In Black Lightning, The Worst Villainy Isn’t Super

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This Black Lightning article contains spoilers for Season 4, Episode 8, “Things Fall Apart.”

Things really do fall apart in the latest episode of Black Lightning. After returning home from their honeymoon in the Akashic Valley, newlyweds Anissa and Grace are greeted warmly by the family in a surprise celebration. The reception is unfortunately cut short by the arrival of the FBI, who serve Jefferson a search warrant based on an accusation of embezzlement from Garfield High School. This is merely a start to what is clearly a coordinated effort by Tobias to ruin Jefferson Pierce.

The thing about being a pillar is that people look to you for support. And when you falter, it weakens the foundations of everything you helped build. Jefferson made Garfield a top performing school in the city, and the reverence the community has for him extends far enough that even ruthless gangsters like Lala put some respect on his name. It’s easy enough to convince people that metas are unnecessary and even dangerous, and it wouldn’t take much to make people question Black Lightning. But people know Jefferson, he’s a part of their lives. Jefferson Pierce embezzling from Garfield High is a serious betrayal, and even the mere accusation shakes people’s faith. And Freeland desperately needs faith.

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Tobias didn’t destroy Freeland, that’s on the Markovians and the ASA. But he did take advantage of the destruction. He preyed on the city’s vulnerability, and undermined the people’s faith in their existing institutions—which includes Jefferson Pierce and Black Lightning. And all of his plotting has given him leverage over the Pierces, and over the entire city of Freeland. He weaponized the people’s fear and their faith, and made himself a hero. Tobias has always been a real threat and he’s always just barely been beaten, but he’s learned a lot from his losses and is more dangerous than he’s ever been. 

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The first few episodes of the season saw Jefferson struggling to redefine his heroism in the face of his best friend’s death. He tried to hold onto Jefferson Pierce, educator and man of the community, and put masked vigilante, Black Lightning, away. Tobias has essentially taken that away, and now, again, Jefferson has to redefine himself in this new reality that Tobias has crafted. Whatever Tobias is planning with the new “hospital” and Monovista’s energy emitter cannot be good for Freeland. And with so much on their collective plate, the Pierces may not be able to stop it. Putting Jefferson in the city’s crosshairs keeps Black Lightning distracted, cause Jefferson will do whatever he can to restore people’s faith in him.

While Freeland has more heroes than ever, with JJ, Blackbird, and Wylde, there is also a meta-hunter in the city and he is more than a match for all of them. Ishmael attacks Anissa and Grace while they’re breaking into the hospital to get answers about a patient’s mysterious gene-editing treatment. Ishmael is powerful and he is studied, and they only gain the advantage in the fight when Grace fully transforms into her leopard form. Between Tobias and Ishmael, the Pierces are on the ropes. And with Chief Lopez, Monovista, the Kobra Cartel, the 100… There is no shortage of people coming for the Pierce family.

Black Lightning has always done a good job exploring different concepts of power, and it’s at its strongest when it is dismantling or recontextualizing what power is. Lynn is a great example of a character who has toed the line between powerless and empowered, and whose strengths and weaknesses are often flipped, making her a heroic victim of sorts. She’s powerful because she thrives when she’s at her lowest, but that means she often has to be broken down to find her most powerful self. The Pierces have all, at one point or another, been worn down. And they have all had to find ways to not just survive, but win. This season builds on that, and continues to take the Pierces to new depths, which will make whatever victories they have more gratifying. I expect things will get a lot worse for Jefferson before they get better, but I am still excitedly along for the ride.

Additional thoughts.

JJ is Jen but maybe is not and I don’t know what this means, but it could be yet another way the writers tear the Pierces down before building them back up.

Gambi is really manipulating and gaslighting the hell up out this woman and of all the morally ambiguous things he’s done on this show, this feels the most egregious

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