This review contains spoilers.
2.10 Angelitos Negros
Our long national nightmare has come to an end. Khalil and Jennifer’s runaway storyline on Black Lightning is over. It’s not that I don’t think this storyline had its moments, but it went on far too long and far too redundantly (these kids never even made it out of Freeland!) not to welcome its meaty conclusion.
In Angelitos Negros, we finally get to see the repercussions of Khalil and Jen turning themselves in (it’s not pretty), but, first, we get a last dose of fairly effective runaway drama. Following Cutter’s attempt to capture Kahlil in the midseason finale, Jen and Khalil are back on the move. This time, they end up at Khalil’s “apartment” in an abandoned train car.
As with their last pit stop in the barn, the break gives Khalil and Jen a chance to check back in with one another, and we get a few moments that remind you just how tragically young these two are. Khalil mentions Thomas the Tank Engine. Jen affirms that she does not want to have sex for the first time in a train car while she is on the run. Khalil re-gifts Jen the necklace he first gave to her when they were going steady, in a simpler time when Khalil and Jen’s biggest choices had to do with the track team. (Um, I kind of miss these times.)
The two fantasise about where they will go once they leave Freeland, and which languages they will learn along the way, in a way that feels very teen relationship—the only caveat being: usually, when young couples have these kinds of aspirational conversations, they’re not literally running away.
While Jen and Khalil grow closer, Jen’s family continues to desperately look for her. I have been critical of Lynn’s recent storyline, but Christine Adams nails a scene that finally gives her something meatier to do: giving an impassioned, loving speech to an abandoned train yard in the hopes that Jen might be there and listening.
“We’re not a family without you, Jennifer,” she tells the echo-y chamber as a conflicted Jen listens from the inside of one of those train cars. Lynn’s recent storyline could have used a few fewer scenes of her crying alone in Jen’s room and a few more like this one.
Unbeknownst to Lynn at the time, it’s also the moment that convinces Jen to come home. It makes Jen upset enough that Khalil insists she go home, and the two are waiting there when Lynn, Anissa, and Jeff return. Jen gets a hug. Khalil, um, doesn’t.
How amazing would it have been if Jeff had given Khalil a hug, too? Maybe that’s too much to ask, but I don’t think it would have been out of character. Jeff is an educator who has an existing relationship with Khalil outside of Khalil’s relationship with Jennifer. He is also someone who believes, at least in the context of his school, that every kid deserves a path to redemption. Khalil has gone through some pretty traumatic stuff, and Jeff knows that better than anyone.
If Jeff didn’t want to let Khalil into the Pierce family for compassionate reasons, then he also might realise that it makes strategic sense to keep the boy close. It’s well-established in this episode that Khalil is a danger, mostly because he knows too much, but what better way to ensure he keep the Pierce’s secrets than to give him a place to call home and a family that cares about him who can help to keep him safe in a way his mother wasn’t able to?
Jeff is someone who has dedicated his life to keeping black boys and men out of jail. For him to suggest that Khalil turn himself into the prison industrial system is something I might expect from another show, but not from this one.* (*She wrote, as a white person who has never had someone she loves in prison.)
Meanwhile, Tobias has officially replaced Khalil. He invites Todd over for a fancy dinner and a Ted Talk on the history of jazz. (There was a lot of great jazz in this episode.) Tobias knows power lies in the suitcase he stole from the ASA, and Todd is the key to unlocking that suitcase.
There are still so many questions about Todd. Kid doesn’t seem to have a very sensitive moral compass. He is the phone proxy between Tobias and his assassin Cutter and, later, when he sees Tobias rip Khalil’s spine out, he still thinks it’s a fine idea to work for this guy. Seems that Todd doesn’t have much of a survival instinct, either. After all, Khalil was once the Todd of the situation.
Did I mention the spine-ripping-out-ness? Because, yeah, that happens after Khalil decides to turn himself into the police to keep everyone “safe” and Jeff, Henderson, and the Freeland-based SWAT team come up with a terrible plan to let Khalil say “hey” to his mother by the docks. Anissa and Jeff agree to provide security, but leave before Khalil is at the station. It’s the kind of lazy, poorly-executed plan that comes from a lazy, poorly-executed storytelling decision.
It’s clear that Black Lightning wanted to get to a storytelling point where Tobias rips out Khalil’s spine, but you can see the strings of that decision in the narrative, which is never good. It all leads to a devastating duo of scenes: First, when Lynn must tell Jennifer that Khalil has been kidnapped. Second, when a sobbing, spineless Khalil is dumped in front of the church, Reverend Holt offers comfort to the poor boy who was desperately trying to do the right thing as he bleeds out on the street and waits for an ambulance to arrive.
It may have been frustrating to watch Khalil and Jen run away so aimlessly for too many episodes, but the wisdom of their choice is validated upon their return. Jen and Khalil trusted the adults and institutions in their lives to keep them safe because they promised they would. Is there anything more 2019 America than to see that promise so thoroughly broken?
This show has lost some of its focus in season two. I’m not sure why it dropped the more grounded, school-based storyline that explored Jefferson’s heroism as an educator and Anissa’s heroism as an activist. That being said, this episode represented a payoff of many of the strongest storylines—namely, the question of whether or not Khalil would choose light or darkness—of the first half of the season, without the distractions of so many of this season’s meanderings.
While much of the plot for this episode rested on smart characters making dumb decisions, the character moments mostly paid off. For now, that is more than enough to keep me interested in this show. I still care about the Pierces, even if I wish this drama would return them to the more grounded struggles they faced in season one.
Read Kayti’s review of the previous episode, Gift Of The Magi, here.