Red Stewart reviews the season 2 premiere of Black Lightning…
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a superhero show as eager to rush to a series finale as Black Lightning. The Arrowverse as a whole has gained notoriety for hurrying through interesting plot lines only to suffer from filler down the line (The Flash moving through “Flashpoint” in just two episodes of season 3 comes to mind), but they at least restrained themselves from exploring every possible avenue, leaving room for multiple seasons worth of content.
One of my criticisms with the debut season of Black Lightning was that Salim Akil and his writing team had quickly abandoned the grounded storytelling laid out in the first few episodes in favor of stuffing the next 10 with character and narrative arcs that should have been reserved for later, or at least given more time to breath than one could possibly do in 13 episodes, from Anissa getting powers to Jennifer getting powers to the bureaucracy of the ASA to the resurrection mumbo jumbo that began with Lala.
The season 2 premiere only doubled down on this tactic, leaving me with little hope for the next 12 entries. As the title suggests, the episode deals with the aftermath of the season 1 finale ‘Shadow of Death: The Book of War’, with the ASA cracking down on Lynn for publicizing the discovery of the kidnapped metahumans, the school board admonishing Jefferson for not being present at Garfield High following Tobias’s assault, and Jennifer dealing with the growth of her superpowers.
Except, that’s actually not all ‘The Book of Consequences’ was interested in. Despite having more than enough content for 45 minutes, Akil (who personally wrote and directed this episode) decided to tack on several more subplots that could very well have been saved down the line. We learn that Kara is desperate to get out of the ASA and spends a considerable amount of time attempting to get the briefcase MacGuffin we saw at the end of season 1; Jennifer’s powers are not only uncontrollable, but also morphing her into some electricity sprite; the local church is trying to raise donations to start up a legal case against the ASA for continuing to hide the metahumans, prompting Anissa to begin a vigilante crusade against criminal organizations to get crack money; the Freeland community is beginning to rebel against the concept of super powered individuals; people are coming back to life, and Lynn and Jefferson are having arguments over how to raise Jennifer and how to deal with Lynn’s resolve to help the green light children.
The worst, however, comes in the form of a random scene placed in the middle of the episode where Henderson finally realizes that Jefferson is Black Lightning and confronts him, prompting the latter to officially reveal his secret identity. I emphasize random because the way it was implemented was so jarring, it genuinely made me think that several other parts were cut from the final edit.
And that’s really what all these criticisms of Black Lightning come down to- the bizarre editing decisions. If Akil was this determined to initiate a bunch of plot developments later on, why doesn’t he have the common sense to at least space things out properly? I get that 45 minutes isn’t a lot, but when you decide that you want to take on this many threads, you have an obligation to see it fluently executed.
There were some good aspects though. As usual, the acting was on point, with Skye P. Marshall and China Anne McClain giving standout performances in particular. I was also very intrigued with the idea of Jefferson having to actually pick between staying as the principal of Garfield High or letting the board shut down the school permanently, even if it (like most things in this show) was rushed, with his conversations with an African American board member being particularly enjoyable. I liked seeing Whale’s return, even if it was very brief. And the political themes were handled much more subtly this time around, compared to last season where Proctor literally yelled “Let’s make America great again!”
But overall, this was a disappointing debut for the second season of Black Lightning. Though I expected it to be bad, there was a part of me that hoped otherwise.