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TV Review: Black Lightning (Season 1, Episode 4)


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There’s a new threat to Black Lightning’s Freeland, and to his school: a designer drug ominously named ‘Green Light’, which Jefferson first encounters when one of his students Hulks out in the boy’s bathroom after taking just one pill.

Whatever this drug is that The 100 have put into circulation, it took Jefferson shocking Bernard not once, but twice, just in order to stop him. This could foreshadow significant street violence if Green Light is to become more widely available in the community.

‘Black Jesus’, Black Lightning’s fourth episode, may be less well constructed than its predecessors, but nonetheless begins to put pieces into place that will undoubtedly prove crucial to the overarching narrative.

Cress Williams in Black Lightning (2018)

As with last week, the primary flaw in the episode’s pacing is the intercutting between the general plot and Anissa’s story. Of course, it’s likely that once she commits to vigilantism and encounters Black Lightning, the two arcs will weave themselves together more cohesively. Yet for now, the episode’s rhythm leaves something to be desired.

Of particularly awkward placement is one scene in which Anissa, over family dinner, confronts Henderson over the police’s inaction, and over his condemnation of Black Lightning’s actions. It’s a very cliché argument about vigilantism versus law enforcement that really isn’t needed here. While it more concretely sets up Anissa’s intentions for the usage of her powers, there is no transition to or from the scene, which thereby feels artificially pasted into the middle of the episode.

None of this can eclipse this week’s shining performance however, provided courtesy of Jennifer. As she tries to be everything for Khalil, she already begins to lose herself in the situation, while still being unable to save her boyfriend from the pain of a broken dream.

Along with her father and sister, she too is learning that one can only do so much to alleviate another’s pain. You may be able to help support them, but you cannot fix them. Yet as she is still in the process of realising this, Jennifer still quits track, aware that it would hurt Khalil to be reminded of running if he could never do so again.

Here’s to hoping this is only a short-term decision, for Jennifer deserves a healthier relationship than one in which she has to give up what she loves in order to protect the person she cares about.

While Jennifer moves into the spotlight this week, so do Tobias Whale and Lady Eve, who begin play a larger role as Black Lightning enters its second act. It’s revealed that Whale gained his criminal reputation from killing Black Lightning, a reputation that is now threatened.

His attempt to rectify this, under threat from Lady Eve and her ‘partners’, leads to the one avenue that elevates the episode most significantly: he calls on his sister Tori, who suggests that rather than killing Black Lightning, they use Khalil to turn the city against Black Lightning. This will undoubtedly lead to a far more stimulating storyline than the typical ‘breaking the hero’ strategy.

Tobias calling Tori was the smartest thing he’s done thus far. Neither black nor female villains exist in large enough numbers on TV; to have two villains who are black women is unheard of, and just continues to elevate the show’s spectacular representation. Women on this show aren’t just part of a support system around men, they are complex individuals who are given their due credit, who have their own agency and plots.

Meanwhile, back on Jefferson’s end, Gambi continues to withhold information for reasons unknown, including the existence of another metahuman in Freeland (Anissa). As the show develops this will surely add another layer of nuance to the good vs evil dichotomy currently at play.

This week’s episode struggled with pacing and with keeping a linear story, but that cannot fully detract from what is another exciting episode, and one which continues to develop Black Lightning’s complexities and raise the stakes for its characters.

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

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