This review contains spoilers.
2.7 The Sange
Has Black Lightning wrapped up the South Freeland storyline already? By the end of The Sange, Looker has been apprehended, Anaya is reunited with both of her babies, and Jen has hightailed it away from greater Freeland altogether, suggesting South Freeland was more of a pit stop than an integral part of this world.
On the one hand, if this is the case, that feels like a waste of narrative space—a treading of water rather than a plot and setting development that adds substantial texture to this world. On the other hand, The Sange reminded me how much better Black Lightning is at its grounded drama than it is at its supernatural drama. The Sange was all high stakes—stolen babies, father figures who are only pretending to be dead, and vampire-like minions.
When your most ‘grounded’ drama is Jen and Khalil bonding over their superhero weirdness, you have officially left the realm of the grounded superhero drama. I miss Garfield High. I miss daylight. I am all for South Freeland becoming part of this world, I just want to know what it looks like on a casual Sunday.
That’s not to say this episode didn’t have its moments. Mainly, they came in the Jen/Khalil drama, which continues to be this season’s best storyline. While we didn’t get to see Jen fully unleash her powers, The Sange saw her finally begin to accept them, and gave us all a hint at what they might represent: mainly, that Jen has the power to take down pretty much anyone.
It helped that the ‘unleashing’ of Jen’s power (which, here, was just short-circuiting some electrical systems to save Khalil) was so grounded in emotions. The relationship between Khalil and Jen has been slowly built from the first season. They were friends before they were something more and, even know, when their relationship is beginning to blossom into something romantic, Black Lightning doesn’t feel the need to define it too tightly. These two care about one another; that’s what matters.
It also matters that Khalil accepts Jen’s help and, when she finds out about it, her power. He’s not threatened by it. Before he knows about it, he doesn’t fall into the overdone, frustrating trope of pushing someone away to keep them ‘safe,’ ignoring the emotional pain and duress that comes from seeing someone you love in danger or, worse, hurt. Would you abandon me? Jen asks Khalil. Never. Give me superpowered storytelling, Black Lightning, but give me emotional truth first and foremost.
Elsewhere, The Sange‘s emotional truth was a bit more heavy-handed and, therefore, less effective. I like the episode’s instinct to double down on the mother/daughter theme, but it felt forced, especially given that the Lynn/Anissa relationship has been a bit neglected this season, and we still know relatively little about Anaya. Like, she seems like a cool woman, but I’m not that invested in her relationship with her babies, even if they are cute.
The compulsion for the element to get to Anaya’s baby was the only clue that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Looker and South Freeland. It’s similar to the hint we got that Grace’s powers are continuing to progress, to the point that, during a TV binge-watch with Anissa, she almost can’t hide them from her. I’d like to see more of Grace’s relationship to her powers—she seems to be closer to Jen than Anissa on the meta reaction spectrum—and from the Grace/Anissa relationship more broadly.
We got some development on the Gambi front. After finding one of Gambi’s downed drones outside Looker’s headquarters, Jeff finds his surrogate father’s hideout. He’s not sure whether to punch Gambi or hug him. Eventually, he chooses to hug him, asking Gambi when is he going to realize that Gambi is his family, too?
It’s a wonderfully-written scene, and one that Cress Williams in particular goes all in for. I just wish these two had a bit more chemistry together. While other aspects of Black Lightning have been uneven, Gambi is the element that has never really worked for me—I’m not sure if it’s the casting, the way he’s been written, or a combination of both.
It’s telling that Gambi faked his death and played dead for a few episodes and it didn’t feel like the world of Freeland was missing anything. I hope that changes in the future, but as long as Gambi is a former A.S.A. agent who never seems to actually engage in the community, I won’t have much time for this character. It’s also a total dick move to not let your loved ones know that you are, in fact, alive. Frankly, Gambi’s just kind of the worst.
Gambi’s character is also representative of Black Lightning‘s recurring problem this season, which is a failure to connect the disparate settings of this world in any convincing ways. Right now, some of the plots feel like they have no affect on one another and, therefore, could be taking place on different shows. Though I was eager to see how South Freeland might play a role in this world, there hasn’t been much of an attempt to explain how this place relates to Freeland Proper. And, with Jen and Khalil heading out of town and therefore, presumably, to another location, the world of Black Lightning seems poised to be stretched even thinner.
It might not seem like it, but I geniunely enjoyed this episode… I just am worried about some of these troubling elements becoming patterns. There are enough superpowered series on The CW and elsewhere that feel totally divorced from the real world. Black Lightning is at its best and most cathartic not when it escapes into superheroes tackling metaphors for our real-world problems, but when it ambitiously has its superheroes try to engage with and solve real-world problems that are as complex as they are horrifying.
Read Kayti’s review of the previous episode, The Perdi, here.