Black Lightning – Season 1 Episode 11
“Black Jesus: The Book of Crucifixion”
Black Lightning deals with the inevitable risk of the authorities discovering the secret identity of a superhero when Jeff is arrested to investigate various suspicions.
Pretty much every superhero story gets around to the authorities getting wind of the true identity of a superhero so this sort of plot is nothing new for the genre. In this case the A.S.A. trigger an arrest because they suspect that Jeff is secretly Black Lightning thanks to the events of last week but engineer it under the pretence that Jeff is a drug dealer.
This may be a typical superhero plot but Black Lightning approaches this in a way that compliments the world that has been built for the character to inhabit. It has been well established that Freeland has a problem with police corruption and the unfair persecution of black people so this comes into play in a big way. The initial investigation plays out in a way that clearly shows this when the cops plant evidence in Jeff’s car and office that point towards him being a dealer of Green Light. Obviously this is absurd considering Jeff’s standing in the community but that also makes him an easy target as it doesn’t take much for the public to turn against authority figures.
The physical representation of this police corruption is Deputy Chief Cayman (Anthony Reynolds) who has no problem planting the necessary evidence allowing the police to hold Jeff in their custody. Whether he’s actually racist or not isn’t really addressed but he’s certainly comfortable with the corruption that infects Freeland’s police force and has made a conscious choice to be part of the problem rather than being part of the solution.
Why he feels this way isn’t really explored though a lot can be read into it thanks to the context this show has worked so hard to establish. For one thing rolling with the corruption is a lot easier than combatting it as there are fewer voices speaking out against it every day. Another potential reason is that the A.S.A. are overseeing everything and can stamp out those who oppose them easily enough. It may not be well known that they are in charge it is at least known that people who speak out against the corruption don’t seem to last very long. Cayman is very self serving in that regard and it’s easy to see why he would be considering the broken system he is combatting.
This episode takes some time to reinforce Jeff’s standing within the community by showing him standing outside the school welcoming the students as they enter. It’s a really endearing scene showing that Jeff isn’t afraid to be cheesy as most of the dialogue here could almost be described as cringe worthy. This is clearly done deliberately as Jeff takes a certain amount of delight in making his students feel uncomfortable but his very presence sends a powerful message at the same time. Every student that comes into the school can feel secure that their Principal cares about them and takes an active interest in their lives. He refers to many of the students by their names and comments on something that they have been involved in. This reminds the kids that there is hope and their contribution does matter.
As mundane as the scene appears on the surface it’s very important as it shows how much impact Jeff has had on the kids of Garfield High School which makes the moment they stand up for him against the police feel earned. He has built up a lot of respect within the school and reached the point where many of the kids are willing to stand up for him when they feel an injustice is being committed. It’s inspiring and shows that Jeff’s efforts are far from futile.
Taking the time to remind the audience that Jeff is in a position of authority and respect serves another important function. It’s a harsh reminder that when it comes to dealing with police corruption Jeff is just another black man who can be exploited. Everything he had done means absolutely nothing when he is being targeted by the authorities and that’s something that can’t easily be fought against.
Jeff is constantly dehumanised following his arrest such as having his clothes taken from him along with the general treatment that he receives. It’s very clear that very few people in the police department care about whether he’s guilty or innocent and they aren’t afraid to show that by stripping him of his dignity. This is in direct contrast to Jeff accepting his situation with a dignified approach. He doesn’t show fear when being paraded through the school and advises the students who stand up for him to see the bigger picture. Anissa and Jennifer both lean towards using their powers to rectify the situation in the school but Jeff asks them to remain calm instead of making the situation worse. This shows how strong and reasonable Jeff is as a character and that he understands how the society works.
Cress Williams delivers an excellent multifaceted performance throughout the episode that is instrumental in showing his attitude to the clear corruption at play. When in the school he conducts himself reasonably to set a clear example to the kids and thinly conceals his rage when at the police station. Jeff fights his instinctual desire to use his powers to escape because he knows that won’t so him any good and Cress Williams conveys all of that in his facial expressions. The impatience and indignity come through clearly.
Thankfully he has one friend within the police in the form of Henderson who does what he can to help but has limited influence at this point. He is able to arrange some time with Jeff to ask some questions that he isn’t really able to answer. Lala is mentioned and Jeff tells a version of the truth but leaves some details out which does come across as somewhat suspicious since it’s clear that he isn’t being completely honest. The details he does give seem to be enough for Henderson as it is accurate that Lala was a former student who Jeff was unable to prevent joining The 100 gang and it is true that Jeff made a deal with him to render his school off limits but the details around Anissa and Jennifer’s kidnapping in the first episode are less than complete.
There are a lot of different elements at play such as Kara Fowdy (Skye P. Marshall) who is the one to bring Jeff to the police’s attention. She is clearly a reluctant part of this as she constantly seems consumed by self doubt but forges ahead out of fear more than anything else. Her instant message chats with the A.S.A. prove that she isn’t a bad person as such and there’s a suggestion that she has a personal stake in this that has yet to be revealed. She is certainly a product of the corruption in the city with fear motivating her actions as well as a strong desire for self preservation.
Henderson once again proves that he is one of the last good cops left in the city. He spends the episode doing everything he can to make the situation easier for Jeff and cut past all of the corruption to make sure that he’s treated fairly. Ultimately this works out because he is able to get the upper hand on Cayman and usurp his position simply by being a decent Human being. This shows that kindness and decency is rewarded in this society as is loyalty.
Gambi and Anissa take it upon themselves to clear his name by arranging a demonstration involving a Black Lightning hologram that takes the suspicion way from Jeff for now. The court of public opinion is on his side as everyone sees Black Lightning and Thunder stopping some sort of criminal activity. Everyone in the street reacts with excitement and pride when seeing two heroes fight for them showing that the A.S.A. haven’t broken the spirit of Freeland quite yet.
It feels like Jeff’s imprisonment is resolved a little too easily as a sighting of Black Lightning counts as enough evidence to have him let go even though he wasn’t actually being accused of that. The planted Green Light isn’t brought up again so the resolution feels a little too neat and tidy considering how dire the situation seemed prior to this.
Gambi’s efforts to clear Jeff’s name does enough to help them find some common ground though doesn’t completely repair the relationship. The resulting conversation is a mature exchange between adults that shows awareness of the ongoing issue. Gambi recognises that what he did was wrong and that it hurt people that he cares about so doesn’t expect forgiveness for it but he still wants Jeff’s family to be a part of his life. Jeff admits that he doesn’t know how they’ll move forward but he’s willing to figure it out. This is character drama done right as it shows progression without brushing the issue under the carpet which means it’s on the road to resolution but is still noteworthy.
Another thing the episode does well is bring in different perspectives. Anissa and Jennifer both want to use super powers to free Jeff and can’t understand why he doesn’t just use his powers to free himself. It takes Lynn and Jeff to help them realise that the problem is bigger than that and won’t be resolved by a show of force because that would render Jeff a fugitive and take his life away from him. The only way to solve this problem is to trust in the system to a degree and let Jeff be proven innocent in the eyes of the law.
Outside of the Pierce family some opinions are given by people on the street. A white woman goes straight to thinking negatively and repeats rumours she heard about Jeff making the students call him “Black Jesus”. They are clearly sensationalised and the woman is obviously ignorant but it shows a bias in the eyes of some members of society who are willing to believe the worst about someone simply because it suits their world view. A black man interviewed suggests that Jeff being arrested is another case of the government manufacturing a way to bring down a black man who works to benefit his people. It’s a paranoid statement that just happens to be true in this case. The A.S.A. have made it their business to manipulate Freeland’s population by way of oppression so any voices of resistance have to be removed. Even if Jeff isn’t Black Lightning he’s still an influential public figure and that’s a barrier to the plans of the A.S.A. These different perspectives give the world of the show size and scope that allows it to constantly expand.
Another excellent episode that makes great use of the meticulously built world to add extra weight to a typical superhero plot. Jeff’s mistreatment at the hands of the police ties into what has been previously established about Freeland and further explores the deep corruption in the police force as well as Jeff’s overall influence as both a Principal and a public figure in general. The resolution of this plot is a little too neat as it involves a hologram that wraps things up nicely but it’s clear that it could easily happen again.
The episode brings in a lot of different perspectives such as Anissa and Jennifer as well as the reactions of the general public. It gives the world of the show size and showcases a range of opinions that feel earned. Gambi and Jeff finding common ground is both complex and interesting as it shows the road to moving forward while still acknowledging that a problem exists.
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