Review: Black Lightning S1E4

Even the best series have weak moments. After an outstanding beginning, Black Lightning S1E4 loses a bit of the show’s momentum with uneven pacing and choppy editing, though it maintains a level of quality that no other CW show can match. It may be the least compelling installment so far, but it manages to inch the plot and characters the tiniest bit forward.

The problem with this episode’s slow burn approach is that it adds suspense, but isn’t uniformly successful in living up to the show’s expected quality. In S1E4, Freeland faces the brutal fallout from Tobias’s shocking attack on Reverend Holt’s march, placing the Pierce family right in the thick of it. Plotlines diverge and reconverge, a few new characters appear, but we still end up pretty much where we started.Bernard, one of Jeff’s students, overdoses on the 100’s nightmarish new strength-augmenting drug, Greenlight. The kid Hulks out and Jeff has to intervene, leading to a confrontation between the principal and the school board. They want to expel Bernard, and while Pierce may be Black Lightning, he can’t stop his bosses from overriding his authority. Cress Williams and the supporting players bring conviction and intensity to this thread, but the cliched workplace conflicts and a designer drug that grants meta-abilities are jarring, stale elements, indicative of a lack of originality which pervades the entire episode.

Things are no easier for Pierce’s two daughters. Jennifer’s boyfriend, Khalil, may never walk again, leaving her to grapple with all the sudden changes in her life. Anissa works through the implications of her newfound abilities, finding herself violently lashing out at those who would victimize her for her sexuality. While both China Ann Mclain and Nafessa Williams continue to give strong, convicted performances, the material they get this week gives them nothing new to play. It’s frustrating for the show to spin its wheels like this, but there’s undeniable pleasure in seeing these wonderful young actresses continue to do great work.

Meanwhile, Gambi continues to obscure crucial facts from Jeff, even as he improves the tech in his old friend’s supersuit. As for the villain, Tobias resumes his campaign against the resurgent Black Lightning, welcoming his sister into the fold and continuing to insinuate himself in good people’s lives. Both stalwarts, James Remar and Marvin Jones III, bring energy and depth to their scenes, demonstrating that each man possesses an ocean of intriguing secrets.

It all sounds compelling, but the execution is merely competent, lacking the intensity and stakes of previous episodes. Character moments are largely predictable throughout, as are some of this week’s plot elements. Additionally, several scenes are weirdly edited, with a few choppy, cut-off moments, leading to abrupt, ineffective transitions.

None of this is to say that the fledgling show has lost its mojo. Far from it. Black Lightning S1E4 possesses many pleasures, from the outstanding production design to the little character touches. Gambi’s new innovation, “ElectricVision,” is a fun new take on Jeff’s abilities. The moments between Anissa and her new girlfriend, Grace, ratchet up the intensity of Nafessa Williams’s great performance, and the Black Lightning superhero action is as good as ever. This one may not be the best of the bunch, but it still packs a decent punch, giving fans a lot to love, even when the show isn’t at its best.

Pop Snowglobe is known by day as Mark Dupre, a geek since age seven, when he purchased an issue of Fantastic Four with his very own allowance money and never looked back. He lives in Austin with his incredibly patient wife and daughter. He loves to share his geeky insights here and at popsnowglobe.com. 

Pop Snowglobe is known by day as Mark Dupre, a geek since age seven, when he purchased an issue of Fantastic Four with his very own allowance money and never looked back. He lives in Austin with his incredibly patient wife and daughter. He loves to share his geeky insights here and at popsnowglobe.com. 

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