Anissa is strutting across the quad of her college campus, face focused. She meets up with a group of other student-activists at the foot of a statue of an old white man. You know the one, this one like so many others that mark our civic parks, city gathering spaces, and university campuses. The ones we’re told honor and uplift our national history, but actually exist to erase from our cultural memory the violences and atrocities that those same white men committed against black and brown bodies.
Yeah, I don’t think so. Not on Anissa’s watch.
Together the group opens up their backpacks, lifting out water guns filled with red paint. The woman to her right gives the nod, Anissa says “shoot!”, and off they go — spraying and staining the white marble above them with the metaphorical blood of its namesake’s crimes. That is, until the campus police show up, breaking through the crowd with handcuffs out, and wrestling the activists, Anissa included, to the ground.
So now Jefferson and Jennifer are once again waiting in the lobby of a police station to pick her up from custody. It’s a perfect callback to the opening scene from the pilot episode. Anissa thanks them for coming to getting her (again), Jefferson asks if she’s ok before walking away scared and angry (again), Jennifer snarks at her sister (again). Aww you guys, I love our little family traditions! They make the world go round!
This time the showdown between Anissa and her father over her protest habits doesn’t wait for the car ride home. Right there in the florescent lights of the police hallway, Jefferson spins on his toes, facing his daughter abruptly. He wants to know what she was possibly thinking of, putting herself in danger like this. Anissa believes that there are some things worth being in danger for. Jefferson, who literally spends his nights putting his own life on the line for the protection of his community, can’t understand why Anissa would pull out a gun — even if only a water gun — in public. In front of the police.
He tells her, “They looked enough like real guns to be the end of you. All it takes is for one cop. One cop to see your color instead of your humanity and decide, better dead than sorry. Look— you are a black woman, you don’t have the luxury of being naive… I don’t want to lose you because you went along with something that you should have walked away from.”
As much as I am on Anissa’s side here, that articulation of every black parents fear is why I could never stay mad at Jefferson Pierce (at least, not about this). It’s hard to talk about, but there is a double standard for activists of color and the choices we make. Our bodies are already seen as a threat before we take any action. The dangers in our protests are that much more acute. Raising a strong willed, outspoken daughter is source of pride, but I think that for many black parents in this country, that pride comes tinged with fear. The world does not willingly make space for black women who speak their minds. When challenged to do so, it most often revolts.
Later, we see Anissa in her bedroom continuing her grandfather’s research on mutant genes when we probably have my favorite easter egg yet: she has a Shepard Fairey Women’s March Poster on her wall! This girl, I tell ya. She’s just effortlessly dope.
Jennifer comes to visit, first to poke fun at Anissa and then ask for help on her math homework that she didn’t really need. Anissa sits with her little sis on the bed and Jennifer lets out her what’s really been bothering her: she’s afraid about her future with Khalil. When she dreamed about her first young love boyfriend, she didn’t imagine he would have suffered a spinal chord injury, and now she’s scared of what comes next. How do you care for someone you love who’s in a world of pain? And how do you care for yourself?
Lynn is busy at work when her research assistant walks in to show her the brain scans of Green Light addicts. The scans are a puzzle. In most situations brain matter photographs dark, however these brains light up like a Christmas tree when X-rayed. Lynn fakes as if she’s never seen this before, but as soon as her assistant is out of the room, she runs to compare those scans to the ones she keeps of Jefferson. They have the EXACT SAME LIGHT EFFECT! Somehow that doesn’t surprise me, but watching as her assistant, noticing Lynn’s side project, make a shifty call behind Lynn’s back definitely gave me a shiver.
I just love that we are finally giving Lynn a plot beyond scolding Jefferson and hugging her daughters! Of the entire Pierce family, I’ve had the hardest time connecting her. I mean, I love her Claire Huxtable aesthetics, because really, who wouldn’t? But, I have to believe that there are layers to Dr. Lynn Stewart, and I’m glad we may be given a chance to explore what those layers look like.
Jennifer is getting cyber bullied by Lana No-Last-Name, daughter of the casually lesbian moms in the last episode. Lana’s making fun of her in that specifically hurtful way that young black girls so often call out other young black girls, by saying that she’s “acting white” — code for “not one of us.” It cuts. It’s intentionally meant to belittle you, to leave you feeling ostracized and without a home or community. I was in fourth or fifth grade the first time a classmate bullied me. She called me an “Oreo,” you know, black on the outside, but white on the inside. Those memories, they last.
This time it really burns because Kahlil has reposted one of Lana’s taunts, calling Jennifer a “black Becky who dances like a white girl, but she still got nappy hair.” Keisha, never one give sound advice, suggests that Jennifer whoops Lana’s ass again. Jefferson, who’s really batting ten for ten when it comes to fatherly duties this episode, reminds his daughter that “no one is an expert on what is or is not black — because black is everything under the sun.” Tattoo that one on this black nerd girl’s chest. Thanks.
Jefferson reminds his daughter that Khalil is in pain. It could be the pain talking, or it could be that the pain is revealing the kind of person he really is when things don’t go his way. Only time will tell. Khalil has already made his decision though. He joins up with Tobias. It’s a deal with devil.
Anissa pays a visit to Lynn at her lab. She’s hit a roadblock in understanding Grandaddy Pierce’s research, and she needs the assistance my favorite fictional scientist this side of Princess Shuri. Lynn’s a bit suspicious when she sees the subject of the research, but she doesn’t push Anissa. She can tell that Anissa’s r whole body is silently screaming, the way it would get when she was a child. So, Lynn will wait it out. She just wants Anissa to know that when she’s ready to talk, Lynn is ready to be her safe harbor in the storm.
Anissa also couldn’t help but notice that Lynn hasn’t been coming around for family dinner lately. She thinks she knows what’s up (she has no idea) — Lynn doesn’t want to be a mistress. Jefferson maybe never cheated on her in a physical sense, but he has always been married to changing the world. Lynn doesn’t want to be second. Anissa feels the same calling as her dad. Lynn tells her eldest that she’s more like Jefferson than she thinks (Lynn also has no idea. But she will — and SOON).
The protests at the statue on Anissa’s campus have grown. In a parallel drawing from last August’s unforgettable protests in Charlottesville, a group of white nationalists have now surrounded the statue chanting “You Will Not Replace Us”. They drove into the crowd, killing a young white female student. Anissa watches helplessly from the teacher’s lounge of Garfield High. A colleague comments that wouldn’t it be great if someone just finally stepped in and did something, which is when Anissa gets a great idea.
Suited up as Thunder, she approaches the statue one last time. Candles have been lit and written prayers have been left in honor of the student who died. Somehow no one notices the black girl in a golden blonde wig and blue and red jumpsuit, but okay. Anissa takes her patented deep breath and Thunder Stomps that freakin’ statue to the ground. For a moment, it’s glorious. Truly glorious. A black woman single handily using her power to literally flatten a towering symbol of white supremacy.
But that moment fades quickly as Anissa looks around, realizing how petrified the other students are of her — it dawns on her how many of them almost got hurt. She calls her mom crying from her car, her voice wavering; she’s ready to tell Lynn her truth.
Unfortunately, before we can dig into that particular reveal, we have to talk a bit more about what Jefferson’s been up to this episode. Thanks to his fight with Joey Toledo, Jefferson realizes that Tobias Whale is still in Freeland. He spends most of the episode developing a plan to kill Tobias, enacting revenge on Tobias for killing his father — which we get to see in a black and white flashback from a tiny Jefferson’s point of view. Gambi is obviously against Jefferson killing Tobias, because that dude always has ulterior motives. This episode finds us dealing with Gambi and Lady Eve, the femme fatale of Freeland, rehashing a deal they made together a long time ago, back when both worked at the ASA.
And here’s the thing, if Jefferson had already been presented to me as a morally grey character, an anti-hero in a lit up suit, I could have been all for him killing Tobias. But he’s not, he’s a superhero, and revenge killings are not on a hero’s to-do list. Lynn calls Jefferson at the last minute to talk him out of it. While on the phone, Jefferson hears Lynn’s lab get broken into. He tells her to hide, but it’s too late.
OK. This is where our Mother/Daughter drama picks back up. Anissa, still dressed as Thunder, comes to the lab to talk to her mother about her enhanced genetic abilities. While there, she sees the aftermath of the break in and springs into action. Lynn watches, wide-eyed, gagged and roped to a chair, as Anissa sucks in her breath and protects her mother from her attackers. One deep breath in, and bullets fly off her chest. Another, and she backslaps a man so hard his head spins.
As an aside, of all the superhero tropes, bullet proof black people will always be the one that leaves me with tears. It was true throughout Luke Cage and it was true last night. One of my favorite things about Black Lightning are the ways that they purposefully center a Black Lives Matter narrative on a young black woman, when so often we still think of these stories as tied to the dangers of being a black man.
Anissa races to untie her mother when Jefferson, still suited up as Black Lightning, walks in on them both. Lynn is still gagged, so she can’t stop Jefferson from lightning zapping their own daughter because he thinks she’s the perpetrator. Anissa lands on both feet in a perfect superhero stance. She doesn’t recognize her father either, so she moves into self-defense. IT IS ON.
My girl gives almost as good as she gets, thundering all over the place. It’s breathtaking, I found myself inching closer and closer to the edge of my couch with each pulsating movement. He zaps and she quakes. They go ‘round and ‘round, breaking lab desks and shattering glass. I cheered so loud when Anissa finally got the upper hand, throwing Jefferson clear through the lab’s wall, that I almost missed it when he zinged lightning at his own baby girl, throwing her up in the air before she falls hard, totally electrocuted. It’s only then, when he hears her cry out in pain, that it dawns on him what he’s done.
Of all the ways that the Pierce’s mutual secret identity reveal was going to come about, I definitely never expected a raw knuckle superhero fight.
Anissa is battered and bruised, but nothing’s broken. She wakes up, tears having streaked her gold eye make up, wig off and cornrows bare, to find her mother holding her softly.
She looks to her left, and that’s when she sees him. Jefferson Pierce, standing in his Black Lightning suit, eyes trained on his daughter, beating himself up for hurting her when all he’s ever wanted to do was protect her.
Can you believe it that is where they left us? An adrenaline ride, and then a push into the darkness. I was ready for an entire blubbery family cry-in, but I guess that’s going to have to wait one more week.
Hey, while we have this little bit of time together, did you drink a glass of water today? Don’t forget, hydration is key. Did you know that there’s a Black Lightning children’s cartoon series that focuses on the Pierce Sisters? I’ve been absolutely dying to tell you about it! It’s so adorable!! Watch that, have some water, and take a moment to chill. Be kind with yourselves out there!