Red Stewart reviews the fourth episode of Black Lightning…
On the outset, it would be easy to criticize ‘Black Jesus’ for being a remake of the Arrow season 1 episode ‘Vertigo’. After all, both deal with the surge of a street drug marketed at high schoolers, that consequently leads to the hero having to confront the source. In Black Lightning’s case, this pharmaceutical is called “Green Light” and it’s already made its way to the students of Garfield High thanks to some charismatic dealers.
However, the fourth outing of Black Lightning goes a slightly different route than the aforementioned Arrow episode. One of the things that makes Black Lightning more akin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Netflix shows is that it’s more interested in telling an overarching story, rather than the episodic nature of the Arrowverse. As a result, ‘Black Jesus’ doesn’t deal with a villain of the week, instead focusing on continuing the narrative threads from last week’s ‘LaWanda: The Book of Burial‘.
As viewers will recall, Jennifer’s boyfriend Khalil was paralyzed courtesy of a stray bullet from Tobias Whale’s henchwoman that was originally aimed at Black Lightning. Khalil’s rehab and hospitalization have not only begun to impact Jennifer’s academics, but also contributed to Jefferson’s own self-doubts over whether Black Lightning is doing more harm than good for the people of Freeland. This is particularly troublesome as Pierce has fully embraced his return as the titular hero and knows he will have to ultimately ignore these concerns if he wants to get rid of The 100 for good.
At the same time, Pierce is also balancing his life as the principal of Garfield High. The emergence of Green Light threatens the future of one student, forcing Pierce to fight with the school board over the student’s potential expulsion. One small yet profound aspect of Black Lightning that I’ve failed to mention in previous reviews is how Pierce knows all his pupils’ names. It’s a nice touch and really shows just how much he cares for the well-being of everyone in his school, thus giving his bureaucratic battle with the board some emotional weight.
Alongside that, we have the series’ villains, Lady Eve and Whale, playing a larger role as the show enters its second act. It turns out Whale gained a reputation in the criminal underworld for killing Black Lightning, and now that reputation is on the verge of breaking courtesy of the latter’s revival. This puts him in a desperate spot, but also opens up a brilliant avenue that elevates this episode significantly: turning the city against Black Lightning by manipulating Khalil. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future as I found it to be very enticing tactic compared to the usual “breaking the hero” strategy employed by most comic book villains.
All of this, the Green Light, Khalil’s condition, and Whale’s vengeance, combine beautifully for the most part, but there was unfortunately one scene that killed the pacing of ‘Black Jesus’, and yes it involved Anissa. In fact, it involves most of the family having dinner with Detective Henderson and his wife and holding the unfortunately cliche discussion of law enforcement vs. vigilantism. Not only did the scene feel very out of place (Henderson is never seen before or after it), but it was also clearly done to given Anissa more motivation to start doing her own superheroics, even though an earlier part of the episode gives her a believable catalyst when she sees some of her own students soliciting with some narcotics peddlers and is rudely insulted by the latter.
Still, I will give credit where credit is due: the writers did a much better job this time around of tying Anissa’s arc with the main plot of the episode, compared to previous entries where the entire thing felt out of place.
Overall, ‘Black Jesus’ didn’t quite live up to its title, but it had the hallmarks of being a great episode. Sadly, some pacing problems and an unnecessary scene in the middle act prevented it from reaching those heights.
-WTF was Lady Eve doing to that living human in the beginning?
-“Black kids ODing has never been newsworthy.” The subtle ways this show tackles systematic racism is quite genius.
-I really like the ambivalent nature of Gambi as it makes him less of a discount-Alfred Pennyworth.
-Syonide was nowhere to be seen in this episode. I wonder if there’s a deleted scene showing Whale killing her off for missing Black Lightning with that sniper shot.