During its first season, Black Lightning was not just a fun new superhero show, but may have even been the strongest entry in The CW’s Arrowverse franchise (to which it’s only tenuously connected) last year. Can the series maintain that momentum, or will it fall victim to a sophomore slump?
The second season premiere opens boldly, on what appears to be cell phone footage of white cops strangling a black teenager to death. The kid, named Issa (Myles Truitt from Kin), was one of the so-called “Green Light Babies,” victims who developed meta-human powers after taking the tainted street drug Green Light. The image of another young black man murdered by cops gets the community riled up, especially the congregation led by Reverend Holt (Clifton Powell).
Meanwhile, the school board temporarily closes Garfield High and threatens disciplinary action against its principal, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), who coincidentally happened to take unplanned vacation time right when the school became a battleground between Black Lightning and the meta-human Khalil, a sidekick to villain Tobias Whale. Of course, Jeff can’t exactly explain that he is Black Lightning. He bristles when given the news, but assumes the matter will eventually blow over.
Jeff’s wife Lynn, the only member of their family without meta powers, is interrogated by a grumpy ASA agent (Bill Duke) about her discovery of the pods containing Green Light experiment subjects. She claims she was given an anonymous tip. The agent doesn’t buy that story and revokes her access to the pods, cutting short her research into freeing the victims inside them.
Youngest daughter Jennifer is developing new powers she can’t yet control, which entail floating above her bed while she sleeps and emanating yellow lights. She wants nothing to do with any of this. She just wants to be a normal teenager. When she accidentally hurts her mother during an argument, Jennifer locks herself in her room and won’t come out.
The duplicitous Kara (Skype P. Marshall) tries to flee town when she’s confronted in a parking garage by Tobias Whale’s right-hand-woman Syonide (Charlbi Dean Kriek), who wants an important briefcase from the Green Light lab. Kara refuses to give it to her, and the two have an epic shootout/martial arts battle which culminates with Kara stabbing Syonide in the throat with a spiked heel shoe. The scene is gloriously ridiculous, but it ends with what appears to be Syonide’s death, which is depressing if true. She’s one of the show’s most fun characters.
Kara then goes to Gambi (James Remar) begging for help. In exchange, she offers to get him the briefcase. (I thought she already had it?)
Family members are prohibited from visiting the so-called “pod babies.” Reverend Holt says they’ll need to raise at least $500k for a legal fund. The prospects of that happening seem hopeless.
Jefferson is obsessed with taking down Tobias Whale. Lynn struggles with the fact that she killed a man in the season finale episode. They argue about whether she should continue fighting for access to the pods at all. Jeff thinks it’s too dangerous and she should stay away, but Lynn already asked Gambi to pull some strings at the ASA to put her in charge of the research on them.
Eldest daughter Anissa (Nafessa Williams), who has taken on the role of Black Lightning’s sidekick Thunder, goes off on her own and raids a 100 Gang compound, beating up a bunch of gang-bangers and stealing a huge pile of cash. Disguised in a mask, she then delivers Reverend Thompson the $500k he needs.
Jeff’s cop friend Bill Henderson (Damon Gupton) finally puts two and two together and deduces that Jeff is Black Lightning. They have a confrontation about this, and Jeff removes his mask, admitting his identity. He also outs Anissa. Henderson is furious that his friend lied to him for all these years. Jeff asks, “What do we do now?” but Henderson doesn’t have an answer for that.
Gambi blows Jeff’s mind with the news about Kara. Jeff had no idea that the woman he’d worked so closely with was a spy for the ASA the whole time.
While his corpse is being dragged out of the funeral home by government agents, Issa (the kid from the opening scene) suddenly revives from the dead. His mother is horrified and rejects him on the spot, saying some pretty awful things about how she was relieved when he died. Issa evades the agents and runs away.
Jennifer has a huge meldown in which she loses any ability to stop her powers. She’s cocooned by a bubble of light until her father hugs her and absorbs the energy.
While he’s dealing with all this, Jeff is also delivered another blow when the school board votes to permanently close Garfield High. Jeff offers to resign his position as principal and allow the board to use him as a scapegoat if it means the school can stay opened.
Gambi’s assistance comes through and Lynn is put in charge of the Green Light pods. Anissa, meanwhile, has secretly kept a big chunk of the cash she stole and hides it in her closet.
The episode ends with Kara, wearing some nifty night vision goggles, sneaking into Tobias Whale’s penthouse in the middle of the night. Tobias (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) has been waiting for her, sitting behind his desk. Before Kara can shoot him, Tobias whips out his signature spear gun and harpoons her right in the gut. Kara is shocked, to say the least. As he reels her in, she cuts the rope and, with the spear still hanging out of her stomach, makes a dash to leap out the window. We don’t get to see how far she falls, but I presume that she’ll be back again or else we would have watched her die.
We’re off to a good start. The season premiere is a very strong episode that showcases how much better written this show is than any of the other Arrowverse properties. While the plotting may get goofy at times, the character work is terrific. The idea that killing a random evil henchman last season would continue to weigh heavily on Lynn’s conscience is the sort of detail other superhero shows wouldn’t waste time with. It’s also very interesting to me that Jeff doesn’t suit up as Black Lightning at all in the premiere. Typically, you’d expect the hero to deliver a lot of big action to start off the season.
That doesn’t mean the episode is short on action. If the first season had a major failing, it’s that the fight choreography and action scenes often felt half-assed. The premiere improves on that in a big way. Anissa’s raid on the gang compound is very cool and exciting, and the face-off between Kara and Syonide is stand-up-and-cheer awesome.
It sure looks like Syonide is a goner. I really hope that’s not the case. The show has resurrected at least two other characters from the dead so far, which leaves me some hope that we’ll see her again.