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TV Review: Black Lightning (Season 1, Episode 6)

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After such a powerful start, it seems that during the last few weeks, Black Lightning has fallen into a kind of slumber.

What was a show full of politically and culturally acute commentary, original perspectives on an older superhero, and fantastic character work has unfortunately become weighed down with clichés and overused tropes.

Every storyline and theme that had been beautifully and subtly set up, like Jefferson’s struggle against his own ageing body, Khalil’s personal journey after seeing his dreams shattered, Tobias’ plan to turn Freeland against Black Lightning, Anissa’s marrying of her newfound powers and her activism, even the impact of Green Light on a black neighbourhood, these were all themes with immense potential.

A proper handling of these would mean a masterful execution of the superhero genre in a way that DC television shows have so far failed to do. ‘Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder’ ignored, botched, or rushed each and every one of these.

As we move into the second act of the season, Jefferson makes the decision, upon finding out that Tobias Whale has been secretly operating on the streets of Freeland right under his nose, that he is going to kill Tobias to avenge his father’s murder. What could have been an interesting start to a conversation about morality and principle in the superhero frame falls into something far overdone.

We are handed the typical and urgent speech by a close friend convincing the hero not to cross the line, warning that “there’s no coming back from this”, the love interest telling the hero that she “can’t do this anymore”, et cetera, all of which we have seen many, many times before. Audiences want to see new takes on classic content, not the same recycled stories!

One of the unique appeals of Black Lightning’s premise is that it revolved around a veteran hero, not a fledgling like The Flash or Supergirl. Rather than an origin story, we were being treated to an older individual who’d already discovered and experienced the pains of life as a superhero and learned much about how the world functions along the way.

And Anissa’s own growth could have been a refreshing and contrasting balance to this, playing into some subtly intricate conflicts of intergenerational perspectives. There were beginnings of this at the very start of the season, but since then it has not evolved. Rather than leaning into the veteran superhero’s perspective, Anissa’s newcomer attitudes have highjacked the show’s tone, rendering it far more alike to other existing shows than it was at first.

So many moments in this episode also aren’t given the justice they deserve, because they are poorly slotted into a cliché-ridden narrative, pushing the storyline forward too fast to allow any emotional impact to land. This is a week when we witness the death of Jefferson’s father in front of his son, where we see Khalil ally with Tobias, and Lynn and Jefferson discover that Anissa not only has powers, but that she has followed in her father’s footsteps.  

Christine Adams in Black Lightning (2018)

The narrative structure, despite containing standout moments, is fairly poorly executed. The episode does have its moments, however! Jennifer is a standout performance, having a difficult and sensitively-handled conversation with her sister about what the future holds for her and Khalil, now that he wheelchair-bound. Her handling of Khalil blaming her for what happened was also incredibly mature, and wonderful to witness.  

‘Three Sevens’ also continued the trend of speaking on black issues. Anissa and a group of peers deface a Confederate monument on their campus, only to have white supremacists mount a counter-protest. One drives a car into a crowd, killing one of the original protestors, all of which resounds with terrible familiarity against current events.

A meaningful conversation is also shared between Jefferson and Jennifer after she is cyber-bullied for ‘acting white’, in which he explains to her the legacy of slavery has given life to a concept known as ‘crabs in a barrel’. The metaphor refers to a barrel of live crabs from which some could easily escape, if it weren’t for other crabs pulling them back down and ensuring the group’s collective demise. In this context, Jefferson is explaining why Jennifer’s peers are attacking her for succeeding beyond them.

Overall, though this episode continues to speak on important contemporary issues, Black Lightning succumbing to cliched tropes sabotages the narrative and plotlines that otherwise hold such promise. One can only hope that the show picks itself back up and continues on the path which it had begun taking at the start of the season.

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




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