REVIEW: BLACK LIGHTNING – SEASON 2

Black Lightning (2018)

Main Cast

Cress Williams (Reign of The Supermen)
China Anne McClain (Descendants 2)
Nafessa Williams (Brotherly Love)
Christine Adams (Tron: Legacy)
Marvin “Krondon” Jones III (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
Damon Gumpton (Bates Motel)
James Remar (Dexter)
Jordan Calloway (Riverdale)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Robert Townsend (The Meteor Man)
Skye P. Marshall (The Fix)
Clifton Powell (Rush Hour)
Bill Duke (Predator)
Kyanna Simone Simpson (White Boy Rick)
Charlbi Dean Kriek (Spud)
Chantal Thuy (Half Magic)
Myles Truitt (Kin)
Erika Alexander (Get Out)
P.J. Byrne (Rampage)
Jennifer Riker (Nashville)
Yolanda T. Ross (Love Triangle)
Birgundi Baker (Empire)
Jason Louder (No Remorse)
Sofia Vassilieva (Supergirl)
Kearran Giovanni (Major Crimes)
RJ Cyler (Power Rangers)
Tonia Jackson (Greanleaf)
Tosin Morohunfola (Love is…)
William Catlett (Giants)
Michael Wright (V)
Tracey Bonner (The Longest Ride)
Madison Bailey (Nightclub Secrets)
Dabier (Reawakened)

Black Lightning (2018)Season 1 of Black Lightning was chock full of social commentary, exceptional scenes of emotional gravitas and the bulkiest superhero costume known to man. Season 2 looks to keep the ball rolling, opening with scenes of police brutality and civil unrest within the black community of Freeland.GaisorgSSThe series’ main strong point has been its grounded characters, and its willingness to deal with real-world issues. The show’s uncompromising depiction of gang violence, police brutality, racism, messages of peace, and the pursuit of black excellence all make a compelling, and sometimes uncomfortable drama. Witnessing a young black man high on Green Light being strangled to death by the police is difficult to watch. The writers are willing to go that far to both ground Freeland and raise awareness of daily injustices.1516190763-screen-shot-2018-01-17-at-120501The Pierce family continue to be the glue that holds the drama together. The interplay between Jefferson (Cress Williams) and Lynn (Christine Adams) is always a treat. Watching these parents bicker about the health of their children, and their ongoing communication issues make the world feel real. It’s not always about super-powered people throwing each other around.BLK216c_0884b_1552942293367_78017539_ver1.0_640_360Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain) continues to shine on screen as well. Her ongoing struggle with her new reality as a meta-human and her inability to return to a normal is portrayed beautifully by McClain. Jennifer exudes the angst of a teen trying to fit in, all while her former life slips away. As her powers evolve, it will be interesting to see what makes her accept her destiny as Lightning.light3-1535645974223_1280wThe women of Black Lightning steal the show in the Season 2 premiere. Syonide (Charlbi Dean) and Kara (Skye P. Marshall) have a well-choreographed fight together, all backed by a beautiful soundtrack. Anissa (Nafessa Williams) also puts on a show of strength as undercover Thunder. Her tussle with a den of drug dealers feels like a well-done homage to the much-heralded hallway fight scene from Netflix’s Daredevil. A suited up Black Lightning takes a back seat in the season premiere. The titular character makes a short cameo but never shoots a bolt. Instead, Jefferson takes center stage as he deals with Garfield’s School Board, his family’s adjustment to all these weather-based powers cropping up in their household, and a much-needed confrontation with his friend and ally Deputy Chief Henderson, who has finally worked out his secret identity.Erika Alexander and China Anne McClain in Black Lightning (2018)When The second season of Black Lightning came to a close . Though it was a few episodes longer than the first, The CW seems to be sticking with shorter seasons for this show. That has its advantages. It makes for tighter storytelling. The finale brought us the first real use of Thunder.  In the finale Jenn figured out how to use her powers to fly. I have to admit, that’s probably the coolest visual the series has given us so far. hopefully we do get amore of this in the third season of Black Lightning,  She reaches Tobias first and she’s more powerful than her dad ever was. She wraps him up in energy, holding him to the ceiling. The radiation starts killing him. It would have if Jefferson hadn’t shown up and convinced her not to. He had to grab onto her, nearly killing himself. When Jenn realized her dad would sacrifice himself to stop her from becoming a murderer, she finally relents.black-lightning-season-2-finale-recap-preparing-for-war-2That’s when we get the episode’s coolest fight scene. The Black Lightning-Thunder team up has been great, but seeing Jenn and her father work together to kick Tobias’ ass is the most cathartic moment of the series. He’s taken everything from both of them, and it felt so good to watch Black Lightning kick Tobias over a railing. I laughed out loud when Tobias tried to shoot them both only to find out he had no bullets. That simultaneous “please” from Jenn and Jeff was amazing. And hey, for now it really looks like Tobias has been defeated. He’s been classified as a dangerous metahuman, meaning he’s sent to a black site prison where even his lawyer can’t get him out. I’m generally not an advocate for extrajudicial imprisonment like this (gets real fascist real quick), but at least this lets the show move on to a different story for a while.Black-Lightning-Site-Banner-T2.pngWe find out just what that is right at the end. That teleporting bounty hunter we’ve been seeing? Turns out he works for Markovia. He’s been hired to kidnap Dr. Jace to work on their metahuman weapons program. Agent Odell shows up at the Pierce home to catch the entire family up to speed. He tells them he knows who and what they are and delivers a warning. The Markovians plan to use a metahuman army to become the dominant power in the world. Freeland’s high concentration of Green Light metas makes it a guarantee that it’ll be the first place they’ll attack. It’ll take Black Lightning, Thunder and now Lightning all working together to keep the city standing. So we have our plot for Season Three.black-lightning-jennifer-costumeThe finales end  was just setting up for the big war coming next season. As a result, a lot of story elements set up by the last few episodes ended on a whimper. Lala showed up to kill Tobias only for Tobias to disable him with a second trigger phrase. The police shootings and riots got little more than lip service and were completely forgotten. Dr. Jace and the pod kids…. well, the show kicked those cans down the road to next season. It leads to a finale that feels more like a stopping point than a definitive end to any story. It’s important to set up hooks and maybe even a cliffhanger for the next season, but too much of that leaves us unsatisfied. We get the sense that only surface-level story elements changed. Everything else was either forgotten or put off. Of course this episode at least balanced that out with some fantastic action and the introduction of Jenn as a full-fledged superhero. Bring on Season 3

REVIEW: BLACK LIGHTNING – SEASON 1

Cress Williams in Black Lightning (2018)

Main Cast

Cress Williams (Reign of The Supermen)
China Anne McClain (Descendants 2)
Nafessa Williams (Brotherly Love)
Christine Adams (Tron: Legacy)
Marvin “Krondon” Jones III (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
Damon Gumpton (Bates Motel)
James Remar (Dexter)

Cress Williams in Black Lightning (2018)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Dabier (Reawakened)
Skye P. Marshall (The Fix)
William Catlett (Giants)
Charlbi Dean Kriek (Spud)
Kyanna Simone Simpson (White Boy Rick)
Jordan Calloway (Riverdale)
Clifton Powell (Deep Rising)
Tracey Bonner (Mother’s Day)
Jill Scott (Why Did I Get Married?)
Chantal Thuy (Half Magic)
Eric Mendenhall (Lawless)
Edwina Findley Dickerson (Get Hard)
Antonio Fargas (Shaft)
Terrence ‘T.C.’ Carson (Final Destination 2)
Jessica Fontaine (Oddly Oden)
Derick Anthony (The Letter Red)
Anthony Reynolds (Spider-Man 2)
Al-Jaleel Knox (Venom)
Gregg Henry (Slither)
Jason Louder (No Remorse)
Morgan Brown (Baby Driver)

Black Lightning (2018)Black Lightning Season 1 ratings were good enough by CW standards, if not superb, to justify a second season, holding steady at around 1.5 million viewers after a fourth episode drop-off from the first three. But consider this: it’s based on a much less well-known superhero than the likes of Green Arrow and the Flash, and comments made by the showrunners suggesting that it wasn’t going to be connected to the other CW superhero shows may have put off some of the faithful. It’s true that Black Lightning exists in a world that so far takes and leaves what it wants from the real world and the fictional: it’s set in a fictional city called Freeland (the comics’ “Suicide Slum” was likely too on-the-nose), and Supergirl is referred to as if she exists, but the characters read DC Comics (then again, it could be a case like the X-Men comics in Logan), and Barack Obama was definitely president. Short answer: they can connect it to the “Berlanti-verse” at any time if they really want to.Still, it makes more sense to keep it as separate, storywise, as possible, and here’s why: Black Lightning is specifically based on the African-American experience, and having, say, blonde Caucasian Supergirl swoop in to help save the day would be contrary to the show’s theme of empowerment versus responsibility. Like Luke Cage, the Black Lightning comics were born of the blaxploitation era; unlike season 1 of Luke Cage, the show never forgets that it is a superhero show, and people want to see superhero-ing every episode. With 13 episodes that all tell one larger story, it’s akin to the Netflix shows, but as it’s designed to be week-to-week rather than binged, there can’t be any weeks that risk being boring by going on a different tangent or spend all their time in flashback. The ’70s Incredible Hulk TV show established a formula wherein the Hulk was guaranteed to show up twice per episode; the best superhero shows stick to some version of that. And Black Lightning is surely among the best.Nafessa Williams in Black Lightning (2018)One of many refreshing aspects to Black Lightning is that it doesn’t begin any way you might expect. There is no origin story until late in the first season, and most of the details are left offscreen; we begin with a world where Black Lightning has been retired for eight years. Given that specific timeframe, we can assume that perhaps he expected a black president would make his deeds unnecessary, because yes, Obama exists in this show, and Black Lightning even wears a Barack mask at one point when it’s unsafe to don his regular duds.Black Lightning (2018)The hero’s alter-ego, high-school principal Jefferson Pierce (heroically muscular Cress Williams), is a man we first meet getting unjustifiably pulled over and harassed by police, becoming silently enraged to the point of electrifying his eyes and blowing out the bulbs on the cop car. Pierce, it is made clear very quickly, is as upstanding a citizen as you could expect, teaching the value of hard work and sacrifice, and standing up to bullies in his own community, even (and especially) when they turn out to be his former students. He’s the ideal African-American man that media personalities always say they want, yet he is still treated as second-class by law enforcement and, at times, school authorities.Black Lightning (2018)Well, maybe he’s not perfect–he is divorced, but it’s a typical wife-blaming storyline where she couldn’t bear to be with a great superhero who risks his life nightly. Christine Adams does a wonderful job humanizing Lynn, his ex, up to and including a perfect American accent when the actress is actually English, but there’s something mildly regressive in the fact that she’s mostly there to realize how wrong she was to leave him for being a hero and role model, and ultimately fall in love all over again for the exact reasons she supposedly left him.Cress Williams in Black Lightning (2018)Even then, though, it’s not that simple: they have two daughters, and the fact that the parents can come together for the sake of the kids, no matter how hard it is for them personally, is laudable. In addition to deciding whether or not to come back as a superhero (OBVIOUS SPOILER: he does), Jefferson’s dilemma is how to raise his girls, especially when they begin manifesting powers too. How do you balance telling them to stand up and be strong in a world where institutional racism may smack them down with lethal force for doing so? They have a little inside help thanks to tech-genius pal Gambi (an excellently cast James Remar), who’s part Alfred Pennyworth and part-Kingsman, but ever-so-slightly corrupt and compromised as well.James Remar, Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, and Nafessa Williams in Black Lightning (2018)In true blaxploitation fashion, there is both a community villain (BL’s traditional arch-enemy Tobias Whale, played by rapper Krondon) and The Man, represented here by Gregg Henry’s Martin Proctor, a racist white government type with bad orange hair, a plan to steal and imprison children, and a penchant for saying “Make America Great Again!” Also ripped from the headlines here is a version of the Charlottesville Tiki torch march. Naturally, the villains sow the seeds of their own doom: in a plot that combines the Tuskegee experiments with the CIA-crack cocaine connection, the government bad guys are testing drugs on the black community with the help of local gangsters. Sometimes the drugs make people psychotic; other times, they create someone like Black Lightning.Nafessa Williams in Black Lightning (2018)Whale as a character was always a tad problematic: as an evil albino man, he’s both a negative stereotype of people with albinism and an overt metaphor for black men “acting white” as an ultimate sin. Krondon humanizes him as much as possible, and in the casting removes the additional fat-shaming aspect to the character as conceived. He’s a sadistic jerk, but one you love to hate; a guy who can fight, but is even better at running and hiding like a cowardly heel. And while he constantly spits out the word “Negro” like an epithet so you know what he actually wants to say but can’t on network TV, his looks are never made an issue. It’s as good an update as you can probably do while still keeping him recognizably Whale, and the first season is more his origin story than Black Lightning’s; he only finally slips into the role of arch-nemesis by the end, and as he’s the best villain on the show, you’ll be glad he does.Marvin 'Krondon' Jones III in Black Lightning (2018)As for the hero himself, he smartly ditches the Afro-wig that was integral to the comics’ disguise, and the disco-era chest-baring is gone, replaced by electrical symbols that merely suggest it. You wonder at first how someone with as perfectly groomed and sculpted a beard as Jefferson Pierce has could possibly not be identified, but the show explains this away quickly with a throwaway: an electric field around his face makes it painful to look at him while in hero mode. When his eldest daughter (Nafessa Williams) becomes Thunder–the first live-action black lesbian superhero I can recall–she changes her hair to a Lara Croft-ish ponytail in addition to her eye-mask, which seems sufficient, though in reality doing those braids might take unfeasibly long. (Let’s just say she has super-hairdressing speed too.)Cress Williams and Marvin 'Krondon' Jones III in Black Lightning (2018)This season tells a complete story in itself; one you may well find yourself wanting to relive. And like Black Panther, it’s got something for you whether this stems from your reality and you can relate, or you’re just tired of the same old and want to see comic-book stories come from a new place.