Previously on Black Lightning: The show made network television history with that three minute scene of Anissa and her girlfriend, Chenoa.
This week on Black Lightning: It’s my pleasure to introduce everyone to this beautiful human, Grace Choi.
She’s here, she’s queer, she loves comic books and is ready to light our hearts afire.
I’m seriously starting to wonder if “Black Lightning” is actually the name of the queer women of color representation train that this show is on, because “Chooo! Choo!”— it seems to have no interest in slowing down or stopping anytime soon.
We open at LaWanda White’s funeral, who you will remember was cruelly murdered last episode by gang lieutenant Lala for trying to get back her daughter, was forced into sex trafficking by the One Hundred gang. Lala got his though— he died later that same episode at the hands of One Hundred gang head Tobais White. Now, the community is coming together to mourn LaWanda as Aretha Franklin’s “Mary Don’t You Weep” plays overhead.
All of the Pierces are in attendance for the service, well with the exception of one — Anissa. Her little sister asks their mother where she ran off too. The answer? A junkyard. You see, Anissa has discovered a lot of new layers about herself in the last few episodes, and she needs some private time, away from her family, to test her powers.
She’s dressed in all black, ‘timbs and hoodie, with her hair braided back into neat cornrows. What I’m trying to tell you is, sis’ came to werk. She’s not stopping until she gets some answers. Aretha’s perfect voice wails and wails, asking Mary Not to Weep over her lost child, as Anissa tries to recreate what happened last week at the drugstore, or the week before standing alone in her bathroom. She works out her aggression, hurling herself over and over, causing herself more pain each time.
Finally, it clicks for her. The previous nights, she wasn’t breathing. So takes a deep breath and holds it, eyes bright and face cracked into a smile, as she punches a hundred pound mountain of steel without so much as cracking a knuckle. Another deep breath and she can fend off a falling refrigerator. One more and she can kick a broken tv clear across the yard in one step. She bends her backwards and lets out a mighty, triumphant scream! She smiles into the night sky, resting her hands on head, breathing in deep over and over. She’s finally got control.
Pause. Can we talk about for a moment what it means to have a black lesbian superhero, teasingly nicknamed “Miss Black Lives Matter” for her activism, whose superpower is triggered by controlling her breath? It immediately brought me back to the rallying cry after the police murder of Eric Garner, “I Can’t Breathe”. His three dying words. They fortified a movement.
The Pierce family’s church minister, Reverend Holt, has called upon his parishioners to march with him against injustice. He is fed up with the police and their lack of work protecting the black community in Freeland.
In the middle of this discussion is a quick, but nevertheless blunt critique of capitalism’s role in the black church. It caught me so far off guard, I choked! The black police detective, Henderson, critiques Rev. Holt, his $25K watch, and his silk handkerchiefs, for chasing camera lights and dollar signs. Henderson asks, “These are my work shoes. What shoes you wearing?”
Reverend Holt later confides to Jefferson that he knows how it looks, but he isn’t after glory this time. He’s sincere in wanting to create change and bring out safety in their gang ridden neighborhoods. So much so that he’s willing to die for it. I love that Black Lightning doesn’t draw easy conclusions, even over something as seemingly fundamental to the civil rights movement as the black church’s role in a protest march. Whenever possible the Akils are making room for multiple, even conflicting, viewpoints of blackness. It’s such a rare and mighty feat.
You know else is not in favor of the protest march? Jill Scott’s Lady Eve. It turns out that even though Tobais Whale is the head of the One Hundred— he in fact is not the biggest baddie in town. That honor goes Lady Eve, whose smooth purr of a voice and candy apple painted red lips did some things to me.
She elongates every syllable, telling Tobias through a clench jaw, “I don’t mind people believing in God, they just can’t believe that they can take back these streets”.
Is is inappropriate for me to be rooting for the bad guy? What if the “bad guy” is actually the baddest b*tch in the game, a sexy black femme fatale with a weakness for flashy jewelry and showing off her cleavage? What if she sings like this? Let’s stay tuned and find out.
Later, Anissa is researching her genetic mutation, like any good medical student would, when she meets her for the first time. Yes her her. Grace Choi, Anissa’s true love from the Black Lightning comics, the Asian-American half-Amazon, Wonder Woman’s biggest fan, with superpowers of strength and healing.
Here she’s re-imagined as a comic geek, library aide, and part-time bartender. In her meet-cute with Anissa, she has an Outsiders comic in her back pocket. If you didn’t know, the Outsiders are the coalition of superheroes that comics-verse Grace convinces comics-verse Anissa to join, and together they make up the queer women of color power couple of my dreams and take on the world.
But, that’s in the future. For now, Anissa checks out her ass when she thinks Grace isn’t looking. She’s not slick. She 100% gets caught.
Grace responds in kind by lowering her lashes and inviting Anissa to her bar’s weekly cosplay party on Friday nights.
As they used to say in the ‘90s, “It’s on like Popcorn!”
The chemistry between these two actresses is already tense and crackling. I am sorry that we have to give up Chenoa so quickly, especially after such an important breakthrough last week, a moment will never be far from my heart. At the same time, I’m intrigued to see where our new future with Grace and Anissa takes us.
What’s the first stop on their journey? The club. Anissa is wearing a dark blackberry lipstick that I am so coveting right now and the cutest sparkly diamond cat ears to go with her bobbed wig. I think she’s supposed to be Cat Woman? I don’t care, she looks great.
She’s dancing with Grace when she gets caught by Chenoa, who had, ahem, less than nice things to say about Anissa and her dance partner. My favorite thing about Grace? She jumps right in there! Anissa breaks them apart, and then breaks up with Chenoa off camera. A necessary, if not cruelly executed, piece of business.
Anissa hangs back with Grace as the bar closes, the news overhead tells us about another young black person— this time a young man named Jamal— who died at the hands of the One Hundred’s ongoing violence. Anissa’s sad, you know? She’s known that she had to break it off with Chenoa for a while now, but with everything else in Anissa’s life changing, she was craving the comfort of Chenoa’s familiarity. Sometimes she just wishes she was like those superheroes in Grace’s comics books, that she could put on a suit and do some good in this crappy world.
Grace isn’t so sure, “saving the world would be lonely, I think. We’d have to keep our identity secret, even from the people we love.” And if you have ever wondered why so many queer people take an affinity towards comic books, there it is. In a nutshell.
The girls part for the night, but as I’m sure you know, they’ll be back in each other’s life soon enough.
(PS: I couldn’t find a smooth way to fit it into the recap at large, but we also got a glimpse of Anissa’s coming out story in this episode! In her own words, as a teenager she told her parents she was a lesbian and there was a beat of silence. Followed by lots and lots of hugs. My goodness, how I love this family and what they are modeling for how to love your gay kid in this country.)
Meanwhile, Cutest TeensTM Jennifer and Khalil are planning on having their first time together. There’s a lot to love about this subplot— Kahlil’s shyly admitting he lied about being “experienced” because he wanted to appear cool. The fearless, frank conversation that Jennifer has with her parents about her plans to have sex— after she already asked Khalil directly if he had condoms! The ways that her parents respect her adult choice, even though Jefferson grumbled that their progressive stance feels a bit like “white people mess” (Hey Jefferson! Respecting your children’s decisions and giving them appropriate medical information is not exclusive to white families!). It’s all careful and feminist and even when I think this show couldn’t be more perfect, it proves me wrong.
The episode ends with the protest march we’ve been waiting for. All three Pierce women—Anissa, Jennifer, and their mother Lynn— are on the frontline with Rev. Holt, fists in the air and holding symbolic red candles. Black Lightning watches from above, ready to protect at a moment’s notice. And thank goodness for that; he jumps down just in time to ZAAAP! the assassin hired by Whale.
The crowd watches, stunned to see Black Lightning in real life. They break out into “Amazing Grace” as a way of saying thank you. Unfortunately that same awe-struck moment leaves them all with their guard down. Whale drives by and orders his secret rooftop super assassin to kill Black Lightning, right there in front of the crowd, uttering to himself the most chilling line I’ve heard this year, “They all want to go heaven, but none of them want to die”.
The assassin shoots the Reverend instead, right through the chest. The bullet exits out of Rev. Holt’s back and into Kahlil’s gut, lodging in his spine. The teenager falling to the ground in Jennifer’s arms.
Watching former Disney kid China McCain push so deeply into Jennifer’s pain, having her fall apart with her mom and sister there to support her— it broke my heart in two. Khalil was a good kid, they are all such good kids. They don’t deserve any of this.
The final shot is of The Pierces, huddled together in a family hug in the hospital waiting room. They’re shaken, but at least they are together. Just waiting to see what happens next.