This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 2 Episode 1
God, Black Lightning does so many things that other superhero shows don’t bother to do and it is like gasping in fresh, narrative air everytime I watch an episode. Yes, I am talking about the prioritization of any identity other than rich, white, cisgender men and the centering of black families and communities specifically, but it’s so much more than that.
It’s having its superheros actually attempt to solve real-life problems. Instead of watching Oliver Queen beat up another bad guy who is trying to blow up the city because of something that happened on an island five years ago, we see Anissa, Jefferson, and Lynn trying to affect real change in their community and the America that Freeland represents.
These aren’t broad strokes metaphors for a plethora of non-specific real world injustices. This is a superhero show saying: It’s not OK that our police officers are murdering our black citizens or experimenting on our poorest, most vulnerable communities. It’s superheroes saying: I’m going to try to do something about it.
Look, I get it. It’s a lot easier to punch a tangible human in the face than it is to punch institutional injustices in the face, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, superhero TV (and movies). Black Lightning tries, dammit, and most of the time it succeeds in telling a story that articulately represents and addresses these complicated real-world issues—but, even when it doesn’t, it’s so very worth the flawed effort.
The Black Lightning Season 2 premiere picks up only a week after the events of the Season 1 finale. The people of Freeland are reeling from the news that the government has been experimenting on its children, with many of them still trapped in the pods discovered by Lynn Pierce. Violence is on the rise as use of the drug Green Light continues amongst Freeland’s youth, and the cops have taken to shooting the black kids affected in the streets first and asking questions never.
Anissa doesn’t get as much narrative space in this episode, but the time she does get is down right brilliant. Jefferson and Anissa attend a meeting at their church and learn that the families of the Pod Kids will need somewhere in the realm of $500,000 to sue the government for permission to see their loved ones locked inside of those pods. Jefferson is ready to let the system to take control, distracted by his simmering need to take down Tobias Whale properly, but Anissa knows that these families and these kids need help now.
Leaving her Thunder suit at home and, instead, dressing in an oversized black hoodie and mask, Anissa breaks into a drug den and steals as much money as she can get her hands on, taking out many a drug dealer in the process. She drops the money off at the church, a gift from a concerned citizen to this underfunded community that so desperately needs resources.
For the reverend, it is a gift from a stranger in black, but it is also a gift from God. Both Anissa and the reverend understand something that change depends on principles and emotional labor and communities coming together, yes, but it also often depends on resources like money. Anissa listens when her father makes the solid point that some change needs to happen within the system for it to affect broader institutional change, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to let the flawed, corrupt, and much too slow system chew up and spit out these poor families who can’t afford proper representation.
If we needed any more evidence that the system is flawed, then look no further than Jefferson’s sacking. The Garfield High board decides they need someone to serve as scapegoat for the violence that has gone down over the last few weeks, and Jefferson is it. He takes the fall—or at least suggests the offer: Jefferson’s resignation in exchange for keeping Garfield High open. It obviously breaks Jefferson’s heart, and is a real loss for the Garfield High community, but Jefferson has also never been more heroic. He sets aside his ego and does what he has to do to keep this institution that treats young black kids as kids and not criminals open.
The resignation of Jefferson Pierce from Garfield High will no doubt be detrimental to Garfield High, but it would give Jefferson more time to deal with all of the other insane things that are going on in his life right now—namely, the escalation and increasing volability of Jennifer’s powers. When Jennifer gets upset about the anti-meta prejudice her best friend is espousing, not to mention the frequent voicemails she’s been getting from an apologetic Khalil, she can’t handle her powers.
First, in one of the most affecting moments of the episode, she unintentionally injures Lynn. Then, she up and encases herself in some kind of bubble of energy that she is unable to break. It takes Jefferson absorbing all of the field’s power into himself to break the bubble. It’s a scary moment, mostly because none of the Pierces have any idea what to do about Jennifer’s powers, but it’s also one of solidarity. Jefferson holds Jennifer close while Anissa and Lynn crouch nearby on the bathroom floor. This family may be in over their head, but they are in over their head together.
There’s a lack of thematic cohesiveness in this season premiere that is probably a result of trying to reintroduce so many characters and storylines at once, but the energy and potential for a strong second season is definitely there. Black Lightning continues to be one of the best, most important shows on television.
Inspector Henderson knows the identity of Black Lightning and Thunder. I loved this reveal scene, especially how much Salim Akil as director let it breathe. This wasn’t rushed at all. We felt the deliberation as Jefferson had to decide whether or not he should remove his mask, whether or not he should confirm that Anissa is Thunder, whether or not he should trust Henderson. And we felt the many reactions of Henderson as he got confirmation that one of his closest friends has been lying to him all this time.
Black Lightning‘s got a sweet new comic book-style intro, and I am into it.
This soundtrack continues to be so, so good.
The Pierces are such good parents. They’re not perfect, but man do they love their kids and try their hardest in what is an insane situation.
Another issue Black Lightning is addressing that so other superhero stories do? Mental health and the trauma that often comes along with having superpowers. We’re going to talk more about this in future reviews, for sure, for now let’s just give Lynn all of the kudos. The amount of emotional labor she does in one episode is exhausting to watch.
Is Syonide really dead? I loved this fight scene, not least of all because I really expected Syonide to win. Well played, Black Lightning.
Oh man. On top of everything else, Jefferson has to find out that his friend and colleague was secretly working for the ASA this whole time. This man needs a vacation.