Black Lightning in the Twilight Zone: wrapping up a couple of TV seasons

I thought after watching this week’s Nancy Drew I’d be included that too, but despite some major reveals that seem to wrap everything up, they have a half-dozen episodes to come.

I had a mixed review of BLACK LIGHTNING‘s second season, but this season more than made up for it. Freeland spends most of the season caught between the American Security Agency and agents from Markovia, both of which want control of Freeland’s metas; the ASA’s conniving, cold-blooded Odell (Bill Duke) insists he’s acting for the community’s own protection, but while Jeff tries to be moderate, Anissa and Inspector Henderson both join the Resistance, helping to get metas out of town past both sides. Jennifer, meanwhile, discovers how powerful she really is and lets Odell manipulate her before she discovers during the Crisis how far she’s crossing the line. Plus Odell gets Lynn hooked on greenlight to boost her IQ while she’s working with the metas, and turns Jen’s boyfriend Khalil into a brainwashed killer. If ever anyone had He Needed Killing plastered to his forehead …

Into this mess, we then bring Tyson “Gravedigger” Sykes (Wayne Brady), the world’s first metahuman, the result of WW II experiments (his story reminded me a lot of the MU’s Isaiah Bradley). Bradley has nothing but contempt for the way the U.S. has treated his people and so after working on the Markovian meta-research program (the U.S. set it up in Markovia to avoid scrutiny, and because that put its metas in striking distance of the USSR) he co-opted it to attack his own country (the tendency of metas to die or go comatose delayed the plan). There’s a great bit where he tells Jennifer Martin Luther King was a coward who couldn’t do what needed doing; she reminds him that nonviolence was a calculated, and successful tactic.

The ending episode this week has Gravedigger and his Markovian allies making an all-out attack on Freeland and the ASA meta-research lab, while Odell prepares to withdraw, then have the city nuked so the Markovians don’t get what they want. Its Gravedigger against the Pierces in all-out action with a surprisingly high body count (even given some of the deaths could be easily reversed); not knowing it was the season ender, I really was surprised.

If I have any complainst, it’s that the show doesn’t at all acknowledge that it’s now on the same Earth as Flash and post-Crisis always has been. The dark-matter Central City metas are stable and someone should at least have mentioned it. And that while they avoided turning Anissa’s lover Grace into a Dead Lesbian Trope, I’m not sure Comatose Lesbian is an improvement (okay, it’s an improvement, but not much of one).

THE TWILIGHT ZONE‘s fourth season switched from thirty minutes to an hour (I think there’s a meta-joke about that in the episode The Bard) and most fans dismiss it as a failure. Although a slight majority of episodes are indeed flops, I don’t know how much is due to expanded length and how much due to the show just running out of steam, which was happening even in S3. It’s true that some episodes, such as The Thirty-Fathom Grave, might have worked at an hour’s length, but most of the bad ones would be bad at any length. Particular un-favorites are Mute, a story about a telepathic kid getting integrated into society that comes off unpleasantly abusive, and The Bard, in which a hack writer summons up Shakespeare’s spirit to write a TV movie only to see it hacked to death by sponsor and network requirements. It’s one The Twilight Zone Companion cites as a classic, but I find it predictable and just ridiculous, like nobody noticing the script’s Shakespearian language. Some good roles (Burt Reynolds as a Brando knockoff, John McGiver as a clueless sponsor) but I hated it.

And the good stuff is very good, despite the hour length. Astronauts Jack Klugman and Ross Martin trying to understand how they found their crashed Death Ship on an alien world with their bodies inside; space-colony leader James Whitmore reluctant to release his grip on the colony when he learns they can return to Earth (On Thursday We Leave For Home); Miniature; the rural fantasy Jess-Belle; and the gentle romantic fantasy¬†Passage on the Lady Anne. There are also a few middling ones. Printer’s Devil is poor, but Burgess Meredith makes a great villain; I Dream of Genie is uneven but it still won me over, especially the ending.

IIRC the fifth and final season of the original had a lot of flops too. As it was 36 episodes long, it’ll be a while before you get a review though.

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Filed under TV

2 responses to “Black Lightning in the Twilight Zone: wrapping up a couple of TV seasons

  1. Pingback: I hoped for better: Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Two TV seasons of two 1960s shows: Twilight Zone, Star Trek | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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