Black Lightning: Painkiller

Do you think they’re going to give us our series?

A while ago, they announced that season four would be the final season of Black Lightning. I wasn’t happy about that, as I enjoy the series and have always liked the character. They also announced that Painkiller would be getting a spin-off, which I was admittedly neutral about. He’s not my favorite character, and I’ve found some of his plotlines annoying. But, episode seven of the season was a “back door pilot” for the potential series, which they called “Painkiller.” It has a good bit of potential.

The first things we see and hear are how Khalil has been trying to deal with the Painkiller persona, who is still very much in his head. After some talk about his struggles and his path, we completely change gears, shifting to Grace and Anissa finally taking their long-delayed honeymoon. Traveling in the back seat of a driverless car (they’re braver than I am on that front), they come to Akashic Valley, a very neon, Cyberpunk-esque place. Everything here is very high-tech, in my opinion a bit intrusively so (I don’t want an AI on a giant monitor in my bedroom, thanks). They go out for drinks, and this is when things take a turn. As Anissa pays the bill, Grace hits the bathroom, but gets ambushed by a creepy photographer and a thug. It shouldn’t be a big problem for a meta-hero, but she doesn’t see it coming and the bad guys have some good teamwork.

Anissa charges to the rescue and ends up fighting Painkiller when he gets loose in Khalil’s head. There’s a pause as Khalil and Painkiller argue inside their head, which I suspect will be an ongoing part of the proposed series. It’s a decent idea and done well. Despite Khalil’s best efforts, Anissa falls to Painkiller’s toxic touch. The bartender we saw earlier shows us some cool tricks as he goes to a secret base. He turns out to be called Philky, and his and Khalil’s conversation drops a lot of exposition and gives us the status quo between the two characters. They also talk about synchronicity and tech support. Anissa slowly wakes up in a medbay, and meets Donald, another of Khalil’s new friends and teammates. She, too, gets an exposition conversation, but a much shorter one.

The creepy photographer from earlier reports in to his boss, and we learn a few things as well as see some impressive tech. The new version of a phonebooth is kind of cool. Bleary and cranky, Anissa wakes up again and has an argument with Khalil. He does his best to explain where he’s coming from, but she’s not really interested. Bowing to the inevitable, and to guilt, Khalil gets a lot more involved, directing his team to dig into Grace’s abduction. They really do work well together and complement each other’s strengths. In short order, Khalil runs down a lead, gets some more information, and has Philky do some checking for him. Anissa gets to know Donald a bit better, and we get some more backstory on the supporting cast.

The villain we’re slowly learning about shows that she’s intelligent and dangerous as she makes plans for Grace. Khalil reluctantly goes into action, working his way through the facility they’ve learned about, with Philky providing support via headset and hacking, in true modern hero fashion. What they discover there isn’t at all what they expected, and it might lead to some help with Khalil’s major problem. Philky shows that he knows more than just tech as he brings Khalil to an informant who has some disturbing things to say about Maya, the big bad they’re chasing, and also provides some useful tools, for a price. I will say the display here is very much a “looks cool, utterly impractical” kind of setup.

As Khalil gathers information and hardware, Grace shows that she’s not some damsel in distress. This is another reason I’m sad this is Black Lightning’s final season. Grace is finally coming in to her own, and we’re not going to get to see that much of her this way. There’s another scene that’s more cool visual than logic as Khalil starts his attack on Maya’s place, does some dramatic posing, and talks to himself for a bit. Then he goes into action, and the fight choreography is fantastic. This is not a man you want coming after you. The fight does suffer some of the oddness that Arrow did from time to time, where the thugs go from lots of guns to trying hand to hand against someone who has just shown exactly how dangerous he is. I’ve never understood that approach. Observing this, Maya gives some interesting orders, falls back on a villain cliché, and decides it’s time to go.

Anissa proves her usual stubborn self, and Donald, knowing better than to try and stop her, helps her along. Grace and Khalil meet up, and he gives her a brief update on what’s going on, which she doesn’t entirely believe. I don’t blame her. Grace makes her escape as Khalil argues with himself some more before finally following. The action done with, we get a few wrap up scenes to end the episode and hopefully set up for the series to come.

Anissa and Khalil settle in for a chat at the bar, where Philky hurriedly and awkwardly excuses himself. They talk about the Pierce family, Jennifer in particular of course. Khalil make s request that surprised Anissa, but makes sense given what we’ve learned. The two part on good terms, and then Khalil goes down to his secret headquarters below the bar. He and his team review what they’ve learned, and talk about their future. Maya, having gotten away, makes a call that shows a very surprising tie to someone we’ve seen before. In my opinion, it makes her even more dangerous.

What I liked: The action was fantastic. The strides Khalil has made are impressive, and I liked the scenes with him and Painkiller. It was a good storytelling device. His new team shows some promise. Maya has a lot of potential as a recurring, formidable villain. Her call at the end surprised me, but it makes sense and is a nice tie to the main show. Akashic Valley, whatever it is, should be an interesting setting for the show.

What I didn’t: A few of the visuals were a bit more stylistic than I really care for, and almost seemed to be trying too hard. Similarly, a few of the scenes were more cool than remotely practical, both visually and action wise.

I liked this more than I thought I would, especially considering I wasn’t thrilled with the announcement of the series idea in the first place. I’m definitely interested enough to watch more if we get to see it. I’ll give this a 3.5 out of 5. The show would be a good addition to the Arrowverse in my opinion.

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