Light on Action, 'Black Lightning' Goes Hard on Bad Guys and World-Building

The CW

Every city in a superhero show is run amok with criminals. It must. Otherwise, why does it need a superhero? But Star City in Arrow has never felt really dangerous. In three seasons of Supergirl, I don’t think National City has any kind of character. And none of the other cities that map the Arrowverse have felt as alive or dangerous as the still-nameless city (is it Garfield?) in Black Lightning.

In “Lawanda: The Book of Hope,” the second episode to the acclaimed newbie superhero series, Black Lightning dazzles with just one action sequence, allowing the rest of the 44-minute run time to make sure viewers know how dangerous Black Lighting’s city is — as well as the man who runs it. While superhero fans may crave more action than Black Lightning is willing to give, hopefully, it’ll be worth it when Jefferson Pierce is finally able to fight waves of One Hundred goons.

Recovering from using his powers for the first time in years, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) insists to his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams) that Black Lighting isn’t back. But the ruthless murder of a former student, a mother to a girl enslaved by the One Hundred’s sex trafficking operation, compels Pierce to again suit up and take out Lala, a One Hundred general he presumes to sit at the top. Little does Pierce know is that the true mastermind, Tobias Whale, is getting irritated by his comeback.

One can already wager Black Lightning and Tobias Whale will throw down in the season finale climax. Because rogue metahumans and the League of Assassins are nowhere near Black Lightning, Tobias Whale (Krondon) is truly the only real threat to Black Lightning and anyone else. So far.

Cress Williams in the second episode of 'Black Lightning.'

The CW

But Black Lightning will need to make Tobias Whale feel more like an imminent danger than just an immoral criminal. In the comics, Tobias Whale was a 400-plus pound gang boss, not unlike the Kingpin. But the average-shaped Krondon doesn’t fill the camera’s frame the way Vincent D’Onofrio does in Daredevil. It feels like an uneven fight, Black Lightning against Tobias: One can shoot electricity out of his hands, the other has a harpoon. Either Black Lightning will have to give Tobias something extra to make him a real monster, or the show must bank on Krondon’s intense, scary performances and allow that to define Tobias the way Mahershala Ali with Cottonmouth in Luke Cage.

At the end of this week’s episode, viewers witnessed the full extent of Tobias Whale’s grip on the city: He murders Lala while Lala is in police custody. That just shows how a whole city is at the mercy to one gang and their gang boss. It’s almost too real for a superhero whose costume looks like it runs on AA batteries, and for that, Tobias feels out of place. But Black Lightning, in a city as dangerous as we’ve seen it, is right where he needs to be.

Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern on The CW.

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