Black Lightning is back, and he’s brought a whole new perspective and worldview to the superhero shows of The CW. This family & life drama wrapped up in a superhero series brings a hit of realism to a stable of capes and tights shows that generally try to be a bit light-hearted at times. While we need lighthearted in these dark times, a series that is a mirror of our world is also very much needed.
Quitting Isn’t As Easy The Second Time Around
It took almost dying and losing his wife and stable family for Jefferson Pierce to throw off the Black Lightning costume the first time. Putting it back on to save his family almost a decade later opened that door once again, and it isn’t going to be easy to close it again if he even truly wants to do that. As much as words and things are done as Jefferson Pierce might have done, it’s clear that more than words are needed to deal with something like The 100 and Tobias Whale. Having LaWanda, the character that is part of the episode’s title, call out Black Lightning only saving Pierce’s daughters and thereby confronting him with his own selfishness was a good move. I’m glad the show didn’t shy away from that because it helps to prove that Pierce cannot keep letting his gifts waste away. There are other daughters and sons and family members of others that are being hurt every day, that his words as the high school principal might not be able to help. Black Lightning though, has the means to help these people and make things better. If he’s willing to do so.
I really like that James Remar’s Gambi is like the complete opposite of the Alfred type model he’s filling in this series. While Alfred is always there to support Batman but wishes Bruce Wayne would quit and try and live a life, Gambi is there to be the voice to support Black Lightning and also to try and convince Pierce that he cannot keep living in his real life and needs to be the hero he should be. Despite Lynn calling the superhero thing an addiction, the episode continues to hit home to Jefferson that his powers are the gift that Lynn once called them and that Gambi is right. He cannot continue to turn a blind eye. Choosing to be a hero rather than just selfishly trying to keep his family together is a tough choice, but one that is the right call in this case. That it’s not an easy choice or a quick choice for Jefferson is a choice of the writers that I appreciate. It adds more weight to all that is happening. This is a man that has lost so much and realizes that the way he chooses to handle those things now is not really helping. Waiting until the last ten minutes for him to put on the costume again made the choice feel overly earned.
The Real World
What is so refreshing about this series, as noted about the premiere, is that it doesn’t shy away from the real world at all. The other superhero shows touch on topics at times, but most of the time the focus is only on what the characters themselves or the city is going through that week. This series is steeped deep in the things that people of color have to deal with all the time. Crimes being committed by gangsters that are deemed untouchable and police that not only are brutal and turn on them but are also seemingly very inefficient at dealing with crime and many of them are corrupt as well. Inspector Henderson though at least seems like he’s trying, and his relationship with Pierce is interesting especially considering he doesn’t know his neighbor used to be the vigilante that was running around back in the day.
Another thing that sets it so far apart from the other shows is that superheroics tend to take the forefront of the other shows, with the character development sometimes taking a backseat. That’s not to say it’s not there because it’s there. The characters grow and bond and we see relationships grow on the other shows quite a bit, but at the end of the day, superheroics have to factor in a lot. So far this show is very different, as the majority of the first two episodes don’t even feature the title character as the hero doing heroic things in costume. At its heart, it’s about Jefferson Pierce and his family and how they deal with this world and how they try to keep their family together and do what they can in the world. Take out the costumes and it’s a great family drama, that is something I will keep stating.
Every Hero Needs Villains
Lala continues to be the most developed of the villains shown, and this week he takes quite the turn. After being seen as the guy just trying to make things work in his community but being more willing to do things that Jefferson was opposed to, the Lala we see here is darker and more willing to cross lines as he’s in a bad spot with Tobias Whale. Including taking out those that are trying to bring him down and in the end even choosing to execute his cousin Will and then just brutally killing LaWanda when she’s recording him. Arrow is generally seen as the most “real” or “dark” of the shows, but Black Lightning has taken that crown instantly. These are characters that are not just evil for the sake of being evil, they are beaten down by society and do what they have to do to survive no matter who they have to take down in the process. Even family.
In the premiere, Tobias Whale came off as pretty much one-note, because he was only in a few scenes and was that stereotypical gangster type. With the second we begin to see a bit more to him and his philosophies about Freeland and the gangs and the people within it. Not much is added to him in this episode either, though we learn that he’s a man of principles and he can’t abide those that break them or cause him trouble. Thus the brutal moment in the end where he just strangles Lala to death in a prison cell. Rest in piece Lala, the actually developed villain.
Week two of Black Lightning continues to deliver a powerful and realistic story of a hero dragged back into the world because the world needs him once again, more than it did in the past. Outside of the main villain, the characters all continue to be well fleshed out and developed, all of them seeking something different and having different ways of coping with the dark world they find themselves. Already the series qualifies as must see TV whether you like superheroes or not.
Score: 9.5 out of 10