Black Lightning and the Hero’s Sacrifice
Good news everyone! Black Lightning was renewed for a second season. If you’ve been following the show like I have, it’s certainly welcome news. In any case, this week’s episode finds Jefferson and Peter working together again, albeit somewhat tenuously. Meanwhile, Jefferson deals with a new threat on a different front, forcing him to endure tribulation for the greater good.
Warning: This review does not discuss major spoilers for episode eleven (nothing that wasn’t in the trailers). However, it does openly discuss events from previous episodes. As always, catch up if you’re not current.
The Enemy Within
As we learned last week, Vice Principal Kara Howdy is a part of the conspiracy surrounding Freeland. Moreover, we also learned that the organization at the heart of the machinations has figured out that Jefferson is Black Lightning. This informs the beginning of this week’s episode, where Howdy plots with corrupt police officers to frame and arrest Jefferson. The police come to the school, plant drugs in Jefferson’s car and office, and arrest him with a crowd of students and teachers watching.
During these events, there’s an unspoken tension between Jefferson’s inclination to keep things from escalating and Anissa’s inclination toward justice at any cost. It reminds us why Jefferson is the hero, and that Anissa still has much to learn. We’ve seen this before, but it’s incredibly powerful as Jefferson is being arrested. Anissa is ready to let her powers loose on the crooked cops, and as viewers we want her to. But Jefferson knows that it won’t help. It might provide momentary satisfaction, but ultimately it will cause collateral damage and make things more difficult to put back together. Though we hate seeing our hero humiliated and treated unjustly, his sacrifice is necessary for his mission and his community. If you paid attention to the title of the episode, it’s inevitable.
Another Hero Takes the Lead
Tobias continued his streak of not appearing on Black Lightning this week. While I still think it’s a mistake to go this long without our primary protagonist, this episode did provide two corrupt police officers to serve as minor antagonists. Since they actually interact with Jefferson, this episode provides tension that had been lacking in previous episodes. Black Lightning hadn’t come face-to-face with the bad guys too often. He certainly hadn’t been completely at their mercy before now.
However, due to circumstances, this time he was unable to fight back, either as Black Lightning or as Jefferson Pierce. In addition to following the crucifixion theme, this also gives Detective Henderson a chance to shine. Henderson has been present throughout the plot of the show, but has mostly been relegated to the sidelines. Damon Gupton has always been strong in the role, but seeing Henderson take charge to clear Jefferson’s name and rid his department of corruption made the character and performance far more compelling.
Discourse on Society
Smarter and more qualified people than me are talking about this, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on Black Lightning‘s themes and discussions about blackness in America. This has been running throughout the show, and this week’s episode kept up that discussion. For the most part, Black Lightning handles these issues with great finesse and compelling commentary.
The entire arrest sequence in this episode manages to appeal to both intellectual and emotional reasoning. Jefferson reluctantly swallows his pride and righteous position to comply with the police officers, knowing that they will not hesitate to use lethal force on a black male with as little a shred of justification as they can get. Even more powerful is when he tells his students blocking the exit in protest to stand down. He tells their leader, “No one needs to see another black man in handcuffs today.” Jefferson is always concerned about his community and the bigger picture. It’s part of what makes the character so endearing. Furthermore, it underscores the important racial themes that run throughout the show. Smart young activists being unnecessarily arrested runs counter to Black Lightning’s mission.
There are some missteps in handling these themes, though. A brief news segment features Freeland citizens reacting to Jefferson’s arrest. Two younger black characters show support for Jefferson and disbelief in the authority figures. On the other hand, an older white character shows disgust at Jefferson’s alleged crimes. It gets its message across, but it’s a bit heavy-handed. It’s simply a lack of sophistication that is generally out the ordinary for Black Lightning.
Overall, this was a great episode. Moreover, I’m ready for where it will go from here. We’re facing the final two episodes in the coming weeks, and they promise to be a wild ride.
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9 PM on the CW.