Tobias and Anissa investigate their family histories while Jefferson struggles with aging
I ended last week’s Black Lightning recap by professing my desire to learn more about the titular superhero’s history with city councilman-turned-crime boss Tobias Whale. I’m pleased to announce that this week I got my wish — or some of it, anyway. Baby steps!
It only takes this episode a few minutes to start dropping tantalizing hints about the characters’ backstories. While guiding Jefferson through a new application on his suit that channels his electric powers into limited flight, Gambi gets an unexpected visitor. It’s none other than Tobias, who apparently has some kind of deal with the tailor. In exchange for Gambi keeping mum about Tobias (even from Jefferson!), the albino stays away from him. More critically, Gambi reveals that Tobias has some kind of “serum” pumping through his body that negates his aging — and, more than likely, allowed him to survive whatever epic fight he had with Black Lightning years ago. Tobias demands that Gambi tell him who Black Lightning is under pain of death, but Gambi is armed and prepared, and even more importantly, Tobias seems to respect him. So he leaves without any violence.
While all that is going on, Black Lightning intercedes a violent confrontation between white cops and a young black kid. Jefferson recognizes that the kid is freaking out on Green Light, so he flies down to stop the conflict. After shocking the kid into submission, Black Lightning orders the cops to call an ambulance and tells them to try tasers first next time. That’s a nice end note to the scene, though it’s always unsettling to see young black men depicted as literal uncontrollable raging monsters. Too many have died in real life because people assumed they were exactly that.
Black Lightning soon finds himself face to face with just such a white person. Upon investigating a warehouse full of chemicals he suspects are being used for Green Light, Black Lightning is confronted by an older white man, who says he’s intruding on private property. The man gleefully declares that shooting such a wanted black man would make him a hero, but he quickly loses his confidence after Black Lightning electrocutes him and slams him to the ground. Now whimpering, the man reveals his contact: Joey Toledo.
Jefferson knows the name. Joey Toledo was one of Tobias’ top henchmen, so if he’s back, then Tobias must be as well. A stressed-out Gambi catches a lucky break in the form of an electric seizure that stops Jefferson in his tracks. After all, Jefferson Pierce is not a young man anymore. Putting the Black Lightning suit back on has renewed his vigor, but these new adventures are taking a toll on his body. Both Gambi and Lynn warn him to calm down a bit, but this Tobias connection is like red to a bull. Jefferson is determined to follow it. (Recap continues on page 2)
In an interesting parallel, both Tobias Whale and Anissa Pierce spend this episode investigating their own family histories.
Tobias believes that his recent slump is due to the return of Black Lightning, but his sister thinks it stretches back even further. She takes him to see his oldest enemy — their father, Eldridge. A flashback scene indicates what Tobias’ childhood was like. After his mother left, Tobias and his sister were left in the care of their father, who greatly resented having to spend so much of his paycheck on Tobias’ medical treatments. He was apparently more than willing to take out his frustration in the form of physical violence against his children. So when Tobias shows up to his home in the present day, the first thing he does is punch his father in the face. When his father protests that at least he raised his kids rather than running off like their mother did, Tobias offers him a hug…which he uses to crush his spine, guaranteeing a slow and painful death. Something tells me that serum comes with some enhanced strength too.
Presumably, some of those medical conditions hinted at in flashback are what led Tobias to get injected with the “anti-aging” serum Gambi mentioned. That serum was apparently a source of great interest to Jefferson’s father, Alvin Pierce. Anissa comes across that surprising fact while scouring conspiracy sites for any information about her developing superpowers. Alvin was a reporter for the Freeland newspaper and investigated a mysterious vaccine that seemed to be granting people enhanced abilities. One conspiracy theorist even compares the research/experimentation involved to both the Tuskegee experiments and the Flint water crisis. As proven by Netflix’s Luke Cage and Kwanza Osajyefo’s comic Black, drawing connections between superpowered experimentation and the real-life history of horrific experimentation on black people can make for quite evocative stories.
Unfortunately, after the articles appeared, Alvin was murdered. Neither her father nor Alvin’s old editor David Poe is willing to tell Anissa much about this, so she tries investigating on her own. That requires a new superhero makeover, a hilarious scene of Anissa making herself a new outfit with the help of a store employee that feels like it was ripped from a reality show called Say Yes to the Costume.
This isn’t Anissa’s official superhero outfit, but she’d better get there soon because her father needs all the help he can get. Black Lightning tries to ambush Joey Toledo and beat him into revealing information about Tobias, but unfortunately the lightning spasms come back at the exact worst time. Joey gets away, and with him, any chance of learning more information about Tobias’ relationship with Black Lightning. I can’t wait for them to meet again.