RTF Review: “BLACK LIGHTNING – Season 1, Episode 3“
By: Adam Basciano
“As Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) tries to determine if the community can survive without the help of Black Lightning (Cress Williams), Anissa (Nafessa Williams) starts to come into her own. Meanwhile, Jefferson and Lynn (Christine Adams) try and figure out their new dynamic. Finally, Jennifer (China Anne McClain) reveals to her parents that she has been grappling with something big.” (The CW)
The episode opens with a funeral mass for Lawanda. While the community mourns her loss, it also emboldens them. The Reverend giving the service, makes and impassioned plea to his parishioners, to march onto the streets over-run by The 100 Gang, in protest for freedom. This receives unanimous support by the entire congregation. They’re all feeling a little more emboldened by the presence of Black Lightning’s re-emergence. This leads to a tense butting of heads between the reverend and Inspector Henderson. The man of the cloth calls out the police for being corrupt, while the man of the law, accuses the church leader of hypocrisy; preaching in a nice suit and shoes, while he and some of the other clean cops, scrape dead bodies off the street. As Jefferson Pierce tries to defuse the argument, you can see the wheels turning in his head, wondering how he will keep the peace as Black Lightning, and if his return, and the renewed hope he’s provided the community, will only lead to more violence and death. Great emotive facial acting by Cress Williams, conveying those emotions, without saying a word is present in these scenes. While you can see Black Lightning’s efforts are doing good, that hasn’t stopped each new episode from ratcheting up the tension within the community. I feel like this would be a realistic occurrence, and I appreciate it.
We learn a little bit more about Tobias Whale in this episode. While the first two episodes of Black Lightning make him out to be the big boss, however, it turns out answering to a higher power. That higher power is a woman named Lady Eve. We see Tobias paying her a tax, for all the money she lost, due to Black Lightning’s interference as of late. Lady Eve has a snitch in the pastoral community, who has warned her about the march. She orders Tobias send a message, that no one, be it Black Lightning, or God fearing church goers, will take back the streets. Lady Eve is played by Jill Scott, with a calm that is both eerie, yet demanding. I wasn’t expecting that Tobias Whale, would ultimately be someone’s underling. Though, the writers of the episode to a good job reminding viewers that he’s not to be messed with. We see a scene of him stabbing one of his men’s hand to his desk, simply for hesitating to pick up a gun, Yup, still a badass!
The family dynamic continues to remain a focus in episode 3. In my last review, I pondered if the return of Black Lightning would spell the end of whatever type of relationship, Jefferson and Lynn, were rebuilding. After this episode, that appears not to be the case. Lynn still attends Jefferson’s house for family dinner night. After briefly questioning whether Jennifer would be safer living with her, she acquiesces that violence is everywhere in Freeland. While she worries for Jefferson’s safety, and wishes he weren’t Black Lightning, she supports him and understands why he went back to crime fighting. Kudos to Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil, Black Lightning’s creators for giving us such a mature adult relationship, with our two leads. Christine Adams is climbing my list of leading ladies on The CW superhero shows. Right now, she’s third behind Erica Durance as Lois Lane and Caity Lotz as Sara Lance, a.k.a. White Canary.
Having said that, the character of Jennifer, the youngest daughter, is starting to get on my nerves. Last episode, it was sneaking around, underage drinking. Now she wants to head off to a hotel to have sex with her boyfriend. It seems like this show is just ticking off a checklist of teenage issues played up om TV. This, more so then the drinking, feels ridiculously forced. However, I did find Cress Williams facial expression as Jefferson, when his daughter tells him she plans to have sex, hilarious. So to was his “safe sex” PSA to her boyfriend. Thankfully, to offset this character is Anissa. In this episode, we see her head to a Junkyard to test her abilities, and record her progress. In the course of the scene, we get a sense that she has enhanced strength and, maybe even heightened pain threshold. Nafessa Williams plays the struggle of manifesting and controlling her powers willfully, combined with the joy of succeeding very well. The characters exploration into her abilities extends beyond trial and error. She goes to a library to research mutant genes etc. There, she meets a woman with a comic book in her pocket. That comic book is a DC Comics title. More specifically, it’s an Outsiders comic. I love that this show went meta, and had DC Comics be a publisher in the show! My only problem, is that the comic book was bent and folded in her pocket! Way to ruin the integrity of the comic book.
In order to prepare to preserve the peace at the freedom march, Jefferson and Gambi strategies in their basement bunker. Here, Gambi describes some modifications to the Black Lightning costume. Through these changes, the costume can transfer electrical power through to Jefferson more smoothly, without the pain from last episode. Furthermore, he can alter the stream of electricity to suit his needs, based on whatever situation arises. I love this attention to detail. It shows that, even though our hero and mentor have done this before, they’re still learning and tweaking as they get back into the superhero game. This episode further explores the lengths of what Gambi will do to for Black Lightning. That includes. Dressing up as a construction worker and putting up road closer signs, so the freedom march route would be moved to a more manageable location. Speaking of the march, seeing all those people marching, holding candles, and chanting “freedom”, gave me chills. Much like episode one, I was left in awe and in silence, at how much this scene resembles real world events we’ve seen on the news recently. There’s a cool moment, where Black Lightning creates a lightning bubble around the group of marchers, preventing one of Tobias Whale’s goons from getting off a shot. However, following this act, as the crowd serenades Black Lightning with a rendition of Amazing Grace, Tobias and his right hand woman, round the corner in a drive by, firing off a shot that hits both the Reverend and Jennifer’s boyfriend. While the reverend recovers, Jennifer’s boyfriend is left paralyzed. This reaffirms the realism and consequences of violence on this show. There is a twist at episodes end with Gambi, which while I won’t spoil anything, seemingly confirms my friend Jordan’s assessment, that Gambi is determined to push Jefferson to continue as Black Lightning.
To use a hockey analogy, Black Lightning has hit a hat trick with a third excellent episode in a row. To me, this is the first superhero series to air three consecutive episodes of this high calibre. It adds more of what I loved about the first two episodes, gives me two things I’d hoped to see, and offers very little of the one aspect I am unhappy with. Without question, Black Lightning remains appointment television for me!
I'm a long time fan of superheroes. I love DC and really like Marvel. Will be contributing comic book review columns, to Revenge of The Fans.