Monday, April 12, 2021

REVIEW: 'Black Lightning' - Khalil and Painkiller Fight for Control While Also Trying to Help Anissa and Grace in 'Painkiller'

The CW's Black Lightning - Episode 4.07 "Painkiller"

As his violent, destructive history in Freeland crashes his idyllic new beginning in Akashic Valley, Khalil Payne is thrusted back into action with a new mission - bring justice where he once gave out punishment - but to do that, he will first have to deal with and harness his darker side, Painkiller.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of The CW's Black Lightning.

"Painkiller" was written by Salim Akil and directed by Bille Woodruff

Is there enough of a distinction between Khalil and Painkiller? It's a critical question to ask if an entire show is going to be centered around the clash between them. This is a backdoor pilot for that potential spinoff. The CW is considering that. This episode serves as the proof of concept. And yes, it does stand out as something completely different than what Black Lightning typically offers. It's centered on a familiar character to the audience as well. His story was essentially tied up at the conclusion of the third season. He hasn't been seen this year at all. And now, the episode explains where he has been and how he has spent his time. He has found a new place to live in Akashic Valley - an almost futuristic city. It feels less grounded in reality than life in Freeland even though Khalil's powers are more contained than the heroes flying around the world and shooting electric strikes out of their hands. But again, Khalil and Painkiller essentially have to exist as two separate entities. That feels like the necessary quality in order to establish a dramatic version of this story. That is at least the first impression of this potential premise. However, Painkiller even states that Agent Odell didn't create him out of nothing. He serves as the embodiment of these emotions that have always been present within Khalil. The end goal may simply be for the two of them to merge as one collective identity once more. Right now, it's all about the battle for control. When Painkiller is active, the lives of everyone from the Pierce family are in danger. He has been ordered to kill them. It doesn't matter that the ASA is no longer running the program. That's in his core programming. It's the thing that cannot be overridden. It's the precise reason why Khalil and Jennifer can no longer be together as a couple. He doesn't want to return to the life he left behind until he can gain more control over himself. That is the hero's journey he is on. He has found new allies. However, he has kept a relatively low profile in this new city. It's only when Anissa and Grace arrive for their honeymoon that things become intense once more. The episode also delves into philosophy with the conversation around coincidences. All of this feels slightly too good to be true for the various players. And yes, a lot of it is convenient. Anissa and Grace happen to go on their honeymoon in the place where Khalil has also built a new life. Meanwhile, Khalil operates as a hero in a city controlled by Agent Odell's daughter. That final reveal is meant to further intensify this conflict by placing it in personal terms. Of course, Black Lightning always provided nuance to Agent Odell. He was a shady government figure who made so many amoral decisions. He was corrupt. He did so many things in the pursuit of protecting national security. He saw a changing world where others weren't willing to embrace the harshness of his directives. And now, his daughter is essentially portrayed as a criminal overlord in a city of the future. All the subtext that was present with his character is now at the forefront with hers. It's a basic introduction that hints at more should the series be picked up by the network. Other than that, it will be completely detached from everything else happening in this final season. Anissa knowing where Khalil is may potentially come in handy later on when the family needs allies in their final fight against Tobias. She doesn't share the details of Jennifer's physical transformation either. She keeps these secrets. However, her relationship with Grace is as strong as it has ever been. Of course, Khalil really doesn't have to do much to save her. She escapes mostly by herself. His conflict is mostly internal. In that way though, this premise essentially fails. The two personalities just aren't distinct enough. Khalil has access to all the same meta abilities and fighting skills as Painkiller. He says that he'll invite this embodiment of darkness out when the situation grows more dire. His perspective and killing mentality will be necessary. And yet, the shift in that action piece doesn't really kick in. It plays as essentially the same technique occurring from the same figure. That central conflict is meant to be incredibly pivotal. In reality, it just doesn't come across as distinct enough to suggest an engaging, multi-layered story on identity through a new lens in this world.