Red Stewart reviews the sixth episode of Black Lightning…
Black Lightning was unique in that it was only non-Marvel superhero show that I awarded consecutive high scores to the first two episodes. It really seemed like a series that was going to be different from the typical superhero slate, and with a 13-episode count as opposed to the CW mandate of 23-episodes, I had high hopes that it would continue to combine timely themes with the traits of the genre to create a memorable experience.
Someone will then have to explain to me how this seemingly revolutionary series became the first DC show to have a downright awful episode in its debut season. We’ve seen seasonal rot hit other longer-running television shows, from Smallville to Arrow, but that at least arrived after the characters were set up and explored.
This time around Black Lightning failed to provide anything of substance. If you had told me back in January that I would be genuinely despising an episode down the line, I would have called you crazy. However, such was the case with “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder,” an episode that remains one of the best examples of how to take many powerful plot threads and toss them out the window in favor of well-worn tropes. Wasted potential could not be a more accurate term.
With a one week break, I was hoping “The Book of Thunder” would be an actual follow-up to the fourth episode “Black Jesus” by continuing to explore the Green Light epidemic, Jefferson’s continued struggle to operate as Black Lightning, and Whale’s plan to manipulate Khalil. No, instead the episode opens up Gambi driving Jefferson’s immobile body to his lair where we are then treated to the painfully tired conflict that is Lynn and Jefferson fighting about him being a superhero again. Not only has this been done to death in past incarnations of superhero fiction, but it was already resolved in previous episodes of Black Lightning!
But wait, there’s more! Next we get a scene of Anissa and some fellow activists vandalizing a Confederate statue, which results in a violent white supremacist rally that kills an innocent person. Now, unless you were living under a rock in the United States, this is a direct allusion to the Unite the Right Rally in Virginia last August, and that’s just the thing: it was a direct allusion to an event that happened over six months ago. The media and news cycle have since moved on. I get that these shows are filmed a long time before their debut to give the marketers and visual effects team extra time to smooth the product, but this was still painfully outdated, not close to being subtle, and downright pointless. Seriously, I couldn’t tell you the point of the scene outside of maybe giving Anissa more of a motivation to become a superhero, even though it’s been hammered in at this point that is her intentions.
Alright, you may be saying I’m over-exaggerating; that a few misplaced scenes can’t bring down an entire episode. Trust me though, the cliches are only just beginning. We now move into the main thrust of the plot, which is Jefferson deciding he is going to end Whale permanently by crossing the line. That’s right, at a time when Arrow and Daredevil have done a strong job of preaching about the need for morality in superheroes, the writers of Black Lightning felt the need to throw in their words as well. Could they have hypothetically added something interesting to the conversation? Of course. But that just doesn’t happen. Not only do we get the same dialogue of “there’s no coming back from this,” we also receive the hackneyed speech by a close friend convincing the hero not to do the dirty deed!
One of the unique appeals of Black Lightning was that it was focusing on a veteran hero: someone who presumably went through the growing pains of being a superhero and has learned all the life lessons. So why did anyone on the filmmaking team think it would be a good idea to go through such a banal conflict again?
Like I talked about before, though, the problem with “The Book of Thunder” isn’t just that its full of boiler plate discourse, it is that it ruins what should have been emotionally powerful moments. This is the episode where we finally see the death of Jefferson’s dad at the hands of Whale. Where we see Whale sweet talk Khalil. Where we see Jefferson discover Anissa has powers. So many cool things that aren’t given the justice they deserve, mainly because they are poorly juxtaposed into a cliche-ridden narrative, giving us no time to dwell on them. The murder of Jefferson’s father, for example, happens right before Lynn’s speech about him being a symbol.
There are some good parts to this episode, mainly everything revolving around Jennifer’s relationship with Khalil. In a touching moment between her and Anissa, she reveals her future concerns about dating someone who is wheelchair bound. It was refreshing, because it’s a subject that can be seen as offensive, but is actually relatable to people who do live with loved ones who are disabled. I also appreciated seeing Khalil blame Jennifer for his predicament because it is true that his primary reason for attending the march was for her, leaving him with a solid motivation.
But those are few and far between. Needless to say, I was very disappointed with the direction the series has taken since “The Book of Green Light.” “The Book of Thunder” technically wasn’t as bad as its predecessor from a structural standpoint since some of the plot threads actually went somewhere, but the fact that it wasted so many powerful plot points made it a worse viewing experience.
I just hope this is a temporary lull and we get a course correction.
-If there was one good thing that came out of that terrible statue vandalizing subplot, it was this quote by Jefferson to Anissa: “You are a black woman. You do not have the luxury of being naive.”
-Syonide speaks for the first time here!
-Gambi is revealed to have been Lady Eve’s mentor and that they both worked for a mysterious agency. Props to the writers for officially moving him out of the realm of being an Alfred Pennyworth-archetype. This part also came with a really good quote: “I taught you everything you know Evelyn, not everything I know.”
-Now that Jefferson knows Anissa’s secret, we can only hope she gets a proper costume. The one she currently wears might be the worst thing I have seen since Batnipples in Batman & Robin.