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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Before the season finale, exposition is the unfortunate star of Black Lightning

Illustration for article titled Before the season finale, exposition is the unfortunate star of Black Lightning
Photo: Annette Brown/The CW

For weeks now Black Lightning has been firing on all cylinders, offering up one stunning character-based episode after another. Leaving behind the contrived mysteries and secrets of the first few episodes, the show’s found another gear in the back half of the season, rooting its superhero stories in familial drama and social politics. What’s been remarkable is the way the show’s avoided the usual trappings that affect the quality of a debut season, especially when it comes to superhero shows. There’s been very few instances of needless exposition or contrived conflict, and that’s lead to a season that’s felt lean and efficient when it comes to storytelling. Black Lightning shoots straight when its at its best, layering poignant character work with an ever-expanding story of government corruption and historical violence.


“The Resurrection And The Light: The Book Of Pain,” being the penultimate episode of the season, should be cut from the same cloth. It should be an example of ratcheting up the tension and stakes before the finale. Unfortunately, it’s one of only two true missteps this season. It’s an episode that falls into all the traps the show’s been so nimbly avoiding lately. Whether exploring the way black bodies are treated as inherently violent, or reckoning with identity and family, the strength of the most recent episodes lies in characters not acting like complete fools. The Pierces may have their fair share of issues and blowups, but they rarely feel contrived, and the show certainly doesn’t revel in a lot of exposition. That’s not true of “The Resurrection And The Light: The Book Of Pain,” an episode that struggles to build momentum at a crucial time in the season.

The most frustrating part of this episode is Jenn’s arc, a storyline that’s indicative of the larger problems with “The Resurrection And The Light: The Book Of Pain.” Jenn’s story for much of the season has been her trying to come to grips with her superpowers and the fact that both Jefferson and Anissa were hiding their true identities from her. On top of that, she had to deal with her new boyfriend getting shot and paralyzed, only to disappear from Freeland for awhile after they broke up. Now, Khalil is back, miraculously cured and walking around with a new set of dreads on his head. It’s a new Khalil, and everybody except for Jenn seems aware that he’s not the same, and that something shady must have happened to get him walking again.

Everything Black Lightning has told us about Jenn is that she’s curious, insightful, and observant. She knew that Anissa and Jefferson were hiding something, even if she didn’t know what, and she’s long understood the romantic dynamic between her parents. She doesn’t stand for doublespeak and secrets, and she has a way of cutting through the bullshit with just about everybody she knows. And yet, after everything she’s been through and learned about Freeland and metahumans and superpowers, when Jefferson tells her to stay away from Khalil because he may be involved with some scary people, she immediately goes to see him after he reaches out.

It’s the type of move that serves plot before character, and even then the motivations are flimsy. Jenn’s brief scene with Khalil simply reveals that he’s a bad guy now, or at least indebted to some bad guys. Jenn and Khalil had their break already, and revisiting their tension now, numerous episodes since the shooting, feels like the show trying to pay off a storyline that never really got off the ground to begin with, all while undercutting the previous episodes’ nuanced character work in the process.

Similarly egregious is the episode’s heavy dose of exposition, and its often meandering plot. Look, there’s a certain amount of story that needs to be filled in before the finale; namely, Black Lightning needs to establish the emotional stakes, and that comes in the form of Proctor going after Black Lightning in order to study his body so that he can make metahumans that he can control and, most importantly, don’t die on him. But there’s not only too much story packed in here, so much of it feels familiar. It’s as if the writers were worried that the previous episodes were too character based, and felt the need to use “The Resurrection And The Light: The Book Of Pain” as a recap episode of sorts.


Gambi, Anissa, and Jefferson talk again and again about things we already know: the A.S.A, the missing kids, the need to find the lab, and the fact that Proctor could be coming for them at any moment. This is Black Lightning spinning its wheels. The final stretch of the episode, where Jefferson and Anissa fight off Khalil and Syonide at Garfield High, is inspired, a well-choreographed fight sequence that turns the promise of violence from Tobias into something real and personal. Getting to that point is tedious though. “The Resurrection And The Light: The Book Of Pain” is filler before the finale.

Stray observations

  • Pretty simple transaction between Khalil and Tobias: “legs for loyalty.”
  • Another overwrought touch that I thought felt off for Black Lightning: Lynn and Jefferson making love, saying “I love you” and essentially getting back together, only to get in a massive fight later on. Clunky, contrived plotting is the name of the game this week.
  • “My parents had sex and all I got was superpowers.”
  • So it looks like Tobias is in full control of Lala, uttering the words “the devil deals the cards” as some sort of hypnotic trigger.
  • Proctor wants Tobias to capture Black Lightning. Tobias wants Black Lightning dead. Black Lightning wants Tobias dead. Tobias wants Proctor dead, with the help of Lala. That’s a tangled web to unravel in next week’s season finale.

Kyle Fowle is a freelance writer based out of Canada. He writes about TV and wrestling for The A.V. Club, Real Sport, EW, and Paste Magazine.