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TV Review: Black Lightning (Season 1, Episode 9)


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What makes Black Lightning such a fantastic and standout show in the genre is that it chooses, over and over, to prioritise emotional authenticity and family relationships over mere plot devices.

Jennifer finding out about her powers and her father and sister’s secret identities was at the core of ‘The Book of Little Black Lies’. The show so far has done exceedingly well in exploring the nuanced effects of secrets being revealed. Anissa discovering her powers is handled incredibly differently than when Jennifer finds out, as are Lynn and Jefferson’s reactions to each girl.

Black Lightning (2018)

Not only is this week about the fallout of emotional betrayals – Jefferson and Gambi, and Jennifer and her entire family – it’s also about Jennifer coming to terms with what powers mean for her future. A beautifully written scene between Jennifer and her mother highlights the contrast between her and her sister.

She doesn’t want to save the world, she wants to live her own, normal life and on her own terms. She wants to go to prom, go to college, get married and have kids, but this life-changing revelation puts her life plans in question. Jennifer bares it all, and seeing what superpowers have done to her parents’ marriage, questions if anyone will love her.

What’s fantastic is that the audience is served up different types of strong and complex female characters. Anissa is subverting expectations of feminine superherodom, Jennifer has her own ideas of what she wants out of life, Lynn is both a protective mother and involved in the fight; they’re each made out of different moulds, and that’s what audiences need from television.

This episode also treats viewers to another Thunder and Black Lightning team-up, with Anissa decked out in her new suit. Also back on the menu is the Green Light storyline – Jefferson and Anissa storm into one of the labs producing the drugs and burn it to the ground. It’s good to see progress being made on this arch, since it began so promisingly but was left behind for a few weeks.

With Gambi still on the outs and off doing his own creepy missions, Henderson steps up as Black Lightning’s backup. It’s a nuanced subversion of the institutional authority he works for, one that has fallen to corruption and racism; yet he still believes in his core purpose, to ‘protect and serve’ the people of Freeland, and if bringing corrupt cops to justice is the way to fulfil this, so be it.

There was no sign of either Lala nor Tobias this episode, as Black Lightning preferred instead to focus on the family drama aspect of the show. Bringing in either of these characters would have weighed down the pacing of ‘The Book of Little Black Lies’, so it was smart not to.

There were multiple important developments over the hour that will undoubtedly impact the course of the show in coming weeks, but to keep it anchored into familial relationships served to remind viewers that despite what other superhero shows choose to do, Black Lightning is first and foremost about its characters - and it’s all the stronger for it.

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

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