“Black Lightning” Episode 203 Recap: Thunder Grace? Game on.

“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.

Black Girl Clap if you know about the sting your scalp gets after those fresh braids get put in! AND IF YOU DID THE HEAD PAT TO MATCH!

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.

*Screams forever in The Black 90s*

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.

Anissa, this is definition of doing too much…

… I don’t know what you’re talking about. I always do EXACTLY the right amount.

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.”

Last week, Autostraddle called me a Shane! Do you have any idea how much that hurts?

Ask Carmen de la Pica Morales.

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.

Their faces are so perfect.

I can’t even handle 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.

“I just want you to know, I’m not one of *those* 53% of white women”

They don’t pay me enough for this.

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!

Carmen is Autostraddle's Associate Editor and a black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, 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. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 140 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. I loved this episode so much. I agree it is definitely one of my favorites of the show too. So much happened for everyone and it was awesome.

    I’m just loving the whole Jennifer storyline this season. And i was so excited to see Erika Alexander pop in.

    Am i the only one that’s noticed that Anissa has better fight scenes as Robin Hood than as Thunder?

    I loved the scene between Anissa and Grace. Anissa looked like a full course meal and some extra in that scene. And their conversation was great. However, it felt a little too short. I wanted it to last longer. I just hope it won’t be only these one scene per episode for Grace we’ll be having. We also need to get to know who Grace is and not just see her as a love interest for Anissa. Grace is so much more than that in the comics.

    I’m loving Lynn’s storyline too. She deserves it. Spending all the time worrying about the kids gets old fast.

    Tobias was captured but we know for sure that he planned it. It is most likely part of his grand scheme of plan that we don’t know about.

    Can’t wait for next week.

    • Nope, I noticed it too, might be that they have more of a budget for working on, perfecting fighting choreography and more takes per episode than they did last season. Also we’ve seen more of Anissa as Robin Hood than Thunder so far in this season and Robin Hood is fighting nothing but large groups.

  2. Got the same suspicions about Tobias.

    I don’t know if there’s going to be anymore focus on Garfield, but in my experience some one a school board wants in a position of power actually in that position does NOT bode well for students especially students of color and students with disabilities. Garfield is majority black and what we saw of the board members they were majority white. So if we get any more scenes or focus on Garfield it’s bound to be some horrid act of authoritarianism occurring against the students likely Greenlight related. 🙁

    I feel like Lynn threatening Jace came more from a Mama Bear place than an “ASA rubbing off on her place” cause she cares about those kids and her subordinates, the ASA mindset is more about power and control like Smaug.

    Having someone with the life experience to recap the salon moment is something special. Some things just need pathos for a multitude of reasons.

  3. great episode as always! the sister convo was so sweet. I really love Nafessa and China’s chemistry. They’re wonderful.

    I was bothered by the Anissa/Grace scene. It was far too short and didn’t even give Grace a chance to reply to Anissa’s declaration. Also it let Anissa off the hook too much in my opinion. She can dress it up however she wants but she still behaved pretty selfishly and treated Grace badly and needs to apologize. Grace has always been straightforward with Anissa and she owes Grace the same treatment and respect.

  4. I’m loving this. So where do I start?

    Maxine Shaw Attorney At Law! It was great seeing her. She looked so regal. It’s really nice to see Jennifer starting to address her emotional health.

    ThunderGrace! We all know Anissa isn’t ready for a relationship just because she decided she wanted one. So I’m looking forward to seeing the push and pull and fuck-ups involved in that. I wonder will we even get a Thunder reveal to Grace this season? Anissa is overly confident all around right now and that’s going to make her prone to dangerous mistakes.

    I was never worried about Lynn’s character languishing. Mara wouldn’t ever write weak one-dimensional women.

    Tobias Whale: So yeah he wanted to be arrested. I think he’s going to clear his name legally which is why he got rid of anyone that could connect him to the murder of Jefferson’s father (except Jefferson of course). He’s clearing his name to prepare to go legit with government contracts. He will sell those kids to the government and the government is shady enough to buy them as weapons.

    • Also wanted to add the perfection that was the salon scene and your retelling of it for folks who just don’t know I appreciate it and the Living Single love remains eternal(Scootie Pootie forever tbh) and now all I need is a Queen Latifah guest appearance too and I might just lose it lol

  5. Anybody who’s interested in more “This week in Black History” should check out Tiffany Gill’s “Beauty Shop Politics.” It’s one of my favorite history books and…well…I’m a historian.

  6. Hello! My country gets this show a week behind!

    I loved that scene where Jennifer confronts her parents about being ambushed by Perenna – I teared up at “you think I’m a monster”.

    Anyone else catch that Pierce family photo in Jefferson’s office where Jeffs is wearing a Super shirt? I genuinely laughed out loud.

    Gorgeous things:
    – The salon – pastel aesthetic without washing out either Jen nor Perenna!
    – Anissa’s smile trying to win over Grace
    – Those reflective shots in the Jefferson and Henderson conversation on the porch
    – The Thunderclap
    – The shot of the candlelight flickering on the Whale name plate

  7. Wow. I’m woefully behind on this show but these recaps and Netflix are definitely helping me catching up. Thanks for such thoughtful and engaging summaries! I was already enjoying the show but when I saw the Maverick herself in all her braided glory…swoon!

    Black Lightning had me at Jill Scott, but they’ve kept me with Maxine Shaw Attorney At Law. We’ve had Kyle, Scooter, and Max. Can we get a Regine sighting? Can the Queen play the next heroine or villainess?

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