This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 2 Episode 9
Midseason is a great time to take stock of a show, especially one that has gone through so many changes as Black Lightning. What, in Season 1, was a relatively grounded show with the occasional integration of Jeff, Anissa, and others’ powers, has become much more of a supernatural drama in the second season, with less attention paid to the more grounded aspects of Freeland, such as Garfield High, the Pierces’ church, or even Anissa’s school.
How you feel about this shift depends on what kind of TV watcher you are, on where your preferences lie. For me, it’s a tough transition to swallow. I love my superhero shows, but I’ve watched a lot of them at this point. And I’ll always be partial to a well-told community and family-based drama that takes into account the intersectionalities of identity like Friday Night Lights or Queer as Folk.
Black Lightning‘s midseason finale, “Gift of the Magi,” seems to double down on its superhero drama without leaving much room for its community-based drama, and that’s a hard pill for this TV reviewer to swallow. The main thrust of the episode continues to be Jennifer and Khalil’s continued disappearance. “Gift of the Magi” hits a lot of the same narrative beats as last week’s episode—the solidifying of Jennifer/Khalil’s bond and the stresses of Jennifer’s disappearance on the Pierce family—making it somewhat redundant.
The Jennifer/Khalil stuff fares a bit better, at least partially because China Anne McClain absolutely kills it in her performance. With Khalil on death’s door due to the poison from Cutter’s knife, Jennifer realizes just how much she loves this boy she has agreed to leave her family for. In return, he realizes the same thing, even asking Jennifer to return to her family rather than give up her “normal” life for one of the run.
I wish Jen had gone with it. If we know anything about Jen’s character, it’s that she desperately wants a normal life. She is not the kind of teen who would romanticize running away from her home and friends, cut off from social media and in-real-life community. I buy that she would run away in the heat of anger, especially after being locked away for so long, but, when Khalil is dying and she doesn’t know what to do, I truly don’t understand why she didn’t contact her mother. If her goal is to protect Khalil, then she has nothing left to lose. I wish they had fleshed this out a bit more.
I also wish the episode had better addressed just what it means that Jennifer is willing to torture Cutter for information. This is someone who, until very recently, wasn’t comfortable using her powers because she was afraid she would hurt someone. Yes, that mainly applied to people she loves, but enacting pain on others always take a toll (unless you are a sociopath). Will there be psychological results for Jennifer using her powers to hurt Cutter?
Jeff, Anissa, and Gambi didn’t get much to do in this episode, running after Jennifer and Khalil, but too late to find anything but clues about how the two teens may be faring. (Frankly, this is embarrassing—especially for Gambi, who has been doing things like tracking people who aren’t teens and don’t want to be found for decades.) While these three didn’t see a lot of action, I liked the general sense of camaraderie we got as they worked together and, in Anissa and Gambi’s cases, talked some sense into a desperate Jeff.
Lynn, a character this show seems to have less and less idea how to use, spent the episode looking for Khalil’s father, only for the man to tell her he doesn’t know where his son is. This storyline seemed like more of an excuse to give some important information related to Khalil’s backstory: That he had an older brother who was killed because of his involvement with the 100.
There are better ways to tell this backstory, perhaps involving Khalil himself (or even a flashback!), ways that don’t send Lynn on a pointless wild goose chase. At least it gave her something to do other than trash Jennifer’s room, something more in line with my belief that she would have responded much more proactively to the situation. I’m not sure why she couldn’t ride around with Gambi, Jeff, and Anissa in the Mystery Machine—if nothing else than to keep her in the loop.
Oddly, Black Lightning introduced a new character in its midseason finale: Todd! Todd is played by the delightful RJ Cyler, who you may recognize as the Blue Ranger from the recent Power Rangers film. Todd, who is a young, smart dude sick of missing out on opportunities he deserves because of the color of his skin, seems to be part of Tobias’ plan to gain power the legitimate way. He offers Todd a job, one that he pretty easily convinces Todd of with a cool $100,000 in the bank account. Is Todd the new Khalil?
The episode ends with a bloody coda, as we see a teleporting hitman murder a whole bar of rednecks before getting a call… presumably from Tobias? Someone has hired him to do something in Freeland and, with Tobias only recently seemingly onto Jennifer and still looking for Khalil, it’s hard not to at least suspect who his next targets may be.
Cutter isn’t very good at her job. Tobias really didn’t want Khalil dead and she’s being all shifty with Jennifer about the antidote for the poison.
I miss Grace!
Seriously, Todd telling the racist selection committee exactly what he thought of them may have been the best scene in the entire episode, but they may be my more grounded Black Lightning preferences showing…
How are you feeling about Black Lightning’s choice to lean into its more supernatural elements? Let me know in the comments below!