The CW comic book shows typically don’t do set up episodes well. Black Lightning is no exception. With each member of the Pierce family having their own wholly separate story every season, setup episodes are typically overstuffed with not much actually happening. The episodes tend to spend their entire runtimes getting all the characters where they need to be for the following week, leaving no time for them to do anything interesting. This week’s Black Lightning was largely a setup for next week, but it thankfully had none of those issues. The actions that led each character to where they ended up by the end of the episode were interesting and emotionally motivated. This week’s episode managed to turn the setup into a good story in its own right.
At the end of last week’s episode, you’ll remember Lynn and Tobias were kidnapped by Markovians. That means Lynn is forced to work with Dr. Jace again. She’s not happy about it. Dr. Jace opens the episode talking about how she plans to befriend Lynn so as not to become expendable. The show immediately cuts to Lynn throwing Jace around the lab cursing at her. Black Lightning is a generally serious show, so these moments of humor are always such a welcome surprise. Jace reveals to Lynn that she helped Agent Odell get her addicted to Green Light. She’s angry enough to try to quit cold turkey, but that doesn’t last long. That’s not how addiction works. Also, it becomes clear that despite the change in scenery, Lynn’s circumstances haven’t changed at all. She’s still expected to help turn metahumans into weapons by giving them a stabilization serum. She’s just doing it for a different bad guy now.
What I really appreciate about this episode though is it spends a lot of time getting everyone on the same page. So many of the frustrating storytelling decisions this season come out of characters stubbornly refusing to talk to each other about anything. Usually for no reason at all. Finally, the characters are forced to bring each other up to speed. They’re all pissed about information being kept from them, but it feels natural, and the show doesn’t spend any more time on that than it absolutely has to. When Jefferson finally tells Anissa that Lynn’s addicted to Green Light, she’s initially mad that he didn’t tell anyone earlier, but she moves passed that and into solutions. She knows what addiction is and how they can try to support Lynn as a family. It works as a father-daughter moment, and it keeps the story focused and moving along.
Before they can tackle the Green Light addiction though, they have to rescue her. Sergeant Grayle sets up a meeting between Jeff, Anissa, and Major Grey who agree to team up to capture Lynn. The Markovian territory is too dangerous for either group to infiltrate alone. Jeff agrees on the condition that anyone he brings along gets full immunity from the ASA. The fun part of this sequence comes when everyone insists on going. They all make their case for why they need to go and why they’ll be useful on the mission. Each time it happens, I get more excited. It’s fun to watch the team come together, especially when they show Jefferson exactly what they can do. Black Lightning, Thunder, Lightning, Grace, Gambi and Brandon all teaming up to rescue Lynn. Yes, give me all of that! Also, I was so happy to see Grace get something substantial to do on this show, and even happier that we’ll get more next week. She and Anissa had a playful sparring match to settle whether she would come along on the mission, and it was the most fun this show’s had in a long time. More of this, please.
The actual mission will happen next week though. I’m hoping that means it’ll be given the full time it needs. So yes, this week’s episode was largely getting all the characters in place for that. As setup goes, it was fun to watch and still managed to make us feel like the story was moving along. That’s not all that made this a good setup episode though. The rest of the episode was spent on Jenn and Khalil, and it hit all the emotional beats it needed to. We learned last week that Khalil was still inside Painkiller somewhere. TC looked into his chip and came out with the knowledge that he still loved Jenn. The problem is the Painkiller software installed on the chip. It’s keeping the real Khalil locked away, but it’s also the only thing running Khalil’s basic brain functions. Remove the software or the chip itself and Khalil will die.
TC comes up with a solution: Build a firewall inside Khalil’s mind and trap Painkiller in there. That way, it still runs the involuntary processes it needs to but can’t control Khalil’s actions. It also leads to the coolest looking scene in the episode. As the Painkiller software attacks TC’s projections, he has Jenn shoot controlled arcs of electricity into the chip. They manifest as giant beams of light coming out of the walls, pushing painkiller back. They push him into a room where TC locks the door, preventing his escape.
That’s one problem out of the way, but there’s another. The real Khalil has enclosed himself in a safe haven inside his mind and refuses to come out. Jenn turns herself into pure energy and has TC bring her in with her. The show does a fantastic job of building tension here. Gambi tells us that as Khalil starts to remember the things he did as Painkiller, he could turn suicidal. If he decides not to come out of his mind, it’ll collapse. If Jenn’s still inside when it does, she’ll die too. She talks to Khalil, letting him know she still loves him. Then this sad music plays over the scene, giving the whole thing an ominous tone. When Painkiller starts trying to convince Khalil to let him out, he almost does. You can also see Khalil start to fall into despair as he sees himself killing his mother.
This whole scene is executed so well. It really hurts to watch Khalil go through all this, and you’re rooting for him along with Jenn the whole time. At the same time, it feels like something’s about to go wrong. I was holding my breath for this entire sequence, and it was a genuine relief when the real Khalil woke up. It didn’t last long though. He’s still not sure he wants to be alive with Painkiller still inside him. Jenn can’t even hug him because of the poison in his skin. Horrified by what the ASA turned him into, he breaks up with Jenn and leaves. And that’s where the episode cuts off. Just to add an extra little punch. When Black Lightning gets the emotional moments right, it destroys me.
That’s how you do a setup episode right. Black Lightning took an hour getting all its characters where they needed to be for next week, and it produced a great episode of television in its own right. This might be the rare occasion where the setup is better than the payoff, but we’ll have to wait until next week to find out.
Black Lightning airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on The CW
Previously on Black Lightning: