We open this week’s Black Lightning with a close up on an old foe — Tobias Whale. He is alive and well, thanks to the medical help of the ASA’s Head-Racist-In-Charge Martin Proctor. Proctor, always happy to live up to the nickname I gave him, greets Tobias with an off color joke about Black Lightning nearly barbecuing him alive because, haha black people love to barbecue.
I hate him.
Proctor wants Tobias to pick up dealing Green Light where Lady Eve left off. He launches into a recap of what we already know, that the ASA originally created a serum they thought would help keep black people docile, but it turned out to make some of them meta humans instead. With decades of continued experimentation, that serum turned into Green Light, which is now being pushed on the corners as the street drug de jour. The ASA wants to build an army of super charged secret spy marines. A slight new detail is that Green Light, much like its predecessor, is highly unstable. After becoming meta human, most of the test subjects die. A major exception to this is our very own Jefferson Pierce AKA Black Lightning. Which is why Proctor needs Tobias to deliver him the Great Bolted One — alive and absolutely not dead.
To help Tobias on his quest, Proctor gives him one final gift : Khalil Payne. Ah yes, Jennifer’s ex-first love, former Garfield High track star, and current Tobias Whale henchman, now with a fancy new metal robotic spine that means HE CAN WALK. He also somehow grew shoulder length dreadlocks in the one month he’s been away, never mind the fact that such a hairstyle would take literal years to cultivate, because what’s even the point of watching a black sci-fi show if you can’t hand wave away an inexplicable hair change for the sake of some drama?
Do you know who doesn’t have time to think about bionic teenage boys lurking in the corners? Lynn Pierce. My girl has set a sex trap for Jefferson, and I am really here for it. She’s got on a barely there pink slip dress, she poured herself a glass of red wine, and when Jefferson shows up huffing and puffing because she called him about an “emergency”, she just bats her eyes and brings him in close. So now we’ve solved one of the oldest mysteries of the season: Anissa Pierce definitely got her A game from her mama.
Jefferson holds Lynn and this supercharged thing happens under his fingertips that in turn supercharges her skin? Like there are all these little blue lighting bolts coursing through her veins? Whatever. She’s into it and I am not here to judge. You do you, Lynn. It’s been a long few months.
Back in charge Tobias is busy tying up loose ends around town. He has his lead assassin, Syonide, who we haven’t seen since she shot into the Freeland protest march way back in episode three, kill the henchman who saved Tobias’ life at the expense of his sister. He then calls up Lala using the creepiest secret code of all, “The Devil Deals the Cards,” and has the zombie gang leader finish off some more killing on his behalf. When Lala discovers that Tobias is the one who has been pulling his afterlife strings all along, he’s devastated.
Tobias’ biggest assignment falls to young Khalil. Tobias has to bring Black Lightning out hiding in order to capture him for Proctor, and his best course of action to do that is by attacking Garfield High. Khalil’s key to that plan. The teenager’s been walking around town as if it won’t draw attention that the city’s former All-American Track Star, last seen in a wheelchair with a severed spine, can now jump from buildings in a single hop.
First, Jefferson sees Khalil around the neighborhood, and becomes weary after realizing that his miraculous medical treatment has the ASA written all over it. Jefferson then warns Jennifer, but of course she doesn’t listen. She’s over all this superhero mumbo jumbo ruling her life. The minute Khalil texts, she bolts from Grandaddy Pierce’s safe house.
She meets Khalil at their former site of their teenage puppy love, the lower roof outside of her bedroom window. Her smile when she first lays eyes on him — it’s the stuff of Disney princess movies. She hugs him close, they joke around with each other, the music swells, it’s all pure and innocent. That is until Jennifer starts asking about his new mature appearance and how exactly was he selected for this experimental medical study. Khalil turns cold on a dime. He doesn’t physically hurt Jennifer, but the quick change in his demeanor is enough to scare her.
I am not excited about Khalil’s major comeback. I enjoyed the boy-next-door earlier this season as Jennifer’s first boyfriend. My interests peaked when it was revealed about halfway through the season that Khalil decided to work for Tobias. However, by the time he returned to the narrative, I couldn’t muster any goodwill.
Watching the episode, I mostly found myself upset. How is it that every side character on Black Lightning who originally felt inconsequential — from the beanpole drug dealer Will, who originally died in the second episode only to come back as a figment of Lala’s zombie imagination, to Vice Principal Omarosa, who has moved from having less than three lines an episode to being the right hand of this season’s Big Bad — managed to come back full circle, except for Lady Eve and both of Anissa’s love interests.
Black Lightning made quick work of defining itself as the kind of intrigue drama where clues are not left at random. Characters originally thought to be dead are brought back to life, background books and set pieces become enriching supplementary evidence, even the show’s music choices have often have a higher calling. When so many small details have proven to be important, the unexplained loss of the show’s central femme fatale figure and it’s two queer women of color love interests is glaring.
Lala came back from death to serve Tobias Whale was his new master, so why did Black Lightning spend roughly half the season building up Lady Eve as the Queen of the (un)Dead via her mortuary? Why did Martin Proctor see fit to save Tobias’ life, then cut a new deal with the kingpin about selling drug deals on Eve’s old turf, rather than just save the equally villainous — but self-empowered, independent woman — Lady Eve to begin with? How is that Jennifer’s ex-boyfriend Khalil was given a new central arc as we close the first season, but Grace Choi and Chenoa SHE DIDN’T EVEN GET A LAST NAME, Anissa’s two love interests, have not been heard from in two months?
Perhaps this disparity wouldn’t be as striking if Black Lightning hadn’t soared so high in its early episodes. Grace, Chenoa, and Lady Eve all played a dynamic role in making the show feel unique and feminist right out of the gates. A sharp breath of fresh air you rarely get on television. Chenoa and Anissa started the season off with a literal bang, becoming only the second black couple in all of network television to share a bed together. They spent a full three minutes on screen, naked from their lovemaking, sharing a kind of queer intimacy rarely caught on camera. Grace Choi’s bright smile and even brighter spirit warmed right through us. Her character’s fundamental to Anissa’s superhero development in the comic books, and losing track of her in the television series is a grave misstep — especially when the actress playing Grace, Chantal Thuy, still takes such care with the show’s fans on social media. Jill Scott’s Lady Eve was overdramatic in all of the best ways. It’s still rare on camera to see a fat woman who’s in full ownership of her body and her sexuality. Eve had the potential to be a villain that we talked about on television for years to come, but she was cut down halfway through the season and replaced with the zombie creations of lackluster men who were previously thought to be dead.
I’ve loved Black Lightning’s first season, and it’s ability to craft a well-woven Afrofuturist superhero tale. Still, the creeping double standard underlying the back half of the season cannot be ignored.
There is one episode left, and who knows? I’d love nothing more than the last hour to have Lady Eve triumphantly rise from the ground to decapitate Tobias and push a spear through that racist ass Martin Proctor. I’d love to see Anissa wrap up her superhero arc by taking a shot of tequila at Grace’s bar. Going into their already renewed second season, I remain hopeful that the show’s writers room course corrects. And fast. Thankfully, executive producer Salim Akil has promised that we can “expect to see Grace again — in a BIGGER way”. That doesn’t necessarily dampen the frustration of having her character already sidelined for this long. But, I believe that the same writers who gave us all of these incredible women characters — Grace and Eve, but also Anissa, Jennifer, and Lynn — will also come trough with stories that are worthy of them.
Ok. Back to Khalil’s assignment. He’s back on his old stomping grounds, Garfield High, turning over school buses and breaking down doors. Tobias has accessorized him with wrist-sized dart throwers that shoot tranquilizers. The students that Khalil’s randomly hunting in the hallways are not being fatally harmed. Still, it’s scary enough. I’m thankful we’re firmly in the sci-fi realm right now, but watching students be violently stalked and terrorized in their own school, given the 17 real life school shootings we have already witnessed so far this year, left me thoroughly unnerved.
Khalil’s faux massacre definitely went about five seconds longer than my comfort level could bear, I had a big sigh of relief when Thunder and Black Lightning take their superhero stroll through the school. They only have roughly five minutes to save the day before the authorities will show up ready to arrest Black Lightning, who is still technically an outlaw.
Vice Principal Omarosa is busy guiding all of the panicked students out of the school. Jennifer tries to warn Jefferson about Khalil, but he cuts her off and tells her to run for safety. For the second time in the episode, our favorite stubborn 16-year-old doesn’t listen to her father. Her family is going to need her help. She can’t leave them behind.
Anissa is canvassing the classrooms when she finds Syonide cockily holding a group of students at gunpoint. Syonide, eyes on her target, lets all the hostages leave the room as she prepares for battle. She pulls out her guns and lets it rip — clip after clip pouring out onto Anissa. I’ve said before that bullet proof black people is my favorite superhero trope, which is still true, but there is also something so sweet about a television lesbian who can’t be shot.
Those bullets bounce of off Anissa like they are raindrops. She cockily looks back at Syonide as if to say, is that all you got? And then the two women have it out in what must be Black Lightning’s most stunning piece of fight choreography to date. I couldn’t believe it! The CW agreed with me, because they released the entire scene online so that we could relive it’s glory over and over again:
While Thunder and Syonide are living out all of my femme superhero fight club dreams, Black Lightning and Tobias are setting the stage for their grand rematch, roughly ten years in the making.
Tobias came prepared — he has on a “lightning proof” vest underneath his clothes, goading Jefferson into hand to hand combat instead. Despite the warnings of literally every person with common sense, Jefferson takes the bait. The two men brawl down the high school hallway, wrapped tightly in each other. Khalil appears. Gambi, via an earpiece, encourages Jefferson to take the teenager out. The risk is too great and time is running out. But, Jefferson can’t leave the kid paralyzed again. He won’t do it.
In the time it takes Jefferson to weigh the decision, Khalil launches one of his tranquilizers in Jefferson’s neck! It’s zaps away all his powers and leaves him seemingly dead. Tobias is just about to unmask him once and for all — when Thunder comes running down the staircase! She’s still dodging bullets! She Thunder claps and ground shakes! Tobias and all his henchmen scurry away!
Anissa tries to wake up her father. He won’t budge. Jennifer flies around the other corner. She cries over Jefferson’s body, begging him to breathe. He weeps and pounds her fists on his chest. That’s when it happens! Her powers spark Jefferson back to life!
We always knew that Jennifer was the most powerful Pierce, but I think this is the moment when she finally sees it for herself. Earlier in the episode Jennifer begged Lynn to find a way to take her powers away, but now she understands: her powers don’t mean something’s wrong with her. They mean that she’s fully herself.
Gambi takes the entire Pierce family to another secret safe house, this time in the woods. (The horrified look on poor teenage Jennifer’s face when he tells her to smash all their smartphones was GOLD!) And so here they are, with the ASA calling for Thunder and Black Lightning’s bodies on a stake, backs against the wall, as we go into the final episode.
Since this week’s episode was a little light on Anissa Pierce, I wanted to share with you all that her actress, Nafessa Wiliams, has been super busy lately! If you haven’t had the chance yet, you should absolutely watch her fan panel at last weekend’s ClexaCon! Nafessa has been so committed to giving love back to the LGBT community she’s representing in this role, particularly black lesbians, bisexuals, and queer women. She’s taken playing the first black lesbian superhero seriously. So, I’m ending this week with a shout out to her (if you aren’t following Nafessa on twitter, you can find her @NafessaWilliams) and a shout out to all of you! We’ve been on such a journey together. I’ve never done a weekly recap before this year. Hell, this time last year I had never written professionally about television at all. You have all made it absolutely worth it!
I’ll cut the mushy feelings for now and save the rest for next week — when we will come back together for the BLACK LIGHTNING SEASON FINALE!!!!