“I’m not trying to save the city, I’m, trying to protect my family.”
This is the mantra of Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (Cress Williams). He exclaimed this quote to his partner, Peter Gambi (James Remar). There are many great quotes in this show. This makes it relatable, uplifting and inspirational on a number of levels across cultural boundaries. Normally super-powered meta-human heroes are trying to save their version of Gotham, or saving the world from total extinction, but this show is more contained and keeps the fight in the “hood.” Refreshing for a CW show. I’m not sure which DC Universe (Supergirl, Arrow or Flash) Black Lightning takes place in but I actually hope it’s another Earth, more like our own, where none of them exist.
I realized nothing comes easy for our hero and I LOVE that. The old saying “Can’t win for losing” keeps coming to mind when I watch this show. And that is what keeps me invested in the Jefferson/Black Lightning journey. This episode opens with Jefferson having electrical spasms. He was in a lot of pain. The special effects were great BUT after the first scene, the spasms were gone. How did he overcome it? I assume this was a recurring problem from the past but just a little explanation would have been helpful. I have to admit; my question was washed away by what came next. The legendary Al Green’s, “Simply Beautiful” played in the background, setting the tone for one of my favorite scenes of the television season, of any show.
Jefferson was on the bathroom floor in agony. His ex-wife, Lynne (the wonderful Christine Adams) spent the night watching over their daughter, Jennifer (China Anne McClain). Lynne holds Jefferson in her arms and says, “I got you.” Then Jefferson rests in her arms, his familiar safe place… TALK ABOUT 3-ALARM FIRE HOT!! This moment was sensual without gratuity, deeply layered without exposition. The good, the bad, and the ugly all came to the surface in every touch, laugh and whisper between them. Kudo’s to writer/creator, Salim Akil, to Cress Williams, and Christine Adams for a hella real depiction of the complexities of marriage. They are excellent examples of co-parenting, putting their differences aside to raise their daughters. Thank you for the illustration of a healthy relationship between two mature people.
So, after a heaping glass of ice water, I un-pause the show and we move right into another moment, filled with conflict and fear of the unknown. A place where superpowers will have no effect and life itself can change in the blink of an eye… a parent/teacher/principal meeting at Garfield High. You teachers out there know exactly what I’m talking about. Principal, Jefferson Pierce, tried to calm the fears of the rightfully concerned parents, as the 100 gang continues to recruit the youth. Jefferson says, “Dr. King said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” A parent responds with “And they shot Dr. King in the head, Mr. Pierce.” WOW, that was an unexpected gut-punch response. I remember having this same conversation at my dinner table when I was a youth. These are real issues that the African-American community deals with on a daily basis. I am so glad to have found a show that does not shy away from telling it like it is, no matter how hard the pill is to swallow. The show also doesn’t shy away from other stereotypes within our community between shades of skin and class status. You get to see many points of view which I hope will help us all understand each other better.
Lawanda White (Tracey Bonner), whom the episode is named after, dropped numerous bombshells in this scene. 1) The police won’t search for her daughter because there is no proof that she is missing against her will. 2) The Seahorse hotel that Black Lightning lit up while saving his daughters was still open. 3) Lawanda’s question of “Why did Black Lightning only save Pierce’s daughters and no one else.” 4) Lawanda’s own quote “Unless all of us are free, none of us are free.” Basically, Lawanda dropped the microphone, and I dropped the remote. When Lawanda decided to stake-out the Seahorse Hotel hoping to get a glimpse of her daughter, it was telegraphed that trouble was coming her way. My thought was the usual superhero trope where Black Lightning will save her and reunite her with her daughter… WRONG! I did not expect for Lala (William Catlett) to callously kill her, out in the open in true gangster fashion. Time for a second glass of water, without ice, but another glass nonetheless. The stakes are now raised through the roof.
Speaking of Lala, he went on quite the killing spree this episode. First, he killed Lawanda, then he assassinated his bumbling fugitive cousin, Will (Dabier) and resumed humming an R&B jam playing on the radio. That’s one cold-blooded brother.
Although karma came back to give Lala a big sloppy kiss. Tobias Whale (the brilliant, Marvin ‘Knoden’ Jones III) strangled him in his jail cell for killing Lawanda, while Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” again plays in the background. Tobias walked into the police station like a celebrity walking the red carpet. This man has power and clout.
I have to say Tobias is “one-bad-mutha-shut-your-mouth” antagonist. Yep, I just went Richard Roundtree, Shaft, circa 1971. Tobias is a throwback to the kingpins from back in the day. He commands a room and steals every scene he’s in. What was wild is he killed Lala because Lala killed someone’s mother. A crime lord with values– I didn’t see that coming. Obviously, this show isn’t afraid to sacrifice any character for the sake of storyline which keeps me on my toes.
We got to see more of the relationships in this episode. Some are fleshed out well, some not so much. Nice moments between old friends, Jefferson and Detective Henderson (Damon Gupton) but what was lacking for me for was Jennifer (China Anne McClain). Her relationship with Khalil (Jordan Calloway) was cute but she comes off as an ungrateful, selfish brat. It’s hard to root for her because she is so self-destructive and I don’t really understand why. She drinks in school, smokes weed on the roof, frequents gang-infested clubs, lies and manipulates her family, but why? I need some redemption from this character otherwise just lock her in a tower until she’s an adult because every decision she makes is either stupid or bad. Khalil is a nice kid. He’s polite, he’s a gentleman, was obviously raised right and in my opinion, too good for Jennifer. I hope we get to see another side of her, considering who she will become in future episodes.
The Gambi and Lynne scene was a great history lesson for us. Lynne and Gambi represent two different sides of the Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning coin. Their tennis match was really well written, well-acted and beautifully shot. Lynne says to Gambi “He was happy” Gambi tosses back “What kind of happy, like a lion in a cage?” Those few words spoke volumes as they both drew a line in the sand hoping Jefferson will step over to their side. A headscratcher for me is how did Gambi find Will in a random dumpster? A little convenient but moved the story forward as needed.
What didn’t move the story for me was the scene between Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and her girlfriend, Chenoa (Shein Mompremier). I think the meeting the family conversation was out of place and should have come in a later episode. The focus should have been on Anissa’s confusion about breaking her sink. Breaking a porcelain sink is not an everyday occurrence. Placing them at Anissa’s apartment and Chenoa asking what happened to your sink might have made for a stronger moment here.
Also, will there be a manifestation of Anissa’s powers at the end of every episode? It worked for the pilot but felt kind of been-there-done-that this time. I hope this won’t be a regular thing. Tonight, she went to a drug store to get sleeping pills and encountered a robbery. I knew she was going to throw the thief across the aisle but what I really bumped against was her flippant “I got this” attitude after it happened. Unless this is just another day for her, it wasn’t a genuine response at all.
Our hero, Jefferson had a lot on his plate this episode. The on-again/off-again reconciliation with Lynne; trying to protect his daughters; getting roughed up by Lala’s gang when he confronted them; the death of Lawanda whom he pledged to help, finally pushed him over the edge.
I enjoyed watching him strut down the street, glowing costume and all, amidst the on-lookers whispering, “He’s back.” I think the town was ready for Lala to get his. You could see it in the face of the doorman who willingly opened the door for Black Lightning to the elevator operator ready to take him upstairs to Lala’s hideout… everyone, including the viewers, wanted to be on the Lala takedown train. Black Lightning said, “I’ll take the stairs because a brother can use all the exercise he can get.” Great reminder that Jefferson Pierce is not a millennial. Middle-aged men across America raised their fists in solidarity. The staircase butt kicking was cool, nothing mind-blowing. It was what I expected for it to be. I did enjoy Black Lightning tossing Lala around like a rag doll. I’m certain he would have killed him if Detective Henderson had not conveniently shown up.
In watching this episode, I am reminded that it’s a good thing that I’m not a meta-human because I would have zapped a whole lot of folks on the 405 freeway during rush hour this morning… I’m just saying.
Episode two was not perfect, but I certainly enjoyed the heck out of it. I would watch this show even if nobody had super-powers. It’s that well written, well-acted and well directed.
“Simply Beautiful” is now on loop in my music library.
Let me know your thoughts.