20th Apr2018

‘Black Lightning 1×13: Shadow of Death – The Book of War’ Review

by Jason Brigger

Stars: Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, Christine Adams | Developed by Salim Akil

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This is it, the season finale and every secret, twist and battle has led up to this episode!

We see a rare glimpse into Jefferson’s childhood as a young Jefferson and his father, having a nice father/son walk, are interrupted by an upset (and younger) Gambi advising Jefferson’s father the authorities are upset with him about his expose on the Freeland Experiments. After his father is murdered, a young Jefferson discovers he has superpowers as he is running away from local police force but after escaping down an alley, he is quickly apprehended by Gambi. A mentor is born.

Gambi, once a mentor to Jefferson, is now becoming one for Jennifer as they have a heart to heart talk about meta-humans and their enemies. Gambi explains Whale is not an actual meta-human but is a normal human that takes drugs to slow his aging process and allowing him to gain more strength the longer he takes the drugs. Syonide’s devotion to Whale is the result of Whale saving her from an orphanage at the age of eight and taking care of her ever since. Whale trained her to be an assassin and when she became an adult, he implemented carbon-fiber armor under her skin to make her even deadlier. Whale is a great father figure! 

Gambi tries to convince Jennifer her former boyfriend Khalil is no longer the Khalil she knows and has been corrupted by Whale. Whale weaponized Khalil with darts that spread a neurotoxin to his victims and despite all this, Jennifer still feels there is good in him. I sense a turning point for Khalil, courtesy of Jennifer, at some point next season. On the positive, Whale does give Khalil a super-villain nickname, Painkiller.

The ASA is in crisis mode as we find out they cannot find Black Lightning and to make matters worse, the pods keeping their Freeland Experiments alive are failing and will be offline in less than ten hours. Proctor gives a “patriotic” speech in an attempt to rally his troops to complete their objectives but he’s no Bill Pullman in Independence Day. Proctor’s desperation is beginning to show as everything he worked for is falling apart in a matter of hours.

LaLa, under the direction of Whale, turns himself into the ASA and, after finding out that Proctor is a racist, along with being a miserable human being, attempts to blow himself and the ASA up. Proctor realizes what is happening and rushes out of the room and a few moments later, LaLa is dead again.

Back in the cabin, we find out the flashbacks are actually being replayed in Jefferson’s mind as he is in a coma after suffering the beating from Whale and Khalil last week. Midway through the season finale, Jefferson finally receives closure from his father as Jefferson is told that he is proud of him and all his choices. Jefferson wakes up and is ready to take down the ASA once and for all, except for one issue…Jefferson’s powers are gone.

Proctor’s motivational speech inspires his ASA operatives to find Gambi’s secluded cabin and the agents are given the clearance to attack. Proctor’s orders leads the Pierce family to do something they have not done before, retreat. Black Lightning, without his powers, makes the choice to sacrifice himself in order to help his family escape but the situation causes a stressed out Jennifer to panic and as she hugs her father for comfort, she inadvertently uses her powers to charge his powers back up.

A full powered Black Lightning changes the Pierce family’s mind and is just what they need to stand together, one more time, to take down the ASA. These little moments allow Black Lightning to stand out from other superhero shows because when the Pierce family stands as one, it actually feels real and organic. The whole season culminates at Gambi’s cabin as the Pierce family (even Lynn picks up a shotgun!) takes on the ASA in one giant battle royal in the woods. The whole scene is well done and for fans of the series that have waited for ASA to “get theirs”, there wasn’t a better way to end the season.

Thunder and Black Lightning make some quick work of the soldiers on the outside of the cabin and not even specially designed weapons to capture the heroes can slow them down. One of the more satisfying aspects of the fight was watching Jennifer, Lynn and Gambi protect the inside of the cabin and take down any ASA soldier that attempted to invade it. The Freeland police hear about the shootout over the radio but before they can arrive, the Pierce family and Gambi escape into a waiting van, leaving behind a trail of defeated ASA soldiers.

In a surprise twist, Whale and his merry henchmen do not travel to the cabin but instead invade the ASA headquarters in an attempt to take down Proctor and secure the pods housing the Freeland Experiment victims. Unfortunately, for Whale, Proctor has a secret exit and escapes before Whale can breach the control room while Proctor’s evilness shines through again as he leaves his agents for dead.

If Proctor thought escaping Whale meant he was safe, he was in for a surprise as Black Lightning and family are waiting for him at the warehouse that stores the Freeland victims. Proctor is revealed to be working not on behalf of the ASA and the government but actually as a rogue agent trying to institute a new Freeland Experiment, thirty years after the original failed. After making one last racist comment, resulting in Jennifer using her superpowers to make Proctor fall to his knees, Proctor makes one last attempt at a truce. Gambi, realizing the experiments on the kids of Freeland will never end as long as Proctor is alive, terminates him, courtesy of two bullets in the chest.

Lynn realizes she may not be able to save the victims in the pod but she can expose the government that conducted the experiments. Black Lightning and Thunder leak the story and the location of the victims to the media and soon the citizens of Freeland are protesting the latest injustice upon their city. The whole country now knows the federal government was behind the secret Freeland Experiments and they have many questions to answer from their citizens.

The last scene of the Pierce family this season is a fitting one…all of them sitting on the front steps of their home, enjoying their “normal” life again. The season wraps up with Whale proclaiming himself the king of Freeland as he sits in his office overlooking the city, vowing to take down Black Lightning once and for all.

One Good Thing:

  • We got answers! After 12 episodes, we finally get answers behind all of this season’s questions. The reason behind Whale’s power, the creation of Syonide, who brought LaLa back from the dead, and many more questions were answered in this episode. Thank you to the writers for tying up the majority of the loose ends and delivering in the season finale.

One Bad Thing:

  • The lack of Black Lightning/Whale interaction. The first half of the season felt the season was leading to a Black Lighting/Whale confrontation in the finale but somewhere around the mid-season point, the ASA became the focus of the series. While I appreciate the series is keeping Whale, played wonderfully by Marvin Jones III, around for at least one more season, I was left disappointed we did not get another major fight between Black Lightning and Whale. It’s a small grievance in an otherwise excellent season finale.

What We Learned:

  • Jefferson Pierce did not become powerful overnight. Gambi, during his walk down memory lane, advises Jennifer that it took 15 years for her father to gain the full amount of his powers. Gambi also lets Jennifer know that despite her lack of willingness to embrace her powers, she actually is the most powerful member of the Pierce family.
  • Whale brought LaLa back to life. Despite LaLa’s hatred for Whale, LaLa learns he was part of a “reanimation” program to bring people back from the dead and Whale selected LaLa personally. Whale advised LaLa that he is now indebted to him and whatever Whale asks, LaLa will do. We also learn Lawanda is not alive and just a side effect of LaLa being brought back from the dead.

This Episode’s Grade: A- (Amazing)

The season finale, much like the whole season, did a tremendous job tying up loose ends, answering questions and overall producing another fun hour of television. I am elated Whale, Khalil and Syonide will be returning for another season, especially when most superhero shows are known for having a “one season and done” unwritten rule on their villains. The status quo is restored with the Pierce family and they are no longer on the run, which is appreciated as the series works better with the Pierce family attempting to make Freeland better in and out of their superhero uniforms and not as vigilantes on the run.

Overall, this is one of the stronger inaugural seasons I have watched in television and the writers were able to develop and present a different feel from the majority of shows on television. Black Lightning will be back for another season and I will be back to review as well! Until next season, never stop being a fan.

You can catch Jason Brigger on the geek-centric podcast, The History of Bad Ideas, as new episodes are released every week at www.nerdly.co.uk or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcasting apps. You can listen to their latest episode right here
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