NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Black Lightning” are present in this review
Even after a major shake-up to the core cast, I’m just not sure what to say about Black Lightning anymore, at least at the rate it’s going. The show’s final season has mostly been content to stay on the same gear even into the latest Book of Ruin story pod, with the villains occupying the most interesting story developments, while the Pierce family loaf around and barely accomplish anything of lasting impact. The lack of momentum on the Pierce family’s side of the narrative is especially annoying for this week’s episode, “The Book of Ruin: Chapter Two: Theseus’s Ship”, because it’s the last episode before the show takes three weeks off, then occupies another week with the backdoor pilot for Black Lightning’s proposed spin-off series, Painkiller.
Of course, it feels like this year being the end of the road for Black Lightning also isn’t helping when it comes to having to at least physically overhaul Jennifer’s entire character, following the abrupt exit of Jennifer’s former actress, China Anne McClain from the show. Now, Laura Kariuki has taken over the role of Jennifer for what appears to be the remainder of Black Lightning’s run, so, naturally, we have to spend an entire episode fretting about the fact that Jennifer doesn’t look the same anymore, at least from Jefferson’s perspective. While Anissa, Lynn and Gambi are quick to embrace the surprise new look for Jennifer, Jefferson finds himself unable to cope, in turn suspecting that Jennifer’s transformation is a trick, and that this new appearance for his daughter could actually be a disguised alien or inter-dimensional being.
Now, to this episode’s credit, it makes some degree of sense that Jefferson would jump to such an outlandish conclusion. As the apparent sole survivor of Black Lightning’s former, self-contained Pre-Crisis Earth, Jefferson is aware that he’s now part of a different Arrowverse on Earth-Prime, one where the Superman Family, the Batman Family, Team Arrow, Team Flash and the Legends of Tomorrow also operate as well-known, real-life superheroes, not fictional characters. The idea of acknowledging Jefferson’s state in the Post-Crisis Arrowverse as a means to create conflict around Jennifer’s appearance change is a promising one on paper, but the hasty execution ultimately works against it. Thus, Jefferson spends this episode essentially being a dick to the ‘new’ Jennifer for no reason, even if he does at least ultimately get to re-reveal himself to Freeland as Black Lightning, after bailing out the victims of a misinformed no-knock warrant that Chief Lopez has secured to root out Freeland’s metahuman population.
What’s especially frustrating on this note is that I feel like something of meaningful consequence should be happening for the Pierce family’s superhero alter-egos by now, between Chief Lopez’s metahuman vendetta, Tobias running to be elected Freeland’s new mayor (oh yeah, that’s happening now!), and both The 100 and the Kobra Cartel continuing to wage a brutal gang war across Freeland’s streets. Ultimately though, the Pierce’s continue to bumble around and merely express impotent angst about stupid things that don’t matter! Even Anissa finally confessing to Jennifer that she married Grace, shortly before Jennifer insists that the two have a proper honeymoon, feels like it mostly goes nowhere. If anything, I suspect that this is simply an excuse to move Anissa and Grace to whichever location Khalil has decided to hide out in, so they can both be featured during the upcoming backdoor pilot for Painkiller, ideally helping that potential show better establish itself within the world of Black Lightning.
Once again, you have no choice but to turn to the villains in order to push Black Lightning’s story forward here. On this note, the Kobra Cartel finally shows up again this week, thankfully, supposedly employing a metahuman assassin that framed Lala for the death of Mayor Black. This could have marked an interesting return for Jefferson’s superhero identity, before the scrap with the Freeland PD during this episode’s climax, but instead, Detective Shakur merely hands Jefferson the bullet casing that obviously proves that Lala was framed. Well, wait, why didn’t this evidence work with Chief Lopez then?! Anyone can see that the bullet couldn’t have been fired from a gun, and came from an upward angle! Is the Freeland PD just as corrupt as Gotham’s police force and Star City’s police force in the Arrowverse?! At least Detective Shakur appearing to be an ally to Jefferson is promising though, even if it more or less indicates that Bill Henderson’s death means practically nothing now, after a surrogate detective simply took his place in the lead ensemble.
Still, the Kobra Cartel finally making a comeback here is appreciated, after Lala is lured into yet another trap. Boy, he really needs to stop falling for Destiny’s tricks, doesn’t he? Regardless, the Kobra’s have employed another metahuman, called Ishmael (symbolism?), who defeats Lala in a duel, after The 100 initially gain an advantage over Destiny’s forces. Destiny then traps a briefly-dead Lala in a Han Solo-esque prison of concrete, right before displaying him in Lady Eve’s club. The fact that Lala essentially can’t truly die means that he’s effectively trapped forever within an endless cycle of coming to life and dying within the concrete, which is both darkly clever and astonishingly cruel. Something tells me that Lala will eventually be freed from his concrete prison, since this would mark a pretty lame defeat for the rest of The 100’s forces, but at least Destiny and the Kobra Cartel can start better serving this season’s overall arc now, especially when Destiny finally starts pointing her new metahuman killer at the Pierce family, so he can finally earn membership in the League of Assassins. Yeah, I guess they’re active again on the Post-Crisis Earth-Prime, and their ultimate defeat and disbanding on Arrow is no longer canon.
Finally, Gambi delivers a sentimental gift to Lauren that’s imbued with a hidden camera, which is semi-intriguing, though it does appear to make it pretty obvious that Gambi will ultimately side with Freeland’s metahumans for the remainder of Black Lightning’s final season, and that’s a bit lame. Ultimately, there’s frustratingly little to say about, “The Book of Ruin: Chapter Two: Theseus’s Ship.” Most of the heroes’ narrative is spent pointlessly justifying Jennifer’s casting change this week, primarily to Jefferson, whose return as Black Lightning largely lacks dramatic impact, especially when this episode makes the questionable decision to pair Jefferson’s big save with real-life footage of Black Lives Matter protests. Yeah, I can respect the sentiment, but exploiting real-life BLM imagery to provoke cheap drama might be a tad tasteless in your DC superhero show that’s made for The CW, guys. Either way, the villains continue to excel here at least, with Tobias’ mayoral bid and Lala’s brutal, humiliating defeat at Destiny’s hands predictably stealing the show in this episode.
Now that the Pierce’s are finally being targeted in earnest by the Kobra’s as well, hopefully Black Lightning’s short break can eventually lead to bigger narrative strides when the show returns in April, after making its pitch for the in-development Painkiller series anyway. With Black Lightning spending so much time listlessly shifting around, disinterested outside of its villain arcs though, I have a hard time thinking that this series justifies a spin-off effort in the first place.
- Laura Kariuki is a good fit for the role of Jennifer
- Tobias running for mayor is exciting
- Destiny's brutal defeat of Lala
- Jefferson's tedious, pointless angst over Jennifer's new appearance
- The Gambi intrigue is starting to lose its appeal
- The Pierce's are still wasting too much time in general