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TV Review: Black Lightning (Season 1, Episode 5)

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This week’s episode, forebodingly titled ‘And Then the Devil Brought the Plague: The Book of Green Light’, found Jefferson and Tobias Whale, our hero and villain, pursuing one another more urgently, as their history begins to unravel, and motivations become understood.

Those same unveilings of their past are also understood to inform each man’s values and drive, bringing complexity to the black-and-white dynamic (notice the interesting parallel in Jefferson being African-American and Tobias being a black albino).

I’ve complained about unevenness in tone in the past, but with no episode thus far has this problem been as evident as in episode five. ‘And Then the Devil Brought the Plague’ teased much information that the audience needed to better understand the world of Black Lightning, but the disparate plotlines were once again a pitfall for an otherwise fantastic show.

‘Black Jesus’ had set up many plot threads that this week would have benefited from exploring: Jennifer’s reasons for quitting track, Tobias and Tori’s plan to manipulate Khalil and Freeland against Black Lightning, or a more thorough exploration of the Green Light drug epidemic and its impact on the community.

The writers decided that instead of picking up threads that had been set up last week, at the cost of the show’s rhythm, they would introduce new problems. Jefferson struggles with sudden and acute migraines, Jennifer gets into a fight with two mean girls, Anissa plays detective and discovers new information about her grandfather’s work and murder, and Whale goes through his own personal trial.

Whale’s arch is the only one that didn’t weight down this episode. Jefferson’s headaches, rather than being used to explore his struggle with his own, ageing body and all that he expects of himself as Black Lightning, is explained right at the end of the episode as being a side-effect from a technical fault in the suit. Viewers cannot help but feel cheated when one of the main plot points is done away with in such a lacklustre manner.

What has improved this episode is that it did a better job of organically integrating Anissa’s storyline into the main plot. Hopefully as the show continues to progress, her Veronica Mars-like investigation will drive her to find Black Lightning, and maybe even realise his identity.

Her search for answers about her own abilities leads her to an online conspiracy video, which tells of a vaccine given to nine kids decades ago, which caused them to have enhanced abilities. These kids later went missing without a trace. Anissa also discovers that her journalist grandfather, Alvin Pierce, had written about these kids, and the cover-up, which the audience now knows led him to be murdered by Tobias.

Speaking of whom, the exposition of his backstory was the highlight of this week’s instalment, transforming Tobias Whale from James Bond-villain wannabe to a far more complex character who gives reasons as to why he became the way that he is, far more akin to Daredevil’s fantastic Wilson Fisk.

Viewers also witness Tobias and Tori plotting to climb the ranks of Lady Eve’s organisation, which restores some of his character strength. His playing lackey to Lady Eve in the past episode had neutered his character somewhat, and made it more difficult to see him as Black Lightning’s arch rival, but this was restored and amplified when his ambitions are exposed in a conversation with his sister.

Despite tonal discrepancies, ‘And Then the Devil Brought the Plague’ did well in working to give the show’s world more history, raising the ante for our characters for a confrontation that is sure to come. Gambi’s position, for instance, though it remains a mystery, must be important enough that Tobias himself is too afraid of the consequences of harming Gambi, having to walk away when he refuses to give him information about Black Lightning’s identity.

This week struggled with keeping storylines on the same level, resulting in tonal shifts that worked against the plot. However, there was still excellent character work, and it presented viewers with some answers, and many more questions.

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




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