“Breathe, Jefferson, Breathe!”
Those are words Peter Gambi (James Remar) shouted to the back of his van where our petulant superhero, Black Lightning (Cress Williams), lays inured. In the last episode, Black Lightning tracked down Joey Toledo (Eric Mendenhall) and while beating the stuffing out of him, had a seizure, then Toledo “Turned the Beating Around” (bad pun on the song, sorry Vicki Sue and Gloria) on Black Lightning. This was a great opening teaser for the show. Breathing is not something that a number of these characters will get to do this episode. I call these breathless times WOW-MOMENTS which were peppered throughout the episode.
Detective Henderson (Damon Gupta) and the Freeland Police Department were hot on the trail of Black Lightning. In the eyes of the law, Black Lightning is considered a vigilante, although Henderson partnered with B.L. in the last episode. The reveal that Deputy Police Chief Cayman (Anthony Reynolds) is the mole on Toledo’s payroll came a little easy for me. Especially since the initials “JT” (Joey Toledo) popped up on the caller ID of Cayman’s cellphone. I know it was for storyline purposes but I would think a seasoned Deputy Chief like Cayman would know to change the “JT” to a less discernable acronym.
Gambi calls Black Lightning’s ex-wife, Lynn Pierce (Christine Adams) to help revive/patch up our injured hero. As she reviewed his brain scans, Black Lightning turned on the Jefferson Pierce charm as he touched her hand and, says “It’s good to be in your hands again.” What came next was unexpected. Lynn has never hidden her conflicted feelings about Jefferson becoming Black Lightning again, but her fiery response made me sit up. She unleashed upon him “You’re pulling me back into this mess and I’m tired of stitching you up.” She went on to say that she is fearful that one day she’ll turn on the television and hear that Black Lightning is dead. Jefferson tries to justify it by saying he saw Tobias Whale kill his father but Lynn snapped back “I don’t care. Your father is dead and nothing can bring him back!” Then she stormed off. Black Lightning and I both said “WOW” simultaneously. Hence, this was WOW-MOMENT-NUMBER-ONE.
We see Joey Toledo/Tobias Whale/Lady Eve’s net of on-the-payroll influence broaden with each episode. When Lynn returned to work at the lab, her co-worker, Kam (Matt Mercurio) showed her brain scans from people that use the street drug “Green Light.” As we’ve seen in previous episodes, this drug removes rationality and enhances psychosis and physical abilities. Kam asked Lynn had she ever seen anything like this. Lynn lied and said no. He later spotted Lynn reviewing Jefferson’s brain scans which are similar to the drug users. Then Kam makes a mysterious phone call.
It appears that Gambi and Black Lightning have kissed and made up after Jefferson threatened to barbecue him last episode. Gambi figured out what the migraines/seizures were a result of. He reports that Jefferson’s powers are neurological and his super-suit keeps him from blowing out his nervous system. The suit’s resistance was set too high, thus the feedback which caused the seizures. Gambi’s tweaks seemed to have worked. Jefferson tells him he’s now ready to put Tobias in the grave. Gambi tries to reason with him, but Jefferson questions Gambi’s constant dissuasion when the topic of Tobias Whale comes up. We know Gambi has under-the-table dealings with Tobias. Gambi even tries to convince Lynn to help his cause but Lynn’s “Leave me out of it” response ended that avenue. UH-OH, fried Gambi may still be on the lunch menu.
More of Gambi’s secrets are revealed when he meets with Tobias’ boss, Lady Eve (Jill Scott). We learn that Gambi and Lady Eve both worked for the ASA (American Security Agency) and that Gambi taught her everything she knows. She obviously used her prowess for personal gain and lauded that over him. Gambi told her that they had a deal and the Pierce family is off limits and he will keep Tobias’ secrets. Lady Eve strikes back that they only want to know what Lynn is working on. The moment where Lady Eve says, “I will take out my own mother if I have to” set the stage for who she really is. Lady Eve went on to remind Gambi that if Tobias’ dirty laundry comes out, so will his. Alright-now! The revelations are getting juicier with each episode.
You have to love the way social commentary and current events are integrated into the fabric of the show. That is what sets Black Lightning apart from most other shows. Black Lightning has a unique voice and is unafraid to speak its mind and I love that. Putting reality into these shows keeps me deeply engaged and wanting more. Although I don’t advocate vandalism, defacing property or violence of any kind, it does give us a birds-eye view of varying perspectives on the issues at hand.
I loved seeing our Anissa (Nafessa Williams) front and center as the students, armed with paint guns, fired upon a Confederate statue. That took me right back to the devastating real-life events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. Even having a car callously plow into the crowd and kill an activist was taken right out of that same horrific moment in time. This was a powerful reminder that we have come far, but we still have a long way to go. Art imitates life. Hopefully, one day life will also imitate art.
Anissa gets arrested and has to be bailed out by a not-to-pleased, Jefferson and her younger sister, Jennifer (China Anne McClain) in tow. Kudos to the writers for crafting real dialogue that people of color actually say to one another. Jefferson confronts Anissa about her actions and how she does not have the luxury as a black woman to be naïve. He tells her she should know better especially with the tensions between people of color, the police, and guns. Poppa Pierce put his foot down and Anissa listened. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had similar discussions at the dinner table with my parents. Sadly, as we’ve seen through history, what we fail to resolve is destined to be repeated. This was WOW-MOMENT-NUMBER-TWO.
Another thing that makes me love this show is the great family dynamics. Great sister moments, parent-offspring moments seasoned with funny banter. I think this show sets a model for what healthy, open communication between family members can actually look like. Later, Jefferson comforts Jennifer after she gets cyberbullied by a mean girl at school. And to make matters worse, her boyfriend Khalil (Jordan Calloway) makes comments that Jennifer isn’t black enough. I felt that punch in the gut just like she did. Jefferson’s advice is right out of the Good Dad’s Handbook. He tells her that the cultural aftershock of slavery is the crabs in the barrel mentality. Basically, when one person of color gets ahead, others sometimes get jealous. Jennifer replies that this backfired on the bully. People said we (black people) need to stop with the good-hair/bad-hair, light-skinned/dark-skinned debate. Wonderful, touching, and TRUE. These moments are so refreshing but it does make me wonder, are any of the writers on this show a member of my family? I had these same conversations when I was growing up.
Jefferson goes on to tell Jennifer to give Khalil some space but she insists on seeing him. Jefferson says to “Listen and stay honest with yourself about what you hear.” Good advice, which I will take to heart for myself. This leads to the inevitable confrontation between Jennifer and Khalil. He is angry. He blames Jennifer and God for the loss of use of his legs. He said he did everything right and still wound up this way. His loss of faith fueled his visceral, heart-breaking words as he tells Jennifer to save her prayers and get out of his house. WOW-MOMENT-NUMBER-THREE.
Meanwhile, across town, Anissa is inspired by the words of Vice Principal Kara Fowdy (Skye P. Marshall) about the Confederate statue incident. Ms. Fowdy innocently says “Don’t you wish you could do something to stop this.” So, what does our fabulous firstborn daughter do? She shows up at the Confederate statue later that night, bedazzled and be-wigged. She stomps on the ground and the statue shatters. Some of the onlookers are shaken up, others are terrified. She added to the violence, not to the cause at hand. This hits Anissa hard. I’m sure Jefferson’s words were ringing in her ears at that moment. Anissa calls her mom, ready to confess to her newfound powers. Lynn tells Anissa to meet her at the lab.
With all the WOW-MOMENTS, there were a few wonky (not-so-wow) moments too. For instance, Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) politely served drinks to his henchwoman, Syonide (Charlbi Dean Kriek) like they are old friends. I wouldn’t think Tobias would serve anything to anyone outside of his sister, Tori. Also odd is the fact that Syonide, the resident queen of “kill you with a silent look” actually spoke. I have to admit, she’s more intimidating when she is mute.
I liked the visual of the enraged Tobias lifting Joey Toledo off the ground by the neck. The reasoning is because Toledo didn’t finish off Black Lightning when he had the chance. Well, neither did Tobias when he had the chance to do the same thing in episode 3. Tobias ordered Syonide to kill that “electric freak” at the rally and instead, she shoots Reverend Holt and Khalil, Black Lightning is left untouched. I still don’t get that one.
Also, I was expecting something a little more troubling when young Jefferson saw Tobias kill his father. I think if Tobias killed Jefferson’s father in a more brutal way (like the way Tobias crushed his own father’s back last episode) might have made the scene more impactful.
What brought the WOW back, was the limo scene where Tobias continues his manipulation of young Khalil. Tobias’ seeds of destruction took root in the heart of Khalil with promises that he will walk again. We know it’s going to be ominous and I personally can’t wait to see how it plays out.
WOW-MOMENT-FOUR and FIVE came when Black Lightning was on the phone with Lynn who was doing some research at the lab when she is attacked by Lady Eve’s henchmen. Lady Eve wants to know what Lynn is working on. Anissa arrived first and found Lynn bound and gagged with two assailants standing over her. Anissa mopped the floor with these dudes. We also learn that Anissa is bulletproof at this moment. Mother’s intuition is truly a powerful thing. Through the glammed-up regalia, Lynn knew this badass was her daughter. Lynn’s expression was a cross between “What in the world?” and “Oh no, not again?”
Anissa scares the henchmen off and before she can untie her mom, Black Lightning arrives. He doesn’t recognize Anissa and thinks she is the one who attacked Lynn. Thus, a GLORIOUS BATTLE ensues. Lynn’s muffled screams are overshadowed by this meta-human battle royal. Although Anissa is technically untrained, she is formidable but is no match for Black Lightning. He knocks her unconscious. Once he gets close enough, he realizes this is his baby girl. And I have to tell you, Momma Lynn was not pleased.
Anissa awakens to find, at her bedside, her mom, and her dad… still dressed like Black Lightning. WOW-MOMENT-NUMBER-SIX. We knew the meeting of the meta-humans was coming and it did not disappoint.
I told you no one had a chance to breathe in this wonderful episode.
Next to suit up will be young Jennifer.
Is anyone else jumping for joy or is it just me?
Let me know your thoughts.