After a long wait (and interestingly timed considering Black Panther comes out in less than a month), Black Lightning debuted on January 16th. While it’s on the CW, it’s not related to the other CW/DC Comics shows like Arrow, Flash, and the rest. Having seen the first episode, that decision makes a lot of sense. I was really impressed and enjoyed the episode. Considering Black Lightning has, on this show, been out of action for nine years, the show title makes a good bit of sense: “The Resurrection.”
The show opens in a police station during a storm. With voiceover from one of the Pierce daughters, we hear the poem from the first issue of Black Lightning (Justice, like lightning, should ever appear, to some men hope, and to other men fear), and a rough background of the show’s status quo. A vicious street gang called the 100 terrorize the city. People are giving up hope. It’s a desperate city that sounds bit like the Gotham City of the dark future where the Dark Knight Returns is set. The citizens got together to protest the gang, and the gang attacked the protest, with the police coming down against violence from either side, but sounding almost more like they were handicapping the good guys. It all sounds bleak and bad.
In the police station, Anissa Pierce, eldest daughter of Jefferson Pierce, has been arrested for going to a protest. Jennifer, the other daughter, looks bored and keeps texting on her phone. Jefferson is pacing and anxious. Annisa finally is released to his custody, and he expresses his displeasure with her, especially since Garfield High, where he’s principal, has a big fundraiser that night. In the background, on the wall, we see wanted posters for Black Lightning and Tobias Whale. In the comics, Whale is a huge white (not Caucasian or albino, but actually white like paper) skinned man who is a recurring bad guy.
Free and going to the fundraiser after all, the Pierce family gets pulled over. The cops are one white and one Latino, racist, and abusive. I’m aware that this may be an unpopular view, but I enjoy seeing white racist cops as a constant on tv about as much as many African Americans like seeing every black man being a thug, drug dealer, or criminal. As an aside, I will note there are no good white cops in this episode. At any rate, after being abused by the cops (they were wrong, I’m not saying otherwise), we get the hint that while Black Lightning may be nine years gone, Jefferson Pierce still has his powers. In the voiceover, his daughter comments that, on that night, Black Lightning was reborn.
At the fundraiser we get more background: Garfield High is an oasis of hope in the criminally overrun city of Freeland. Jefferson Peirce has been principal (although some sources call him headmaster) for seven years, oldest daughter Anissa is a med student and teaches Health Education a few days a week at Garfield, and Jennifer is a star student and talented athlete like her father. The introduction at the fundraiser is Senator Nina Turner, doing a quick cameo as herself. As Jefferson is busy trying for donations for the school, Jennifer slips out to go to a party, much to Anissa’s annoyance as they bargain about it. Jefferson works the party, and ends up speaking with Lynn, the girls’ mother and his ex-wife. He’s clearly a lot more interested in getting back together with her than she with him.
While Jennifer starts getting in trouble early, Jefferson chats with Henderson, apparently the face of the police on this series. The two seem to be friends. Eventually, Jefferson goes home and discovers Jennifer isn’t actually there. After a flurry of phone calls and texts, Jefferson goes looking for her at Club 100. Jennifer chats up William at the club, and then gets dragged off to the back office when some thugs show up and take them both. Jefferson has gotten there by this point and follows.
William is a lower-level thug, and the man in the office is his boss. William is in trouble, for the police “stealing” product during a raid. I’m not sure if this is just a really skewed viewpoint or a statement that the police are corrupt as well as racist. William’s in a bad spot, and Jennifer gets in more and more trouble by association. It’s the ultimate “don’t lie to your father and sneak off” morality play. We do see that Jennifer can handle herself.
At the office door, Jefferson tries to get to his daughter, and the thug guard isn’t letting that happen. Jefferson tries words, then they scuffle some, and the thug ends up pulling a gun. Jefferson bows his head, sighs, and comments that he tried to do it the right way. The power fails, chaos ensues, and even without a costume, Black Lightning is back. For being retired nine years, Jefferson is pretty good in the fight. The head bad guy gets away, and Jennifer runs. A slightly wounded Jefferson makes it outside, is the only one who stops when the police show up (someone called the cops for a fight at a criminal hangout club?), and the white racist cops try to arrest him. Let’s just say you shouldn’t use a Taser on Black Lightning, although they don’t know who he is. Pierce lets some of his temper loose on the way out and wracks up some property damage.
Peter Gambi gets to his tailor shop where he finds Jefferson on the floor. He’s looked better. As Gambi helps him, the Pierce daughters argue at home. Anissa is furious at Jennifer for lying about sneaking off, and Jennifer is trying to play bored, cool teenager. Anissa takes Jennifer’s phone and walks off with it. Trying to ignore Jennifer, Anissa turns on the tv, and both of them are surprised at the news covering the club situation and mentioning witnesses describing Black Lightning. Henderson, being interviewed, does his best to discount the possibility of Black Lightning’s return. As the girls keep arguing, Jefferson is having his own disagreement with Gambi. In the comics, Peter Gambi was a mentor to Pierce’s early heroic career (his brother, Paul, does costumes most notably for Flash’s Rogues). Jefferson lists all the reasons he won’t go back to being Black Lightning. Peter disagrees with him. A black and white flashback shows a very wounded Jefferson in his bathtub, promising Lynn he’ll quit being a hero.
A tv news report gives one of the most interesting lines of the episode as far as world building goes. The commentator asks why Black Lightning is called a vigilante while people with powers in other communities are called heroes. It’s a valid point, but I’m more interested in the fact that there are other heroes out there. Either it’s a way to potentially back-door the show into the rest of the CW-verse eventually, or there’s a potential for us seeing new characters down the road. I’m really curious to see which way it goes.
My speculation about other heroes to one side, Jefferson gets home to find Lynn there. Lynn updates on him the lecture she gave to Jennifer, but then seems to downplay what Jennifer did. That seems a bit weird to me, but what do I know? She also questions him about the news mentioning Black Lightning, and he assures her the hero is retired. There’s another brief flashback where most of it’s black and white but for Jefferson’s vivid blood, and Lynn kicks him out, asks for a divorce, and escorts a staring, very young Anissa away. The news mentions Black Lightning’s possible return as a game changer for the black community the system has failed. Tobias Whale is less impressed, but shows his Bond villain flair with a dramatic killing.
The next day, the Pierce family goes running, which appears to be something they do fairly often. At school, Jefferson argues against putting in metal detectors, saying he doesn’t want Garfield to seem like another prison. I get the sentiment there, but if the city is that bad, I think it’s an idea worth considering. Gambi hasn’t given up, and sends Jefferson an email showing a man whose life Jefferson saved back in his Black Lightning days.
William, having no sense at all, shows up at the school and first chats with, then grabs at, Jennifer. Anissa gets in the way, and he starts cursing her out, then grabbing at her. Running isn’t all Jefferson has shared with his daughters, as she easily flips the punk to the ground. Jefferson has been moving forward during all this, and as William tries to pull his gun, Jefferson explains all the reasons this is a bad idea, including that cops are on the way and school shootings are life without parole. William leaves, vowing this isn’t over. This is followed up by Jefferson yelling at both daughters in his office, and Anissa stalking off, accusing him of abandoning his people.
Pierce goes to see a former student who has inexplicably taken the name Lala (that’s supposed to be cool or intimidating?). The man runs some kind of school for younger kids from what we see, and he’s a lot more… direct in dealing with his young charges. Pierce asks Lala to keep William away from his school and his daughters, mentioning an informal agreement that Garfield is neutral territory. Lala (isn’t that a Teletubby?) agrees, but states Pierce now owes him a favor, and things get very tense at the end of the meeting. Apparently the memo never gets sent out, because the very next thing we see is William and two flunkies bursting into the school and dragging Jennifer and Anissa away at gunpoint.
The cops arrive, Lynn is worried, and Henderson lectures Jefferson for not coming to him in the first place. Considering we’ve yet to see the police do one effective thing this episode, I don’t blame Jefferson for not calling them. Jefferson starts walking away, Lynn asks where he’s going, and he tells her, “To get our girls back.” She just nods and tells him to bring them home. Since he’s clearly not about to give the bad guys detention, Lynn knows he’s not acting as a principal here. I guess her anti-hero stance has limits. Pierce goes to Gambi’s, fills him in on what’s going on, and learns Gambi has been working on something for him.
Aside from the club, one of the 100’s hangouts and businesses is apparently a seedy motel. Lala is expressing his disapproval to William for the double kidnapping without clearing it through him first. As things are looking bad for everyone involved, there’s sounds of trouble outside. Black Lightning has arrived and is not in a talking kind of mood. His new costume is armored at least a bit, which is a great upgrade, and he gets off a lot of cool moves, both in hand to hand and with his powers. He does get a good few lines when he finally confronts William and shows him the error of his ways.
Lala escapes, but then is brought to Tobias Whale’s headquarters. Whale is not an understanding boss, and asks some pointed questions of his underling. At the Pierce home, there’s a joyful reunion. Eventually, the girls get to sleep, Jefferson rinses off in the shower, bleeding a bit still, and has a talk with Lynn. He does want her back, but Black Lightning’s return isn’t over. Upstairs, Anissa wakes up from a nightmare and finds out some things have changed for her.
What I liked: Almost everything. Black Lightning is a great character, and his deep caring for his community is obvious. Gambi’s unwavering idealism and support is nice, especially as he’s the only non-evil white character we see. The news broadcast both made a good point and has me curious about how they will handle “other heroes.” Anissa seems like a great character who I’m looking forward to seeing more of.
What I didn’t: Lynn. Sorry, I get her concerns, but to me she comes off as selfish. She ends her relationship with Jefferson over his being a hero, and that changes when their daughters are in danger (which has nothing to do with his heroic career). Jennifer is acting like a brainless teenager, and while that happens in real life, it’s not fun to watch. Not all white cops are racist, evil, rude, and/or corrupt. We get one token good white guy in the episode. The cops in general naming Black Lightning a vigilante but then wanting credit for lives they save seems like a double standard. And while it’s far from his ugliest costume ever, I’m not a huge fan of Black Lightning’s newest costume.
Overall, I thought it was a really good episode with a lot of promise for the series. I’ll give the premier a 4 out of 5, and I’m already eager for next episode.