Red Stewart reviews the season 3 premiere of Black Lightning…
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what exactly it is I just watched on TV last night. The thing that aired was supposedly the season 3 premiere of Black Lightning, yet to call it anything resembling good writing would be to drop the standards of what it means to be quality. It was pathetic, awful, a series low in a show that has already dropped the ball hard many, many times over.
We begin with a confusing montage that drags on longer than it should, revealing three Greenlight users having conversations with an AI system about who they are and what their powers are. The first of these individuals is a Muslim woman who complains about being the victim of Islamophobia, the next is a guy suffering from diabetes who claims he doesn’t have any powers, and the last is our very own Jefferson Pierce.
Five minutes in and we’re already off to a terrible start. For one, these conversations are outright boring. There is nothing interesting about the first two individuals or their anecdotes, the setting is the same generic metal-paneled institution we have seen a gazillion times in other fictional media, and, worst of all, they violate Chekhov’s gun, a basic principle in narrative fiction that states that any storytelling element that is given extra focus should have some impact by the third act, otherwise it is pointless to incorporate. That’s right, outside of obviously Jefferson, neither of the Greenlight babies are brought up again in the rest of the episode. What exactly was their point? To show that the ASA has been quarantining metahumans to protect them from Markovian forces infiltrating the city?
Oh wait no, I’m sorry, an expositional newscast delivered right after that informs us that the ASA is doing that in a different part of Freeland, leaving the introduction even more confusing. We’ve just gotten done with the intro and already the writing is making middle school theatre-level mistakes (all while putting us to sleep at the same time).
But things are far from done. Next we see Anissa with a nurse, U.S. politician, and Reverend Holt, exploring one of these facilities. It’s clearly a different setting, visually meant to mimic photographs/videos we’ve seen of illegal immigrant children sleeping in I.C.E. holding centers with space blankets and cages to boot (and if that allegory wasn’t obvious enough, the subsequent writing hits you over and over on the head that this is a literal metaphor for the Trump [and Obama] Administrations’ detentions of migrant children, showing that the writers don’t even trust their viewers to put two and two together).
Suddenly this tour of theirs is interrupted by a metahuman, who attacks the facility and kills all the guards stationed there. Before we have any idea what’s going on, a military strike team arrives, lead by a man named Carson Williams, who engages in an exposition dump with the metahuman in question (named Ned) before fighting and killing him. Williams then tells Anissa and co. that his men have stopped a Markovian assault that Ned was leading, a revelation that almost made me laugh out loud. We didn’t see anyone other than Ned prior to this fight scene, yet we’re meant to believe that there was a firefight before this? Couldn’t the producers have at least incorporated some sound design prior to Ned’s arrival hinting at a gun barrage going on outside, therefore explaining why he was the only one of an alleged force sent by the Markovian Government to retrieve these metas? I’m literally thinking of small ideas that would’ve improved things off the top of my head, things that a professional writing team evidently wasn’t able to do.
Perhaps I should stop going into specifics and give general outlines about what is wrong with this episode. After all, I don’t want to turn this rant into a pure recap of how each scene falls apart under a passing critical glance. About a month or so after the end of the second season, Jefferson agreed to be experimented on by Agent Odell to keep his wife and kids from being put into one of the ASA’s aforementioned buildings. It’s something that could make sense, but there’s a lot of mixed factors that prevent it from being a natural development. For starters, what excuse does he give for his sudden public life disappearance? He is still a teacher at Garfield High, right? Is this just another convenient vacation he’s taking? And what about Black Lightning? Why didn’t he put any plans in place to explain why the titular hero has vanished (again) from Freeland? Even The Flash did this in season 2 when Barry lost his powers, forcing Team Flash to use illusionary tricks via a satellite. I guess he’s banking on no one putting his and Black Lightning’s convenient withdrawal from Freeland together.
Even the idea of Jefferson, or his family for that matter, just giving in to this demand without putting up a fight seems strange, but instead of providing flashbacks explaining how this decision evolved, we instead get plenty of Black Lightning’s infamously pointless scenes! To start with, we see an Asian girl display powers eerily similar to Jennifer’s, only for a much later part to reveal that this is, in fact, Jennifer, using some ridiculous camouflage tech, provided by Gambi, to hide her identity (why she needs to hide her identity is beyond me- the show gives no reason for this). In fact, Gambi has outfitted Anissa’s entire place with special voice-activated technology (why he did this is beyond me).
Anissa, in turn, has abandoned her Thunder identity and is operating under a new vigilante code-named Blackbird (why she abandoned Thunder is beyond me- she uses her powers the same way and does the same exact things she used to do as Thunder). As Blackbird, she is trying to prevent the ASA from abducting Greenlight children by fostering them in Reverend Holt’s church. How she tracks down these transportation vehicles, prevents the government from re-tracking them down, and sneaks the children into a public church without being seen is never explained.
I could go on an on about the irreverent nature of the rest of the episode (the laughably bad lesbian drunk sex scene between Anissa and a reporter, the random bit about Grace Choi eating people, the entire flawed political allegory that compares illegal immigrant children to experimented human beings), but I’ll end on a somewhat positive note. There was one good scene in this entire fiasco of a premiere, and that (unsurprisingly, if you’ve been following my reviews) involved Tobias Whale. The negation of his super healing has resulted in him aging rapidly, and a conversation he has with a fellow metahuman at the ASA facility (same one where Jefferson is being kept) shows that he has a lot of dirt on Agent Odell and the government. This, however, brings about its own problems, namely why Odell doesn’t have Whale killed the way he has the other metahuman (named Issa) executed- Whale openly admits he doesn’t know where Proctor’s briefcase is (the MacGuffin from prior seasons), so it’s not like he serves any purpose here.
Overall, though, there wasn’t anything worth watching here. The action choreography has gotten better, and Williams looks to be at least a somewhat interesting antagonist, but with such bad scripts dictating the movement of the story, I don’t have any hope that these traits will be capitalized on.
Rating – 1/10