Black Lightning – Season 1 Episode 9
“The Book of Little Black Lies”
Black Lightning once again focuses on family as Jennifer contemplates the implications of having powers and tries to find a way to move forward.
This show should definitely be applauded for moving quickly in a way that doesn’t feel rushed. Jennifer only found out that she has powers last week and has already learned the truth about the superheroes in her family. This episode further explores how different Anissa and Jennifer are by showing a very different reaction to having powers. Anissa saw it as an opportunity and was excited by the prospect so tried to learn as much as she could about her abilities before embarking on her own mission to help people. Jennifer is very much the opposite because she has no desire to put herself in danger to save the world. She wants to live in the world rather than save it which is a very valid position to hold and nobody tries to tell her that she has a higher calling or that the powers come with a built in sense of responsibility.
Jennifer didn’t ask for her powers and sees them as a barrier to the life she wants. She would rather be normal and do things like go to college, get a job, get married and have kids. Again, those are valid goals and it’s easy to see how having powers would be a barrier to that. Another key difference is that Anissa is an adult where Jennifer is a teenager. As an adult Anissa has had a lot more time to settle into her own sense of identity and define the sort of person she wants to be where Jennifer is still figuring things out. It wasn’t so long ago that her biggest concern was being singled out by girls at school for being the Principal’s daughter. Since then her life has gotten stranger and a lot more intense.
Part of her motivation to remain normal and safe has to do with Khalil’s injury. The one time she tried to do what Anissa does the situation escalated and her boyfriend ended up being permanently injured. Jennifer sees that as a very powerful example of the sorts of things she would be dealing with if she decided to use her powers to try to help others. Arguably the attitude is a selfish one but that would be a matter of opinion and this isn’t the sort of show that comes down on one side of an argument over another. Everyone sees Jennifer’s point of view and it’s one that’s easy to understand because it’s a very normal reaction to the idea of putting yourself in mortal danger. Not everyone is built to be a self sacrificing hero and choosing not to use super powers to become a costumed crime fighter doesn’t make someone a bad person. The same argument can be applied to a rich person not using their money to help those less fortunate or anyone choosing not to give up their time to volunteer to help a cause of some sort. Jennifer’s reaction is very Human, very relatable and completely understandable.
It’s a big episode for her as she learns the truth about Anissa and Jeff. Anissa’s heart was in the right place when she revealed her own powers to Jennifer but she went about it in the wrong way. Her thinking is that showing Jennifer she isn’t alone would make her feel better and reassure her that she isn’t going crazy. Jennifer reacts with fear causing Anissa to make another mistake by telling Jennifer that their father is Black Lightning. As Jeff points out, that wasn’t her secret to tell and she is reprimanded for being both reckless and disrespectful by revealing serious information without consulting her parents first.
Anissa very much acted in the heat of the moment and did something she thought might make the situation better but she was wrong to do so because the approach to what Jennifer is dealing with demanded more finesse. She realises this and her parents acknowledge that the harm she caused wasn’t intentional so the next step is finding a way to move forward as best they can. It’s a very mature yet heated discussion showing that as a family they decide that there’s no point in dwelling on what can’t be changed especially when everyone is in agreement which focuses their energies in a more positive direction.
From here it’s all about helping Jennifer work through this and there is definitely a mountain to climb before this will be achieved. One of the things she has to come to terms with is that her family have been lying to her for her entire life, or at least her parents have as Anissa has only been lying to her for a couple of weeks to be completely accurate.
The Pierce family relationship is based on trust. Jennifer and Anissa have always been encouraged to be honest with their parents and in return they are trusted to live their lives. Learning about the lies she has been told calls that trust into question for Jennifer and she feels that her parents don’t trust her despite the fact that she held up her end of that bargain. It’s a valid point of view as she doesn’t have all of the necessary information to understand what that is.
Lynn tries to explain it to her in open and practical terms. Keeping the secret was necessary when she was a child because there was a possibility that she would accidentally let it slip as children do and as she got older it didn’t seem relevant since Jeff stopped being Black Lightning. Once he returned to that role keeping her in the dark was a misguided attempt at protection which is acknowledged as a mistake. Everything Lynn says is completely understandable but it’s easy to see why Jennifer would feel betrayed at the same time. The beauty of this show is that it turns into complexity and outlines points of view that are left to the viewer to think about.
Having powers comes with a lot of uncertainty for Jennifer as she wonders if it’s possible to have the normal life she desperately wants. From her point of view her powers make her an outcast and there are no definitive answers on whether they will prove dangerous for her or if they prevent her from having kids. Lynn tries to make her feel better by pointing out that having powers made no difference when it came to her feelings for Jeff but those powers broke them up, at least as far as Jennifer sees it. That assessment may be a simplification but it’s at least partially true. Lynn also acknowledges that she can’t answer those questions nor can she understand what Jennifer is going through but she promises to be supportive and understanding which is ultimately the best she can do for now which leads to some forgiveness from Jennifer. It’s a great scene with excellent performances from both China Anne McClain and Christine Adams who completely sell the mother/daughter bond and the vulnerability coming from both sides.
She manages to forgive Anissa with some time to reflect on the situation. An internet search reveals that Thunder is more popular online than Black Lightning and she shows Anissa a video where a man compliments her ass. Anissa wants to be known for more than that but Jennifer has learned that she has a massive online following because she is a female superhero that people can look up to. It”s something that fills Jennifer with a lot of pride because she knows that her sister is doing a lot of good and means something to a lot of people. It still isn’t for her but at least she can appreciate the difference being made by those in her family. Anissa also has a lot to feel proud of as she knows that what she does matters.
Jennifer is able to forgive Jeff after understanding that keeping his identity a secret from her was for the right reasons. How much he cares for her is definitely not in doubt so she is able to see his point of view and extend an olive branch in the form of offering to watch a film together to signify that their relationship hasn’t fallen apart as a result of this. Jeff’s approach of letting him see a little of his own vulnerability and show her the respect he feels that she deserves is a significant factor in that forgiveness because Jeff is honest with her, makes a promise to do better and clearly understands the pain that he’s caused her. He has a discussion with Lynn about how they could have done some things differently in the parenting department but he treats everything as a learning experience.
Jeff’s man character flaw in this episode is around his inability to forgive Gambi for basically doing the same thing he has been doing. Gambi kept things from Jeff in order to protect him which forms the basis of his current mistrust. At this point he is unable to make the connection between the reasons Jennifer feels the way she does and how he feels about Gambi lying to him. Anissa even directly challenges him on this by asking him what lies he was told by his parents. Her point in that case is to show Jeff that she doesn’t understand what she and Jennifer are going through. Jeff is dealing with the dishonesty of a father figure and can’t bring himself to forgive quite yet. Jennifer’s show of forgiveness may inspire him to do the same with Gambi.
Gambi doesn’t exactly help himself when it comes to looking for forgiveness. Last week there was a sense that he didn’t necessarily regret his decision though had some sense of remorse over not being honest with Jeff sooner. Instead of trying to make up for what he did his time is spent torturing a man with snake venom to get information. Gambi seems to be avoiding the problem rather than dealing with it and is descending further into morally questionable behaviour in service of what he feels is a greater good. There is so much beneath the surface with Gambi as revealed last week and a little this week but broadly he’s gone back to being less interesting than anything else in this episode.
The superhero aspect of the episode is handled really well. Anissa’s Gambi built suit is really impressive and makes her look like a force to be reckoned with. The clear pride on Jeff’s face as he sees her confidently stroll up to him fully suited up for the first time says everything about how he feels about his daughter becoming a hero. There are shades of her being more effective than he is thanks to her ability to read lips and her general approach. For Anissa there is no divide between her personal life and her crime fighting life because her goals in both are the same. Jeff’s goals in both identities are aligned but each identity has its own focus but for Anissa they are exactly the same which makes her level of focus unmatched. This could end up proving problematic if she becomes too obsessed with getting results but for now the balance seems to be about right for her.
Her first mission with her new costume is an important one as she works with her father to destroy the lab cooking up Green Light. It’s bizarre to apparently close off this arc without the presence of Tobias but I suspect there will be more to it as more of Gambi’s past comes to light. His previous role identifying kids with powers and putting them in some kind of deep freeze looks like it will take a lot of the focus leading up to the end of the season.
Another aspect of this is Inspector Henderson who helps supply necessary information to Jeff and Anissa. The episode makes a point of highlighting that he is using vacation days to make himself available to back them up. It may seem trivial but it clearly shows that Henderson isn’t a part of the corruption that is rife within the police department. He believes in doing the right thing and is willing to go against the organisation he works for to do it. In some ways it’s a bit like the Batman/Commissioner Gordon relationship but it’s very different as Henderson doesn’t have much power behind him and what power he does have may be tainted. The fact that he puts himself in danger in order to fight for what is right says a lot about his strength of character and adds extra weight to the struggles he will face trying to be a decent man/cop in an indecent police force.
Another excellent episode that does really strong work with the Pierce family dynamic. Jennifer learning the truth about Anissa and Jeff is a great showcase for the relationship she has with each of them as she finds a way to forgive them for lying to her. Her point of view of not wanting to be a hero is entirely valid and her life goals are very relatable as is her negative reaction to having powers being inspired by the fear that people will treat her differently for having special abilities. The scenes she shares with her mother, sister and father are brilliantly handled and it’s a great showcase of a strong family unit working together to find a way forward.
Anissa and Jeff make for a great team as they debut her great new costume in a meaningful mission that potentially sets up the remainder of the season. Anissa is generally proving to be a different sort of hero to her father and is receiving reassurance that what she is doing is serving as an inspiration for a lot of people. It’s a great approach and is working really well. Inspector Henderson’s contribution to the plot is great as he puts his life on the line with no backup and takes a stand against the corruption of the police force by proving that he isn’t a part of that. It enhances the relationship between Henderson and Jeff and adds yet more weight to the world of this show.
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