“Black Lightning” Episode 216 Recap: We Can’t Go On Like This

Let’s go ahead and get the worst of it done out front: Grace Choi did not show up in last night’s Black Lightning season finale. I think most of us saw that coming, so it’s not necessarily a surprise. That doesn’t make it any less disappointing or any less of a gut punch reminder that even after two seasons, Black Lightning continues to double standard it’s sole gay romance as compared to their two long-term straight romantic relationships (did you hear me say TWO straight romantic relationships? Yes that’s right, we found out last night that somehow KAHLIL LIVED, which means his time with Jennifer is far from over).

I’ve tried very hard to give this show every benefit of a doubt that I could muster. When she premiered last year, Anissa Pierce was groundbreaking. Her accolades were many: First lesbian superhero on network television (only the second after Karolina Dean on Hulu’s Marvel’s Runaways, which premiered just a few months before), the first black lesbian superhero EVER, one of the few black queer women regulars in a television cast, one of the fewer still in a predominately black cast – as opposed to playing the “black lesbian best friend” in an otherwise white ensemble. She’s played by Nafessa Williams, who came out of the gate proud of and incredibly welcoming and loving towards her gay fans. Before the show premiered, Nafessa tweeted out “Ready for a Black Lesbian Superhero?” And I was.

I had been ready for her since I first fell in love with X-Men’s Storm when I was eight years old. There was absolutely nothing that could get in the way of me loving Anissa Pierce.

In the first season, Anissa started off strong. By only the second episode she had already made history, becoming just the second black woman in all of network television to share a bed with another black woman. By the fourth episode, she had already found herself in a relationship with Grace Choi, her longtime girlfriend from The Outsiders comics. It felt like the world was ours. But by the end of that season, Grace hadn’t been seen in months. Showrunner Salim Akil promised – he promised! – that Grace would be back in a big way during Season Two. I was nervous. Still, I chose to believe him.

I guess we can say that Grace came back for a larger amount of episodes during the second season, but her character development, and her relationship with Anissa, has continued to be frustratingly and stubbornly stilted. The little movement between them that we did see (Grace and Anissa making up after Grace’s well-founded worries over Anissa’s commitment problems; Grace giving Anissa keys to her apartment; Grace learning Anissa’s favorite fast food order; most of what we learned of Grace’s previous life as Shay Li) happened off screen. Compare that to the episodes long, on camera, carefully plotted teen relationship between Khalil and Jennifer this season. Compare it to the well-worn and comfortable adult relationship with a lovingly detailed backstory that we have between Jefferson and Lynn. It’s not hard to see which Pierce is getting the short end of the stick here. And in a show that is as otherwise meticulous as Black Lightning, it’s even harder not to ask “why?”

Last week’s penultimate Black Lightning left Anissa on a quest to find Grace – after realizing that her girlfriend was also a meta with shapeshifting powers that she had been keeping to herself out of fear – and finally ready to tell her the truth. She said that she wanted to be there to support Grace, to protect her, to tell her that she wasn’t alone in this world. This week? Not only was the presumed reunion skipped over entirely, Grace Choi wasn’t even worth a mention! Her plot just got completely dropped! WITHOUT A SINGLE WORD!!!

It’s outraging and maddening and, quite frankly, the product of some very homophobic storytelling decisions. I’m not sure what the Black Lightning writers’ room thinks that they are doing here. I’m generous enough to hope that these decisions are more the result of unconscious bias and ignorance instead of purposeful sidelining, but something needs to be changed. ASAP. The writers should use their hiatus before Season Three to gather themselves together, because what’s happening right now is flat-out disrespectful to their queer audience. It’s not hard to write Anissa and Grace with the same on-screen care that they’ve already given Jennifer and Khalil or Jefferson and Lynn. They only have to try.

OK. Deep breath. After getting that off my chest, let’s sort through what else happened this episode and see if we can find something to feel excited about, shall we?

Tobias Whale didn’t in fact die last night, despite my every wish that he would. Lala tried to kill him, but Tobias thwarted his plans at the last minute (side note: IF LALA WASN’T GOING TO KILL TOBIAS, THEN WHAT THE HELL WAS THE POINT OF HIS SECOND RESURRECTION?? Rest in Peace Lady Eve, at this point I’m actually thankful you’ve stayed dead, this show doesn’t deserve you). After Tobias tried to choke Cutter in a really disturbing moment of domestic violence, I thought maybe she would be the one to do the final deed. She came back down gasping for air and with one of her signature knives in her hands, but decided to leave him once and for all instead.

Then came my beloved Jennifer Pierce, debuting her superhero name “Lightning” as she tumbled through Tobias’ living room window in a ball of flames. As much as I believe Tobias deserves to die a villain’s death, I agree with Jefferson that Jennifer doesn’t deserve to become killer over his worthless ass. So ultimately I’m glad that Daddy Dearest stopped her at the final minute (I’m even more glad that Jefferson was given a timely reminder from his own father that “peace ain’t always peaceful” via a Season One flashback). Still, anyone who believes that Tobias Whale can be kept safe in prison, even one described as a The Pit by a secret spy agency where he’ll be locked away without a key, has never seen a superhero story before. There’s always a way out. It’s only a matter of time before Tobias Whale finds it.

Speaking of Jennifer, she’s pretty much the source of joy for this entire episode. We get to visit the hair salon in her mind’s eye one last time. Maxine Shaw: Therapist at Law (glad to see you, sis!) reminds her that she can control her powers as long as she taps into the right muscles. Jennifer also gets this GORGEOUS NEW SUPER HERO SUIT which I’m going to just leave here in photographic evidence, because sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words:

The Most Adorable

Teenage Superhero

EVER.

And while we are on the subject of fun superhero toys, here is Anissa’s new ThunderBike!!!

That sound you heard was a panty dropper reporting for duty.

WHEWWW! Dykes on Bikes, amirite?

Ok, Tobias Whale is in jail. Also, before I forget, Dr. Lynn “Mama Bear” Pierce got to kick Dr. Jace’s ass!!! A well deserved catharsis for us all. And in the final moments of the episode we are all treated to a cliffhanger via Shady ASA Agent Odell that just might make Season Three worth it after all:

The Markovians are here. And they mean war.

I can’t believe the season is over, my loves! We weathered a storm, but we weathered it together. I’ve had such fun. Even in the worst of times, writing these recaps was an absolute joy. I hope you feel the same way and that I’ve brought you laughs, and maybe even a few things to think about, in our time together. I know I’ll see you again soon.❤️❤️❤️

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 134 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. Agree with every single word said here. You express my frustrations perfectly. I love Black Lighting but their treatment of Grace leaves a lot to be desired. It’s been two seasons! We should have more by now. And as you say it’s frustrating that only men keep getting resurrected. I rolled my eyes a little when they showed kahlil.

  2. This season felt… unfocused. Too many plot lines, not enough time for all of them. Here’s hoping season three has a bit more focus.

    And by focus, I mean it wraps up the Markovia situation in the first episode, and the rest of it is heavy on the ThunderGrace.

    Love Jennifer’s confidence, though. “No, I’m not alright. I’m amazing.”

  3. This entire season of Black Lightning just felt so pointless.

    Why did Lala need to come back from the dead (again)?

    Why did we even have to go to South Freeland?

    Why did we go through all that with Khalil just to end up with him in a pod?

    (And if we were going to end up with Khalil in a pod and inevitably coming back to life, wouldn’t Jennifer killing Tobias been a great way to go? The guilt she could’ve felt for killing an “innocent” man.)

    And, gosh…Grace…how cool would it have been if Grace showed up to save Thunder? She could be there to help Thunder and then get help from someone who clearly knows what it’s like to have powers…never knowing that it’s Anissa on the other side of the mask.

    WHY DO THEY KEEP DOING THIS? THE GOOD STORY IS JUST RIGHT THERE.

    I swear, I’m thisclose to deleting my Black Lightning season pass. I’m still ticked I skipped watching 9-1-1 live to watch this season finale live.

    • I want to worship at the church or city park or coffee shop or wherever that you and Carmen preach at. I actually waited to read Carmen’s recap before I watched the episode because I needed to know what I was getting myself into beforehand and it was *sigh*.

      This feels like a Kalinda Sharma situation all over again but instead of having one dynamic, badass, meaty character of color, Black Lightning have many and like the writers of The Good Wife, they’ve stagnated and/or shelved those meaty characters for some lame ass side plot/character.

      I regretfully removed Black Lightning from my DVR. One can only suck their teeth so much without removing all of the enamel and eyeballs only roll around in one’s eye sockets so many degrees before headaches are induced. I am only committing to reading recaps (if Autostraddle decides to do them) next season.

  4. Thank you for this review, I like the show, but you really managed to express my festering frustrations. The inconsistent hot & cold build up of Anissa’s relationship arc with Grace left me feeling very ambivalent. Hopefully season 3 will compensate for this & take constructive criticism like this into account.

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