Hello! Welcome to the first Black Lightning recap that I’ve written during Official Black History Month, or as I like to call it “The most wonderful time of the year!”
So I usually wish myself a happy #BlackHistoryMonth by jokingly calling it "Black Superhero Month"… because its when our magic gets charged up. But I guess with #BlackPanther coming to theaters and #BlackLightning on TV, it's not a hyperbole anymore, huh? pic.twitter.com/QBkeRl2VDv
— Carmen Phillips (@carmencitaloves) February 1, 2018
It’s a bright, weekday morning at Garfield High, and all the kids are panicking because a fellow student, Bernard, is Hulking Out in the bathroom. He’s high on “Green Light,” a drug frighteningly described as what would happen if PCP, Meth, and Oxy had a baby. This kid’s veins are popping out of his face, he’s sweating and his eyes are glazed. He’s drooling, slamming himself around. He has the strength to pull urinals out of walls . It’s a mess. Jefferson has no choice but to pull out his Black Lightning tricks while still in his principal clothes and lasso the child like he’s Wonder Woman, except using electric blue energy instead of rope.
Moral of the story is Green Light is not a good luck for anyone.
Too bad the teenagers of Freeland haven’t yet gotten the message. Anissa is cruising down the street, living the life of a carefree black girl, letting the sun hit her face while her curls glisten and pop, when she sees two of her students buying Green Light off some drug dealers in the middle of the freaking day. Oh sure, no big deal, just some underage minors engaging in illicit drug use.
Yeaaaah, I think NOT. Anissa swerves her car right into the mini-mart parking lot where they’re hanging out and tells those girls to get away from the drug dealers and get into her car. Immediately.
Her students roll their eyes and call her “Harriet Tubman,” the oh-so-charming nickname given to Anissa by her little sister, Jennifer, in the pilot episode. But, they listen to her all the same. Anissa didn’t add “before I call YOUR MOMMA” — but with the fierce tone of her voice, I sure as hell felt it. I think they did, too.
And she’s just getting started. Anissa confronts the two young men pushing Green Light and asks how they sleep at night, selling poison to their own people. The boys try to intimidate her the way that men do when they are embarrassed by a powerful woman in public — by threatening violence and calling her “a bitch.”
Anyone who has met Anissa Pierce by now already knows those two have barked up the wrong tree in this pissing match. She backs away slowly to her car and her awaiting students. It’s not over.
Lady Eve and her purring voice are mad as hell, but it simmers slow and powerful. Tobias Whale built his reputation on having killed Black Lightning nine years ago, which we all know was a lie since Jefferson Pierce is very much alive and healthy and walking around with his family.
Tobias and Eve speak together in one of the autopsy rooms of her funeral home. She’s digging some kind of instrument deep into a body that’s been cut open and stitched back together, sucking out what I think was fat? Or blood? It’s awful.
While she’s calmly going about her business, she reminds Tobias that in some parts of Africa, and in certain African indigenous religions, black albinos are considered to be magical, spiritual beings. So much so that there are those who will take advantage of this belief — kidnapping albinos, cutting their bodies open, and grinding their very bones into powder. If Tobias doesn’t make good on the promise he made nine years ago and kill Black Lightning, Eve and the other criminal masterminds who have invested in Tobias’ underground career might be forced to do the same.
Do you know what makes this exchange even more terrifying? The way that Eve says Tobias’ name. Also? That these unspeakable violences are not fiction, but a real practice that has seen an uptick in recent years in parts of Malawi. Also? That cadaver she’s digging into? Not a dead person.
Nope, he is a very much alive human whose eyes dart across the room. I’m 100% going to have nightmares forever now. That’s a thing.
We haven’t learned a lot about Lady Eve, but Jill Scott milks every moment of her scenes, and I’m loving it. In the comics she’s a part of the “Kobra Cult,” a super team of baddies who are very much into mind control. That might be the same group of criminal investors that she’s talking to Tobias about; there isn’t enough yet on screen to be sure. Still, let’s put a pin in it. To quote my favorite person Rachel Maddow, “watch this space.”
At a dinner party with her parents and Detective Henderson, Anissa is going on and on about her new inspiration, Black Lightning. The jazz music is grooving, the wine is pouring, and Anissa is giving testimony. She has no time for calling Black Lightning a vigilante, she’s not interested in thinking about sacrifice’s his family has made. In her book, he’s a hero.
The way she sees it, “Someone has to do something, because all this policing and marching and praying, it hasn’t changed anything.”
Anissa’s articulating a frustration and a mantra that I think a lot of black people, and queer people, have felt. When violence is holding your community hostage, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to keep waiting for someone else to solve the problem? Or do you roll up your sleeves, and get a bit dirty yourself?
Jefferson looked so proud, I thought his face was going to break in two. I can’t help but wonder if he’s going to feel the same in the near future, when it’s Anissa’s life on the line as she suits up into her own super charged uniform.
Speaking of which, Anissa excuses herself from dinner and leaves to find those same drug dealers who called her a bitch earlier in the episode. She has her black hoodie all the way up, and approaches them with her face low, obscured, ready for business. They ask her if she wants to buy some Green Light. She knocks them clear across the parking lot.
It’s okay, though: she makes sure that both the boys are still breathing and even calls 911 to check on them. She wasn’t interested in murder or anything.
Oh my little angry lesbian, I love you so much.
While we are on the subject of lesbianing, Anissa stays late with Grace one night after her shift at the Ruby Red Lipstick Bar. She’s walking her to her car, like the complete gentlewoman that I am sure her parents raised her to be. Building on the blending of superhero-ism and queerness introduced last week, Anissa asks Grace if she ever had something she was afraid to tell her parents. Grace answers, duh! She’s a bisexual woman of color. Of course she has.
Anissa’s secret is of a different sort, but the parallel is clear. Black Lightning is by far not the first to use super hero analogies as a metaphor to talk about being gay in America, but they are definitely going full throttle with the trope. It’s a bit cliché, sure. At the same time, I love it, and traditionally when the trope is employed, it’s not used to further women of color narratives. So, I’m willing to let it pass.
Anissa and Grace are confronted by a group of white men who have been stalking the bar for a while now. Grace tells Anissa that there’s a restraining order out against them, and the leader of the crew snarls that “someone should burn this lesbian whorehouse to the ground.” Then he forcibly pushes Grace before she can call the cops on his bigoted, homophobic ass.
Anissa first runs to check on Grace. The head homophobe took her moment of care for weakness, and that was the biggest mistake he ever made.
Anissa breathes in deep, summons all her power, and throws him over a car and across the parking lot in one fell swoop. The next two white men gather behind her, and she raises up her hood. Anissa’s hoodie is basically the Superman cape of Lesbian Avenger-ing. So, you know what happens next.
She Thunder StompsTM on all of them! We don’t see it, but the sound carries far enough for Jefferson, dressed as Black Lightning, to investigate. By the time he gets there, all that’s left is broken concrete and their broken bodies strewn about. Anissa is long gone.
She’s busy taking care of Grace inside the bar, gently holding her in her lap while Grace takes an ice pack to her wounds. She strokes her hair and comforts her. Anissa wonders out loud, what if she could make the people who did bad, pay for what they did? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?
Grace sits up from Anissa’s lap. She balances the weight of the question she was just asked and she answers solemnly with just one word, “Yeah”.
There’s a lot I want to say about this. I want to talk about how gay night clubs have traditionally been safe spaces and sanctuary for LGBT people. They are about more than just dancing. They are about finding family. Looking at the history of Stonewall, they’re also spaces of revolution. Those revolutions have most often started with queer and trans people of color barreling through and leading the way because there was no other choice.
Most recently in our collective memory, nightclubs like the Ruby Red Lipstick Bar have been the site of brutal, violent attack. The kind of attack that will haunt the memories of an entire generation of queer people in this country. There’s also the fact that lesbian-specific nightclubs themselves are a dying breed. So, it’s significant that the next phase of Anissa’s hero journey begins outside of this club on this night.
I also want to talk about Nafessa Williams’ repeated assertion that Thunder will become the Malcolm X to Black Lightning’s Martin Luther King. I’m not sure that I’ve seen enough of the show yet to agree with her, but it’s an interesting framework to consider, particularly in this episode. This week we’ve seen Anissa use her powers twice, once in retaliation and once in self-defense. Both are within a “Malcolm X-esque” legacy of active resistance. But, what would a queer feminist Malcolm X even begin to look like? Are we about to find out?
Mostly, I want to say this: I’ve consumed a lot of queer stories in my life. In almost all of them, when the queer women of color are approached by a gang of straight white men late at night, it ends in a hate crime. It ends with them badly beaten and bruised, or worse. Instinctually, when those men approached Anissa and Grace, every hair on my arm stood on end. I braced myself. I had been programmed to know what was coming.
Instead, Anissa saved them. The black lesbian superhero saved her bisexual Asian-American girlfriend. It’s the fantastical fairy tale I would have never felt brave enough to dream for myself. Not as a child, and as much as I hate to admit it out loud, not even now, as an adult. Still, here it is.
We have a lot more to go, but we’ve made it this far, and wow is the view breathtaking from this mountaintop.
OK, so, Jennifer is ready to give up the future on the track team to be with Kahlil as he goes through his physical therapy. His mom can’t be there because she’s working double shifts to help pay medical bills. Jennifer talks a good game to her parents, saying that she never really loved track anyway and was only running to make Jefferson happy. However, the heartbroken look on her face when she tells Kahlil her decision and he waves it off, tells a different story. I have a lot of goodwill for Kahlil— but he’s so wrapped up in his own great comeback narrative that he can’t see what Jennifer’s giving up for him. It’s selfish. I’d like to think that Kahlil from a few episodes ago would come back and slap this new kid around.
Tobias has also pinged Kahlil as ripe for manipulation. At the suggestion of his sister, Tori, back in town to help save Tobias from Lady Eve, Tobias pays for all Kahlil’s hospital bills. When it turns out that Kahlil’s spine has been inoperably severed, Tobias tells the boy to blame Black Lightning for his pain (ironic, since bullet that ruined the teen’s Olympic dreams came from a gunshot that Tobias ordered, but Kahlil doesn’t know that yet). I’m definitely interested to see where this twist takes us. All-American Kahlil, bitter and turned on to Team Villain? There’s definitely some juice there.
One last thing before we part, it’s a small thing that I think is about to become a big thing, what is up with Gambi? The character hasn’t made it into my reviews yet, so here’s a quick summary— he’s Dexter’s Dad from Dexter, playing a hybrid Alfred from Batman/ Q from James Bond figure for Jefferson. He’s old and white, good with tech, and likes to quote Notorious B.I.G. lyrics for fun (Rule #1- Never get high on your own supply). Here’s the thing, last week we watched him lie to Jefferson as he erased the public tapes proving that Tobias shot into the protest march. This week he lied AGAIN — about not having footage of Anissa/ Thunder outside of the nightclub. I couldn’t tell if he recognized Anissa from the security cameras, but Gambi is super shifty. Something for us all to consider until we meet again.