You know that feeling when you’re fairly deep into a show and you’re enjoying it just fine, but then there’s a moment…a spark… that helps you to remember why you fell in love with it in the first place? This week’s episode of Black Lightning sparked (pun only semi-intended) that in me.
Previously on Black Lightning, THUNDERGRAAAACEEE, Jayce double-crossed Lynn (and created a meta program in Markovia which will 100% be important later), Todd got through the briefcase’s firewall, and Khalil sadly succumbed to his injuries at the hand of Tobias.
Before we get into the actual episode, let’s talk a little bit about what makes Black Lightning so special, shall we? Superhero stories have always functioned as a way for us in the “real world” to view and process complex issues like race, sexuality and gender, political upheaval, and social justice through a more palatable lens. Black Lightning premiered during a time when many people in this country began to feel real effects of a new administration; a time when Black men were being murdered at an alarming rate; a time when women were coming forward with their stories of violence and abuse at the hands of men; a time when racism was more normalized than ever. And somehow, this show managed to cut through the noise with its message of family and hope. At the center of this show is an imperfect Black family faced with everything that comes with just existing in their bodies AND with having superhuman powers.
Black Lightning is at its best when it finds a way to weave together themes of family, love, strength, and perseverance while addressing real issues like Black Lives Matter or violence against the queer community. They do this in a way that feels authentic rather than heavy-handed or contrived. This week’s episode pulled in everything that makes this show great.
There was very little Tobias this week (and for that I am grateful), but we still got some movement on the supermetas/ASA/Jayce front. I completely forgot that last week Dr. Jayce informed us that she created a meta program for Markovia (a country in the DC universe), but apparently she did and they are here and they’re hunting metas. The first target of their attack is ANISSA! THEY TRIED TO TAKE OUT OUR BULLETPROOF LESBIAN! Don’t worry though, Anissa managed to absorb the impact of the bullet so she only got the wind knocked out of her.
Next on the Markovians’ list? MAXINE SHAW ATTORNEY AT LAW. I mean, Perenna. Perenna is next on their list. Too bad for the Markovians though, because Perenna manages to use her powers to make them feel like they’re in the Arctic tundra. Or Chicago. Eventually, Gambi is able to pinpoint the location of the Markovians and Black Lightning takes them all out while we hear a jaunty Eastern European tune. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of them though…
Also on their list? Dr. Jayce. (See how I brought it right back to her?) You see, the Markovians are looking for her because of her work with the pod kids. Agent Odell (remember him?!) works out a deal with Jayce to move the pod kids and in return, she would be given protection. Except to do this, she knows she’s going to need Lynn’s help.
I feel like I say “poor Lynn” every week, and while I still sort of feel that way, I don’t think I’m being particularly fair to the doctor. She has been put through the wringer what with her ENTIRE FAMILY having powers, Dr. Jayce sabotaging her hard work with the pod kids, and her daughter running away. Homegirl is arguably the strongest member of the Pierce family. But even the strongest of us struggle sometimes. We’ve seen Lynn struggle with the concept of “normal” and what that means for her versus what it means for the rest of her family. When Jennifer’s powers first manifested, Lynn gave her daughter options that included potentially suppressing those powers. Hell, when we first met Lynn, she was separated from Jeff because of his “abnormal” life as a superhero. And this week, we see her again wanting to give Jennifer a normal life by re-enrolling her in school. Even after making that suggestion, she questions whether she even knows what normal is because she’s married to Jeff. (OH SNAP!)
When Jeff confronts her about the comment, Lynn doesn’t think it’s worth it to talk about it because it won’t change the situation. But she does want to make sure Jeff knows that while she wants to take back things about her life, he isn’t one of them.
Reader, you might be thinking to yourself, “Wow, Nic sure has written a lot of words so far and almost none of them were ‘Anissa’!” Well, reader, WORRY THE FUCK NOT, because here we go. This was one of my favorite Anissa episodes to date. We got to see her as a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, a clinic worker, and a vigilante. After getting shot, Anissa has some quality Pierce Sister Time that starts with Jen questioning her big sis about the giant bandage on her back. Both sisters have moments of beating themselves up (Anissa about not protecting their mother; Jen about not protecting Khalil) before they do a deep dive on grief. Many wonderful TV recappers before me have done an incredible job relating a show’s tackling of grief with their own, and they’ve done it more justice than I could hope to. But I will say, Anissa drops several truth bombs on her sister including this gem: “Pain doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.” One of the things I love about Anissa’s relationship with Jennifer, is that she knows exactly the tone to use to curb Jen’s attitude, and can turn on a dime to offer the advice Jen needed to hear.
I think a lot of that is due to Anissa’s ability to connect with almost anyone, and we got to see that during her interaction with Monique at the clinic. Monique doesn’t have a last name because as far as the clinic is concerned, Monique doesn’t exist. You see, Monique is dating a member of The 100 named Rayvon, and Rayvon has a habit of beating on Monique. As long as the clinic looks the other way though, they won’t face any consequences from the gang.
Guess who doesn’t give two shits about The 100’s “rules”? If you said, “THUNDER!” you’d be only partially right. That’s because the streets have dubbed the black hoodie-clad Robin Hood as “Black Bird.” Black Bird pays Rayvon’s house a visit, takes down the crew, but not before sustaining some pretty intense injuries herself. On her way out, she also grabs a couple stacks to help pay for Khalil’s funeral.
After the fight, Anissa goes to recover down in the Lightning Lair where she passes out so her body can heal itself. When she comes to, Gambi is there and she tells him how frustrated she is that she can’t seem to stop doing the very things that her father told her would get her killed.
And also there was some Thundergrace stuff and it was fine.
LOLOLOLOLOLOL. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself. FINALLY. Finally we get a smidge of the character and relationship development we’ve been asking for (and frankly, deserve). Save for the end of the episode, I loved the moments between Grace and Anissa. First, Grace is napping in the middle of her day off when Anissa LETS HER OWN SELF INTO GRACE’S APARTMENT. Okay listen, do queers move quickly? Sure. But this feels like A LOT™. My girlfriend and I have been dating for seven months and are in a long-distance relationship (okay, it’s from Brooklyn to Queens but that’s FAR on the weekends!) and we haven’t even swapped keys yet. But fine, that aside, this scene is super cute and Anissa gives Grace adorable forehead kisses (!!!) before they head out to lunch.
(Also Anissa discovers that she’s literally a comicbook superhero!! Look how happy she is!)
Later, the two go on a movie date and a nice stroll through the park. As they discuss the movie’s violence (or kickassery if you’re Anissa), Anissa spots a group of girls turning double dutch and joins right in! Grace is loving every second of it because her girlfriend’s spontaneity and thirst for life is one of her favorite things about her. Anissa knows Grace is super deep too and expresses her desire to get to know her better. Some may argue that if she doesn’t know her that well she probably shouldn’t have a key to her apartment but counterpoint! In a relationship, you’re kind of always learning about your partner, right? (I’m stretching, I know.) Grace immediately goes on the defensive though. She respects Anissa’s privacy and doesn’t ask where she’s always running off to, so why won’t Anissa do the same? Anissa skillfully diffuses the situation and apologizes for not getting her point across clearly, but also lets Grace know how important she is to her and invites her to meet her family.
The prospect of meeting your partner’s family for the first time can be a bit stressful, but for Grace it’s much more than that. The idea (and her proximity to Anissa) causes her powers to start to appear. She immediately declines the invite, much to Anissa’s confusion since they hadn’t even settled on a day, and runs away leaving her girlfriend to piece together what could have possibly gone wrong.
At the end of the episode, Anissa goes to Grace’s to talk, but she finds an empty apartment. Grace is gone and with her, any answers that Anissa hoped to find. That thing I mentioned earlier about Black Lightning being able to tackle so many issues at once does have one unfortunate side effect. It hasn’t left much extra time for the writers to properly develop the relationship between Grace and Anissa. Which is honestly a shame because you can tell that Chantal and Nafessa are giving their all in these performances. It’s hard because the stories the writers choose to focus on are important to the show’s DNA, but when you have television’s first bulletproof Black lesbian superhero as a lead, I do think you owe it to her and the audience who identifies with her to tease out each part of her intersectionality. They’re trying, that much is clear. But when a relationship isn’t a priority for a show, what you get is a disjointed story arc that is difficult to get invested in. I hope in my heart of hearts that the writers don’t leave us hanging with Grace’s departure for so many reasons (Thundergrace is so cute! They’re an interracial superhero couple (and they don’t know it)! WHAT’S UP WITH GRACE’S POWERS THOUGH?!), but mostly because we deserve a fleshed out story with three-dimensional queer characters where their queerness isn’t at the center.
That leaves us with Jennifer and one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen from China Anne McClain. (As an avid Disney Channel viewer, I feel qualified to make this statement.) Jennifer’s grief is felt throughout this entire episode. She lost the boy she loved at the hands of the man responsible for killing her grandfather and countless others in Freeland. She’s lost; wondering in what kind of world would Khalil feel like he had no other choice but to join up with Tobias? In what kind of world would a mother not be able to afford to put her son in the ground? In what kind of world would the man responsible for terrorizing Freeland be allowed to run free? To say Jennifer wants revenge is an understatement.
We see Jennifer smiling for a brief moment when she gets back to school, but that doesn’t last long because she sees the memorial that students built to remember him. As if that wasn’t enough, the janitorial staff begins removing the memorial on orders from the principal, so Jen decides to relocate it. Principal Lowry is practically seeing red when he discovers this. You see, this violates some code in the student handbook and actually, hold on one second. This dude mentions the student handbook every other sentence. Is this a thing that people memorize? Do they look at it every day? I’m confused.
Jen stands her ground and reads Principal Lowry for the bigot he is. She tells him that Black lives matter and Khalil’s life mattered. That every single student standing in front of him is ONE bad break away from becoming something they were never meant to be because of a system run by people like Lowry. This recap is going up the day after what should have been Trayvon Martin’s 24th birthday. Trayvon’s was a life cut way too short. Too many Black men and women in this country are being forced into situations they never dreamed of, not because they deserve it, but because the system is stacked against them. That’s what Jefferson fought for during his time as principal at Garfield. He fought to give these kids the chance that the outside world wouldn’t. And that’s what Jennifer was trying to get Lowry to understand.
And understand he did not, because Lowry showed us exactly what he thought when Jefferson came in to confront him about removing Jennifer from school. Jefferson and the rest of the Garfield staff are worried that Lowry doesn’t have the perspective or sensitivity to properly work with this community. Principal Lowry didn’t like that, no, not one bit. He just doesn’t understand why no one feels sorry for him. Why no one feels sorry for the white man whose parents were drug addicts and who had to eat dog food on the street. Jefferson lays it out pretty plainly: in a given situation, Lowry will always get the benefit of the doubt. Even a rich Black man won’t get that.
“I won’t say goodbye I won’t even cry It will all make sense tomorrow”
These are just some lyrics from the song that plays during Khalil’s funeral (and when Anissa gets to Grace’s empty apartment). Jen doesn’t want to get out of the car. She doesn’t want to say goodbye to her love and she doesn’t want to see him lowered into the ground. Jefferson reminds his daughter that no matter what, she’s still a Pierce. And Pierces say yes. That’s how they honor the ones they’ve lost. That’s how they find the strength to carry on. So Jen says yes and makes her way toward Khalil’s casket and family.
Once everyone is gone and it’s just Jen and Khalil (and also Agent Odell is watching? What’s that about?), she vows to take down Tobias and to put him in the ground just like Khalil. She’s going to make him pay.
And that’s how the episode ends. Thanks for sticking with me during this Feelings Fest! As I wrote this, I remembered the end of an episode from a few weeks ago when that guy shot up a Texas bar and then said he was coming to Freeland. Who is he? Is he joining the fight against the Markovians? Is he another meta? I want some answers, show!
I’d love to hear what you thought about this week’s episode, so sound off in the comments below!
Black Lightning airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW and is available Wednesdays on Netflix in Canada.
Nic is a Digital Product Manager who lives in Queens, NY. She spends way too much time thinking about queer fictional characters, Tessa Thompson, and Janelle Monae. When she's not busy consuming every form of fiction, you can find her cosplaying as Valkyrie. You can find Nic on Twitter and Instagram.