Title: Black Lightning Season 1 Episode 13: “Shadow of Death: The Book of War”
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction, Superhero
Platform: TV – CW
Director: Salim Akil
Writer: Charles D. Holland
Release: April 17, 2018
Cast: Cress Williams, Nafessa Williams, China Anne McClain, Christine Adams
Feature image: Source
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Alvin Pierce – Black Lightning
It is 30 years ago and Alvin Pierce (Keith Arthur Bolden) is with his son (Kaden Washington Lewis). Jefferson isn’t in school because of the community unrest. Alvin quotes from Malcolm X: “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Peter Gambi (James Remar) is outside standing in the rain waiting to talk to Alvin. Jefferson gets in the car so the two men can speak privately. Gambi tells him that he was only supposed to report on the vaccine, not to name names. Alvin is upset that he had Jefferson take the vaccine and he points to Jefferson saying that he is doing this for him. Gambi warns him that he is in danger. We switch to Alvin’s funeral as Jefferson stands in the rain looking lost while Gambi watches Jefferson from a distance, feeling guilty for causing this boy to be fatherless. Later Jefferson is running away from riot police, they are about to beat him with their batons when Jefferson electrocutes them. Jefferson is confused because this is the first time his powers manifested. He runs down an alley and tries to climb an electric fence. It knocks him out and Gambi finds him lying on the street. [The flashback is in black & white with the only color being the blue in his lightning.]
“Sure, I’m a freak from a family of freaks, and my dad has one foot in the grave. I’m fine.” Jennifer Pierce – Black Lightning
Back in the present day [in color] Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (Cress Williams) is still unconscious from his confrontation with Khalil (Jordan Calloway) and Tobias Whale (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III). His family surrounds him. Anissa/Thunder (Nafessa Williams) wants to take him to the hospital but Gambi advises against it since the A.S.A. and the One Hundred gang will be looking for them. Gambi joins Jennifer (China Anne McClain) outside; he asks her how she is doing. Jennifer: “Sure, I’m a freak from a family of freaks, and my dad has one foot in the grave. I’m fine.” Gambi tries to make a joke to ease the tension but Jennifer isn’t in a laughing mood. Jennifer asks who the people are who were with Khalil. Gambi explains the headman is Tobias Whale who takes a serum that slows his aging and gives him the strength of three men. Gambi: “That man has a gift of seeing the worst in people and bringing it out.” They found Syonide (Charlbi Dean Kriek) in a dumpster as a child. Tobias took her out of an orphanage at eight and trained her to be an assassin. Tobias had subdermal mesh armor placed under her skin. Gambi thinks that if she wasn’t crazy before, the pain of the operation did it. Khalil has the spinal implant that gives him super strength but the procedure also produced biochemical toxins, which they weaponized into darts that paralyze their victim. Jennifer thinks that Khalil isn’t like this, but Gambi tells her he is. Khalil had a choice and he picked Tobias, “the worst of the worst.” Gambi leaves Jennifer alone to ponder all of this.
Khalil tries to apologize to Tobias for killing Black Lightning. Syonide pulls her gun on Khalil and asks him does he think he can shoot his darts at her faster than she can shoot him. She’s only playing [in a psychotic way]. Tobias calls Khalil Painkiller and tells him never to apologize. That was Proctor’s orders not to kill Black Lightning; he doesn’t care. Anyway, it is time for them to kill Proctor and take over his operations.
Martin Proctor (Gregg Henry) is in his headquarter with his agents [all of whom are white]. Agent Klovic (Cory Scott Allen) reports there was a brief brownout in the warehouse that stores the pods. The older subjects might only have 10 hours to live. They only have four subjects who are in stage two who have a chance to live. Proctor tells him they need stable metahuman DNA to stabilize the subjects. The only clue they have is possibly Lala (William Catlett). He tells his agents to pick up Lala and find Black Lightning’s body or the Meta girl so that they can harvest their DNA. He tries to rally his troops with Trump like ideas and ends with “Make America Great Again!” [What a tool.]
Gambi is outside with the girls going down memory lane about Jefferson and his powers. Anissa tires of this and wants to go and find Proctor. Gambi talks her out of it. Lynn (Christine Adams) is lying beside Jefferson. She tells her unconscious ex that she felt a coldness inside herself that corresponds when Jefferson flatlined at Garfield. Lynn: “We have a connection. I need you to find that connection and follow it back to me. Please.”
They bring Lala to Tobias with his face covered by a bag. Lala tries to attack Tobias but he hits him and knocks Lala across the room. Lala: “You hit like a bitch.” He tries to attack him again but Tobias says, “The Devil deals the cards,” and Lala stops in his tracks. Tobias gleefully explains that after he killed Lala, he spent a million to have him reanimated. Lala asks if Lawanda and Will are back too. Tobias tells him that they aren’t, it is just a side effect of the reanimation process. Everyone that Lala killed will tattoo themselves to his body. Tobias calls Lala Tattoo Man.
“Peace ain’t always peaceful son.” Alvin Pierce – Black Lightning
In another black & white flashback, Alvin brings Jefferson home after his suspension from school for fighting. Jefferson asks can’t he fight back when someone else starts the fight. Alvin explains the dangers of fighting. He has Jefferson repeat his mantra about living your life anyway necessary. Since Alvin won’t let Jefferson sit around the house all day watching TV, he tells him to read the entire U.S. Constitution. Back to the present, Jefferson’s nervous system is shutting down. They are losing Jefferson. It looks like another flashback accept an adult Jefferson comes down the stairs to talk to his father. Jefferson apologizes for not helping his father when Tobias killed him. He reminds Jefferson he ordered him to hide. Jefferson also apologizes for all the violence he committed as Black Lightning. Alvin: “Peace ain’t always peaceful son.” Jefferson wonders if it has been worth it. Alvin tells him that only he knows. Alvin tells Jefferson he can’t stay, he has to go and handle his business. They say their final goodbyes and Jefferson walks back up the staircase. Jefferson wakes up and kisses Lynn. She calls the family in. Everyone is happy, but Jefferson tells the family he can’t feel his power. He thinks it is gone.
A.S.A. agents bring Lala to Proctor. Lala tells Proctor he would like to cooperate but he can’t. They see a wire in Lala’s mouth and realize he has a bomb inside his body. Proctor and his agents evacuate the room before Lala explodes. He tells them to find Gambi and the metahumans. There is an explosion behind them. Using their satellites, they detect something in north Freeland, but they can’t determine what it is because Gambi cloaked the energy signature. They figure out it must be Gambi. Proctor orders his tactical team to roll out.
Tobias injects his serum in his neck. Syonide reports that they think Lala exploded. They also know that the A.S.A tactical team is rolling out. He tells her to find out where they are going.
“Charge me up old man.” Jefferson Pierce – Black Lightning
Lynn tells Jefferson that his vitals are normal. Since he’s like a battery, he is empty and needs a recharge. Gambi informs them of the perimeter breach. Gambi wants the family to go through a secret tunnel to a van and make a run for it. He grabs a weapon and tells them he’ll hold off the tactical team. While he’s talking, Jefferson has put on his Black Lightning suit. He tells Gambi to charge the suit and take the family to safety. Gambi tells him that is suicide. Jefferson replies, “Charge me up old man.” He gives Lynn and the girls each a goodbye kiss. Jennifer’s emotions overcome her; her powers begin to activate. She hugs Jefferson and with electricity surging all over her body, she charges him back to full power. Gambi advices Jefferson to take the family and leave Freeland. Anissa objects, they aren’t going to run and abandon the citizens of Freeland. Jennifer agrees. Lynn looks at her family and tells them she’ll do what she can. Jefferson has a new plan; he and Anissa will face the tactical team while Gambi and Lynn protect the cabin.
The tactical team leader reports to Proctor that they are set up to attack. Proctor is back at headquarters watching this on a big screen. He gives the command; the tactical team is a go.
The fight begins, Thunder steps out and stumps the ground and claps her hands, throwing cars and troops around. Black Lightning on the roof hits troops with lightning. The tactical team leader wants to retreat but Proctor won’t let him. Tobias gets word where the fight is and leaves his office with Syonide and Khalil. The desk sergeant (Crystal Lee Brown) pokes her head into Deputy Chief Bill Henderson’s (Damon Gupton) office. Desk Sergeant: “Report of multiple shots and multiple perps. We have a war going down in North Freeland.” Henderson: “Scramble SWAT. I want everybody with a badge in a car.” One of the tactical team members uses a special weapon to neutralize Thunder. She can’t use her power to break free. Another tactical team member tries to use a similar weapon on Black Lightning but he hits him with lightning. Jefferson strikes the man who has Thunder and frees her. Meanwhile other members of the tactical unit break into the cabin and find Gambi on the floor. Lynn pops out a door and shoots one tactical team member while Gambi swings around and shoots the other two. Jennifer comes out of hiding to hug Lynn, she sees another tactical team member try to sneak up behind Lynn and she electrocutes him. Proctor sees his troops get defeated and one of his men tells him the Freeland police ETA is three minutes. He orders the tactical team to abort the mission and he orders the pods moved out of the warehouse. The systems in his headquarters go out. Khalil is walking down the hallway shooting darts and taking out guards. Tobias and Syonide enter and shoot everyone else. Proctor can’t get a briefcase chained to another agent’s wrist; he takes a secret passage out and pulls a gun on Klovic so he can’t join him. Khalil hits Klovic with a dart. Tobias retrieves the briefcase. When Henderson and the cops arrive, the Pierces and Gambi get in the van and drive away.
“Oh a family affair.” Martin Proctor – Black Lightning
The Pierces and Gambi greet Proctor at the warehouse. [I’m still not sure how they knew where the pods were or how they beat Proctor to the warehouse.] Proctor: “Oh a family affair.” Gambi tells Proctor that since he didn’t call for reinforcements after Black Lightning and Thunder destroyed the Green Light lab, this isn’t an A.S.A. operation. Proctor is running a rogue operation. [Tobias was right about taking over the operation once he takes out Proctor; this isn’t a government operation. Proctor isn’t a government thug; he’s a plain old thug like Tobias.] Gambi angrily tells him that the first Freeland experiment killed many kids. For some reason he thought it was a good idea to do a sequel. Proctor snidely remarks that ‘they’ would have ended up on welfare or prison. Jennifer has enough of Proctor and wraps him in electricity slamming him down into the ground. This display of power impresses Proctor. He offers Jefferson a deal. Give him a stable metahuman genetics sample to administer to the final four subjects and he will keep them alive. If Jefferson refuses, since he now knows their identities, he’ll come back and kill all of them. Gambi: “You’re a monster.” Proctor: “That’s funny coming from you Peter.” Gambi: “You’re right.” [Gambi shoots and kills Proctor] “I am a monster. And he’s not going to hurt any more kids.” A lab attendant tells them they can’t open the pods without killing the kids without the briefcase. Lynn tells Jefferson she has an idea.
“People always calling black folks paranoid. We always paranoid until the truth comes out.” Gina – Black Lightning
The local TV station is asking citizens on the streets about the news that the government is behind the Green Light epidemic in Freeland. The first person, Gina (Vernika Rowe) [Alana’s aunt] says, “People always calling black folks paranoid. We always paranoid until the truth comes out. Bye Felicia!” The second person is the elevator operator [second episode] (Swift Rice) who points out that it was Black Lightning and Thunder who solved this, not the police. The third person is Mr. Lewis (Derrick LeMont) [Bernard’s father]; he tells the reporter his son is one of the kids who took Green Light. Mr. Lewis: “The government put crack in the ghettos, they gave heroin to white folks in rural areas, and then they came back and put Green Light in Freeland. They gonna put something else somewhere else. Ain’t nothing new.” Deputy Chief Henderson holds a press conference telling the citizens of Freeland that the police are talking to the Feds to find out what is happening. Somewhat reluctantly, he thanks Black Lightning and Thunder.
“They call us heroes, but the real heroes are you, the people who, despite the everyday struggles of life, continue to find hope, meaning and purpose in what can be a challenging world.” Jennifer Pierce – Black Lightning
Jefferson is happily jogging with his daughters and they join Lynn on the porch. They are a happy family again. Jennifer’s voiceover: “They call us heroes, but the real heroes are you, the people who, despite the everyday struggles of life, continue to find hope, meaning and purpose in what can be a challenging world. We’ve been given a gift, a blessing from God, and we intend to use it to protect this city and its people.”
“Long live the King.” Syonide – Black Lightning
Final scene, Syonide brings Proctor’s severed thumbs in a freezer bag to open the briefcase. Tobias warns a captured Klovic that the thumbs had better open the briefcase. The first one doesn’t, but the second one does. It opens the briefcase and a green light emanates from it. Syonide kills Klovic. Tobias: “Sy baby, you’re looking at the King of Freeland.” Syonide: “Long live the King.” The new King’s first order, kill Black Lightning.
The episode began with a flashback of Alvin Pierce, young Jefferson, and a young [relatively speaking] Peter Gambi 30 year ago. Gambi is upset that Alvin did more than just report the vaccine scandal; he named names. We know that one of those names was Tobias Whale. Gambi warns Alvin he is in danger, and the next scene is his funeral. We get to see the first time Jefferson use his powers and the beginning of the Jefferson, Gambi relationship. Jefferson is unconscious most of the first half of the episode. I think this is the first time we really see Jennifer and Gambi interact. She still isn’t on board with her abilities. We get some additional background on Tobias and Khalil and get the first background information on Syonide. It explains a lot about her. It looks like Jefferson is dying, and reminiscent of the scene in Black Panther, Jefferson goes to the afterlife as an adult to speak to his father. It is a touching scene and Jefferson gets closure with his father’s death and gives himself permission to be Black Lightning, without the doubt and shame of the violence he commits to help others. When he wakes up, he doesn’t have his Black Lightning power, but fortunately, for him he has someone who can jumpstart him, Jennifer. With this act, Jennifer begins to appreciate her abilities, and soon begins to enjoy using them. It’s good that happens, because the tactical unit Proctor sends after them arrives. In a thrilling battle, Black Lightning and Thunder [with an assist from Gambi, Lynn, and Jennifer] send this crack team packing. While they are fighting with the tactical unit, Tobias, Syonide, and Pain Killer, [Tobias gave Khalil and Lala (Tattoo Man) supervillain names] attack Proctor’s headquarters. With his tactical team gone, his headquarters is easily overrun by the supervillains. Tobias takes possession of the briefcase. Proctor goes to the warehouse where the remaining four subjects of his experiment are. The moves and the breakdown of the vaccine have killed the other kids. Proctor wants Jefferson’s stable metahuman genetics sample to save his final four subjects. He threatens Jefferson and his family, so like any good surrogate dad, Gambi shoots him down dead. As Gina said earlier, “Bye Felicia!” The Pierces are a united family, prepared to defend Freeland and its citizens, while Tobias with the mysterious contents of the briefcase declares himself the King of Freeland. The two factions will collide next season.
It was a wonderful episode. They made a stylistic choice in having the flashbacks in black & white, along with the touching reunion of Jefferson and his father when Jefferson was on the brink of death. We were able to see how Jefferson became the man he is. The big battle scene in North Freeland was spectacular. This was the best example of how powerful Jefferson and Anissa are, and we got a peek on how powerful Jennifer will be. Once Jennifer gets her superhero training and suit, the three of them will be an unstoppable team. I don’t expect Jennifer to join up right away, she is still a teenager and I’m sure Lynn will want to make sure her superhero training is long and extensive. I’m sure Jefferson, Anissa, and Gambi will agree with her. One of the many things I really liked was the producing team bringing back some old characters from early in the season for the man on the street interviews. Once again, the show emphasizes the importance of the Freeland community. On most superhero shows, the only people who count are the heroes and the villains. By continuing to bring back older characters throughout the season, it makes Freeland important and gives us a reason why the Pierces are willing to sacrifice themselves for the city.
Whoever picks the music for this show, I want to give you a big shout out. The music is one of the strong points of the show, and the music for each episode ranges from very good to excellent. This week’s music was excellent; I might even say they saved the best for last. I’ll have to listen to the music from the rest of the episodes to decide. What a pleasant task ahead for me. Unholy War by Jacob Banks underscored the black & white flashback that began the episode. Stairway to Heaven by The O’Jays played when adult Jefferson met with his father in the area between life and death. Shining Star by Earth, Wing & Fire gave an upbeat beginning to the fight between the A.S.A. tactical unit and team Pierce. The mood of the battle changes with Timmy Turner by Desiigner, as the violence moves into the cabin, Black Lightning has to rescue Thunder, and Tobias and his gang overrun Proctor’s headquarters. We finally end on Family Affair by Sly & the Family Stone. The Pierce family is happy and united again.
I wasn’t familiar with the Black Lightning comic book. I didn’t know any of these characters. I knew that Greg Berlanti was the executive producer and he has generally done a good job with the other CW DC shows, so I expected this one to be good. I had no idea how great it would be. Most of the credit has to go to the show’s co-creators, Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil. Salim is the show runner so he probably deserves a little more credit. Regardless, they added elements that really made the show stand out. They created a beautiful and interesting family to anchor the show. There were things about the Pierce family that reminded me of my own. [Except for the superpowers. Maybe I’ll take some Green Light to fix that.] They added real world issues that affect the black community without making it didactic. The fight scenes were well choreographed and the music was banging. Everyone involved in the show should be very proud. I’m sure most of you know that there is a second season, but I don’t know when the new season starts. It could be in January like this season, or they could decide to have it start in the fall. My advice to the producers, don’t rush it. So, I’ll be back with new recaps and commentary either next year, or in the fall. Don’t get caught in any lightning storms between then.
Episode Grade: A
Season Grade: A