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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Black Lightning gets bogged down by its own ambition

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In the first scene of this week’s episode of Black Lightning, the titular character is seen lending a hand to a fellow meta who’s scared and lost. Jefferson resurrected Black Lightning in order to kill Tobias Whale, but he’s found a new purpose since that man disappeared; where Tobias hides while still managing to occupy so much space in the show and in Freeland is a topic for another day perhaps. Anyways, that new purpose is an extension of who Jefferson is, as he uses Black Lightning to help out struggling kids. These aren’t the young minds of Garfield High though, but rather kids whose lives were stolen from them by the ASA. They, like Jenn, didn’t ask to have powers, and Jefferson gets that. Now he’s here to act as a middleman between them, their new reality, and a world that either doesn’t understand them or openly despises them.


It’s a very promising start to the episode. Seeing Black Lightning as not just a crime-fighting vigilante, but one who can do good for others like him, is a wonderful new storytelling avenue to open up. It’s an especially fruitful idea considering how it contrasts Black Lightning the hero and Jefferson Pierce the man. Both are determined to help metas, but they differ in their approach. Black Lightning is vigilant and understanding, as demonstrated in this week’s opening scene, whereas Jefferson is more hesitant and combative with his daughters. Anissa has since claimed her own independence, but Jenn still struggles to be heard.

Jefferson is driven by the urge to protect, whether he’s Black Lightning or a father, but his role as the latter makes things more personal. He can’t help but shun a certain amount of empathy when it comes to Jenn, instead bombarding her not only with a level of concern that frightens her and shuts down any hopes of open communication, but also the literal bombardment of bringing a therapist into her life without her knowing. Jenn bumps into this woman while out for one of her designated “walks for exercise,” as her parents continue to keep her locked up at home, and is immediately transported to some sort of alternate reality where she can feel safe exploring her feelings about having powers. Somehow, Jefferson and Lynn didn’t consider that their daughter suddenly going through a door to another reality when a stranger touches her arm might not be the most comforting way to approach the topic of therapy.

As much as “The Book Of Consequences: Chapter Three: Master Lowry” does a great job of dissecting the similarities and difference between Jefferson and Black Lightning when it comes to caring for vulnerable kids with powers, it’s also an episode that’s worrisome in its ambitions. There’s a lot of proverbial narrative balls in the air, and I’m not convinced the show is giving itself enough room to juggle. Everything relating to the Pierce family dynamic remains compelling. Once again, Anissa and Jenn steal the episode with their single scene together, one defined by relationship advice that Anissa seems to take to heart (for now). The scene where Jenn comes home from her run-in with her new therapist is wonderful as well, an emotionally nuanced bit of conflict and resolution that lays bare not only Jenn’s feelings of helplessness and the lack of support she believes she’s getting from her family, but also Jefferson’s own guilt about handing this life to his daughter.

It’s a gut wrenching scene, no doubt, but the emotional impact is still lacking because of the show’s need to check in with the rest of its numerous storylines. Any emotional revelation here, and any significant plot point for that matter, gets pushed aside so that the episode can transition to the next scene. This is an overstuffed episode to say the least, and important relationships and narrative turns end up getting lost in the mix. I mean, this is an episode that introduces a doctor who’s been in prison ever since she ran an unauthorized experiment that caused 10 people to lose their feet and one person to die, whose introduction means that Lynn’s moral compass is challenged yet again by her job, and yet there’s hardly any screen time given to either Lynn’s reservations or the story of this mysterious doctor. We get the basic beats, but it all feels rushed and incomplete.

That feeling permeates much of the episode. “Master Lowry” wants to complicate our feelings about Khalil while deepening his personal journey, expand Jenn’s pain and potential recovery, give Lynn a new foe, Jefferson a new challenge in Principal Lowry—whose screen time totals about one minute in an episode boasting his name— all while sending Anissa on both a romantic and vigilante quest, all while building to a climax where Tobias is arrested by Inspector Henderson. These are all interesting beats on paper, but they simply can’t sink in when placed in an episode as overstuffed as “Master Lowry.” 


Stray observations

  • Typically Black Lightning does a good job intertwining its political and historical musings with the plots, but I thought the whole “salon” scene was shoehorned in.
  • Good ol’ Uncle Gambi, available to be your sniper cover whenever you call.
  • This week in the Black Lightning soundtrack: