Jefferson’s Vice Principal has a real problem on her hands. The pods of the superhuman black people are starting to fail due to all the moving around they’ve been going through lately in the ASA’s chess match with Thunder and Black Lightning. The people in the pods are stating to die.
Rather than care about the well being of her fellow black folk, the Vice President is only worried about what these deaths will mean for her standing with the ASA. She tells her lab technicians that she can’t afford another loss. I guess it’s true — to quote my fellow Autostraddle writer Natalie, “Not all skin folk are kinfolk.” The Vice Principal has apparently been taking her lessons in community care from Omarosa. And like Omarosa, I will throw a victory parade when she inevitably falls apart.
Vice Principal Omarosa feels bad about having to frame Jefferson, but the ASA believes he is Black Lightning and she has marching orders to follow. She calls Freeland’s dirty cops to a dark alley in the middle of the night. She’s left them a “how to frame a community leader” kit in the trash. Jefferson Pierce will be taken down, one way or another.
The next day, the Pierce sisters find some time for their patented snark across the school parking lot. Jennifer, fresh with her new driver’s license, would give anything to get behind the wheel. Anissa would rather that they both live to see another day. Jefferson’s hanging out the school’s stairs, doling out encouraging words and clichés about success to his students as they enter the building. Yep, just another crisp early morning for our Supercharged Huxtables. Nothing to see here.
That is, until during Jefferson’s morning mentorship circle with his students (which featured a well earned shout out to the hard working men and women of public transportation who get kids to school on time everyday!). Police sirens are going off outside of the building. Tayvon, one of the students in Jefferson’s circle, shouts out “5-0!” to his classmates. From the perch of their geometry class, Keisha confirms to Jennifer that its her dad’s car that Freeland’s dirtiest are after.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings’ cover of “This Land is your Land” plays over the next harrowing montage, as the cops illegally place Green Light in the back of Jefferson’s trunk and his desk drawer. Of all the phenomenal ways that Black Lightning has used music over the course of its first season, perhaps none have been more moving than hearing the jazz singer soulfully, but still heartbreakingly ironically, croon “this land is made for you and me” while the cops pull multiple guns on Jefferson inside of his own school. His young students watch on in horror. Jefferson knows that the drugs are not his, but it’s never what you know — it’s what you can prove. And corrupt cops in power can prove whatever the hell they want, especially when their target is a black man. They will say they thought your cellphone was a gun, they will say they saw a knife and place it at the scene after the fact, and they will most certainly say they found drugs that were never in your possession to begin with. For many communities of color, it’s a tale as old as time.
Jefferson’s students, lead by Tayvon, link arms and block the front door. They will not let Jefferson be taken from the safety of their school community, not after everything he has done for them. Their loyalty to Jefferson and their brave defiance is enough to pound against your chest. No child should be forced to see their hero dragged away for a crime he didn’t commit. Jefferson looks young Tayvon in the eye and begs him to stand down. No one needs another black man in handcuffs today, he tells his young mentee. Jefferson implores Tayvon to let him go with police in peace, and then step up to look after his fellow students. That’s the best he can do. When Tayvon answers with a small nod, Jefferson won’t let go until the young man speaks up, a lionhearted “Yes, Sir!” coming from his lips. It’s devastating. Even in this moment, Jefferson is still putting the young people of Freeland first.
Jefferson has two young people in particular to be accountable for — his daughters. First is Jennifer, who’s barreling down the staircase, Keisha hot on her heels, as her father is being escorted across the school lobby. She wants to know what’s going on, her fingers clenched in fists and glowing orange. You know those scenes in The Avengers movies where Thor or Black Widow help The Incredible Hulk find control of his emotions again at the end of a big fight? They speak in low voices and say, “Hey big guy, the sun’s getting real low” while reaching out the palm of their hand. Jefferson has one of those moments with his youngest daughter right there in the school hallway. He sees her hands and then trains his eyes on her face. He tells her that she has to do something important for him, she has to stay calm. Really calm. The most calm she has ever been in her entire life — because her entire life depends on it.
Outside of the school, Anissa comes flying around a corner. She’s not afraid of cops, not ever. She bangs her way right through the human barricade surrounding her father. When the cops push back against her, she takes a big Thunder inhale. Before she can let go, Jefferson stops her. In that brief moment, he most certainly saved a cop’s life. Like Black Panther told Ulysses Klaw, “every breath you take is mercy from me.”
The songs chorus picks back up as Jefferson is driven away in the back of a squad car — in front of his daughters, his students, almost everyone he has ever tried to protect. This time when Sharon Jones circles back to “this land is made for you and me,” the refrain becomes taunting. Who is free in America? Who is this land for, exactly? Black Lightning never lets us forget the real answer.
Commissioner Gordon sees Jefferson brought into custody at the police station, and immediately he knows something’s up. He pulls one of the dirty cops aside and spits out, “I wanna see the search warrant.”
It won’t matter, the entire police performance is designed to break Jefferson’s humanity. He is asked to lift his tongue and open his mouth, discard his clothes and bend over, cough twice. Each request stabs my heart more than the last. The police officer beats him in the stomach with a club. The picture painted by the show is unrelenting, and all too real. Cress Williams is pitch perfect as he channeled Jefferson’s disbelief, he defeat, and then his fear.
Tears prickled the corners of my eyes and all I could whisper at the screen was, “Keep it together. You got it. Don’t give them the satisfaction.”
Jennifer and Lynn are at Grandaddy Pierce’s safe house, but they aren’t feeling very safe. Jefferson’s last words to Jennifer was to be strong for her mother, but Lynn wants her to know that strength doesn’t have to come at the price of holding back tears. They can comfort each other.
Jennifer says the one thing that I think everyone’s afraid to say out loud: What if he doesn’t come home this time? Black people in America are thrown away without the key everyday. How can any of them be audacious enough to hope that their family will be any different? It’s a quiet scene compared to the otherwise breadth of the episode. It’s small, even. But, in the middle of superhero spy conspiracy theories and Thunder punches and Lightning bolts, this moment’s also the most honest.
Anissa’s ready to suit up and Thunder her dad out of jail, but that would play right into the ASA’s hands. The arrest is a smokescreen. Their entire goal is to sniff out Jefferson as Black Lightning. If Thunder shows up at the police station to break him out, that will be all the proof they need.
The spy organization is already planning to move Jefferson from Freeland’s local holding cell to a black ops location where they can perform testing on him. If they are going to get Jefferson released, they need to do so before that drop can occur. They have to throw the ASA off the scent, convince them that Jefferson Pierce is not Black Lightning. Gambi’s got a plan, and as much as I loathe to trust him, he seems to be the Pierces’ best option right now.
Gambi has devised a Black Lightning hologram that can run in the streets with Anissa dressed as Thunder. As long as no one gets close to the hologram, or splits up Anissa and her virtual dad, then it should be enough to look like the real thing. Gambi tells Anissa to pick the busiest part of Freeland for their fake out, and tells her to bring as much attention to herself as she can. Hello? She has Nafessa Williams’ face and Thunder’s gold costume — drawing attention to herself won’t be a problem.
She starts things off with a strut down a main restaurant corridor. The sparkling tree lights double as her runway. I could watch Nafessa Williams do this all day. Every day. She’s powerful and breathtaking. Once Anissa has cameras and cell phones focused on her, she breaks off into a Thunder sprint.
The energy keeps picking up until it is positively electric! With the help of Gambi’s self driving mini van serving as a cover, virtual Black Lightning appears to run with Thunder. There’s a brief moment of danger, but Anissa uses her protective instincts to save them, and the ruse goes off without a hitch. By the end of night, every local news telecast in Freeland has footage of Black Lightning in the streets — while Jefferson is still behind bars.
In a brief moment of human decency, Vice Principal Omarosa wants to know if the footage is enough to let Jefferson free. She contacts the ASA, but they are unmoved. They tell her to keep quiet and do the job they hired her to complete. I don’t feel bad for her. Unless we find out something drastic in the next two episodes, its safe to say that she made this bed. She deserves to lie in it.
But do you know who was able to save Jefferson? Inspector Henderson! Following his early hunch that Jefferson’s arrest was a set up, throughout the episode Henderson helmed a parallel investigation that followed the money involved in the ASA’s police coverup. He doesn’t know the specifics of the spy organization, but the money trail alone is enough to get one dirty cop to flip on the other. With a confession that the police planted evidence against him, Jefferson is exonerated of all charges and free to go home.
That’s not all! Inspector Henderson has been promoted! He closes the episode in a press conference that brings home the underlying message of the episode — for far too long in this country, black people have suffered from over and under policing in their communities, from police brutality, from government corruption rather than professionalism. He hopes that his new role as Deputy
Commissioner Gordon Chief Henderson signals a new day for Freeland.
Jefferson makes it home to Grandaddy Pierce’s safe house. The end of a long, impossible day. He’s greeted by hugs from both his daughters and Lynn. Then Jennifer scooches off to find ice cream before everyone’s emotions get too mushy. Seriously, that girl — perfect teenager is perfect. Gambi shows up to the family gathering with a meek smile and bottle of wine. He and Jefferson find an uncomfortable truce. There’s no way to make OK Gambi’s compliance with the ASA’s violence. But, Jefferson is thankful for the ways that Gambi has kept the Pierces safe these last few weeks. He’s hopeful that they can find a new, careful, way to work together.
The Pierce family ends the episode together — Uncle Gambi included — enjoying each other’s company over some take out pizza and Frank’s RedHot sauce.
We have just two weeks left! I can’t believe it! If you haven’t heard the great news by now, Black Lightning has been renewed for season two at the CW! I’m so glad that we won’t have to say goodbye to the Pierces or our beloved black lesbian superhero anytime soon. I’m also having uncomfortable feelings that with only two weeks to go, we haven’t had time to explore Anissa’s personal life more in this last set of episodes, namely whatever happened to her love interest Grace Choi. I’m working on collecting those thoughts for a future write up, so please be on the look out for that.
For now, I’m thankful that this week’s episode touched on the violent realities that far too many black people in this country face as it relates to unjust policing. Excuse my hard pivot, but today marks the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. I hope that if you have time this evening, you take the chance will reflect on his legacy. It’s no secret that we are not where we need to be yet as a country. In the last few years, it feels as if we have fallen farther away from our goals than we have in a long time. Still, Dr. King never gave up on the promise of America. Even when she failed to live up to it.
So yes, let us have this reprieve together and talk superheroes. But then also, let us also steel ourselves and go out and fight. Be the real superheroes that our communities need out there in the world.
Love you guys! See you next week.