This Black Lighting review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 2 Episode 16
The final scene of the Black Lightning Season 2 finale is a mission statement for the show itself. In it, we see Jefferson Pierce, enduring some affectionate teasing from his family about the proportion of bread to peaches in his peach cobbler recipe, only for him to be overcome with emotion. That emotion is happiness, yes, but it is exhausting relief, too—it is the knowledge that no happiness is ever certain, and the knowledge that this is more true for some families and communities than for others.
“I worry all the time,” a visibly emotional Jeff tells his family. Jeff worries that, every time his family members leave the house, they might not come home. Sure, this is in the context of a superhero drama in which characters face dangers at every twist in turn, but it’s not easy to read into the metaphor here. Jeff isn’t just talking about superhero drama—he’s speaking for all of the black parents (or any of awho worry about their children whenever they set foot outside the relative safety of their sanctuaries.
Because, amidst this not-safe-for-some status quo, there are sanctuaries. For the Pierces, there is the sanctuary of their comfortably middle class home and their connections to systemic power through Jeff’s political standing within the community, not to mention his friendship with Inspector Henderson.
For the larger Freeland community, there is Reverend Holt’s church, a space that is always a sanctuary, but is made explicitly so by Holt’s transmitted speech when riots—fueled by anger over the death of Cape Guy and the lack of charges brought against the police officers who killed him—overtake the city. The problems of the city will not be solved with anger or violence of hate, says Holt, but by love.
It’s a message that is taken to heart by Jeff when he is faced with the opportunity to kill Tobias—either by his own hand or via his daughter. It is seeing Jenn try to kill Tobias that truly teaches Jeff the lesson. When it was just Jeff’s soul that was at stake, it was a cost he was willing to pay. When it his daughter’s, the cost is far too high.
The capture of Tobias is a bit too easy after such a build-up, but it works well on an emotional level. It speaks to how far Jeff has come in processing his father’s murder and what justice looks like. It speaks to Jenn’s ability to control her own emotions and powers. And, in a season that saw Jenn do the ultimate teenage act of rebellion and run away with her boyfriend, it speaks to how Jenn has come to trust her father again.
While Tobias may be stuck in “The Pit” for now, he is far from a fully-solved problem for the Pierces and Freeland—he never will be, as long as he is alive and not going through some serious rehabilitation (which he doesn’t seem to have access to in “The Pit”). In the mean time, however, Freeland has a much bigger problem to worry about. The episode ends with Odell not only dropping the bomb that he knows all of the Pierce’s superhero identities, but that Freeland is about to become a target in a major way.
“The Markovian War is coming, and Freeland — Free Land — is ground zero.” Dropping the phrase “The Markovian War” is pretty terrifying, made even more terrifying by the fact that Odell is not a character known to overreact to pretty much anything. I like the potential dynamic of the Pierces allying themselves with Odell in some way, given how morally-compromised the character is as compared to the bastions of sunshine and rainbows the Pierces tend to be.
There’s also the fact that Odell has been secretly keeping Khalil locked up in a pod somewhere within the A.S.A. facilities—yeah, Black Lightning lowkey dropped that major twist in the finale’s third act. When will Odell choose to share that information? Is Khalil, like, OK? And how will Jenn react to the news that he is alive, especially after she spent so much time and energy the second half of this season seeking retribution for his death?
All in all, the Black Lightning season finale was a fitting end to the confused storytelling that was Season 2 in general, albeit with one killer final act. This show hasn’t been quite sure what it wants to be in its sophomore outing, abandoning much of the grounded storytelling of the first season to double down on the show’s more supernatural elements, while also going off on tangents like the South Freeland arc or Anissa’s search for Grace that never went anywhere.
Black Lightning Season 2 has been unfocused, but, unlike most unfocused shows on TV, that lack of focus doesn’t seem to stem from having nothing to say—it’s because it has too much to say, and it’s asked to do it all within a superhero TV narrative that, within the context of The CW offerings, was not built to tell community-centric stories in the way Black Lightning is so desperately trying to.
Black Lightning, at least for me, comes alive when it looks the least like its CW superhero counterparts, most of which have outlived their cultural relevancy. It is the most interesting, the most fresh, the most vital in moments like Jefferson Pierce, overcome with emotion, trying desperately in a moment of peace to explain to his family of knowing, with such certainty, that it can’t last. That other families and members of the community don’t even get this: this safe space in which to bicker about peace cobbler.
It’s at its best when it throws away any kind of Chosen One structure for a much more nuanced perspective on power, accountability, and intention. “Sometimes, I just want to quit, all of it,” Jeff tells his family in that same scene. “We’ve got cobbler, family dinners, and so many people in Freeland don’t. We all deserve this.”
If the superhero genre has gained momentum post-9/11 because it is a storytelling structure that is deeply interested in the analysis of power, then we desperately need more stories like Black Lightning, written by and about and for marginalized communities, because we need to understand how different kinds of people with varying degrees of power think about power.
In Black Lightning‘s mission statement scene, Jeff speaks about a deep guilt he feels for having a relative safety, which is to say a relative degree of power, that so many members of his community and beyond, do not. He understands what he has because he has not always had it, and because he is an empathetic person who is deeply involved in his community, filled with all kinds of people, many of whom don’t have as much financial or social security as he does.
If I’ve seen a scene like this in a superhero TV show before, then it’s never rang as true. Yes, part of that is Cress Williams wonderful performance (frankly, he does not get enough credit for the subtle, consistent work he does on this show), but a lot of it is the fact that so many superhero shows feel like they need to make a fancy excuse for why their hero has chosen a life of service.
Black Lightning knows that you don’t need a tragic backstory (though Jeff has one); you just need empathy, and the experience of knowing what it is like to be stripped of power, if it was ever granted to begin with—not just in a playground fistfight or a moment of random violence (though these things have lasting impact) sort of way, but in a consistent, systemic manner.
As Black Lightning moves towards Season 3, I am excited see it expand the scope of its story with “The Markovian War,” but I hope it still has scenes like this one: the quiet, character-driven ones that are unlike anything else I see in superhero television.
Dr. Jace is back in Markovia, which, in some ways, is scarier than news of the meta army they’ve been building.
“I know we had beef for a long time, but I’m not ’bout that anymore.” – Lala
Gambi’s been hurt so many times, I feel like it’s lost some of its effect?
While it’s a relatively-short scene, Jenn’s defrosting of the city’s generator with a controlled burst is a pretty big moment for her character, who has worked so hard to learn how to control her power.
Cutter realizes that Tobias will never love her, so she leaves. (Good for her!) This leaves Tobias alone in every way that matters. He may have minions, and other people who kowtow
The Pod Kids wake up like they’re rousing themselves awake after a heavy night of drinking, not like they’re coming at a cryogenic coma they’ve been in for 30 years. How does Jeff feel about seeing what were essentially his contemporaries robbed of the last three decades? Does he know any of them? It’s not so farfetched, given that some of them were no doubt members of his community, growing up at the same time.
While this season’s storytelling has been inconsistent in its focus, the story’s soundtrack has never been less than stellar.
“Peace ain’t always peaceful.” A reminder of this great quote from Jeff’s dad in a previous episodes’ flashback.
“If I can float in my sleep, then I can probably fly when I’m awake.” Coolest superpowered moment.
“Damn, you’re talking to painting now. It’s about time I killed your ass.” – Lala, to Tobias
I still don’t totally get what Lala’s deal is. I hope he gets more screen time next season so I can figure it out.
“I’m Lightning, and this… is payback.” Very excited to see Jenn’s massive power grow in the coming season. See you next season, friends!