In the lead for the longest TV episode ever, Black Lightning episode 5 takes a more “information-heavy” approach to the story and uses a slower-paced episode to give the audience more backstory, as well as a reason to care for certain individuals. Episode 5 aired February 13, 2018, and stars Cress Williams, China Ann McClane, and Nafessa Williams.
Black Lightning episode 5 is a slow burn; emphasis on “slow”. Focusing purely on the characters that we know, love, and sometimes hate, this episode brought the audience more Tobias and his sister Toni, Jefferson and Gambi, Anissa’s family history and powers, and the street drug known as “green light”.
The information dump begins with Anissa. After the last episode, Anissa saved her newfound friend Grace using her powers and is determined to find out the secret history of how she got them. Dating all the way back to her grandfather, Anissa uses her sleuth skills to surmise that there was a group of missing kids in the past that her grandfather investigated. Her grandfather turned over the wrong stones and he was murdered for doing so. Anissa decided to go to her father Jefferson with this information, to no avail. She then heads to her grandfather’s office to meet David Poe, an editor that worked with Anissa’s grandfather on the missing children case that caused his demise. David Poe reluctantly (keyword: reluctantly) gives her the information she needs. Anissa uses this information to break into her grandfather’s old storage place in her new superhero costume. The verdict on Anissa’s costume is still out, can’t decide if I love it or hate it.
Anissa’s sister Jennifer has a great episode as she begins to discover that she has powers of her own. A fight breaks out at a bowling rink and two girls attack Jennifer. Jennifer breaks one of the girl’s wrists and realizes that something powerful is deep within her. This situation leads to a sit down between Jennifer and her father and mother where they try to lay down the law about bullying and fighting. The audience knows that at some point Anissa and Jennifer will fight together, but they are trying to instil Jefferson’s values into them.
Tobias Whale. The more he gets screen time in this show, the more his acting shines. The show brilliantly uses Tobias’ early family upbringing, as well as his albinism, as a plot device for his character’s development. Tobias’ father Eldridge was a despicable and horrible father, berating and even beating both Tobias and his sister Toni as children. Toni taps into that rage and informs Tobias that before he can deal with Black Lightning, he must deal with his own father. Tobias then travels to his father, eager for an opportunity to unleash the anger from his childhood abuse. Tobias then breaks his father’s spine and leaves him for dead. Seeing Tobias break his father’s back was a powerful motif, more power than I’ve seen from CW shows. To physically break the back of an oppressor who broke the victim’s back spiritually and emotionally is a powerful image and will stick with me for a while.
Episode 5 also shoehorns in a relationship between Gambi and Tobias. Apparently, Gambi used to work for an organization entitled ASA and used Tobias as a “guinea pig” to test strength and anti-aging power serums. It’s only a matter of time before Jefferson unravels Gambi’s past and that throwdown will be legendary. It’s only a matter of time.
Jefferson’s episodic portion was spent truly showing the physical effects of being Black Lightning. Jefferson does not have the youthful exuberance to combat the physical toll of being Black Lightning, and it is taking a toll on Pierce mentally and physically. We were expected to believe that Jefferson could step back into the role of Black Lightning without any repercussions, and that is not the case. Physically he is drained, and tired. Mentally, he is angry and irritable, and in two separate cases nearly loses his temper. While trying to come to the rescue of a struggling dad at a pharmacy, Jefferson almost loses his cool. When Gambi approaches him about his physical condition, Jefferson threatens to hurt him in order to get his way. He then collapses mid-argument with Gambi only to be woken up by his ex-wife with the “I told you this was going to kill you” face.
Even in his irritable state, Black Lightning is still trying to keep Green Light off the streets. Jefferson and Gambi soon find out that one of Tobias’ right-hand men (Joey Toledo) is back in town and that it’s time for some payback. It is at this point, that Jefferson becomes aware that Tobias could still be alive, even though Tobias knows of Black Lightning’s resurgence. The climax of the episode arrives when Black Lightning attacks Toledo to get information and Black Lightning loses the fight, for the first time all season. Jefferson suffers a mini episode and gets his ass handed to him for good measure. Being Black Lightning is not as fun as Jefferson reimagined it would be.
While the show as a whole has been on the right path, the episode was a small step backwards. Black Lightning has been phenomenal at using the story and plot to inform the audience of the theme and the heart behind the characters. This particular episode, the information dump took front and centre and didn’t really allow the characters to progress with the heart and theme of the show. The audience was too busy trying to connect the dots between characters with story past and present, and the show misses the reason why Black Lightning has been so successful.