“Black Lightning” Episode 201 Recap: Redemption Song

Hello Muffins! WE’RE BAAAAAAAAAAAACK!

And it looks like The CW has opened up their coin purse like grandma after church on Sunday because we have a sexy, sleek new title card to celebrate.

If you missed (or don’t quite remember) the first season of Black Lightning, that’s ok! We’re all friends here. To catch up quickly, Jefferson Pierce is an ex-superhero turned high school principal who has powers involving electric energy. He got out of the game nearly ten years ago so he could raise his two daughters alongside his ex-wife, Lynn. That was until last year, when his eldest daughter, Anissa, came into powers of her own! She can rearrange matter density and stomp shit real hard – don’t worry, it’s much cooler in practice than it sounds. Ok! AND ANISSA PIERCE IS BIG OLE LESBIAAAAN, making her the first lesbian superhero on the CW and the first black lesbian superhero on film. Ever. Ever Ever Ever. You’re going to want to know that!

Anissa and Jefferson join together to fight a super secret government agency with duplicitous motives known as the ASA (think Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but for DC Comics). The ASA has teamed up with Tobias Whale, Jefferson’s arch-nemesis, and a whole slew of other baddies to pump a drug called “Green Light” into the black neighborhoods of Freeland, mimicking the historic attempts of the U.S. government to do the same during the crack-cocaine epidemic. The major difference being that when mixed with certain DNA, Green Light has the power to turn otherwise average everyday people into superpowered meta humans against their consent. Much like other works of Afro-futurist art, mining real life legacies of black pain and trauma to reimagine them through a supernatural lens is sort of Black Lightning’s whole deal. Are you still with me? I promise we’re almost there.

While Anissa and Jefferson are doing their crime-fighting caped crusader father-daughter thing, Jennifer Pierce (a high school sophomore and Beyoncé faithful who believes in the motto “work hard, play hard”) discovers that she has powers of her own! Whereas Jefferson’s electric abilities involve absorbing energy, Jennifer can create it! If he’s a car, she’s the battery. The entire Pierce clan (Mama Lynn included!) end the season in a brawl against Tobias and the ASA, saving 100s of young black meta humans being kept alive by the organization in Green Light “pods” for a future nefarious action. Whew! We made it.

Now that everyone’s all caught up, we can properly begin.

I’ve never heard Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” and not immediately welled up with tears. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, so at the first guitar strum last night, my heart seized. Black Lightning’s first season was marked with deft soundtrack choices that cut deeply into black music history, and it’s clear they have no intention of slowing down.

Marley asks, “how long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?” as two white police officers hold a black child, about the age of Trayvon Martin, not much older than Tamir Rice, in a choke hold. They squeeze harder and harder, just like they did to Eric Garner.  You can hear a young girl scream, “You’re killing him! You’re killing him!”, just like Philando Castile. Then, they leave his lifeless body alone on the curb.

I’ve mused that Anissa Pierce’s ability to control her powers by manipulating her breath reminds me of Eric Garner’s famous last words, “I Can’t Breathe” – a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. From the very beginning, Black Lightning has situated itself squarely in conversations about celebrating black life and uplifting our resistance.Still, watching this video is hard. Thinking of Eric Garner is hard. Philando Castile. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Watching Freeland PD take the young life of Issa Williams, I found myself unwittingly pinching my sides, counting the seconds for it to be over. Willing myself not to look away. It’s a difficult and result season opener.

We watch all of this unfold from the viewpoint of the Freeland nightly news. No other television show uses news broadcasts as effectively or to the same horrifying effect as Black Lightning, in part because few other communities have such a traumatic relationship to the evening news. Every black person I know has at some point in their life, for most, more times often than not, held their breath while watching a broadcaster and silently praying that the shooter – or worse yet, the victim – wasn’t black. For us, news comes laced with mourning.

Issa was one of the so-called “Green Light babies” (I assume, a play on the derogatory colloquialism “crack babies”) who’ve been increasing in number across Freeland since the ASA and Tobias Whale infiltrated black communities. Reverend Holt, the Pierce family minister, reminds us from the pulpit that even though Green Light’s super charged side effects might be the latest excuse for police brutality, such violence on young black bodies long predates the drug.

With Anissa in the pews, the reverend tells his congregation that the government is still not granting family members access to the young people left in the pods. They are using the guise of public health concerns as a cover up. It’s a compounded trauma. The Reverend emphasizes, “basically they think they own your family members.”

I’m not going into hundreds of years worth of history about slavery. Being owned is not lost on black people. For the uninitiated, the show hammers it home when the nightly newscaster invokes Dr. James Marion Sims, the so-called “Father of Modern Gynecology,” who began his practice by forcing experiments onto enslaved black women. At the same time, showrunner Salim Akil told Shadow and Act that he wanted to call attention to the reverberating effects of the Trump Administration’s policy to separate immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, “I think one of the things that disturbs me the most is the snatching of people’s children away from them, and using the excuse of the laws to do something that morally, you know is incorrect.”

What did you say about Senator Kamala Harris?

In this house, we respect The Queen.

Wanting to help those families in need of legal services, Anissa Pierce goes full on Set It Off meets Robin Hood, donning her infamous black hoodie for the first time this season – now with the new addition of a face mask. (Aside: did Anissa play a lot of Mortal Kombat as a kid? I’m just saying, that mask looks familiar.) She robs local Freeland drug dealers. She Thunder Stomps all over. She slams walls and causes a ruckus, giving the show gets an optimal chance to show off their newly improved F/X budget.

Lil’ Kim Voice: All About the Benjamins, Baby

When she drops the stolen money off at the church, Mortal Kombat mask still in tow, she’s a bit taken aback that every parishioner is strapped with a gun, you know just in case. I’m pointing it out because that scene felt perfectly ripped from a 1970s Blaxploitation film, a genre that Black Lightning aesthetically borrows from often, but also because I found it hilarious. Church Auntie got a gun? Let me be down.

That said, my fellow TV Team member, and proud North Carolinian, Natalie read the scene differently, “my mind went immediately to the shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and how that sanctuary had been violated during a Wednesday night Bible Study. There was something profoundly sad for me in seeing parishioners carrying their handguns into that consecrated space. It was unsettling and, in my opinion, like the Issa Williams storyline, unnecessary and heavy handed.”

Anissa has even more concerns weighing her. Her little sister’s powers seem to be growing stronger with her distress, leaving her to levitate and glow the prettiest gold sparkles in her sleep (ok, apparently this is dangerous. But also, sparkles are so preeeeeeetty! Sorry.) Protective as ever, Anissa takes this information to her parents. Lynn wants to get Jennifer into therapy so that she can have a safer outlet to work through her emotions and mental health. Jefferson seems dubious, but since we know that Jennifer’s therapist has already been hired for the season, it’s safe to say that he’ll come around.

This is what I imagine I look like at night, dreaming about Tessa Thompson

Frank conversations about black mental health on television are having something of a turning point, still they’re incredibly rare and absolutely necessary. Normalizing these avenues goes a long way, and I’m so thankful that Black Lightning is taking its time with this plot rather than making it a one-off. Unlike Anissa’s whole Thunder deal, the Pierces seem ill-equipped to help Jennifer with her energy creation. They’re recognizing their shortcomings, and looking for outside help. It’s hard to admit when what’s best for your loved one is outside of your control.

*cries in Black Girl Magic*

Jennifer finds herself feeling alone and isolated. Keisha, her best friend, doesn’t help. I love Keisha. I think every teenage girl should have that one friend who always gets you into trouble and then helps you get back out. It builds character and teaches sisterhood. I also looooooove that in the middle of what was an already jam packed episode, they found time for a quite moment between two black girls to braid hair on a porch. Really braid hair, not “made for TV” braiding. Cornrows. Grease on the back of the hand. Rattail comb out. Weave at the ready.

Do you know how many times we’ve seen white teenage girls bond on television by doing their hair? A thousand. How often have we’ve seen authentic black hair care on television? Next to NEVER. Decisions to hide those everyday moments take parts of black humanity and place them behind a curtain of shame. With Keisha, Jennifer can be vulnerable. She’s relaxed. We’re relaxed. Which only makes what comes next more awful.

While doing Jennifer’s hair, Keisha goes on and on about how meta humans are “freaks,” calling it “the end of days” (yeah, she went biblical). Jennifer’s face crumbles. All she’s ever wanted was to be normal, and here is her own best friend calling her freak. Matters worsen when the two girls hang out on their phones in Jennifer’s room, Keisha pulling up footage from Issa’s funeral.

First of all, Issa’s being carried out in a body bag by two ASA agents who couldn’t be bothered to even find a coffin or a stretcher – way to further disrespect black humanity, Freeland. Keeping it real to the very end. Second, Issa LIVES! He hops right out of that body bag! Much to everyone’s horror, his mother included! At his sister’s encouragement, Issa flees the scene. Keisha watches all of this, muttering once more about “freaks.” Jennifer runs to the bathroom before her powers overwhelm her, shielding herself from Keisha’s prying eyes.

Hours later it takes Jefferson to help calm her, holding her in a hug so that he can absorb her worry (and its physical manifestation) as Anissa and Lynn look on, terrified. It’s a somber reunification for the Pierces. One that leaves them together, but also fraught about what lies ahead – a promise of a treacherous terrain stretched long in front of them.

When I said I wanted the whole family back together…

… THIS WAS NOT WHAT I MEANT.

I don’t want to end our time together on a downer, so here’s two other fun plot points:

Commissioner Gordon Henderson has finally put together Jefferson’s true identity as Black Lightning. Their exchange goes something like this:

Henderson: “You do realize you’re only wearing goggles right? Did you think I’m one of those Arrowverse characters who can’t see what’s directly in front of their face? C’mon my man, we’re smarter than this.”

Jefferson: “Nah, you right. My bad. By the way, Anissa is also caught up in this superhero game. Just so you know.”

Next, we must talk about the fight between Vice Principal Omarosa and Syonide! Can I just say, I love how just like real life Omarosa got an upgrade over the summer that left her lurking among the legions of black royalty at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, Vice Prinicpal Omarosa got an upgrade in Black Lightning’s wardrobe department. The new suits, hair, make up, accessories – it’s all working. She’s on the run from the ASA and Tobias sends Syonide to collect.

Their fight scene in the parking garage is hands down one of the best choreographed stunts we’ll see this year. That’s right, I said it! Tell Daredevil or Iron Fist to call me. The real highlight comes at the very end, when VP Omarosa turns HER. STILETTO. HEELS. INTO. DAGGERS. AND. LAUNCHES. THEM. INTO. SYONIDE’S. THROAT.

http://malecs.tumblr.com/post/178905617327

“Bitch, you got my hair wet” is how I’m closing out all my debates from now on.

If you saw the preview for next week’s episode, you already know that something very exciting and gay is afoot. I’m here with even bigger news. The CW press photos for next week dropped today, and at different points you can clearly see – SPOILER ALERT – Chenoa (Anissa’s first girlfriend), GRACE!!! (Back from her journey to the unknown), AND A NEW LOVE INTEREST!!!!

Our long suffering drought is finally over.

Until then!

PS: Did I mention that I missed you all summer long?!?!? I did!

XOXO


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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 79 articles for us.

19 Comments

  1. This recap was already packed full, so I never got the chance to shout out the casting of black Hollywood legends Robert Townsend and Bill Duke! Meteor Man and Black Lightning together, that’s the fictional world I want to live in!

    https://shadowandact.com/robert-townsend-and-bill-duke-join-black-lightning-season-2

    Don’t worry they will be around for a while, so we will get to dig more into them in the future (along with another special guest star from the Living Single era! Shout out Scooter! Getting his friends jobs!)

  2. @C-P: “When she drops the stolen money off at the church, Mortal Kombat mask still in tow, she’s a bit taken aback that every parishioner is strapped with a hand gun, you know just in case. I’m pointing it out because that scene felt perfectly ripped from a 1970s Blaxploitation film, a genre that Black Lightning borrows from aesthetically often, but also because I found it hilarious.”

    So this scene hit me a different way: my mind went immediately to the shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and how that sanctuary had been violated during a Wednesday night Bible Study. There was something profoundly sad for me in seeing parishioners carrying their handguns into that consecrated space. It was unsettling and, in my opinion, like the Issa Williams storyline, unnecessary and heavy handed. Low points of the episode for me, for sure.

    I loved the fight scene between the Vice Principal (did we know she could do that?!) and Syonide but I’m really disappointed to see Syonide go so early in the season. The fight between her and Thunder last season was a favorite and I’m bummed we won’t get a repeat performance.

    • It never would’ve occurred to me to connect that church scene to Charleston, but I can absolutely see it now. I’m a little worried that my reading of it was crude; my first instinct was to reach for the comic relief (especially after that Issa Williams opening)

      I didn’t mind Issa’s story as much in terms of it being heavy handed, if only because I think he’s maybe going to become Static Shock? Who is a big part of the Black Lightning universe in the comics, and would need to be retrofitted into a BLM theme to better fit the established narrative grammar of the television show. THAT SAID, anytime we’re forced to watch black trauma on television is too many times. Honestly, this is one of the reasons that this recap is late getting to you! It was hard. Too hard, perhaps. We’ve been through enough already.

      I was SHOCKED that we are getting rid of Syonide so soon! I 100% thought they were developing her to be a real “second in command” figure this year! And Salim Akil confirmed that she’s dead dead at that! I’m vaguely hopeful this means a bigger villain role for the Vice Principal? Between the Syonide fight and the one with Tobias to close the show, she’s proven she has some real action chops.

      • With last season’s reanimation/zombie plotline, I’m really surprised to see Syonide gone so soon. My fight-or-flight response was almost activated at seeing Fowdy opening the trunk (got big Delphine Cormier vibes for a sec), and I was sure VP thirsty was going to die in a 30-second scene, but instead we got one of the best-choreographed showdowns I’ve seen in ages. I would’ve loved to have both women survive, if only for potential of an even bigger, more personal rivalry developing between them, and a second chance for Thunder to take on Tobias’ right hand.

        I will say that I loved finding out that Fowdy has all this presumably ASA-related combat and weapons training, because it really expands the character in my eyes to make her more than a) her thirst for Jefferson and b) her subordination under Quinn Fabray’s racist dad. I also like the idea of getting her out of the Garfield sphere and connecting her more directly to the action and to Gambi.

  3. Oh this was such a great opening for this new season, gonna miss Syonide a bit tho. It’s not often I see a skinny actress that pulls off that hungry predator look like Charlbi Dean Kriek did but death by weaponised high heel shoes is something I love very much as a weirdo who jokes about high heels as weapons whenever let loose in a place that sells shoes.

    I have a cool fact about Issa’s name that I wonder if the writers considered when they picked the name and knew what was going to happen with the character. Issa is the Arabic form of Yeshua, which is Jesus(dude who came back from the dead after a couple days). Yeah a character who comes back from the dead in his uh shroud is basically named Jesus so A+ writer’s room.

    Back to combat choreography.
    Truly something with a bit of hook to it is a natural counter to a straight weapon like batons. And like Daredevil Anissa now has a hallway fight in a casual clothes black outfit with identity obscuring accessory.

    Agent Odell excellent casting, Bill Duke is pulling tired sour old man off really well.

    Hulk precedent followed, the agent/formula that fucked ya up is government property now so are you.

    There’s a fucking essay waiting to be written about the legacy of “Dr.” James Marion Sims still infecting gynecology with cruelty and inhumanity that affects 21st human beings and the impact of the male dominated medical establishment taking gynecological care out of the hands of women so many years ago female doctors can’t even erase it.
    Slavery ended in 1865 but still we have doctors believing black women don’t feel as much pain as white women and disregard them when there’s pain or they report something. Beliefs from over 100 years ago are killing people here in the second decade of the 21st Century were we can print children cost effective prosthetic limbs.

    • Oh man Lex, I could read your writing about stunts forever.

      I think Issa was a great catch! Nothing is by chance on this show, so you’re probably on to something.

      And definitely, 100% yes! re: the legacy of “Dr.” Sims and black women’s trauma in medicine

  4. I’m so glad the Pierces and your wonderful reviews are back! That opening was really hard for me to watch, too, since it looked and felt so eerily similar to an average day of news-watching or social media surfing. I’m really trying in all media I consume to interrogate the trauma that we see inflicted on black bodies, and whether it’s then grounded in character development or at least handled with care, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about seeing Issa’s killing when a school picture and a headline probably could’ve sufficed. Even knowing he comes back, and that the writers might have thought it more impactful to know he was dead dead and now he isn’t, it was a whole lot. If there’s any show I trust with this, it’s Black Lightning, but I’m gonna sit with that opening scene for a minute.

    That said, I thought this was a really strong season opener, and a great reminder that somehow, maybe because it’s the Akils, maybe because there’s a healthy amount of distance from the other super-shows, maybe because of sheer black magic, this show remains the best of the CWs lineup, and one of the best on network tv.

    That new title card? Gorgeous. The historical nods? Engaging. The fight sequences in the parking garage and at the trap house? Riveting. Anissa going all Robin Hood against Jeff’s wishes? Legendary. Black parents talking about their kid’s mental health? Inspired. The reverend hitting the church with that “won’t he do it?” like he and the entire strapped congregation didn’t just think Anissa was about to take them out? Chillingly smooth. A superhero’s cop friend using common sense to figure out his identity and demanding the truth? Breathtaking. The hair braiding scene? I felt that so hard that it tapped into the night I saw Annelise Keating getting a sew in from Mary J Blige, and my joy multiplied ten-fold. And the music? Lands every single time. Unrivaled.

    I think I spent much of last season comparing this show to Luke Cage, because that’s what you do when you get exactly two black-led super shows while being bombarded with mostly white super shows, but Black Lightning has really set itself apart for me in a million ways, but maybe most effectively in its introduction of the n-word.

    LC doesn’t shy away from use of the n-word, and with Netflix, they don’t have to, but it’s significant that Luke Cage himself has long speeches about not using the word and not having it used by others to describe or name him, while Jefferson decidedly doesn’t. In this season premier, before he cedes his position as principal to Robert Townsend aka Meteor Man, Jeff is accused of insinuating that Meteor Man is too cozy and accommodating to the white people who pull the behind the scenes strings at Garfield, and therefore calling him a “house nigga”. Then, when Henderson is asking for the truth, he calls Jeff “negro”, just like Lala has, just like Tobias has.

    The CW isn’t Netflix. I don’t think we’re going to get many more, if any more, direct n-words, but Jefferson has yet to shame another black man for the words he uses. And, if I’m not mistaken, he has yet to distance himself from the way other black men around him are communicating. Even in his commitment to keeping his students off the streets and out of gangs, and in asking them to respect themselves, he doesn’t suggest that their use of the n-word makes them complicit in the way they’re targeted by police or by drug pushers.

    In not putting into Jeff’s mouth the sort of language we’ve heard from Luke Cage, I think Black Lightning does a better job of avoiding respectability politics. We know our bad guys and our good guys sometimes use the same language, and because of that we know that the language itself isn’t what makes them good or bad. It’s the intent. It’s the actions they pair the language with. And that space, space where these black people get to choose how they use language, and the audience has to look at who and how they are independent of how they speak, is so refreshing. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing, ya know? It’s one of the big reasons why I trust this show and why my hopes are so high.

    • Hey @meenbot I am so sorry that this comment got held for moderation! And that I didn’t catch it sooner! Apparently our server doesn’t approve racial slurs like the n-word (even when you weren’t using it as such, OBVIOUSLY) so I went ahead and made the quick edit on “-er” to “a”. Hope you don’t mind!

      While we are on the subject YOUR ANALYSIS OF EVERYTHING IS SPOT ON!!! I loved reading every word, beginning to end.

      I’m excited for all of us to “dig in” this year together. There’s so much there already! Even when I don’t always agree right away with the editing and story choices (see Issa’s opening, like you said, I see why the writers thought it was necessary from a narrative arc perspective, but… do we really need more of that trauma in our lives?)

      Anyway, Black Lightning is truly the show that keeps on giving.

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