This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 1, Episode 7
“Be better than me,” Jefferson Pierce tells Anissa in some of the final moments of the episode, wishing for his child what most parents wish for their kids: to be happy, yes, but to be better than they were. To learn from their mistakes. To surpass the example they set. It’s social evolution at the most basic level, and it’s a theme that superhero stories, at least on the screen, have not spent a lot of time exploring.
For Jefferson Pierce to wish for his daughter to be better, he has to understand his own flaws, something that our male superhero protagonists aren’t always so good at. But Jeff is made from different stock. When his attack on Tobias Whale leads to Tori Whale’s death, he has no illusions that he has made a mistake. Lynn and Gambi’s concerns have come true: Jefferson let the pain and anger he felt over the death of his father lead him to perpetuate the cycle of violence. As supremely good as Jefferson Pierce—principal, father, and hero— is, Anissa needs to be better.
It helps that Black Lightning is a show that isn’t interested in living too long in the land of dramatic irony in which the audience knows who the superheroes truly are, but the characters are left in the dark. Though Jennifer may still have no idea that she is part of a family of superheroes, she is the only one. Only one episode following Jefferson’s revelation that his daughter has superpowers, he has made the decision to help train her. He discusses it with Lynn and they make this decision like they seem to all other parenting decision: with respect for one another and respect for their children. It’s not only a refreshing subversion of parental tropes; it’s a refreshing subversion of superhero tropes. Black Lightning continues to zig where other superhero shows zag.
While the Anissa reveal may have taken up a lot of this episode’s space, the final act of the episode ended with some major changes for this show. Tori’s death will no doubt lead Tobias into even darker territory. Tori was the one person he seemed to truly love, his protector when he had none. With her dead, Jefferson has made this personal, and Tobias seems less likely to measure his moves in anyway. It doesn’t help that Lady Eve is now seemingly out of the way, which leaves Tobias with little immediate supervision. I was sad to see Lady Eve removed from the playing field so soon, and hope that there might be some superhero shenanigan that brings this villainess back to life.
Either way, this is bad news for Black Lightning. Jefferson has not only lost the confidence of Inspector Henderson, but of the larger Freeland community. To them, Eve was an example of black, female entrepreneurship. She was a leader for a community that is in desperate need of them. Between this and Tobias’ slow poisoning of Khalil’s mind against Black Lightning, Freeland is poised for a harsh turn against the superhero. In public court, it’s a thin line between superhero and vigilante.
While Jefferson is learning the personal cost of putting on the suit in Tori’s death, Anissa is facing something similar (though much less direct) in the presumed murder of Poe. For her, this is a lesson she has probably never learned before: with great superhero power, comes great superhero responsibility. But, for Jefferson, this is most likely a lesson he has learned before—Lynn’s conversations with him definitely imply this. Jefferson may want his daughter to be better than he is, but he will never be able to protect her from the pain that comes with this life.
It’s interesting to contrast the choices Jefferson makes in his efforts to protect Anissa (namely, honesty and the passing on of knowledge and wisdom) with the choices Gambi makes to supposedly protect Jefferson (namely, deceit and secrets). The further into the season we get, the less trustworthy Gambi becomes. Is he the true antagonist of this show in tailor’s clothing? Before Eve dies, Gambi seems to be if not someone who has power over her, than someone she respects—a partner. They more of less make the decision to kill Joey Toldeo together, with Gambi creepily carrying out the action. This is cold-blooded murder, albeit of a garbage person, and Gambi doesn’t even blink when he does it. He cares about the Pierce family, sure, but that doesn’t mean he is a good guy. What is Gambi’s endgame?
In a true WTF moment, the episode ends with Lala coming back to life and seeing some kind of spirit version of LaWanda who then turns into dust and magically tattoos herself onto Lala’s chest. This obviously has something to do with the procedures Lady Eve was carrying out in her funeral parlor, and potentially the gold case of bone dust Eve gave to Gambi to leave on Joey’s body. Did he give his life so that Lala could come back? Is there any chance Eve or Tori could be saved in a similar manner? So many questions, but I am all in on this show.