch feels especially forced. After Jefferson intervenes in an arrest effort by two white cops against an innocent black boy, he decides to fry them, their cars, and the nearby power grid, before making a haphazard effort to erase the cops’ memory. Um, did Jefferson always have memory-erasing powers? Well, regardless, Jefferson is very sloppy here, and while Gambi claims to have taken care of it, Jefferson nonetheless finds himself questioned by new metahuman-scrutinizing police chief, Ana Lopez, and recently-transferred Freeland detective, Hassan Shakur. So much for that evidence-covering effort by Gambi. Granted, the Freeland PD winding up on the trail of Jefferson’s secret identity once again isn’t a bad idea on paper, especially with Henderson, Jefferson’s most understanding police ally, now being dead, but Jefferson being this reckless with his identity is still too contrived and unbelievable, even if we’re to assume that he has some sort of death wish.
Speaking of contrived and unbelievable, the Pierce family drama also hasn’t budged an inch, especially where Jefferson’s and Lynn’s strained relationship is concerned. It is good to see Lynn trying to build upon her meta gene experiments by using Gravedigger’s push powers to go after criminals in Freeland, but her obsessive nature and simultaneous berating of Jefferson makes her come off as an unlikable hypocrite. Frankly, it’s hard to empathize with Jefferson or Lynn right now, because they’re both being total jerks, despite Lynn’s half-hearted effort to try and reconcile at the end of this episode, for the umpteenth time. Anissa and Lynn trying to debate the fate of Tobias with Jefferson also feels old and tired, not to mention inconsistent, because Jefferson currently doesn’t care enough to protect his identity or his family, yet also still insists that Tobias is off-limits to his family? Why?! It’s just another way to force a conflict that shouldn’t be a conflict, because we still have one season to go before Black Lightning is done.
Speaking of Tobias, he does undergo an intriguing transformation in his post-Pit life, now reinventing himself as a legitimate public businessman and philanthropist, who is outwardly determined to rebuild Freeland after the ASA/Markovian war. Tobias joining the board of directors and funding research at Lynn’s job is also a great turn, one that should hopefully build wonderfully off of Tobias now knowing the Pierce family’s secret identities, and developing a twisted bond with Lynn during their shared scientific endeavours last season. Even the battle between The 100 and the Kobra Cartel (the latter of which is seemingly a loose Arrowverse reinvention of DC Comics’ Kobra Cult), carries quite a bit of promise, especially in going back to the street-level conflicts that have better defined Black Lightning’s appeal than the protracted battle against the ASA and Markovia ever did.
Black Lightning is certainly not a lost cause with the debut of its final season, but even with the show tightening its scope after last season’s rather scattered, unfocused war against two different governments, it’s still realizing some conflicts a lot better than others. “The Book of Reconstruction: Chapter One: Collateral Damage” certainly has the advantage of returning Black Lightning’s battles to street level, where they seem to thrive most, on top of presenting some legitimately inspired tweaks to major villains like Tobias Whale and Lala. Despite the show’s villains still working fairly well though, the ongoing Pierce family squabbles are tired, aimless and increasingly irritating. Even Jefferson’s latest downward spiral feels far too forced and out-of-character, and Lynn being just as tedious and unhelpful only makes the Pierce’s that much harder to root for. Fortunately, this last season for Black Lightning has just started, so there’s time to right the ship in the weeks ahead, hopefully at least allowing this Arrowverse series to wrap itself up on a decent note.
- Gambi being faced with retirement prospects
- Tobias going legit, and nosing into Lynn's work
- Promising gang war between The 100 and the Kobra Cartel
- Jefferson's out-of-character apathy with his secret identity
- Lynn's latest row with Jefferson is forced and tired
- Jefferson inexplicably policing his family's involvement with Tobias