I think you all know where we have to start this discussion of last night’s Black Lightning. That scene. That scene. Anissa and her girlfriend, fully naked from their lovemaking, having a heart-to-heart like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Because, it is. It’s just not something we are often given the opportunity to see on television.
Here they are—Anissa and Chenoa. They are not underneath the covers, they not hidden in the shadows. When it comes to mainstream network tv, we are used to lesbian sex and queer romance being played off camera. If we are lucky, we see a few fully clothed kisses or make out session before the camera cuts away to another scene or commercial break. We are taught to accept those romantic crumbs. We’re expected to read between the lines. Never mind that straight couples are given hundreds of scenes like this one a year. Gay audiences are supposed to be understanding and forgiving when greeted with thin excuses like “FCC violations” or “Standards and Practices” or “One Million Moms.” We subconsciously internalize that our love is too scandalous for public consumption.
We’ve all been there; I’ve held on to sly smiles and batted lashes and a few hurried kisses and turned those small moments into a Sunday dinner— making them enough to sustain me for a season or more. But, no longer. It’s only Black Lightning’s second episode and the Akils are serving us the entire Thanksgiving feast. For once, I can have my dessert first. I am not being asked to accept second class viewership.
The camera sweeps up on Anissa, hair splayed out against coral pillows, as Chenoa kisses her way up her body. It’s pretty clear she just finished going down on her, but just in case you were unsure she finishes the final kiss to Anissa’s collarbone by humming to herself, “Damn, I needed that.” The women share a few more kisses, and hushed moans, as they settle into each other’s arms. They aren’t really ready to be free of each other’s touch. Anissa notices something flicker across Chenoa’s face, so she asks what’s up.
Chenoa doesn’t want to talk about it, so Anissa switches tactics. She tries to make her girlfriend laugh, parroting the kind of corny catcalls that men throw at them on the street, “Hey girl, You so fine, you bring sight to the blind.” They both break out into laughter and listen— Anissa’s smile could light up any room (and my heart). Chenoa finally warms enough to share what’s bothering her. She doesn’t want to weigh Anissa down, with everything that’s going on, but Anissa gently strokes her face and prods, “Tell me”
“Our sex is mind-blowing, you know that”, Chenoa starts, to which Anissa agrees with a satisfied hmm and smile. “But I need more. I feel like I’m just a distraction for you.”
She wants for the two women to get to know each other’s family. She wants to be a part of Anissa’s life, and not just her bed. Anissa makes excuses, she’s so busy with her work and her activism. Chenoa gets it, and she doesn’t want to press too hard. She knows what Anissa has been through this last week. Kidnapping can weigh on a soul, I’d assume.
To that end, Anissa quietly confesses to her girlfriend that she broke the sink at her house the other night. (Yeah, Thunder, WE KNOW). Chenoa ponders that for a moment as she finally puts on a shirt, suggesting that Anissa probably just needs a therapist to help her sort through her PTSD. It was likely just “some old ass porcelain sink” that was going to break anyway. I mean, it’s not like she’s a superhero or anything, because that would be silly, riiiiight?
Three minutes. I checked the clock multiple times. Three minutes that we get to watch these women of color, with their shirts off, completely natural, discussing their feelings with one another. It’s groundbreaking on every level. It’s so rare to see women of color in this way. I know that a lot of folks, particularly those who follow the Black Lightning canon, are anticipating the arrival of Anissa’s love interest from the comics, Grace Choi. I get that, I’m also very excited to meet her. But, this scene is worth reveling in all by itself. It’s sweet, sensual, and unapologetic.
I don’t know when I’ll next get to see two black women love each other like this on television. The television team at Autostraddle racked our collective brains, and then consulted our research database, and we could only find one other time in all of network— not cable or streaming— television where two black women were shown in a bed together. And that scene was not granted the same breadth or depth that we witnessed between Anissa and Chenoa last night. Quite simply, this brave and historic. But it’s played intimate and vulnerable and small and more than anything, normal. Just two people sharing together. Like we have seen straight people do a thousand times.
So what are the straight people up to this episode?
Jefferson has some pretty heavy weight on his shoulders. First of all, physically speaking— he’s in a WORLD of pain. It looks like the electricity he absorbed while being Black Lightning is coursing through his veins, violet grey and white shards pulsing under his skin that have him doubled over, jaw clenching, biting back screams. Second, he’s having an emotional coming to terms. He originally decided to don the Black Lightning suit as a one time occasion, to save his daughters, but now he realizes that the community needs more than that. He’s confronted by a former student, Lawanda White, who tearful holds up a picture of her daughter— sold off to the same sex trafficking ring inside the Seahorse motel that Anissa and Jennifer were allowed to escape from.
Lawanda’s the moral backbone of this episode. She reminds us of the alarming amount of missing black and brown children in this country, who together make up over 50% of this country’s missing children, and most of whom go unreported or have little to no resources dedicated to their finding. Sex trafficking rings similar to those depicted in Black Lightning have been exploding rapidly in Atlanta, for example, one of America’s largest black metropolises. Lawanda tells Jefferson, “Everybody say they praying for me, but ain’t nobody willing to fight for me”. So, she starts a stake out of the Seahorse motel on her own. A mother’s rage is not to be tested, just ask Molly Weasley.
Jefferson, frustrated by how little he can do as a private citizen, knows that he must bring Black Lightning back permanently. But, his ex-wife, Lynn (Anissa and Jennifer’s mother) has her own, very legitimate, concerns about what sacrifices the family will have to endure in order for him to do so.
Our favorite teenage rebel, Jennifer, is pursuing a budding relationship with Khalil, the cutie from the boys track team. The first time we see them, it’s over FaceTime. Jennifer is sitting on the porch with her mother, police surveillance car on the corner— Jennifer is an active witness in the Seahorse motel case— video chatting with Khalil when a neighborhood boy comes up. He’s got the most adorable round chubby cheeks and asks Jennifer if she can buy some candy to support his fundraiser.
Jennifer gets up to buy something, and that’s when we see it— the little boy doesn’t have candy in his container, but a water gun filled with red paint. He tells her, “Lala Says Hi” and fires off a few rounds, covering Jennifer’s shirt and face in fake blood. She stumbles around, mouth gapped, in shock. Her mom screams. The police scramble to help, but they are too late. The message is clear.
Jennifer’s coping with all of this stress by making some pretty bad decisions. She’s stealing champagne with Keisha, day drinking in the equipment room above their high school gym and talking ’bout “YOLO!” like it’s 2014. Khalil, who agreed to be Jennifer’s boyfriend, isn’t down with it. She sees the world different now, and is struggling to reconcile her fears. Khalil knows that. He wants to try and help her, if she’s ok with it. He wants them to be great, together.
Both those Pierce girls got real game and I ain’t mad about it. Play on, playas.
By the way, I almost forgot to tell you: Anissa’s parents just casually mention that she’s at her girlfriends house from time-to-time. You know, like it’s a Wednesday and no big deal. Even watching a scene like this made me heart clench.
We are used to lesbian, bisexual and queer characters on television being first introduced through their coming out stories. Particularly for LGBQ characters of color, those stories are most often rife with struggle and trauma and pain. Not here. Narcissa Williams told Teen Vogue that Anissa’s “been out since she was a teenager. She’s 22 now. She’s walking boldly and unapologetically in who she is.” She has a girlfriend. They have hot sex and emotional, supportive conversations. Her parents are fine with all of it. This representation is utterly important. We’re still fighting against stereotypes that people of color are somehow more homophobic than our white peers. Anissa’s parents even poke a little fun about never being able to remember Chenoa’s name! (Anissa, try bringing girlfriend around for once! We’re going to have to talk about your commitment issues, girl.)
Lala kills Lawanda IN COLD BLOOD outside of the Seahorse motel. She begs and tells him that she only wants her daughter, and she’s greeted with three gun shots in response. He has his men drag her lifeless body off screen. Did I mention that he also killed Will, the kidnapping beanpole from the first episode who happens to be Lala’s actual cousin, earlier in this same episode? Just to make sure that Will couldn’t turn him in to the police. But killing Lawanda? That was the moment I knew, Lala had to die.
We end the second episode much like we ended the first, with Black Lightning suited up to the nines, crick-cracking electric zapping every baddie in his path while 70s soul music blares.
This time Black Lightning decides to take the stairs as he ascends Lala’s clubhouse, because he’s just getting back into the hustle and “a brother needs all the exercise he can get.” It feels like he is leveling up in a video game, each floor he climbs presenting another gang member to fry like bacon. He finally reaches Lala in the Penthouse, but the police are on the scene. Black Lightning jumps out of the window before they can arrest him for being the world’s most lit vigilante (pun intended).
LaWanda’s cellphone video taped her murder, so Lala is caught. Then, Tobais Whale (the head of the One Hundred) shows up to Vader him in jail, choking him to death with little effort. Goodbye to the small time criminals; I suppose we are dealing with the Big Bad now.
Anissa and Chenoa go on a date while Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” croons in the background. She wakes up in the middle of the night and forces herself out of the warmth of Cheona’s bed (PS: If you missed it, a sleeping Chenoa’s hair is being protected by a blue satin head wrap, which has to be about a million black representation points all by itself). She heads to their 24 hour pharmacy. I assume she’s looking for something to help with her insomnia and anxiety.
While she’s there, Anissa witnesses a robbery. At first she feels her breath quicken, just like last week in her bathroom. She gasps and gasps, trying to fill her lungs with air that won’t go in. She drops her pill bottle by accident and the gunmen turn to face her. Her eyes widen. She bends over trying to figure out what to do as a masked white man approaches her.
He tells her to get on the ground, he yells, “Are you deaf, bitch? I will shoot you!”
That’s when he truly crossed the line. If it is one thing we have learned about Anissa in these last two weeks, she does not take kindly to men who call her out of her name.
She grabs that white man by his sweatshirt, lifts him above her body, and hurls him at least two aisles over. He falls, breaking the shelves below him, completely knocked out. It’s a thing of glory.
Anissa approaches the cashier, places her pill bottle on the counter, and realizes almost all at once that her breath has calmed. She takes it in. She nods a little to herself, and smiles a little cocky half smile as she leaves the store. It’s the first time she really felt just how powerful she is, that she could imagine what she’s really capable of in this world. Let me tell you, it’s a world I can’t wait to live in.
Next Week: Jill Scott makes her debut as the femme fatale queen pin I’ve always dreamed she could be! Also, Anissa is going to be in a protest march.
And before we part, I have to leave you with this one more time, because it is too perfect not to:
Until next week! Xoxo