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TV Review: Black Lightning (Season 1, Episode 8)

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After failing to really strike true in the last few weeks, Black Lightning is back in full swing with ‘The Book of Revelations’.

Where past episodes held back information to build up suspense, throwing off the show’s pacing, this eighth episode sets things right and answers those urgent questions.

Cress Williams and Nafessa Williams in Black Lightning (2018)

‘Revelations’ centred on the show’s strongest and most subversive feature: we saw Jefferson being a superhero father. As he trains Anissa, teaching his daughter to harness her powers and use them the right way, the interactions between both characters firmly grounded Black Lightning outside the pantheon of other superhero television shows.  

After his knee-jerk reaction of wanting to keep Anissa out of the superhero/vigilante lifestyle – a reaction that is only normal for a father – he sees his mistake and decides instead to help and guide her to accomplish what she desires.

Easily the best scene to come out of this week is when Jefferson excitedly tells Lynn how he had been looking at the situation wrong, and that Anissa had saved his life in the field. He recognises that some things his daughter can already do better than he can, and that they can learn from one another.

Rather than seeing her abilities as a threat to his status or to his masculinity, he is ecstatic to have a daughter with such intelligence and ability. This all makes for a fantastic story arch that subverts typical depictions of not only superheroes, but masculinity more generally.

The biggest revelations came from Gambi. These didn’t quite hit on an emotional level, since we’d perhaps not seen as much of Gambi and Jefferson’s relationship as would have been effective, but the emotional aspect of this betrayal may well be further explored in the fallout to come.

Plot-wise, these discoveries about Gambi’s past are sure to propel the narrative forward, as we enter the last stretch of the season. The audience learns that Freeland has been used by the ASA, a mysterious government agency, to test out a drug that turns people more docile and pliable, echoing the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

So unfortunately, when Gambi meets with his shadowy ASA boss, who proceeds to talk about how the people of Freeland should thank the organisation for giving their life purpose, it’s believable. That same drug unintentionally mutated in certain individuals, creating metahumans. Thus we also come to understand Jefferson’s origin story, as well as Gambi’s and his role in it all.

Black Lightning (2018)

Another big development to come out of this week is that Jennifer has powers! Compared to how Anissa’s discovery was pushed back into a subplot for many episodes, this was handled very swiftly, allowing for the overall pace to be kept up. Immediately Jennifer goes to Anissa for help, and it will be exciting to see what happens next.

‘Revelations’’ weakness was in its Lala storyline. He’s going insane and seeing Lawanda, but nothing is really happening, nor are any hints given as to what is happening. Undoubtedly these bizarre events will evolve to be important to the overarching narrative, but how that will be the case is yet unclear.

With this week Black Lightning has gone back to its roots in family drama, and it’s there that it shines the brightest. It continuously chooses not to follow cliché superhero narratives, which makes this first year show a standout in its genre, and as it fixes its pacing problem, it’s heading for what promises to be a fantastic last act.

Black Lightning is available to watch on Netflix, with new episodes arriving weekly.

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