For the Folks Who’ve Had Enough: #BlackLightning is Off to a Dynamic Start
***The following recap contains spoilers for the series premiere of CW’s Black Lightning***
I’ve always harbored a fascination for the evolution one endures once they’ve reached the end of their rope. Who do each of us become the moment our wells of patience are tapped? When decorum and self-preservation no longer work?
Who do we become once we’re truly fed up?
The unpredictability of such a time can yield a plethora results; some can turn into monsters while others can emerge as just the fighter their communities need. Some, quite frankly, become heroes.
Black Lightning gives audiences a beautifully in-depth story of a family of heroes who, in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, are sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s a sentiment that deeply resonates during these dark days, making the show’s arrival not only timely, but necessary.
The series premiere titled “The Resurrection” leads with the night of the infamous Black Lightning’s return. While celebrated high school principal Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) would rather continue to positively impact his community via his work as an educator, a racist run-in with the Freedland PD triggers latent powers. Though many in his position would relish in a newfound (or, in Jefferson’s case, previously abandoned) avenue to channel their righteous anger, he sees Black Lightning as a hindrance, the identity that cost him his peace and his wife, Lynn (Christine Adams). Their divorce became a wake up call of sorts: Pierce retired his super suit and retreated to the milder life of a civilian, taking on the task of bettering his community one Garfield High student at a time.
While he’s occupied with his school and two daughters, Anissa and Jennifer Pierce (Nafessa Williams and China Anne McClain – both of whom are supreme talents and should be followed very closely), the city remains under the looming terror of local gang, the 100. Jennifer rebelliously sneaks off to a party and finds herself in the company of rogue member, Will (Dabier). We learn two things very quickly: Will is a bit of a young, impulsive knucklehead and Jennifer is ready to go down swinging at a moment’s notice. She may have needed some supernatural help escaping the venue (courtesy of her father, of course), but not before she lays Will flat in front of the other men.
If you’re wondering whether or not that moment was one of my favorites in the episode…it was. They took a scene that could have easily painted Jennifer as the damsel and exhibited a force that was present before a hint of anything superhuman could emerge. Jennifer may be young, but she’s not helpless. That means something.
The Constant Threat of Gang Violence is familiar trope, yes. However, the show is careful to remind us that these men are also members of the community and many of them, like leader Lala (William Catlett) attended Garfield High underneath Jefferson’s tutelage. With more unimaginative storytelling, they could have operated under a flat, vague villainy that would have dulled so much of their interaction with Jefferson/Black Lightning. Their modicum of respect for the community leader, as well as Pierce’s reluctant to escalate matters with police involvement, will surely make matters a little more meaty.
Whether Jefferson’s refusal to call the police – even after Will’s scene at the school – is purely for the ensured safety his students or a show of underlying care for these young men that he once led remains to be seen. It does, however, speak to the gray area that exists when it comes to police authority and the safety and justice of the Black community.
Of course, this dynamic gets just a little less complex when Will kidnaps Jefferson’s daughters after his embarrassing display in front of the entire school (where he was once again knocked on his ass, this time by Anissa. I’m telling you, these girls are amazing). Then, for Jefferson, it becomes less about doing things “the right way” and more about getting Anissa and Jennifer back by any means. He retreats to his old right hand man, Peter Gambi (James Remar), grabs his suit, and proceeds to find the gang who have grown comfortable in Black Lightning’s absence. He makes quick work of them, allowing the girls to escape and reminding Freedland that power does not belong exclusively to the 100.
The resurrection of Black Lightning will not go unchallenged, however. Tobias Whale (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III), the kingpin behind the terror, is determined to maintain a firm grip on his reign and send the electrifying hero to his grave. Whale can bring it, though. Because the final shot of the episode includes Anissa – another fed up Pierce – accidentally unleashing some superhuman strength on a poor, defenseless sink. It was an exciting way so show us that Black Lightning won’t be alone in this fight for untethered freedom and community-wide peace.
Executive Producers Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil have created an outstanding, rich foundation that benefits from not operating as a traditional origin story. Keeping the attention of a potentially fickle audience during what is supposed to be a period of setup is extremely difficult. The producing duo have managed to expertly provide enough background without sacrificing the action. There are no slow moments, only 42 minutes of high stakes and intensity that is both comprehensive and exciting.
Also, any show where the women get to flex their layers, personalities, and strength is a step in the right direction. I cannot wait to witness the women’s journeys in embracing and honing their power, literally and figuratively. Whether they are strictly civilians or the heroes we already know they’ll become, Anissa and Jennifer are intelligent, headstrong young women who fight for their agency and right to freedom. It’s extremely refreshing to see as much within episode one. This is clearly a show that cares about its female characters, which is a concept that tends to allude other superhero shows for actual seasons.
Black Lightning exhibits a beating heart and is off to a very strong start. If this is indicative of what we’re in for, then the future is looking quite bright for the Pierce family.