“Where the hell are we?”
“A place inside you that will eventually allow you to control your powers.”
“Wait… a salon?”
“Where is there any safer space than this?”
I loved this week’s episode. It’s probably going down as one of my favorites in the series, if for no other reason than it’s incredibly well balanced for all three Pierce women. Jennifer finds help in a black woman mentor and works towards becoming mentally healthy enough to control her powers; Dr. Lynn Stewart finally lands the type of plot that I’ve been dreaming for her since the first season – discovering the murky shades of grey in her moral compass; and there’s a real, honest official beginning to the #ThunderGrace romance that has been promised to us for almost a year now. So much is happening! And it’s all at once! I almost don’t know where to begin. Except, really, I do. We have to start in the salon.
Between the ages of seven and seventeen, nearly every Saturday morning I was up before the sun. You see, black hair institutions notoriously take all damn day, and my mom hates lines or waiting. She’d book us for 6am. We’d get there before our beautician. Sometimes, Mom would bring along a coffee to go with her “morning person” smile and my eye-crusted grumps.
I’d fall back asleep in the high cushy leather seat of a salon chair while Miss Tanya started my mom first. By the time I woke up the shop was always buzzing – women talking about political news, the hottest movies, or pouring over burned mixed CDs from the bootleg man (who doubled as another stylist at the salon). Teenagers rolling their eyes at their flip phones. The shampoo Miss Tanya used on my hair smelled like peppermint and burst into playful pink bubbles down my neck. Her long nails scratched. The conditioner was a thick off-white, and cold. Then came a wrap and an hour underneath the dryer that was hotter than Hades itself. I’d read Essence while I spied on “grown folks’ business” and smiled dutifully at the compliments women would give me about my schoolwork.
I grew up in a black city, arguably one of the most famously black cities in America, and still nothing matched the beauty salon when it came to sisterhood. I could be cute and call it “Wakanda” or make a snappy reference to “Black Girl Magic,” but here’s the thing… every Saturday, it was our world. For a few precious (and for me, sleep deprived) hours, there were no white micro-aggressions to police us. Hell, there weren’t even men – unless they had permission from Miss Tanya.
Perenna’s right, what could be safer than this?
Although some would argue that this is a space that actually strips black women of who they naturally are. Uses hot combs, lye, and all sorts of other alchemy to hide our blackness. We turned it into something completely different. For generations, black women have come here to talk, to share, to laugh, to cry, to be safe from the world.
It’s not unheard of that black women’s relationship to our hair is as complicated as it is sacred. What’s discussed less often is the community we’ve built in those tender spaces of figuring out how to love ourselves. When it was announced that Jennifer was going to learn how to control her powers with the help of a black therapist, I was overjoyed. Black mental health is still taboo and that’s particularly true for black women who’ve digested the myth that we have to be fearless superwomen, strong enough to hold up our whole community. As Zora Neale Hurston would say, black women are taught “to be the mules of the world.” I was ecstatic to witness Black Lightning take a torch to that hurt. Still, I had no idea we would end up here – that they would thread the needle so perfectly. Sooner or later I’m going to learn, never underestimate this show.
And IF YOU THOUGHT I was going to let the appearance of Maxine Shaw Attorney At Law happen without a mention, then you don’t know me at all! Maybe you’ve never seen the sitcom Living Single. Maybe you don’t understand what a colossal huge deal it is that Jennifer’s new therapist is one of the greatest comedic actresses of The Black ‘90s. That’s ok, we’re all here to learn. I don’t have time right now to dig all the way in the way I want to (it’s taking every ounce of my self-control not to turn this week’s recap into a Living Single dedication post), but here’s a primer. You can stream the episodes on Hulu.
You should love Living Single not only because it’s great (it is), and not only because it stars Glass Closet Legend Queen Latifah at her comedic best (it does), and not only because quoting Living Single is the surest way into my heart (very true) – you should know it exists and love it because it’s quickly becoming essential supplemental material to the show we’ve already joined together every week to pick apart, Black Lightning. Here’s the deal: Before Jefferson Pierce was Jefferson Pierce, 20 years ago, he was Scooter – Khadija James’ (Queen Latifah’s) one true love. She called him “Scootie Pootie.” They were THE BEST. Khadija’s best friend was the phenomenal Maxine Shaw Attorney at Law (and yes you have to say the entire thing every time; I don’t make the rules), who is now Jennifer Pierce’s therapist. Once upon a time, Maxine Shaw Attorney at Law loved Kyle Barker the afrocentric stockbroker, and Kyle Barker debuted last season as Tobias Whale’s long lost father. Scootie Pootie grew up and he’s making sure everybody gettin’ checks. I’m not mad about it.
Okay. Okay. To quote perfect teenager Jennifer Pierce, “Did you seriously bring me here for a this-week-in-black-history moment?” No reader, I did not! On to our beloved Anissa Pierce.
Jennifer, still housebound at her parent’s request, for her own safety, has nothing better to do than be bored and stroll through Instagram. Who does she see on a gossip blog, dating up-and-coming singer Zoe B.? Her big sister’s face, that’s who!
She literally and figuratively zaps Anissa (hey, if you can’t lightly burn your big sister every now and again, why even have powers to begin with?) – Zoe B. is not right for her. She’s glitz and glam. “She’s cotton candy,” as Jennifer puts it. “You need Soul Food.” What did I tell you about Jennifer Pierce, perfect teenager? She’s perfect.
Jennifer’s right and Anissa knows it, which leads her back to the Ruby Red Lipstick Bar, Freeland’s resident lesbian lounge and Grace Choi’s place of employment. Let me get this out of the way immediately: After this scene, I decided in the core of my bones that I am Team Grace and none of you will sway my vote. We can still be friends, but I feel like you should be aware upfront of what’s happening.
Anissa loves to play it cool, right? She loves to lower her voice and bat her eyelashes and use pick up lines that really shouldn’t work because they’re corny, except they DO WORK because she has that face. That’s her whole deal. Grace Choi’s whole deal is that she’s immune to the game.
Anissa takes a seat at the bar, thinking she’s smooth, and Grace goes “What do you want?” Anissa smiles her trademark half-smile, “I just wanna talk.” Grace has her exactly where she wants her. She goes in for the kill: “I meant, to drink.”
Initial Score: 1 point for Team Bisexual Badass Bartender.
DID I MENTION THAT GRACE IS IN A BUTTON UP FLANNEL, SHOWING OFF HER MULTIPLE ARM TATTOOS? *Swoon* I’m already dead. So, let’s give her another point for that.
Where are we at now? 2 – 0, Team Choi.
Anissa tries a new tactic, apologizing for how Grace saw her at Zoe B’s party. Grace cuts her off, saying she was more “caught” than “seen.” Anissa pulls out the Hall of Fame greatest player line from her back pocket, “I didn’t get caught! We weren’t in a relationship!” I mean, Anissa is correct, but also I hollowed.
That brings us: Choi – 2, Thunder – 1
Anissa finally apologizes for ghosting Grace last season. Then, she tries it again with the lashes and the smile and the compliments. This time, Grace softens. Anissa’s been all work lately, we know that. Her work is vitally important, so we get why. At the same time, she’s realizing that she needs to find some balance in her life. She’d like that balance to start with Grace Choi, if she’ll let her.
Final Score: It’s A Tie! Bring on the slow burn love story! I’m so here for it.
Speaking of Anissa’s work, this week she’s taking on gentrification. Gentrification, the redevelopment of historically POC neighborhoods by rich white residents who raise the cost of living and effectively “price out” longtime black and brown residents, is one of the most costly side effects of systematic racism. As it relates to Freeland, land developers are going to buy and close down the church’s free clinic, unless Anissa Robin Hoods the money to save them. It’s a storyline that’s actually “ripped from the headlines” of Atlanta, where Black Lightning films. I’m glad to see the show add another important layer to their ongoing exploration of blackness in 2018 America. So glad, in fact, that I’m going to let it pass that somehow Rev. Holt still can’t recognize Anissa – a parishioner of his own church, whom presumably he’s known since childhood. Whatever. That’s another problem for another week. At least this plot gives us an excellent opportunity for a Thunder Clap.
Last season, Black Lightning struggled with Dr. Lynn Stewart. It’s made clear fairly early on that she’s cut out of the Claire Huxtable cloth of TV moms – perfect degree, perfect family, perfect cheekbones and high heels collection. But, originally the Akils didn’t give her enough to do other than worry about Jefferson or her daughters as they went off to save the day. This season, Dr. Stewart is getting her Jimmy Choo’s dirty and I LOVE IT.
You see, Lynn needs help running her study at the ASA and rather than offer her some legitimate scientists the super shady organization once again lives up to their reputation and gets her an inmate. Dr. Jace went to jail for – get this – doing unlawful experiments on children that led to 10 of them losing their toes and ONE OF THEM TO DIE!!! Sooooo… yeah. This isn’t great. Sadly, Lynn doesn’t have any other options. Dr. Inmate and Dr. Stewart get to work.
When Dr. Inmate tries to test out her new cyber-sonic ankle bracelet, Lynn warns her with an ice-laden threat, “I will have you thrown into such a dark place, you’ll wonder if the sun still shines.” Her eyes shine with danger and she doesn’t blink, not even once. Is it possible that the ASA starting rub off on Dr. Lynn Stewart? I don’t know, but honestly I can’t wait to find out.
So much was happening for the Pierce women that I didn’t even get around to Jefferson this week! He’s found an delicate truce with
Commissioner Gordon Henderson, and together they track down Tobias. The real break out point in the investigation comes from Khalil, who turns on his boss, leading Tobias to get arrested by Henderson and charged for the murder of Jefferson’s father thirty years ago. I might be wrong, but my Spidey Sense is tingling – I wonder if jail is exactly where Tobias wants to be for whatever is next in his plan.
WHEW! That’s it for this week! We are 12 days, and 18 hours away from the Midterm Elections! Last week we talked about developing a voting plan. This week I’m encouraging you all to be informed voters! Autostraddle even made you A Handy-Dandy Voter’s Guide to make that much simpler. :)
I love you! Have a Reese’s Cup this week and think of me!