NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Black Lightning” are present in this review
Black Lightning’s story structuring has been especially strange lately, particularly when it concluded its 2018 run of episodes just over halfway through its current story pod. It seems like even The CW is not quite sure how to fit Black Lightning into their current roster of DC dramas anymore either, since the show has now moved to Monday nights for Season Two’s back half in 2019, where it now temporarily occupies the timeslot for the still-on-hiatus Legends of Tomorrow, until it runs out its current season order. Perhaps this is an effort to try and goose ratings by playing off of the grittier audience of Arrow in the previous timeslot, but with Batwoman coming down the pipe, a show that would logically fit far better as a follow-up series to Arrow on Monday nights (especially since it’s very proudly connected to The CW’s shared ‘Arrowverse’, unlike Black Lightning), one has to wonder if Black Lightning’s recentratings decline may see it becoming the underdog DC show that just gets shuffled around in order to accommodate The CW’s other DC shows, assuming it gets a third season at all.
Either way, “The Book of Rebellion: Chapter Three: Angelitos Negros” picks up where last month’s midseason finale ended, namely with Jennifer and Khalil still on the run. This story arc finally does get mercifully put to an end in this week’s midseason premiere as well, since the rate that Jennifer and Khalil keep evading their pursuers still feels excessively unrealistic, especially for a superhero drama that’s trying to be more grounded in tone. Even then, the pursuit ends when Jennifer and Khalil simply return to the Pierce house of their own free will, meaning that they were never truly found in the first place! Granted, an upside to this turn is that it allows Khalil in particular to try and take the high road, choosing Jennifer over saving himself, but Gambi, Jefferson, Anissa and Cutter alike all really end up looking incompetent after the embarrassing way that this chase turned out!
Fortunately, the chemistry between Jennifer and Khalil remains a big draw in this midseason premiere, especially in how everything ends up playing out with their runaway effort. Khalil taking Jennifer to his secret ‘apartment’, an abandoned train that he lives in whenever he wants to get away from Tobias, led to more sweet character moments and emotional dialogue, and when Lynn wanders near the train by chance (albeit not knowing that Jennifer and Khalil are inside), there is a natural path that motivates both Jennifer and Khalil to realize that Jennifer belongs with her family. This turn serves Khalil’s character a little bit better than Jennifer’s, since Khalil is the one achieving more actual narrative evolution here, but hopefully this experience ends up drawn on later, when Jennifer resumes her transformation into Lightning, especially when she inevitably returns back to her training with Perenna.
While the Pierce family continues to hunt for Jennifer and Khalil, Tobias keeps Cutter on task as well, even if Cutter doesn’t really do anything of use until the episode is nearly over. Instead, Tobias spends most of the episode getting Todd Green to hack into the briefcase, which does admittedly have a pretty awesome payoff for DC fans. Turns out that the ASA were developing especially powerful and dangerous metahumans under Project M.O.D., or, “Masters of Disaster.” Yes, this confirms that the Masters of Disaster, a powerful, elemental-based super-villain team in DC Comics lore (and frequent enemies of The Outsiders, a team of heroes that has been constantly foreshadowed on this show), are coming to Black Lightning, which should hopefully kick up the action again, after the disappointingly short-lived battle against Looker in South Freeland.
Things certainly seem to be going well for Todd too, since he fits in almost too well with Tobias, to the point of even directly mouthing off to Cutter when she shows up without having found Khalil! Todd’s bloated confidence may be a little hard to swallow for some, but then again, he wasn’t exactly civil with that school board who rejected him either. Regardless, Todd’s help eventually does allow Cutter to find Khalil again, after Jefferson convinces him to turn himself over to the authorities, and testify against Tobias. This has Henderson putting together a major SWAT convoy to try and transport Khalil away, thinking that this will protect him from Tobias’ inevitable attack, and yet, Black Lightning and Thunder don’t go with the police! Oh come on, seriously?!
Yes, I’m aware that the police still treat Black Lightning as a vigilante, but only Henderson knows his identity, and I doubt that Freeland P.D. would reasonably turn down having Black Lightning and Thunder on their side when they’re transporting a prisoner this valuable and this dangerous! Sure enough, the heroes not being present means that Cutter can just massacre the entire SWAT team single-handedly, which is both cool and frustrating, since it finally restores some competence to Cutter again, even if this bloodbath disappointingly happens entirely off-screen, making one wonder exactly how she pulled this off. Still, Cutter does finally bring Khalil back to Tobias, who repays Khalil’s treachery by brutally ripping out his spinal implant, leaving him paralyzed again! Cutter and Todd dump Khalil back at Reverend Holt’s church in the final moments of the episode, with the church seemingly taking Khalil back again, and praying for his recovery. I’m not sure how exactly Holt will respond to this, but the squeamish display of brutality from Tobias as he cripples Khalil again was definitely a gory highlight of the episode, particularly when even Todd and Cutter look horrified at the scene!
Black Lightning at least gained a bit more dramatic momentum by the end of its midseason premiere this week, but the first half of the episode in particular still relied on an increasingly tedious, drawn-out story arc that really should have only lasted one episode. Once Khalil finally returns Jennifer home however, the storytelling starts improving in spades, especially when it culminates with Khalil being paralyzed again, and Tobias no worse for wear, now that he has some incredible new tech support. It will be good to have Black Lightning move on to a different storyline next week, especially with the promising tease of the Masters of Disaster, and Holt being sure to cause a public stink about what Tobias did to Khalil. That mysterious teleporting assassin is still apparently on his way to Freeland to boot, and it would seem that it wasn’t actually Tobias who called him, if this episode is any indication. Tobias continues to gain the upper hand over the heroes, but even then, it seems that there’s another dangerous criminal force about to stir in Freeland, one that may finally make Khalil look like small potatoes in the coming weeks!
Black Lightning's midseason premiere still has to spend some time slogging through the played-out runaway arc with Jennifer and Khalil this week, but its ultimate payoff is genuinely worth the wait.
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THE GOOD STUFF
More effective character moments shared between Jennifer and Khalil
Todd discovering evidence of the Masters of Disaster
Tobias brutally ripping out Khalil's spinal implant
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Half of the episode still has to slog through the played-out runaway storyline
Black Lightning and Thunder inexplicably not protecting the police convoy