Grief Turns to Action in This Week’s Black Lightning
Black Lightning continues to bring the thunder since its premiere. This week gave us a mournful community inspired by the titular hero and ready to take a stand against the 100 Gang. This pushes Jefferson Pierce further toward embracing his mantle as Black Lightning. Pierce’s inner conflict, set against some intelligent family and social drama, makes Black Lightning a dynamic superhero show that you should be watching.
Note: This review doesn’t contain spoilers for episode three, but will openly discuss spoilers for the first two episodes. If you’re not caught up, what are you waiting for?
The Burial and The March
The episode opens with Reverend Jeremiah Holt giving a powerful and defiant eulogy for LaWanda White, who was slain in last week’s episode while confronting Lala and the 100 Gang. His sermon, set to a rhythmic and authoritative spiritual, builds to his climax: an impassioned call to march to show strength and solidarity in the face of the 100 Gang.
It’s easy to be drawn toward Holt and support his position. However, he soon clashes with Inspector Henderson, who is concerned about the retaliation the 100 Gang will take against Holt and his protesters. Pierce is left trying to keep the peace between the two. Having these three community leaders all on the same side but at odds with each other on how to lead their city forward does an excellent job of pushing the true dilemma the 100 Gang poses. Pierce clearly sympathizes with Henderson’s conservative approach, but is slowly accepting that Holt, with his call for action, may be right. Moreover, Pierce is realizing what his responsibility as Black Lightning means in this conflict.
This is where Black Lightning really shines. Pierce is a man of responsibilities. He’s responsible as a community leader and educator. But most of all he’s responsible to his family. He initially dons the Black Lightning outfit for the first time in almost a decade to save his daughters. However, he’s more and more realizing that in so doing, he inadvertently started a war.
In a wonderfully ironic moment, Holt, unaware of Pierce’s alter-ego, tells him that Black Lightning has inspired the community. Pierce is starting to realize it falls to him to protect Freeland, and that he might have to bury his hopes for a normal life. Seeing him come to terms with his responsibility to his city as Black Lightning is a rewarding ride so far, dripping with delicious character development.
Black Lightning is the rare superhero show that is comfortable letting its plot and setting speak for themselves, and only using action when necessary. The action is there and I love seeing our hero mix it up, but Black Lightning is about its characters and issues first and foremost. Instead of huge action set pieces, we get crime and violence that is tangible and visceral. This backdrop allows Pierce to develop in a way he couldn’t otherwise.
In a side plot, we also see Anissa Pierce explore her emerging powers, hinting at her eventual role as Thunder. These segments are kept brief, which is good because that’s not where the real drama is yet. Still, it makes me excited to see her become more practiced and in control. It promises to be rewarding when we see her go from activist to literal social justice warrior.
The Good and The Bad
Overall this episode is strong. In addition to a well-paced plot and excellent character development, we also see more into character relationships. The Pierce family has the most awkward family dinner ever, much to the amusement of many viewers, I’m sure. Pierce and Peter Gambi banter with each other, giving to their friendship (which had seemed rather stern up until now) levity and realism.
Many smaller technical choices are on point as well. The same powerful spiritual that builds up Holt’s eulogy and call to action also brings us back down during the episode’s denouement. It’s a nice piece of symmetry that leaves the viewer feeling satisfied. In other technical aspects, a red background completely bathes Tobias Whale the first time we see him in this episode. It’s some nice visual cueing that instantly puts us in the right state of mind to approach our villain.
The cast is generally doing a good job. Cress Williams is a confident and commanding lead; Marvin “Krondon” Jones III is an intimidating and intriguing villain; both China Anne McClain and Nafessa Williams give strong performances as the Pierce daughters. However, the weak point in the cast and in this episode is Christine Adams as Lynn Pierce. Her performance often seems disingenuous. There’s a moment at the end of the episode where she reacts to news in a very robotic and non-affected way. It honestly made me wonder why they went with that take.
All in all, this episode is another strong showing from Black Lightning. It’s a unique show with important things to say and interesting characters to explore. If you’re not watching, it’s time to get on board.
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9 PM on the CW.