“Black Lightning” Episode 109 Recap: Don’t Dim Your Own Bright Light

Have you heard the good news? Our very own Jennifer Pierce is a superhero!

A sulky, depressed, moody teenage superhero.

**Sad, Sad Teenage Blues**

Anissa finds her little sister in her super pink bedroom, curled in a ball in bed with the curtains drawn in the middle of the day. Jennifer’s worried that she’s going crazy. She intellectually knows that a human cannot burn a cellphone like it’s a s’mores marshmallow, but it felt so real. She feels confused and alone.

I’d like to think Anissa knows something about those emotions, both as a former gay teenager and also from her own hero “coming out” earlier this year. There’s nothing worse than thinking you are the only one. That no one else will ever understand. So, Anissa does the only thing she thinks she can. She proves to her baby sister that she is not alone in this world.

She apologizes to Jennifer, she should have told her the truth earlier. She should have handled her vulnerability better. Then she breathes in deep and lifts Jennifer’s bed up from the ground — with Jennifer still in it! She tells her sister the truth: Anissa is Thunder, and their father is Black Lightning.

“I’m sorry! You’re right! Valkyrie should get her own Marvel spin off! PUT ME DOWN!”

Yeaaaaaah, Jennifer doesn’t handle that well. She barrels down the stairs screaming “DAAAAAAD!”

Last week in the comments section, some of y’all predicted that Jennifer would be less than excited about her powers, and you were 100% correct. She spends most of this episode coming to terms with the ways her life is about to fundamentally change; and her processing isn’t pretty. I think it’s great that Black Lightning not only took the time to previously establish each Pierce sister as their own person, but also follow through that those personalities would react to finding out that their superhero truth very differently. Anissa has always wanted to save the world, she sees becoming Thunder as a divine calling. The weight of that same responsibility is crushing Jennifer.

Anissa, cuddled in sweats the next day, tries again to connect with Jennifer. She tries to comfort her, telling her that she wanted Jennifer to find out about her new abilities in the in the gentlest way possible. After all, Jennifer found out she came from a family of superheroes while safe in bed. Anissa found out by being barbecued alive by Jefferson.

Anissa tells her sister, she’s freaked out all the time. She draws strength from their community; she wants to be there to protect women, protect people of color, anyone who society leaves vulnerable. She doesn’t exactly frame it this way, but let’s be real — Anissa is a black feminist lesbian, so we all know she’s read her requisite Audre Lorde. And the Good Lorde teaches us, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I’m afraid.”

Jennifer scoffs — she didn’t give Anissa the nickname “Harriet Tubman” for nothing. Service to community is well and good, but the one time Jennifer tried marching, her boyfriend’s spine got severed in two by a bullet.

Anissa realizes that that Jennifer has been googling “Black Lightning” and “Thunder” on her MacBook. In the first video, some idiot man is talking ‘bout, “Thunder? She could save me ANYTIME! I mean, Dat Ass Tho, Right!?!?!?” And before you can ask, yes there’s an autotune remix! Anissa rolls her eyes. She’s right, it’s not funny. Women shouldn’t be objectified. (But also, Anissa, you’re fine. I say that respectfully! But, I have eyeballs. I’m only human).

Jennifer tells Anissa, in this quiet, proud, awestruck voice that only gets saved for little sisters who are talking to their big sisters and personal heroes, that Thunder already has more fans than Black Lightning online. One fan group, which makes NO mention of Anissa’s ass, applauds her for “challenging the patriarchy’s narrative about female heroes.” Ummm, is that fan group us? You guys, I think it us! That’s our girl!

Easter Egg: Peep the Beyoncé poster on the wall! I knew Jennifer was a fan.

In the end it’s Lynn who really breaks through with Jennifer. First, she tries talking to Jennifer alone in her pink bedroom. She tells her that she knows exactly how Jennifer feels. Lynn’s the closest ally Jennifer has right now. She’s a reluctant hero, too. She never wanted this life for her family. Jennifer shuts it down, asking her mother if she’s secretly Vixen or Supergirl (nice CW superheroes shout out!). Before leaving Jennifer alone with her thoughts, Lynn tells her that she’s none of those things, but she is her mom. And she loves her. Hopefully that would be enough.

A few days pass, and Lynn is tired with Jennifer’s moping behavior, so switches to a more direct “tough love” approach. Jennifer tries slamming her way out of the kitchen, but Lynn reaches into her bag of tricks and pulls out the most iconic of Black Mom Proverbs, “I don’t know what goes on in your friends’ families, but in THIS family young ladies who roll their eyes or give their parents the silent treatment are young ladies who can start paying their own bills.”

For those of you who didn’t grow up with the black mama code cheatsheet, let me break it down for you: “Try that mess one more time, and it’s going to be your last breath.”

Jennifer can’t outrun her feelings any longer, it’s time for truth.

Look at this angel face, I just want to wrap her in a blanket and give her a cup of hot cocoa.

Sitting at the kitchen counter, she lets her emotions bare. She’s angry at Lynn and Jefferson. Not only because they kept the truth about Black Lightning’s powers from her, but because they didn’t properly warn her that this could happen to her one day. She was blindsided.

She breaks down in tears, eyes glistening and voice wavering. She’s not Anissa. She just wants to go to prom, goof off and get high with Keisha, go to college, and one day have kids of her own. Can she even have kids now? Who will love her? She’s a freak. She just wants to be normal.

Lynn holds her daughter tight, tenderly kissing the top her head and telling her it’s going to be ok. China McCain once again proves to be such a talent at still a young age. She found every beat of pain in Jennifer’s monologue. It’s such a real, honest, human desire — to not stand out. My poor sweet baby, none of us normal. You can’t dim your own bright light.

While Jennifer is at home grappling with these new changes in her life, Anissa and Jefferson are back at it with their caped crusader routine! They’re still working on retracing Grandaddy Pierce’s research trail, and they are getting closer and closer to tracking down Head-ASA-Racist-In-Charge Martin Proctor. The specific details of their search are less important than this: at one point in the episode Jefferson and Anissa wear matching Barack and Michelle Obama Halloween masks to scare the living daylights out of some old white man lawyer.

“I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could.” –Get Out

Perfect.

Gambi, still wrecked with guilt, is conducting a parallel investigation to The Pierces — he is trying to track down who’s going to kill Black Lightning. While in his search, Gambi realizes that the super powered young black kids he was spying on 30 years ago for the ASA are now dead. He didn’t recognize it at the time, but he was helping to track these young people down so that they could be assassinated by the government in the middle of a coverup.

DUH! You think!?!? Listen, I try to keep an open mind about Gambi, but this whole “I didn’t realize that white supremacy in secret government agencies was actually dangerous” routine is so hard for me. At least own up to it! If there’s one thing we should know by now as a country, it’s that white people defending white supremacy by hiding behind blind ignorance only leaves people of color more vulnerable. Roll up your sleeves and get to work, or get out of the way.

Gambi calls Anissa to the shop. He tells her what we already know, that the ASA is actively hunting Black Lightning. He gives her a new, upgraded Thunder suit and tells her to be safe.

OK. This was the moment when my heart nearly stopped.

*FANGIRLING INTENSIFIES*

The backbeat picks up, and we hear Thunder’s official theme song for the first time. The overhead music promises us that Black Girl Magic can do wonders, taking time to name check Kenneka Jenkins, Erica Garner, and Sandra Bland, as we are treated to a slow cut montage of Anissa suiting up in her new look.

I want to tell you more about what Anissa is wearing — but my brain short circuited. It’s not just that Nafessa Williams is a beautiful woman, though she obviously is, or that, ahem, the costume fits her perfectly, which it did. It’s the strut she takes. It’s the fact I still remember my first X-Men cartoon in second grade. I remember how powerful I felt watching Storm, how immaculately I kept her trading card. For most of my nerd life, it’s just been me and Storm, two black girls fighting the cosmos. Just this year alone, there’s been Valkyrie, then Okoye, Nakia, Shuri, and, in some ways most of all, there has been Anissa Pierce.

Anissa who never gives up the fight for social justice, who loves women like I do, who is purposeful and fierce. Thunder’s theme song isn’t about her. It’s about us. It’s about a community of black women, about our magic. It’s about the lives we have lost. Our pain.

Watching her come around that corner, in her full glory, with hazy smoke rolling around the bounce of her every step, and lyrics about black girl magic blazing above — it’s just everything.

Using the intel they got from the crooked lawyer, Thunder and Black Lightning track down Proctor. Anissa, thanks to the lip reading class she once took so that she could understand the cops who were policing her protests, helps them find the factory where Green Light is being produced. Inspector Henderson sidekicks along, shooting Proctor and arresting one of the lead chemists in charge of making the drug.

From there, it’s a lot of Black Lightning zap zapping and Thunder taking bullets without a sweat, beating down anyone in her path. Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto” plays overhead. It’s smooth; and using the song as an audio frame gives the Pierce’s fight sequence the feel of a Blaxploitation movies of the 1970s.

I like the playing with time-crossing genres. The earliest Black Lightning comic was published by DC Comics in 1977. His character is, by all definitions, a product of the Blaxploitation era, along with Marvel’s Luke Cage and Black Panther. Still, we don’t often think of the genre in relationship to the recent black comics renaissance taking over our screens. I’d be interested in exploring those dynamics more, either in aesthetics or callbacks, as we’ve seen here.

The episode ends with Jefferson and Jennifer at home, watching The Princess and The Frog (shout out to the first black Disney Princess! Tiana, I see you girl!). They’re taking comfort in each other before whatever crazy life turn is about to hit them both next.

That’s it for me! Stay tuned for next week on Black Lightning, when I am officially kicking the Grace Choi Search Party into high gear. Until then! Love you!


Are you following us on Facebook?

Carmen is a black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but has left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, MI, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow at night. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 74 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. I have to say, Carmen, that I had a totally different read on Lynn and Jennifer in this episode. Jennifer just found out about something that her family kept secret from her, something that affects her very personally, both emotionally and physically. She’s (rightfully) angry, upset, and confused. But the way that Lynn reacts to Jennifer’s emotional distress is to tell her, “Don’t roll your eyes at me. Don’t disrespect me.” Essentially she’s telling her that she’s wrong for feeling what she’s feeling (which she’s not). This comes after Lynn tells her that they didn’t lie to Jennifer, just withheld things (Yeah, that’s what we call a lie of omission). It made my blood boil.

    • I was just about to write about how much I love Carmen’s recap, because it picked up on the same things I was feeling about Lynn and Jennifer’s relationship. I think the fundamentally unique aspect about this episode is that it really exposed the viewer to what it is like to grow up in a black household.
      Even before Lynn and Jennifer’s scene around the middle of the hour, Lynn had already called Anissa out for something important…telling her sister that their father was Black Lightning. This may not seem like an important scene, but ultimately, to me, this was the most important scene of the entire episode. It looks like what Anissa did was something helpful, and although it was deeply loving to show her sister that she wasn’t the only one, Anissa was in the wrong. I think Jefferson and Lynn intimately know that by raising black children, EVERYONE gets an input on how to parent and raise your children. What I mean by that is, the media tells you what you are doing is wrong, law enforcement, the education system, social workers…everyone has an opinion on what needs to be done, can be done and how it needs to be done in YOUR child’s life, and Lynn brought Anissa back to reality by telling her that she doesn’t get to “parent” Jennifer too. Jefferson and Lynn make those decisions ALONE…that’s not to say that they handle everything perfectly, but the best part of them as parents is they are there and open emotionally when either them or the girls mess up or something is bothering them. And for Lynn, she gave Jennifer time to come to grips with her new REALITY…and that’s what it is…it wasn’t as if Lynn or Jefferson telling her two years or two days earlier would have changed the fact that she has powers…but in the time it takes to come to grips with that, Jennifer doesn’t get to be a brat and walk around rolling eyes and slamming doors. It’s a lesson in, because something is bothering us, we don’t get to express our emotions like the entire world has ended or EVERYONE has done us wrong…because if that is the case, then we can be alone and provide for ourselves and take care of our own messes without the aid of others. Because ultimately, really, people who have something happen to them and get angry with the world and push everyone away…usually tend to end up feeling alone… I think Lynn handled the situation perfectly, because it made Jennifer confront her own emotions and actually voice what was happening in her head, instead of sulking around and brooding.
      It’s just my opinion, but I love that the show gave this family a real chance to voice that and showed Lynn as the backbone of that realization.

      • I think that you’re making a false equivalency here. You’re thinking that because Jennifer is a teenager, that this is a “teenager” problem, and that Jennifer’s reaction to it is childish and unwarranted. Jefferson and Lynn spent a long time garnering Jennifer’s trust, and then they betrayed that trust. The closest parallel that I can think of is that Jennifer just found out that she has cancer because of a genetic disposition that her dad has, that both of her parents withheld from her. People go to therapy and support groups long term for that kind of thing because that is some HEAVY emotional processing to do. A few hours does not constitute some time to process that. People are allowed to feel angry for a long time about that. That’s why we say, “When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here.” You say that telling her earlier wouldn’t have changed the fact that she gets powers, but it would have given her time to emotionally prepare herself for them.

        • I have to disagree. I’m not calling Jennifer a brat because she is a teenager; I think she is being a brat because she is walking around disrespecting her mother for something she had no control over. Lynn and Jefferson weren’t not forcing her to talk and they were giving her plenty of space and time to process, but rolling her eyes and acting out is unacceptable to her parents. I don’t feel as if Lynn expecting her to not do that while she processes is out of bounds.
          And I see what you are saying about the genetic disposition, but let’s remember that Jennifer IS a teenager, and Lynn and Jefferson had NO way of knowing that she would get powers. Hell, they don’t know how he got his powers…so what good would it have been to give her that type of information? And the last time Jefferson was Black Lightning, Jennifer was a very small child that wouldn’t understand the gravity of that information. And the family of super hero is kind of snowballing on them here, so I can’t expect them to put out a fire they didn’t think was ever going to get started.

  2. I woke up late for work and I should be getting ready, but once I see a Carmen Black Lightning recap, I must comment! Once again, brilliant recap…I love this and this show so much! Like seriously, everything about this show! The dynamic, the writing, the authentic and believable nature of how Black Lightning came to be and I absolutely LOVE that you tied this to the era of blaxpoilation films!!! I mean, my collection of these movies is EXTENSIVE and I just love the shout out to them in this piece!!! Not to mention, Black Lightning has the best music of any show I’ve watched! Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto,” on cable TV as the score to a scene about a black super hero family…am I in heaven, because this feels like HEAVEN!!! Thank so much again Carmen…and now I am going to be a few minutes late to work, but it was well worth it 🙂

  3. It makes sense that Jennifer wouldn’t be initially thrilled about having powers. It not only makes her stick out it forces her yet again into her sister’s and father’s shadow. She wants to just but feel like she has to rise to the expectations set forth by her parents, sister, and school. Presumably, that’s half the reason she engages in the behaviors she does as an escape.

    I don’t think Lynn was wrong for demanding more respect from Jennifer in her behavior. You can feel whatever you feel but your pain does not justify disrespectful behavior. You are still responsible for what you do and how you treat people regardless of emotions. You can need and ask for space and time without being rude about it.

    Loving the father-daughter team up. Cress Williams is the best person for this role. He’s charming and nurturing. Heyy Scooter.

    Carmen I will join that search party with you for Grace. You can’t disappear Grace away for 5 and 6 straight episodes. Unless… I hope she didn’t get caught up in that tank of metas

  4. Hopefully season 2 will have more episodes in it cause I will be so sad when this one ends. And next season the showrunners have GOT to work the Grace situation out more solidly. It’s not acceptable for her to be gone for such long stretches. I understand they are learning and working out the kinks as they made this season so I personally cut them some slack. Plus there was a lot of story to tell and not a lot of time to do it.

  5. I am kind of excited that they have introduced Grace and then let her disappear in order to have Anissa go through real, personal growth on screen. It gives us a chance to become attached to Anissa’s whole, full character and invested in her in a way I feel we rarely get from queer women characters? IDK, I just get the feeling that they are setting it all up for actual satsifying storytelling down the line which is also a rarity. So far they’ve done that so well (Green Light being set up the same way and all and the character work being really thoughtful on this show 100% of the time except maybe Gambi) that it makes me super excited to see how the story plays out.

    I have a feeling that the romance stuff will be part of the aftermath of whatever major showdown we are headed towards so probably a major focus of first half of 2nd season? So far, that is my bet at least.

    Also – Gambi, no thank you. I am voting you off the island.

    • I feel like we’re missing big chunks of Anissa’s story. Last episode, we learn that she apparently got her “Thunder” hero name off-camera; this one, we find out she’s somehow been out publically super-heroing (as “Thunder”) between episodes. Did I miss an episode?

  6. Carmen, I love the way you captured the moment in which we truly see Anissa as Thunder for the first time. Nafeesa Williams told EW that the first time she put the suit on, she cried, saying.

    “I grew up in the inner city in Philly, which is a city much like Freeland. I didn’t have a superhero to look up to who had cornrows just like me and whose skin color looked like mine. So, it was an emotional moment knowing I was taking on that responsibility of being that to little brown girls that are watching.”

    It was such an unexpectedly poignant moment and, as I noted on twitter, seeing a bulletproof black girl will never get old.

    Okay, so the mask that Jefferson is wearing is clearly Barack, as evidenced by the lawyer’s Get Out-esque response, but who is the mask that Anissa’s wearing? That can’t be Michelle. Is it supposed to be Hillary? Nancy Pelosi? Condi Rice? That questions been bothering me since the episode ended.

    Also, if Jefferson was going to go into the office and use his Black Barack Lightning skills anyway, why did he need the mask?

    But I digress…

    I really loved China McClain in this episode…she played all the emotional beats exquisitely. I read her interaction with Lynn in the kitchen just as you did, Carmen. Lynn thought all the feelings and emotions that Jennifer was having were completely valid but the disrespect was not going to be tolerated.

    And lastly: WHERE IS GRACE? Do we need to call Inspector Henderson and put out a missing person’s report? Do we need to add her to the side of a milk carton? Where is she?! Because Anissa looked AMAZING in this episode and I’m remiss Grace wasn’t there to enjoy it.

    (Though, a friend of mine said, “anyone who walks with that much new swagger is getting laid,” so maybe Grace and Anissa are hooking up off-camera.)

  7. Um I got mist eyed at the Princess and the Frog part.

    The colors of this Thunder costume are great, the lines say woman like the sky happens to be blue.

    Jennifer reminded me of 16 year old Buffy Summers, but unlike 16 year old Buffy her mom is in on the things and there to support her and let her be a kid. She doesn’t have to go out and save the world or else. No more child soldiers please they’re children. 🙁

    Oooh and I was right to think the ASA wouldn’t waste potential assets and just kill the baby supers/meta humans. I hate being right.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.