Black Lightning – Season 1 Episode 2
“LaWanda: The Book of Hope”
Black Lightning picks up where the first episode left off by dealing with the fallout of Jeff’s daring rescue of his daughters.
I applauded this show last week in both my review and the podcast for doing such a great job building its world and letting its characters inhabit that world in a way that feels very natural. I’m pleased to say that this wasn’t a fluke and this episode not only continues to develop these elements but expands the scope in a big way.
A show lives or dies on its characters and they are definitely at the forefront of everything that goes on here. There are consequences to what went down at the end of the previous episode for everyone concerned and this episode takes the time for the events to be processed. Interestingly it isn’t something dealt with in a quick scene at the top of the episode before moving onto something else. Instead it informs the main characters and everything they do in a variety of ways.
The most obvious consequences are the physical ones experienced by Jeff. Exposition isn’t required here as visual information is more than enough to provide enough context to figure it out. After being out of the game so long and out of practice with his powers. Jeff feels a lot of pain in the same way someone going back to exercising after a long time away from it only more intense because of his powers. The one to tend to him is Lynn in a shared moment that already feels familiar thanks to the strong foundation of life experience between these characters. Immediately the impression is given that this was commonplace back in his superhero days and it’s a big part of what drove them apart in the end. It’s a really impressive way of telling the audience a lot about the characters without actually saying very much.
Lynn’s arc throughout the episode is mainly focused on two things. The first is dealing with the possibility of a reconciliation that will make their fractured family whole again. Their relationship is complicated as it didn’t end because of feelings changing or the fatigue that comes from married life; it ended because Lynn wasn’t able to handle the stress of her husband risking his life every night fighting gangs in an effort to save the city. The stress was clearly cumulative and it’s only 9 years later that she is starting to feel secure in the knowledge that Jeff has left the double life behind.
The episode almost brings them back together on more than one occasion with Lynn stopping herself because she’s afraid of rushing into a decision that she might later regret. Fear is her primary motivation especially after Jeff brought Black Lightning out of retirement to save their daughters. Her reluctance is easy to understand and contributes to the lived in nature of their relationship.
A combination of different elements makes me really invested in the possibility of Jeff and Lynn reconciling. I’ve already mentioned the strong work establishing the history without explaining everything to the audience using clumsy dialogue and this is further enhanced by excellent acting from both Cress Williams and Christine Adams who deliver a relationship that feels complex, lived in and full of shared affection.
The second focus for Lynn is connected but distinct enough to merit discussion on its own. Her main concern is that Jeff will take up the mantle of Black Lightning on a more permanent basis which takes her down the path of constant fear that he will turn up dead. Her concern over his well being has little to do with her desire to reconcile their relationship and more to do with concern over the safety of someone she’s close to. Her conversation with Gambi highlights her feelings on this and the way she views his superhero career. Lynn sees the powers as an addiction that Jeff has worked very hard to overcome. She sees his desire to fight crime as a relapse of that addiction and part of her objection means that she doesn’t want to be an enabler for that addiction once again.
Gambi’s feelings on this are very different because the angle he approaches the situation is far from the same. He talks about the War Black Lightning was fighting and points out that it was a War he was winning until he decided to give up altogether. As far as Gambi’s concerned there is an addiction at play but Jeff turned his back on his responsibilities as Black Lightning because he was addicted to Lynn. He sees her as a barrier to Jeff reaching his full potential and clearly wishes she would support him in his mission. It’s another good scene despite some expositional dialogue -that seems to make its way to Gambi so far in this show- that elaborates on a history between these characters that predates the show. The main point to consider is why their outlook is so different. Gambi’s experience of Jeff as a superhero is backing him up from a computer and designing new suits where Lynn is the one tending to his wounds after a long and arduous night of crime fighting. Both perspectives can be understood which makes the issue lack a proper right answer.
The striking thing about Lynn’s role in this episode is that the story is entirely her own which makes her a far cry from most of the love interests present in superhero shows. To call her a love interest is an oversimplification but it’s the closest analogue that can be applied to her. The relationship is much richer than that and Lynn’s reasons for believing what she believes are entirely her own. She is given agency to make her own choices and has power over how those choices play out. The conflict she has with Jeff when he tells her that he can’t wait for her any longer is combined with him committing to the role of Black Lightning once again is really well played. After Jeff’s declaration Lynn is clearly devastated and the barrier to their reconciliation can’t be collapsed.
Jeff’s role in the episode has him attempting to juggle the different parts of his life. He has to be an ex-husband, a father, a high school Principal and a superhero. These different hats are tugging him in different directions and Jeff has to find that balance in his life. At first he feels secure in the fact that he only dusted off the Black Lightning mantle for one night so that he could ensure his daughters were safe and he’s confident that the Seahorse Motel isn’t in operation any more. The reality of the situation is that the Seahorse Motel was open for business two days after Jeff rescued his daughters which sends the clear message that Jeff’s actions only really benefited him and his family.
The mouthpiece for the larger problem is LaWanda White (Tracy Bonner); a former student of Jeff’s who wants to save her daughter from enforced prostitution. A very simple and visceral point is made about Jeff’s views on the situation when he is asked why it was only his daughters that were saved that night. The reason is obvious to us as the audience but from the outside they were likely saved because they’re the daughters of “Black Jesus” meaning that their background as well as Jeff’s friendship with Inspector Henderson (Damon Gupton) affords them more privilege at least as far as those in the community see it.
LaWanda’s story acts as a microcosm for all of the problems that exist in Freeland. The police aren’t interested in taking her case so she has to go after it herself after asking Jeff to use his influence to do something about it. Jeff seems willing but his preferred method of going through the proper channels takes time and LaWanda definitely doesn’t have that. Her one woman crusade against Lala ends up with her being killed in an unexpected moment that I didn’t see coming and the tragedy of those who live in a society that doesn’t represent them is made much more real than before. LaWanda represents everyone that Jeff wants to help and used to fight for in the guise of Black Lightning and her death is a wake up call to him around how much he’s needed. Basically he feels regret and anger at LaWanda’s death because being Black Lightning could have prevented it. Part of his arc looks to be around realising when is best to put on the costume and take matters into his own hands. LaWanda’s death will be a powerful lesson to him certainly and there will only be more harsh life lessons for everyone in this show.
Lala is engaging enough as a villain but his contribution to this episode is more about what he’s capable of rather than what he does. Sending someone to remind Anissa that he can get to her is one such example and killing LaWanda clearly shows how invincible he feels. There’s a sense of unearned arrogance to the character as well with him clearly feeling like he has more power than he really does. He enjoys making sure people are afraid of him and controls them through that fear.
It’s clear that all of this is a facade based on the scene where Jeff attacks him as Black Lightning by entering his building and having the doorman as well as the concierge willing to help him. They might be afraid of what Lala will do to them but they clearly respect Black Lightning which again tells us a lot about the inner workings of the city and the good faith built up by Jeff when he was active as a superhero.
The real power in the city is Tobias Whale who still feels like an over the top Bond villain who also rules based on fear but in a slightly different way. It’s clear that he’s a lot smarter about how he deploys his resources and the fact that he is able to operate in secret says a lot about how he runs his business. The reveal that he owns the police which gives him all the freedom he needs also neatly explains the clear corruption while leaving plenty of room to explore it.
Seeing him choke Lala was an obvious display of the hierarchy at play here. Hopefully Lala isn’t dead and there will be more time spent developing the interplay between the man who has power and the man who only pretends that he does. Things like this make Tobias Whale stand out and losing Lala would definitely be to the detriment of this character.
Anissa and Jennifer both deal with their recent ordeal in different ways. For now at least it seems that Anissa’s powers are triggered in high stress situations as seen by the bathroom incident last week and the robbery in this episode so the incident act as a trigger that moves this plot on but the primary focus is on her relationship with Chenoa (Shen Mompremier); her girlfriend of a year who Anissa apparently can’t commit to. Chenoa wants more from her and makes this clear to her. This definitely isn’t the first time and Anissa isn’t all that good at deflecting her suggestion with a reasonable excuse. It’s a well performed and written relationship considering how brief an appearance it has though it is talked about by both Jeff and Lynn as something that is normal to them and barely worth commenting on. Once again a lived in world and the Pierce family at the very least are tolerant.
Jennifer’s reaction is far more self destructive. She starts drinking at school to dull the pain of her recent emotional trauma but changes her approach after talking to Khalil (Jordan Calloway) who gives her brutal advice about what life is really like and the plans he has to make something of himself. He offers to support Jennifer and take her with him wherever he’s going which gives her something to latch onto and introduces a character who is both intelligent and well informed on how the world actually works.
Another excellent episode that focuses on the fallout of the first episode and how the characters react to it. The dynamic between Jeff and Lynn is fascinating because they both occupy a different position on the arguments and their relationship never feels any less than deep or lived in. It’s clear why Lynn resents Jeff’s desire to be Black Lightning as well as Jeff’s reasons for taking up the mantle once again. Everything about this is complex, clever and beautifully acted. This episode also widens its scope by having Jeff learn that his efforts only really benefited his family and there is still a lot of work to do before justice is achieved for all concerned. LaWanda’s story is a powerful microcosm of everything that is wrong with Freeland and believable as a motivation for Jeff to fully commit to becoming Black Lightning again.
Lala is an engaging villain who controls people through fear. His arrogance is unearned because the power isn’t his as evidenced by how easily Tobias Whale wanders into his cell after he’s arrested and chokes him just to prove a point. Scenes like this make Tobias Whale stand out though he still feels like an over the top Bond villain. Anissa and Jennifer dealing with their shared trauma is handled well with the exploration of Anissa’s growing stress triggered super powers and her inability to commit to her girlfriend. Jennifer takes a more self destructive approach until her boyfriend promises to support her and shows her a better way. I’m glad to say the second episode proves how well developed the various elements of this show are and that the first episode was no fluke.
- the exploration of Jeff and Lynn’s relationship
- nuanced characterisation
- widening the scope of the corrupt city and Jeff’s place within that
- Anissa and Jennifer dealing with their trauma in their own way
- LaWanda’s tragic story acting as a microcosm of the diseased city
- Gambi’s expositional dialogue
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