Black Lightning‘s mid-season slump continues.
To a certain extent, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see the show lose its momentum at this point. Like most CW shows, there’s an unavoidable sag half-way through the run each season. The Flash is notorious for running out of steam around Episode 17, for example. But unlike previous years, production realities and the imminent end of the program mean there is very little room for a cut-away story to re-energrize things; the Painkiller backdoor pilot is the closest we get to that. Consequently, some ideas — including things introduced last week — already feel tired.
Which is weird. Things should be picking up as we enter the final book. Nevertheless, “The Book of Ruin” ended with a strange whimper as we’ve seen nearly all of its cliffhangers before. Only Lynn (Christine Adams) getting arrested and strip-searched was a new (and quite disturbing) element.
Perhaps the most interesting element here is the reintroduction of Tobias’s (Marvin “Krondon” James III) sister, Tori, as his primary motivation for revenge. Briefly introduced in the first season, Tori (Edwina Findley Dickerson) died during a botched attack on Jefferson (Cress Williams). And though her death was accidental, Tobias always blamed Black Lightning for it. In Season 2, Tobias would “consult” with a portrait of his sister, but last year, the notion was dropped while Tobias was in ASA lockup. At this point in the narrative, it makes sense to explain his problem with the hero again. Although, considering how easy it is to bring people back to life in Freeland, it is somewhat surprising that Tobias never thought to use that resource.
And while James is always great in the part, Tobias’s place in the story is a difficult thread to maintain. On a different sort of Black Lightning, he may have served as the first season villain with subsequent seasons focusing on the ASA or the Kobra
Cult Cartel. But as he was presented as Jefferson’s main antagonist — and he continues to represent real world evils — the show couldn’t let go of him. That leads to threads like Jefferson being framed for embezzlement. While it’s clear the main objective was to get hold of the metagene blocker, there’s a certain halfheartedness to the whole affair. See also: Khalil and Painkiller (both Jordan Calloway) going after the guy who signs Tobias’s checks and the weird fight Lynn and Jefferson have after her work is confiscated.
But at least J.J. (Laura Kariuki) went out as Lightning and reintroduced the notion that she’s Public Enemy No. 1. That thread totally seemed lost when she changed shape and while it may not be the most organic idea — we liked the notion of Jen fighting a media war with a right-wing pundit more — it at least gives J.J. something to do as a costumed hero. At the same time, we’d like it to be resolved sooner than later (with later being only four episodes from now).
Also, we’d like the strands of Tobias’s plan to finally tie together. There’s his building development, his apparent control of the police department, his investment in the DEGs and the Monovista power supply, and his constant machinations against the Pierces. Sure, it’s all there, but it all feels disconnected despite all his speeches about it being a final stake through Black Lightning’s heart. Although, it is clear putting Lynn in jail and violating her was a key part of his revenge. The scene itself was harrowing even if the music chosen to underscore it felt a little incongruous — in fact, all of the music accompanying Lynn throughout the episode seemed slightly off — and the cop’s insistence that Lynn was resisting hits the right note in terms of theme.
It also suggests, if only in the slightest way possible, that Lynn may not make it out of the series alive. If that happens, we’ll discuss whether or not it’s fridging as Jefferson already has plenty of motivation to fight Tobias. For the moment, though, we’ll just note the possibility that Lynn might die, which is a physical jeopardy the show has been hard pressed to pull off this year, even with J.J. falling out of the sky.
Finally, the reminder that Ishmael (Rico Ball) is trying to join the League of Assassins underscores just how quickly a plot point can get lost on this show. Granted, his debut occurred before Black Lightning took a long hiatus and it’s one-episode cutaway for Painkiller, which left us thinking he might be a last minute bridge to the Kobra cult. We’ll happily take this explanation for his presence in Freeland as it makes for cleaner finale. Next week, “The Book of Reunification” begins and, hopefully, it will lead the show out of its slump before the program airs its final episode.
Black Lightning airs Mondays on The CW.