This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Episode 2
When it comes to TV, the second episode of a series can often tell you more about the quality of a show than the first. While the pilot is vitally important, and will often determine whether people keep watching, it’s the second episode—one that is often created long after the initial vision of the show has been concentrated into pilot form—that gives you a better idea of what the show will actually look like on a weekly basis.
For Black Lightning, that episode is “Lawanda: Book of Hope,” which picks up in the immediate aftermath of the resurrection of Black Lightning… which everyone is talking and thinking about it. This obviously includes Jefferson Pierce, who is still trying to determine the best way he can serve his community: as Black Lightning, the principal of Garfield High, or some combination of the two. It’s not an easy decision. If he brings back Black Lightning, he will sacrifice his body and the possibilty of a reconciliation with Lynn. But, if he doesn’t, he may have to sacrifice a lot more: what he believes is right.
“Why’d Black Lightning rescue your girls and nobody else’s? … Unless all of us are free, none of us is free,” Lawanda White, a former student of Jefferson’s, asks the principal during an assembly with the parents. It’s a fair point, a stand-in for questions of privilege. Jefferson’s daughters were saved because their father is Black Lightning, sure, but they’re also the daughters of “Black Jesus.” They come from a “good” family (i.e. comfortably middle class). Their father is friends with a high-ranking police inspector.
As for Lawanda, no one seems to care about her daughter. She’s been deemed an acceptable loss to the violence, corruption, and power that The 100 represent. But not to Lawanda, who loses her life to Lala in the quest to bring her daughter home safely. It’s the final straw for Jefferson. Some people might be able to turn their backs to the powerless, to the voiceless, to the ones no one in power cares about, but not Jefferson. If he becomes Black Lightning, he will lose a lot. But, if he doesn’t, he may lose his soul.
It’s the strongest part of Black Lightning so far: the way it grounds the superhero drama in real-world problems. In the MCU, the Avengers battle aliens and robots. In The Flash, they battle metahumans they themselves created. In Black Lightning, the superhero takes on institutional racism, gang violence, and police harrassment and brutality. It’s hard not to feel like every other on-screen superhero is playing by a different, less potent set of rules.
Jefferson’s waffling over whether or not he should become Black Lightning again isn’t the only plot point that carries over from the pilot. As the only witnesses who can testify against Lala, Anissa and Jennifer continue to be at risk. When Lala sends a kid to their house to scare Jessica with a water gun filled with red paint, it scares Jefferson enough to go down and confront Lala himself.
Lala isn’t afraid of Jefferson Pierce, but he is afraid of Tobias Whale, who recently harpooned Lala as part of his punishment for stirring up trouble and getting the Black Lightning to resurface. With Will causing more hubbub, Lala makes a drastic choice: killing Will. Lala may be a lackey of Tobias Whale, but he’s just as dangerous… especially to Whale, who ends the episode killing Lala before the man can cut a deal with the police.
In other news, we learned a bit about the love lifes of Anissa and Jennifer. Anissa has been dating her girlfriend Chenoa for a year, but still hasn’t met the parents yet. (She’s too busy, OK? And her burgeoning superpowers are not helping lighten the load.) Meanwhile, Jennifer agrees to go steady with her friend, a kid named Khalil who seems to have a good head on his shoulders.
Hopefully, the girls have better luck in their relationships than their parents do. Following Lawanda’s death, it becomes clear that Jefferson is unable to walk away from Black Lightning. Lynn calls it an addiction, but, to Jefferson, it is a gift. The tension represents not just a fight, but a distinct difference in values, in how they see the world and it’s problems, and how they think those problems should be solved. Unless one of these two fundamentally change, it’s hard to see them working out a relationship.
But what does Jefferson’s idea of justice look like? If the inspector hadn’t shown up during Black Lightning’s bust up of the Seahorse Motel, would Jefferson have killed Lala? How would we, as viewers, been guided to feel about that? What does Jefferson’s path to a better Freeland look like, and what parts of himself is he willing to give up to get there? And how will the knowledge of Anissa’s powers—which she seems to look at as a gift, too—affect his feelings on the subject?
All questions Black Lightning seems poised to address moving forward. After only two episodes, I’m confident Black Lighting is going to have some good, unexpected answers.