This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 2, Episode 3
Change is coming to Freeland, and no one is immune to it.
At Garfield High, change comes in the form of Principal Lowry, Jefferson Pierce’s replacement. Lowry immediately puts metal detectors into the school, a clear departure from Jeff’s policy of not treating the kids like criminals. From Lowry’s somewhat sarcastic descriptor of Jefferson’s assembly farewell as principal as “classy,” it doesn’t seem like Lowry is poised to listen to what these students need or want as a community. For an episode that is named after the new character, we don’t get much Lowry here, but, from what we do see, it seems like his prinicipal philosophy is Jefferson Pierce’s worst nightmare.
Speaking of Jeff’s nightmares, Tobias Whale is finally arrested for the murder of Alvin Pierce, Jefferson’s father. It’s an arrest more than 30 years in the making and, everything about it, points to Tobias wanting it to happen. He spent last week’s episode killing off everyone who could testify against him, so perhaps this is some kind of plan to make himself legitimate again by putting himself on trial and coming away with a “not guilty” verdict.
Whatever the plan, just the announcement of Tobias’ arrest is enough to put Jefferson through the emotional ringer. If losing his job as principal and being torn up about Jennifer wasn’t enough, he now has to face the trial of the man who killed his father as Jefferson was forced to watch. As the main witness to the murder, Jeff will no doubt be a chief part of the prosecution’s case, and Jeff’s own character will no doubt be tested—both publicly and personally.
Hopefully, Jeff’s friend Bill Henderson will be an emotional support. In one of the emotionally-effective subplots of tonight’s episode, Jeff asked Bill to work through the revelation that Jeff is Black Lightning with his longtime friend. But Bill isn’t ready yet, even if he is ready to throw the vigilante a tip to check out in the search for Tobias Whale. Right now, Jeff isn’t pushing Bill to talk, but it all has to come to a head at some point. It’s obvious Bill still cares about Jeff, as he shows up at his house at the end of the episode to let him know about the Tobias Whale arrest. These two can’t stay on the outs forever, but what will it be that brings them back together?
Perhaps it will be further chaos and turmoil in Jeff’s familial life. Jennifer may be on the step to working through her burgeoning power issues, but she is still an unpredictable element who is in a lot of pain. In one of the most moving scenes of the episode, Jen confronts her parents for not letting her know they were siccing a therapist on her. Jeff admits that it was wrong to do, embracing Jen in a moment that is as much about his own comfort as it is about Jen’s. He blames himself for condemning Jennifer to a life with powers. Realizing how torn up her father is about this, she lets the therapist slide… probably realizing how much her dad needs a therapist, too.
And let’s talk about Jen’s new therapist, because she is a badass. Her name is Perenna and she has powers that allows her to transport herself and others into some kind of dreamscape to work through problems. She brings Jennifer to a salon, launching into a terrific explanation of how, though salons have been placed where black women sometimes go to strip themselves of their blackness, they are also radical, safe spaces where black women have historically gone to be themselves, find comfort, and seek and organize change.
Jen rolls her eyes at the description, but you can also tell she is into it. For her, the change in this episode is a good one. She takes the first step to dealing with the emotions that have made her powers so unstable. Hopefully, in the process, she will realize that she should feel and feel control over those emotions not simply because she needs to learn how to control her powers, but because she deserves emotional security in her own right.
A potential disruptor, but also important issue to work through on Jennifer’s path to emotional honesty and stability is Khalil. Though Jen’s former friend and ex-boyfriend doesn’t contact Jen again in tonight’s episode, he goes on a journey of his own. Trapped in a terrible situation with Tobias, he accidentally kills a drug dealer he is meant to scare into submission for Tobias. While Tobias is most likely happy that Khalil is using force to garner a fierce reputation, it obviously gets to Khalil.
Khalil’s reservations aren’t enough for Black Lightning to get through to him, though. When Jeff uses Khalil’s concerns about her son to set up a meeting, Khalil refuses to turn on Tobias—not because he wants to stay with him or because he likes having terrible power, but because he doesn’t trust Jeff to keep him safe if he does. And why should he? Black Lightning has been unable to defeat Tobias.
Though I understand Jeff having to force Khalil into sending one of his darts in his direction (so Gambi can study it), it’s frustrating to see him use force against Khalil. The young man has so many examples of force as the only form of strength that can be trusted, the only tool to resort to in a sticky situation. Jefferson Pierce has always been about using different tools to solve problems, and it’s always a tragedy to see Black Lightning betray those principles, even if that’s what he has always been for.
For Anissa, change means recommitting to her interests in Grace. It’s a bit of a 180 after last week’s flirtations, but, given what we know about Anissa’s character, it’s not hard to belief that one talk from Jennifer would be enough to send Anissa back in Grace’s direction. After all, she’s always seemed more like the serious commitment type than the casual hookups type. At first Grace is resistant to giving Anissa another shot, but, as Anissa points out, there’s no reason why Anissa should feel bad about seeing other people. She and Grace were never in a relationship.
Anissa apologizes for dropping off the face of the Earth because of her commitment to her work (Anissa has so much going on), and Grace accepts, obviously still so into Anissa. (Who wouldn’t be?) (Note to other shows: This is how you quickly resolve having dropped a plot for too many episodes without undermining the reality of the world.)
Change may be coming in Anissa’s personal life, but the activist is up to her old ways when it comes to stealing and giving money to the organizations in the community that need it. When a real estate developer threatens to buy up a building hosting a much needed medical clinic, Anissa steals the money from the shady real estate developer to allow the clinic to stay open. It feels like something has to fall through here, even with Gambi backing Anissa up, but, for now, Anissa is giving her community what it needs when it needs it in a way that no one else is. She is Robin Hood.
While Anissa refuses to compromise her values, Lynn is being forced to bend on hers, bringing in a criminal scientist named Dr. Jace to help with the Pod Kids. She’s forced to do it by Odell, her a-hole boss who is still pissed that he even had to give Lynn the job in the first place. After the breakout and death in last week’s episode, however, the stakes feel higher than ever. And Lynn’s first priority will always be to these kids. However, that doesn’t mean bringing on Dr. Jace is a good idea. Lady seems like a criminal mastermind, to be honest.
That’s the thing with change: it’s inevitable, and we do tend to be resistant to it, but it’s impossible to know if the change will bring good things, bad things, or a combination of the two until after it’s happened. Change is coming to Freeland, and our heroes will have to deal with it as it comes.
Who gave the tip on Tobias? Whoever it was, presumably it was Tobias himself who gave the order.
This soundtrack is so good. I’m a musical philistine, and even I know that. I’m just going to keep writing this in the recaps.