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TV Review: Black Lightning (Season 1, Episode 3)


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This week, ‘LaWanda: The Book of Burial’ sees Reverend Holt urge his community to take to the streets in solidarity and protest of mounting gang violence, as Jefferson and Gambi work together to protect the marchers from the 100’s inevitable retaliation.

The episode lends itself to a wonderful exploration of organised religion and the community it can create, playing into the theme of acceptance and humility, and that one cannot control everything - as Jefferson painfully realises by the episode’s close. 

It’s a reality that many superhero shows, especially in the DC universe, largely ignore. While Black Lightning might have stopped a mass killing, he was unable to protect everyone at the march. It prompts a mature realisation that even superheroes are not omnipotent, something Anissa will no doubt have to recognise, herself. 

That extends to the other players in Freeland, those who are trying to protect their streets from the 100’s killing: a fantastic scene sees Jefferson, Holt and Henderson and their individual approaches to meeting the same goals. A reverend, a member of law enforcement, and a vigilante, all view their own approaches as the ‘correct’ ones, but the show thankfully doesn’t portray one as superior to the others.

It opts instead for a more nuanced approach, portraying each man and his ideology as only a problematic part of a solution, rather than a silver bullet. Given Black Lightning is a superhero show, this is particularly commendable.

Yet another thing that Black Lightning does better than its television contemporaries is assert itself as an ensemble show where the setting is of paramount importance. In the Arrowverse, setting doesn’t matter, and by extension we aren’t invested in the wellbeing of its citizens. Black Lightning does not waste this potential, ensuring that every community in Freeland feels alive and dynamic, thus engaging viewers to feel the fears and hopes of said communities and to root for their safety.

This third episode introduces the person who will hopefully be this show’s ‘big bad’: Lady Eve. She is the woman behind Tobias Whale, and she was a delight to witness. Very little is revealed about her this time, except for her vested interest in maintaining fear on the streets. One can only hope that Black Lightning takes the opportunity to delve into a character study with her soon. 

Meanwhile, away from the main arc and her family, Anissa is taking time to discover how to manifest her superpowers. Rather than feel burdened like her father, she joyously revels in her discovery and is alight in what she sees as a power to enact real change around her. I’m excited to see her engage more with the show’s context, but I see why the writers chose to have her take time away for her own search. 

Jennifer is off on her own tangent when she and Khalil plan to have sex for the first time. In a refreshing and surprising depiction of teenage sex, Jennifer goes and tells her parents of her plans ahead of time. It’s a wonderful and mature representation of sex, from the teenagers having a real conversation about sex before it happens, to the open and accepting relationship between the parents and daughter, to speaking about safe sex and birth control.

Though the storyline feels shotgunned on the back of all that’s going on, and there’s an awkward exchange between Jefferson and Khalil that really should have been cut at production, it’s nonetheless an important discussion to be had given that the show’s target demographic is made up largely of teenagers, and it’s unfortunately not a dialogue we see being had very often.  

Gambi was another breakthrough character this week, and though he still feels disconnected from Jefferson’s grounded life, he was given a more active role. However, his decision at the episode’s close to erase Whale’s image from the surveillance footage of the march brings up many questions and potential to his role and backstory.

Black Lightning followed through with another powerful and emotional instalment, continuing to drive the story forward without ever losing sight of the fact that despite it being a superhero show, it is deeply grounded in a framework that feels intensely close to our current socio-political context.

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

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