The television series with the longest episode titles known to man (which still aren’t as long as my own 15-Minute Force titles) has returned for a second season.
I liked the first season of Black Lightning. Specifically, I liked that it featured a middle-aged superhero, who happens to be black. I also liked the cast and the fact that this seems to be our first superhero family drama.
But, I found the first season’s episodes to be uneven at times, with a multitude of plots that seemed to wander at times or go nowhere in particular. With a shorter than normal season, I expected more focus and tighter writing, with a clearly defined main storyline that had a beginning, middle and end. I didn’t really get that, which is why I gave the show a 3-star rating (out of a possible 5).
The series also seems to have an openly political agenda and gets preachy at times. This is not a complaint. This is a part of the show, and I accept that. The fact that the thematic focus is on the real-world issues that affect us all, but primarily the African-American community, is actually a good thing.
I was aware of the character Black Lightning, but never really read his comic book adventures in the ’70s. He occasionally appeared in other titles, however, and even eventually appeared on the Super Friends cartoon, although his character was altered and changed to Black Vulcan because of a legal dispute between DC Comics and Black Lightning co-creator Tony Isabella. The fact that Black Lightning was the first black superhero at DC Comics to headline his own comic book was social commentary in and of itself. I suspect that the comic storylines demonstrated a social consciousness as well. We should expect no less from the television series.
The second-season premiere doesn’t shy away from real-world issues. This episode opens with a young black man, high on the drug Green Light, who is killed by cops. This helps tether what is a science-fiction/fantasy program to our own world, where similar occurrences have seemed commonplace.
Jefferson Pierce’s life outside of his P-Funk costume is what makes this a superhero family drama. Other DC-on-CW shows have that extended-family vibe, but this one is the first to focus on a traditional family. Well . . . semi-traditional. The parents are divorced but still in love and co-parenting two lovely daughters. Not only does the father have superpowers, but so do both daughters. And the mother is a strong, independent, scientist-type person. The family drama that plays on the screen also helps keep this program about superheroes in long underwear grounded.
Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain) is coming to grips with her meta-abilities, which have just begun to manifest. Her sister, Anissa (Nafessa Williams), already seems comfortable as her superhero alter ego, Thunder. She goes undercover to rob a den of drug dealers in a all-out fight scene that might have been lifted straight from Netflix’s Luke Cage. I don’t care if it was, because it was great.
There is also a fight scene between Tobias Whale’s right-hand woman, Syonide, and the vice-principal/A.S.A. Agent Kara that seems like an homage to Kill Bill. The creators of this show are obviously Tarantino fans, because Whale’s mysterious briefcase has to be a Pulp Fiction reference, doesn’t it? I’ve probably watched too many movies.
There’s no actual action with Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) suited-up in this episode. This one is more about Jefferson’s civilian problems. It seems by the end of the episode that Jefferson is being forced out as principal of Garfield High because of all the violence that has occurred there on his watch. Also, he and his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams) are having a few problems of their own, primarily because they disagree over what to do about Jennifer’s developing powers and Lynn sought Peter Gambi’s help in spite of Jefferson’s objections.
Also in this episode, Jefferson’s best friend, Deputy Chief Henderson, demonstrates what a good detective he is by figuring out that Jefferson Pierce is also Black Lightning. Maybe Jefferson should have gone with the afro wig like his comic book counterpart. That mask of his covers up very little.
Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) makes a brief appearance at the end of the episode. He and his briefcase, which I guess will remain a MacGuffin that’ll drive a least one plotline this season, much like the suitcase full of bones in The Blacklist. Actor Bill Duke also makes his first appearance as A.S.A. Agent Odell, who enjoys making Lynn Pierce squirm in interrogation. You may know Mr. Duke from any number of projects over the years, but I remember him most from that Arnold Schwarzeneggar classic Predator, where he got to fire that wicked minigun.
Lots of plotlines are introduced in this premiere episode, but the viewer is left in the dark over which will be the major story arc. The pod children from the end of season one, the Green Light Babies, look like the heavy favorite. Lynn Pierce had Peter Gambi pull strings so that she is allowed to work with the pod people. Anissa is stealing money from criminals to donate to a church cause helping the families of these Green Light Babies to legally fight the government, which has basically come out and said they “own” the pod people. This has slavery overtones, of course, and I believe that was purposeful. Jefferson Pierce—Black Lightning himself—seems to be the only character willing to allow the authorities to do the right thing in regards to the Green Light Babies. That will probably change as well.
So, yeah, smart money is that this will drive a lot of the season. But, is it the major arc? That remains uncertain. There is a chance that the series will repeat the main problems of its freshman season by mistaking plot for story. There’s nothing wrong with a lot of things happening, but there has to be something unifying it all.
This was only the first episode, however. It’s too early to pass judgment. The optimist in me thinks there’s enough potential woven into the premiere to result in a terrific season. Come watch it with me.