January 16, 2018
Kids are the worst, you guys. Let me tell you a story and if you’re a parent, you tell me if it sounds familiar.
A dad, hard working man, earns a party for his efforts. He gets to be the man of the hour but can he enjoy himself? Nooooo. Why? Cause, he’s got a kid who didn’t listen to what they were told to do and so, you, as the loving parent, bail them out of their situation. Having seen what you just went through, do you think your other child would be on their best behavior, make sure your special night is salvaged as a thank you for all you’ve done for them?!? Noooooo. Why? Cause your kids can be assholes. So, what do you do? You bail the other child out of their problem too AND, because you’re a really good guy, you don’t even let them know you’re the one that fixed their mistake.
And when dad is all said and done fixing his kids problems, does he finally get to rest? No, he has to deal with ex wife telling him to keep a cool head with his out of control children.
But you know, what the next day? You go for a run with your children and you remember how great they really are and how much you love them because obviously you love them, look at the fucked up shit you did for them just the night before trying to keep them safe.
Parents are superheroes who will do anything and everything for their children; for their well being and safety. Jefferson Pierce is a superhero by living his every day. He just happens to also be able to shoot lightning from from his body.
That’s Black Lightning in a nutshell – an exasperated dad trying to keep his shit together while the forces of evil try to do harm to the ones he loves most, namely his children and (ex) wife. But, its also so much more so read after the jump for the Pilot episode recap and my thoughts on this newest DC Superhero who has come to town …
The night was dark and stormy. Sure, its a horrible cliche but sometimes its also true. We open in a police station where Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) and his youngest daughter, Jennifer (China Anne McClain), wait for his oldest daughter, Anissa (Nafessa Williams), to be released. Seems she was at a group protest, protesting the failure of the Freeland PD to stop the rise of a horrible violent gang known as The 100. When The 100 showed up to stop the protest, it turned violent, complete with looting and burned cop cars. Its hard to tell who is friend or foe sometimes in this world. As the talking head on TV states, Freeland has seen 125 shootings in 1 weekend alone which is .. wow, that’s like Chicago bad.
In the car, we learn that Jefferson is supposed to be at a fundraiser for Garfield High School (which, we’ll learn, is a Charter School and Jefferson is its very successful Principal). Before he can continue scolding his oldest via inspirational quotes from Dr. King, he is pulled over by a pair of cops who … are horrible at their job. The situation escalates rapidly with Jefferson being hauled out of his car while his daughters try to video tape the egregious police behavior we’re witnessing. They retreat from their complaints when Bad Cop #2 (a black man if it matters, maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t) pulls a gun on them. Even while being manhandled, Jefferson, excoriates his daughters to comply with the police demands. Which they do. Bad Cop #1 shows Jefferson’s face to an Asian woman sitting in the backseat of the squad car but she shakes her head “no” when Bad Cop #1 asks if Pierce is the man she saw. What’s this all about, Jefferson demands to know after being unceremoniously released without anything so much as an apology. Seems, the Asian lady’s liquor store was robbed … That’s it. That’s the entirety of the explanation given. And Jefferson has had enough. He works himself into a lather bitingly criticizing how he must have fit the description: black man in a suit and tie, driving a mid size Volvo wagon as a getaway car. (He leaves out having his two young daughters riding shotgun with him – hardly a criminal mastermind if that was the case). In response, Bad Cop #1 just chuckles at his outrage. Which is a really really really asshole move. By anyone’s standards. The whole situation is ludicrous but not unheard of in our polarized day and age.
Oh my goodness, I left out the best part. Jefferson Pierce? While he was getting all mad, yelling at the cop, his eyes turned white and electricity and lightning started to pop around him. The street lamps sputter and the rack of lights on the squad car flicker out, but, as soon he regains his composure, all the electricity goes back to behaving as it should . Jennifer intones, it was this (dark and stormy) night, with thunder and lightning as witness, that Black Lightning was born again.
Garfield High School. Finally, Jefferson makes it to the fundraiser his headstrong daughter and the worst cops ever made him late for. Hey, Jefferson is the honoree here at this shindig. In a glowing introduction, we learn Jefferson is an Olympic Gold Medalist (Decathlon at the ’88 Olympics if we’re following the comic book line) and a superstar at being a principal in an otherwise troubled city. Anissa? Medical student who also teaches at the High School 3 days a week. Jennifer? Standout scholar-athlete. Mom, Lynn Pierce (Christine Adams)? Divorced from Jefferson (but he really really wants her back).
In the bathroom, Jennifer and her girl, Kiesha (we saw them texting each other in the opening scene), plan some bad life choices together which involves a boy named Khalil and a “small” house party. Anissa catches them getting ready to bounce but is convinced to cover for Jennifer on the promise that Jen makes it home by 10:15p.
Back in the Banquet Hall, Jefferson shows off his impressive command of his student body by engaging his students, who are all in attendance, in some life affirming call and response. I like Jefferson. A lot. He’s the exact kind of person you want teaching your children, shaping their future those hours during the day when they are away from their parents. But enough about that, let’s go check in on Jennifer making poor life choices (which is ironic given what’s going on in his school right now) …
Club 100. This is neither “small” nor a “house party.” This is a club, full of young people making bad life choices, drinking and smoking up. And there is scholar athlete herself getting stoned as she makes googly eyes at some boy … who is not Khalil. Dammit Jennifer.
Banquet. We get some more backstory when we learn Inspector Henderson (Damon Gupton)(you’ll recall we saw him on the TV in the opening scene) is life long friends with Jefferson, which is interesting since we heard the talking head on the TV say that Henderson spent his early career fighting the vigilante known as Black Lightning.
Awkward Friendship Moment will come at some point this season I suspect.
Anyway, Jefferson thanks him for helping get Anissa released expeditiously. Before taking his leave, Henderson tells Pierce that he’s going to check on the Bad Cops from earlier, also, tell Anissa not to protest The 100 – they will kill you and not blink doing it. Fantastic. Lynn, the ex-wife, is next on Jefferson’s list of people to see. They are on better terms than most exes. They talk about Anissa and disagree on how much adulting she is really doing with the being arrested and all. Lynn sends a not so subtle jab that she’s like her father, always fighting for change (Lynn was really not cool with the whole Black Lightning thing and we’ll learn it was the source of their eventual divorce). Their banter is sexy and flirty and these two will be doing it before Episode 2 is over, if not by tonight. Before we leave, I’ll note there is a Ms. Fowdy (Skye P. Marshall) who tried to get Jefferson’s attention earlier but he is much much much more interested in his ex. She seems to be some sort of assistant though she acts like a campaign manager, trying to round up donors for his cause – which I guess makes sense if you need to fundraise for the charter school.
Pierce Home. Guess who did not make it home by 10:15p like she promised? After learning from Anissa that she kind of sorted covered for her little Sister, Jefferson goes into Dad mode, tracking his daughter’s signal (thank you Apple Find My Phone!). Club 100 is about to have one very angry father darkening its door.
Club 100. Jennifer is still chatting up Loser Boy while Anissa blows up her phone trying to alert her to Jefferson’s pending (and angry) arrival. Her messages go unread as Jennifer defends Afropunk over Coachella as the preferred cutting edge music festival. She may be high but she’s kind of a nerd too. Which endears her to me. Loser Boy refers her to as “an alternative black girl”?!? The Fuck Does That Even Mean? She’s seems cool with it but really? Come on, Jennifer, Red Warning Lights should be flashing with this dude. Which is exactly when some unseemly friends roll into the booth, blocking Jennifer and Loser Boy from exiting. She’s high but sobering fast. As the thug patrol pulls Loser Boy and Jen out of the booth, we see Jefferson up in a blacony of the club spying then action.
The Back Office. Lala (William Catlett) is the man in control here and he’s disappointed that Will (f/k/a Loser Boy) has been dodging him. Will says he hasn’t been dodging, just hustling trying to earn the money back he owes but Lala isn’t even talking about the dough, he’s talking about the $100K in product (that’s drugs to you square types out there reading) that Freeland PD confiscated from Will when he got arrested. Jen, sensing the room but about an hour too late, tries to exit but Lala isn’t having it. Which is when he punches Will really hard in the mouth. Will is more insulted that Lala did that ” in front of his girl” and she’s all
I am NOT his girl. Lala isn’t having it though and actually thinks that Jennifer should prostitute herself to earn off Will’s debt. Will, unsurprisingly, is ok with this plan. Jennifer though? She isn’t ho-ing for nobody. She turns to Will and tells him she though he was cute “until I learned you were somebody’s bitch.” OH SNAP! Then she knees him in the groin. I love Jennifer. She’s the coolest. Lala enjoyed that.
Outside, Jefferson, still in his tux, tries to convince the bouncer to let him in Lala’s office but like a good henchman, he’s not having it. After Jefferson pushes him, he pulls a gun on our main man. Which … was a mistake. He tried to do it the right way.
Meet Black Lightning ya’ll. The lights go out in Club 100 and as thugs do everywhere, guns come out and everyone begins to fire wildly. Blue arcs of lightning begin to zap bad guys and Jefferson emits a blue spark every time his fists connects with a baddie. Its a really cool effect in the dark. In the chaos, Jennifer escapes which is all Jefferson was really waiting for. He does not reveal himself to his daughter.
Outside Club 100, the Freeland PD roll up and try to detain Jefferson who is just trying to get out of there in peace. But, after the night he’s had, he can’t even deal with these guys anymore. When they taser him for not complying fast enough, he Black Lightning’s the cops and destroys their fucking car like a boss. Its pretty epic, and, as a father of a pre-teen child, I get his frustration. Like, for real.
Gambi’s Tailors. Why is Peter Gambi (James Remar) headed to his tailor shop in the middle of the night? I have no idea but when he gets there, he finds his door ajar and an unconscious Jefferson on the floor. Man, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve walked into my office to that scene. amiright? But Gambi isn’t freaking out, no he looks worried and checks the vitals of the passed out Jefferson. I’m guessing they know each other.
Pierce House. Anissa is reading her sister the riot act about how close she came to being drugged and apssed around a hotel room. Do you know why they call it Club 100, dummy? Cause that’s all that hangs there. They go back and forth about all the shit and baggage and rivalries that sisters keep between themselves and I swear, this sounds like a version of every sibling conversation I have ever heard my whole life. Anissa takes Jen’s phone and turns on the TV. Where Inspector Henderson is talking not about the violence at Club 100 but rather, the dark clothing wearing vigilante that fucked up his police officers earlier. Henderson has a thing with vigilantes. Man, he better never visit Star City or Olive & Co. are going to give him a rude awakening. “Black Lightning” rumors are already swirling if the news report is any indication.
Gambi’s Tailors. Gambi is positively giddy at the thought of Black Lightning returning after 9 long years of his absence. There is a plague running through the city and the people need the hope that BL provides. Jefferson counters that Black Lightning was originally just to bring down someone names Tobias Whale (who’s wanted picture we saw earlier in the police station), and then it escalated and eventually he lost sight of the mission and lost his family in the process. Not again, he says. Gambi is unmoved. He loves Jefferson’s family, he says, but the time has come; BL is needed once again. Exposition – Gambi has known Jefferson since he was 12 years old – he gives Jefferson some real talk, the promise Jefferson made Lynn was well-intentioned but it always had an expiration date.
We flash back to a younger Jefferson lying in a bloodied bathtub, Lynn kneeling beside him telling him she can’t watch him kill himself; she can’t do it anymore. He promises no more but I suspect we’ll learn, there was at least 1 more.
Pierce House. When a redressed Jefferson returns home (Gambi stitched him up), Lynn is there waiting. A nice Easter egg in the background has a talking head speaking about how other communities have people with superpowers and are called heroes so why is Black Lightning a vigilante? Lynn fills Jefferson in on the night’s goings on what with Jennifer and Club 100. He tells her he’s sorry he was unavailable but the school board had him tied up with some plan they have (a thought he doesn’t finish though I don’t think that was just a well told lie, I think there is some plan for Jefferson here – to run for office or something; I think that’s the whole Ms. Fowdy angle but I digress, unimportant right now). He feigns outrage from this brand new information he didn’t already know about his youngest daughter and wonders aloud what’s wrong with his out of control daughters. She advises him to proceed with a cool head, and he admits she’s probably right. Also, no social media for a month for Jennifer. As Lynn goes to leave, she gets to the elephant she brought in the room with her — Black Lightning, he back? He denies denies denies and says he’s saved more lives as principal than he ever did as BL. She admits she still cares for him but then goes to search for wounds on his person. Its almost like she’s trying to call his bluff via possible sexy times. So cares for, but not necessarily trusts …
Flashback. Remember how Jefferson said no more? Yeah, well here he is bleeding in the bathroom again but this time, a young Anissa finds him and asks what happened?!?! Lynn ushers away but not before telling him he’s no better than a crackhead and yeah, she wants a divorce you oathbreaker.
As we go to commercial, we get our first glimpse of Tobias Whale (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III), who is called away from his “feeding man to fish” activity to see the talking head still on TV talking about how Black Lightning’s return would be a game changer.
The Next Morning. After the longest night that Jefferson Pierce has had in 9 years, we see him in his daily routine: morning run with the girls and principal-ing like a boss at Garfield. He’s also telling Kara (Ms. Fowdy) that he will not turn his school into a jail by adding metal detectors which is what the board is calling for. When he sits down at his desk, Gambi has sent him a video clip showing the good Black Lightning did back in the day and a small example of the good impact that BL had. When Jefferson sits back, you can see that Gambi at least has his wheels turning now …
Outside the school, Will (remember, Loser Boy) has tracked Jennifer down and she’s really not having it with his loser ass. Poor, dumb, stupid Will makes the mistake of grabbing Jennifer’s arm which sure, pisses of Jennifer but gets Anissa (who is a part time teacher at the school, remember) swooping in like the badass older sister she is. Will makes 2 mistakes here: 1. he calls her a bitch, which, we learned from her conversation with jen last night, she does not like being called a bitch; and 2. he grabs HER arm (who taught this boy manners – you don’t go grabbing women’s arms dumbass). She wheels on him and lays him out cold. Jefferson makes his way outside as Will struggles to get up from the floor and as Will goes for his gun, Jefferson, exercising a tremendous amount of self-control I would not have, approaches the situation with self-interest logic. He appeals to Will that he’s on parole and shooting a woman in front of an entire school, which is also filled with cameras, when the police are already on their way?!? Not, Will’s best move. This logic gets through to Will’s pea sized bran and he backs off the property vowing that this isn’t over. Oh, I am sure of that but not for the reason you think, Will. You just tried to pull a gun on Black Lightning’s daughter. Trouble is coming for you.
When we return, Jefferson is yelling at Anissa for not following school protocol and putting all of them in danger. Exposition – he’s been principal for 7 years. Anissa can’t understand how he doesn’t see violence is everywhere and its naive to think it wouldn’t reach Garfield. He says its not about a political movement, its about keeping his daughters alive. Anissa sees this as a basic sell out of principals … ah, the simplicity of being young when responsibilities and motivations are so much easier.
Lala’s Youth Center Office. Jefferson meets Latavious (that’s Lala’s “government name” for the uninitiated) who winces at the use of a name he hasn’t heard since he left Garfield. Lala says he heard about Will and says its not cool to do that at the school. Jefferson agrees and we learn he’s had an unspoken arrangement with all the gangs to keep Garfield gang/crime free. Lala and Will are cousins but he understands Jefferson isn’t looking for excuses.
A young man, named Malik, young like 12 years old young, comes up and Lala scolds him for showing poor manners in front of his former teacher. Malik corrects himself, properly introduces himself to Jefferson and shakes his hand as he looks him in the eye. Which is oddly well mannered for the clear thug that Lala is. Which he proves when he grabs Malik and holds him aggressively while screaming at him for being lazy on his phone instead of out hustling white boys in the neighborhoods Malik should be running. Those white boys will run Malik one day if he doesn’t shape up and focus on what’s important. Its like a scene from Lean On Me … if Principal Joe Clark was a gangster thug who murdered for funsies and ran drugs. Lala has some kind of messed up moral compass he is guiding himself by.
Anyway, when Jefferson jumps in pulling Malik out of his grasp saying Latavious (for the 4th time in this scene), Lala has had enough. He pulls a gun on Jefferson and (A) makes Jefferson say his street name and (B) tells him that he teaches the youth his way and Lala will teach them his. Now, he’ll do Jefferson this favor about Will but Jefferson will owe him one, good? Good. Back to Malik, Lala makes him sweep the floors clean and confiscates his phone as punishment for his slacking on his drug selling chores. Complicated Moral Compass, Lala. Complicated Moral Compass.
Garfield High School. Will did not get Lala’s memo yet apparently because he and some of his boys come busting into the school, guns outs, and straight up kidnaps Jennifer and Anissa. Anissa says she isn’t scared of The 100 – Will says she should be. Yeah, maybe. But Will should be afraid of the holy hell Black Lightning is about to rain down on him. Commercials.
When we return, Henderson is telling Jefferson and Lynn to let him do his job. Sure sure, cool cool, Jefferson says. When he leaves, Lynn asks where he’s going and he says ominously, “to get our girls.” She’s totes on board with some Black Lightning action now and tells him to bring them home.
Gambi’s Tailor Shop. Jefferson tells Peter that The 100 have the girls and they enter Gambi’s secret lair. He’s been expecting this and so he has a an awesome new, tricked out Black Lightning Suit all ready to go. Its got all the bells and whistles.
Seahorse Motel. We see Jefferson suited up for the first time and its pretty amazing. As his suit is powering up, it literally crackles with electricity and I could feel my heart beat quicken as I got excited for the ass kicking I knew was coming.
As the ass kicking begins, we see some of the suits features. Its bullet proof (which is good though Jefferson probably should get some kind of helmet instead of relying on keeping his hand over his face); it releases a shock charge every time Jefferson’s hands make contact with something (the contact charge is white now whereas it was blue in Club 100 – I am assuming the suit has made the charge stronger which changed the color? Maybe? Science!); and the coolest thing is that it amplifies and focuses his lighting ability so he can dispel electricity from his hands Ryu from Street Fighter II style
Lala’s Motel Office. Lala has lots of offices. Lala is dispensing some wisdom to Will via a pistol whipping. He tells him these are no ordinary girls; their father is like “Black Jesus to the people of Freeland” which made me laugh at loud. He calls for them (the girls) to “disappear” (that’s code for “kill” for you people that haven’t killed people before) and then he tells Will to disappear. Lala is really unhappy that violence has broken out in his land after 5 years of peace … or peace as he sees it.
Jefferson is continuing his video game like progression to the boss level, heaving bad guys to and fro with ease. he comes face to face Will, who has the girls and Will says, “nice suit” and then shoots Jefferson. But, man, you should have gone for the head shot because now all you did was piss off the guy who was already REALLY PISSED OFF AT YOU, WILL! Will is the dumbest and the worst, you guys. Jefferson points out that he should have at least allowed Jefferson to say something “heroically clever” before shooting him, Will couldn’t even do that right. Then, he hoists Will up in the air via static electricity beams and tries to find out where Lala is. Sadly, Will doesn’t know so he shoots him as hard as possible into Will’s own car, 2 stories below. Ouch, that’s going to leave a mark. Meanwhile, the girls make an exit (they are really good at taking advantage of a distraction and escaping).
The Aftermath. The police interview Anissa and Jennifer while Black Lightning looks on from the rooftop of the motel … does no one see him? He’s not that high up; like, a casual glance upwards and you’d see Black Lightning just standing there like a creeper. Be.More.Stealthy. Jefferson!
Elsewhere, Lala is trying to make his getaway when two of Tobias Whale’s hench-people trap his smooth ride and gran him for a quick meeting.
Tobias Whale’s Lair. A masked Lala is brought in front of Tobias Whale He tries to speak, calling Tobias “boss” but Tobias doesn’t want to hear it. Instead, he harpoons Lala and asks him if he believes in the “Resurrection” calling a beautiful idea but a fantasy. Tobias killed Black Lightning but whomever this is, is equally bad for Whale’s business. He is reeling in Lala the entire time he’s talking to him. The question for Lala is, can he take care of this problem for Tobias or should Tobias just kill him now?!? We don’t hear the answer but you can guess how Lala responds.
Pierce House. Inspector Henderson drops the girls off. Lynn and the girls have a tearful reunion outside as Jefferson pulls up in his car and joins them for the appropriate hugging and crying. Later, we see Jefferson decompressing in the shower and then checking on his sleeping girls. A conflicted man who has a moment of peace, finally. In the kitchen, Lynn is having a moment and she thanks Jefferson when he comes up behind her. He tells her, its not done yet. She understands.
Last Scene. In her room, Anissa wakes from a memory of her telling Will she’s not afraid of The 100 and him telling her, “bitch, you should be.” In the bathroom, she is running through the night’s activities and as she gets upset, her hadns turn red … right ebfore they shatter the sink into a thousand pieces. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Thunder. And scene.
Thoughts. Black Lightning is a different kind of Arrow-verse superhero show than we have previously seen from Greg Berlanti’s four previous outings: Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. Jefferson Pierce is a conflicted family man trying to resist his calling because he thinks he’s serving a higher call. But, sometimes, you need to get your hands dirty. Sometimes you need to do violence for then right reason. Sometimes, you need a superhero in a latex suit, not a superhero in front of an auditorium of children.
Its easy to say that Black Lightning is different from the other Arrow-verse shows because of its mostly black cast. Black Lightning is different because the aim of the hero is different as well as the challenges facing him. Black Lightning is much more a soul mate of Marvel’s Netflix properties such as Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Daredevil. But especially Luke Cage. And again, not because of the black protagonist factor but because of the immediate threat perceived by that black protagonist. Crime. In his community. Running rampant and unable to be penned in and stopped by the police. That’s like the definition of why vigilantes become vigilantes. So, yes, Jefferson Pierce is black but he’s telling a real urban American story.
In that way, Jefferson Pierce and Oliver Queen aren’t all that different in motivation. Oliver returns from Lian Yu (Purgatory) with a mission to cleanse Star City of its corruption and rampant crime, crime and corruption that is unchecked by the police. His original catchphrase of “you have failed this city” could equally fit Lala and I’m sure, we’ll learn, Tobias Whale.
In this crazy time we’re living in, I can see why some people may think Black Lightning is too divisive or “too real” for TV; TV should be escapism. But, isn’t it also possible that Black Lightning can allow us to examine a societal problem we have, rampant urban violence, through the lens of a fictional show so we can maybe have a conversation about the issue without necessarily all of the emotion of dealing with real world specifics? I think its a conversation worth having and if Black Lightning can help us, then I’m all for it.
You have to look deeper than the superficial racial implications and what some are calling steretyping. The message and call of Black Lightning is, “what would you do to protect your community from harm; your family from violence, your children from danger and death and, lord knows, their own bad choices. Jefferson Pierce is on that mission now to test that question and find his answer.
Come along with me as we follow his journey and try to answer those questions too.