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Black Lightning goes small-scale in its final season premiere

Illustration for article titled Black Lightning goes small-scale in its final season premiere
Photo: The CW
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The third season finale of Black Lightning saw Freeland and the Pearce family finally fighting off the Markovian threat, securing their town against destruction from both a forieng entity and their own domestic government. The Markovian storyline had more than its fair share of ups and downs. It threw out a lot of what made Black Lightning so refreshing when it first aired, and the rather bloated storytelling meant much of last season felt sluggish. Still, the finale brought all of that to a close in a way that signaled necessary change, both for the show and the characters.

“The Book Of Reconstruction: Chapter One” picks up one year after the events of last season’s finale. Perhaps too on the nose, the premiere begins with an inverted shot of Jefferson standing over Chief Henderson’s grave, telling us that Jefferson’s world has been flipped upside down. Sure, the Markovians were dealt with, but he lost his friend at the same time, and he’s wondering whether it was worth it. As he sees it, Henderson’s death falls squarely on his shoulders. He tells Gambi, later in the episode, that he brought Henderson “into Black Lightning’s world,” and that’s what got him killed.

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Immediately the premiere establishes that the Pearce family isn’t just about to put the past behind him, and that Black Lightning isn’t going to skip over what should be significant emotional fallout stemming from the war with the Markovians. So, the premiere ditches the larger scale of last season and instead gets smaller, more personal. This is an emotional reckoning, an exploration of trauma and all the different ways it manifests itself within the Pearce family.

It’s good to see the show scaling back and going for an interior focus, at least for now. After everything that’s happened, and before the final string of episodes rolls out, it’s nice to give these characters space to breathe, allowing us to assess where they’re at emotionally before we’re onto the next threat to Freeland. What the premiere does a good job of establishing is that everyone here is handling their emotional baggage differently. Anissa is her usual strong-headed self, moving forward and trying to control and thwart as much violence in Freeland as possible. Jennifer is feeling more confident and powerful than ever, but it means she’s also growing reckless. Lynn is still in denial about her addiction, lying to herself about how it’s all for beneficial “research.” Then there’s Jefferson, who seems cynical and exhausted. He refuses to be Black Lightning anymore because he sees the suit as bringing more bad than good to the city, but by the same token he’s not only leaving his family hanging as the threat of Tobias looms, he’s also getting reckless with his powers, coming close to revealing his identity as Black Lightning.

Those are all good storytelling decisions driven by an understanding of these characters, Everything we know about them from three previous seasons informs how they’re handling their current situation. And yet, it a lot of “The Book Of Reconstruction: Chapter One” feels overly familiar, not just within the superhero genre but Black Lightning specifically. The writers seem to know it too. When Gambi finds Jefferson drinking his sorrows away at a bar and tries to give him a pep talk, he lays it out plainly: “we’ve been here before.” “Here” is Jefferson’s struggle to balance the responsibility he feels as Black Lightning with the responsibility to keep his family, now fully immersed in the superhero world, safe as well.

When Jennifer and Anissa started showing signs that they had powers, Jefferson wasn’t sure how to handle it. Teach them how to be safe and use their powers for good? At the risk of them then going out to catch bad guys and end up in harm’s way?

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We’ve been down this road with Jefferson before, and it’s less novel and impactful this time around, at least during the premiere. I don’t think the final season could sustain a bleak, downtrodden Jefferson for long without sacrificing narrative tension. What I mean is that the interior focus throughout the episode is more than welcome for a premiere, and Black Lightning has always been at its best when it’s leaning into moral contemplation instead of action, but I also see the show running the risk of sidelining Jefferson for too long, leading to a frustrating viewing experience where his comeback is delayed far too long for a final season. For now though, “The Book Of Reconstruction” Chapter One” is a solid setup for Black Lightning’s final stretch of episodes.

Stray observations

  • Hey everyone! Welcome to the final season of Black Lightning. Along with the premiere review, I’ll be jumping coming back to check on the show midseason and then return with a series finale review.
  • I like that the show is coming back to Tobias as the villain. That’s a good way to close out the show, even with Gravedigger still out there.
  • Also digging the introduction of Henderson’s friend as a potential ally for Black Lightning, who just also happens to be a cop investigating Jefferson for attacking two cops.
  • A good example of the familiar territory here is Jefferson, Lynn, and Anissa all debating whether killing the people coming after them counts as “murder.” I know this is just Jefferson reacting in the extreme to Henderson’s death, but it still feels like emotional territory that’s been sufficiently explored before.
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Kyle Fowle is a freelance writer based out of Canada. He writes about TV and wrestling for The A.V. Club, Real Sport, EW, and Paste Magazine.

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