There's no scarcity of villains on TV. Whether they're found in the more outlandish comic book shows like Arrow
and The Walking Dead
or (slightly) more grounded stories like Scandal
, villains are all over TV.
Yet in a very short time Black Lightning's Tobias Whale has made a very big impression. The episode "The Book of Green Light" gave Black Lightning fans their longest look yet at the albino gangster. It solidified something that's been looming in the background of the series. Tobias is terrifying, but in the best way possible.
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Beyond the Pale
Episode 5 of Black Lightning managed to reveal a lot about Tobias and not always in the most organic ways. The information that Tobias (and presumably his sister) take some super serum that allows them to be effectively immortal was important. It also came out in a far too casual and awkward way. But it's nice to know that while Tobias might not technically be a metahuman, he does have some assistance to make him a believable physical threat to Jefferson.
However, confirming that Tobias is more powerful than a glowering stare is not why he's so tremendously terrifying. "The Book of Green Light" also delved more deeply into the tragedy of Tobias as an albino man and how that impacted his life, particularly his childhood.
Tobias having an abusive father who hated him for his condition isn't the most original idea. A bad family life feels like a prerequisite to most villains. It's the way that Black Lightning told the story of Tobias' monstrous childhood that was so effective and built him up as even creepier presence on the show.
The Human Side of Crime
The real hook of Tobias is that there's something deeply and genuinely sympathetic about him. Marvin Jones III has does a tremendous job showing Tobias' human side, but also keeping the menace at the forefront. When interacting with his father in "The Book of Green Light," whether it was in flashback/dream sequences or present day, there was a very compelling dichotomy at work within Tobias.
The hurt and pain was evident but a barely controlled and destructive rage lurked underneath the surface. This is something that has been on display for more than "The Book of Green Light." Any time Tobias' albinism has been brought up, Jones has a great way of twisting Tobias' face in portraying complex and conflicting emotion. Tobias' reaction, a mixture of anger and fear, in the face of Lady Eve or his father insulting him because of his skin color, perfectly portrays the impact prejudice has on his life. It gives such an insight into the character and makes it easy to feel sympathy for him.
This is why Tobias is scary. He's not some unstoppable force or personification of evil. He's a man who's been deeply messed up and corrupted by the way his community has treated him. Tobias is obviously not an admirable person but he's also a victim of circumstance.
Anyone who has been bullied or picked on (which is essentially the entire world) can understand how quickly that can turn into a destructive rage and selfish worldview. The tragedy of Tobias is that he has turned to a life of crime but that also makes him human. The knowledge that there's not much separating the average citizen of Freeland (or audience member) from Tobias is a terrifying concept.
Two Sides of the Same Freeland Coin
There's also not much that separates Jefferson from Tobias. The two obviously had very different upbringings and have wildly different worldviews but they were formed by the same factors. Tobias has been so hurt by the world that he wants to control it. Meanwhile, Jefferson sees the beauty in a broken world and wants to fix it. Tobias and Jefferson have been equally impacted by the world around them but have taken polar opposite approaches in how to deal with it.
Obviously Black Lightning wants its audience to take a Jefferson type of view of the world. Yet it's not too hard to side with Tobias. Tobias is obviously in the wrong but he's been portrayed in such a realistic and sympathetic way that it's far too easy to relate to him. That's more threatening than any superpower Tobias could (or maybe will) manifest.
But what do you think? Is Tobias sympathetic or do you have no empathy for what he has been through in his life? What do you make of Tobias as a character and villain? Do you want to know more about this serum?
(Image courtesy of The CW)