Red Stewart reviews the third episode of Black Lightning…
In my review of last week’s episode, “LaWanda: The Book of Hope,” I theorized that it would be the first part of a mini arc continued with this week’s “LaWanda: The Book of Burial.” The two entries, combined with the pilot, would form a trilogy of sorts that explained the return of Jefferson Pierce’s alter ego, Black Lightning, to the community of Freeland.
That was clearly the intentions of the writers, but “LaWanda: The Book of Burial” ended up faltering due to an unfortunate subplot that took away from the more interesting main story. This story begins with an opening that I found myself half-appreciating: the Pierce Family attending a Church sermon while Anissa is at a junkyard testing out her newfound powers.
I suppose I should come clean by saying that almost everything that has to do with Anissa is the “unfortunate subplot” I mentioned earlier. I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record given that I have had this complaint with the prior episodes, but I really do feel it was a mistake of the writers to start Anissa’s development into a sidekick this season. One of the major appeals of Black Lightning has been that it focuses on a hero coming out of retirement, compared to the numerous superhero properties that deal with someone discovering their powers. Tacking on that over-saturated story to this more interesting narrative will, by its very nature, bring down the latter.
I could always be proven wrong, but “LaWanda: The Book of Burial” didn’t convince me otherwise. As I said before, I only half-liked the opening because it kept cutting away from the familial church aspect. It’s rare to see a superhero openly religious, and considering a vast majority of African-Americans in the United States are religious, it makes sense to incorporate this aspect into the show.
The homily, preached by the Reverend Jeremiah Holt, advocates the local people to take a stand against The 100 gang through a march, inspired by LaWanda’s death from the prior episode. Though it would appear the Reverend has good intentions, writer Jan Nash incorporates contemporary criticisms of churches through a discussion between Police Detective Henderson and Rev. Jeremiah, where Henderson points out the expensive items Holt is wearing, no doubt a result of some sideline Joel Osteen-esque prosperity gospel.
The march, of course, is set up to be episode’s climax, leaving the middle portion to be divided out between four main plot lines: Pierce and Gambi preparing for the inevitable terrorist attack on the demonstration, the bad guys setting up said terrorist attack, Jennifer talking to her parents about losing her virginity, and Anissa finding a new girlfriend.
The Pierce and Gambi interactions don’t need to be discussed much: Cress Williams and James Remar have a solid chemistry that, while reminiscent of the Batman/Alfred relationship, is still enjoyable to watch. However, it is about time that I discussed the show’s antagonists: Tobias Whale, his silent partner Syonide, and Lady Eve. I’ve refrained from mentioning them in the past, mainly because they didn’t serve much of a role in the series outside of being the head-honchos of The 100 (Lady Eve herself was only name-dropped before, making “Lawanda: The Book of Burial” her on-screen debut).
Whale is portrayed by rapper Krondon, who gives him enough raw charisma that he never comes off as a discount Kingpin despite holding an aesthetic similarity. Whale is both menacing and enticing, and Krondon makes the best of his limited scenes. It’s frequently hinted that a lot of history exists between him and Black Lightning, though I assume the showrunners are waiting until they near the end of the season before they disclose the whole backstory. I was also personally intrigued by Syonide. Though she hasn’t spoken at all, she projects an evil aura that reminded me of a combination between Gazelle from Kingsman: The Secret Service and Ares from John Wick: Chapter Two. Lady Eve isn’t given much time, but considering she orders Whale to massacre innocent civilians, it’s clear that her intentions come from a place of pure immorality.
To liven things up , we have the sex conversations between Jennifer and Pierce and Lynn, which provide most of the episode’s humor. They are absolutely awkward, but I can’t deny I chuckled during them. Plus, it was surprisingly refreshing to see an open dialogue about this topic between parents and their children, as sex ed is something that I feel is not talked about much despite it being the cause of so many factors in society.
The three aforestated threads weave together to build up to the protest walk, but the pacing is largely killed thanks to Anissa’s subplot of finding a new romantic interest in the form of Grace Choi. Not only is there no thematic connection to the other plots, but it’s also built upon a shaky foundation of presenting Anissa’s previous love interest as too controlling, which is blatantly false based on what we saw of her. Granted it wasn’t much, but I could tell she cared a lot about Anissa, and so this retcon came off as disingenuous.
The final act is satisfying, though it does not feature much action. In fact, there’s not much Black Lightning at all this episode as the creators were more interested in exploring his symbolic impact on the people around him. It’s clear that he inspires hope in many of them, but Henderson and the police department remain sure that there’s a connection between him and the rise of crime in the city: a dichotomy that will serve as the foundation for the rest of the season.
-DC Comics and their property The Outsiders (a team Black Lightning was a part of) are shown to exist in the show. A nice Easter Egg, but it raises a lot of fourth wall questions.
-Supergirl is name-dropped as a cosplay option, but it’s not made clear whether she’s fictional or real in the Black Lightning Universe.
-Some interesting developments on Gambi’s part.