Black Lightning 1x01 "Resurrection"
If you’ve been paying any attention to The CW over the past five years, you’ll have noticed that they’ve become synonymous with DC Comics, bringing several Justice League characters to the small screen with big screen flair—so you probably thought you knew what to expect from Black Lightning. However, if you tuned in to the series premiere of Black Lightning (January 16, 2018), then you quickly realized that the show deviates from the typical CW pacing in an amazing way. In the show’s first five minutes there’s an arrest (and release) due to protesting, being pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black) and police officers using unnecessary force due to misidentification.
The CW’s first show with a Black lead, Black Lightning takes more risks than one normally expects from a pilot episode, with the titular character not a 20-something coming into his powers for the first time, but a 40-year-old divorced father of two who retired from the superhero game after his wife left him. Jefferson Pierce (portrayed by Cress Williams) leaves superhero work behind to become the principal of Garfield High, a majority-black, inner city school, believing that he can do more good for his community this way.
Inside the halls of Garfield High, we are also given the chance to meet Jefferson’s daughters: Anissa Pierce (Nafessa Williams), a medical student and part-time teacher at Garfield High, who makes a shocking discovery about herself towards the end of the episode, and Jennifer Pierce (China Ann McClain), a popular 18-year-old Garfield High senior who just wants to have fun, which can be hard to do when your older sister and your dad both work at your school!
When the show opens, Jefferson hasn’t been Black Lightning for at least a decade, but with a first episode entitled “Resurrection” there’s little question about his return—and return he does, for the best of reasons. Jennifer has gone to a party held by the local gang, “The 100,” with big sister Anissa’s permission after promising to be home by a certain time. Because this is still a CW show, Jennifer winds up in a bit of a pinch and unknowingly drags her father into a battle he’s been trying to avoid.
As the episode unfolds we watch Jefferson struggle with the righteous anger that Black men often have but are forced to shove down as a means of self-defense. He scolds Anissa in the show’s opening moments for getting involved in a protest that turns violent, he crackles with suppressed rage when pulled over and subjected to unnecessary force (in front of his daughters, no less), but it’s not until Jefferson, wearing a suit and tie, having just saved his daughter from a pretty nasty fate and holding his hands above his head is told to “get your Black ass on the ground!” that we are finally treated to a dose of actual Lightning. He gives the offending officers a bit of a jolt (and yes, it’s really something to see) and then lights up their patrol car, ironically something he’d chided Anissa for doing earlier this same night.
There’s an interesting conundrum at play here when you realize that a lot of Black Lightning’s foes are people whom Jefferson deals with on a regular basis. Police detective Henderson is strongly anti-vigilante, but he and Jefferson are close friends. One of The 100’s gang members Latavius (who prefers to go by “LaLa”) was once taught by Jefferson and seems to respect him, even as he holds him at gunpoint. It’s a fascinating, and very real, look into the reality many Black men (and women) deal with on a daily basis: being a part of a community but not fully belonging to it, holding certain ideals but disagreeing with the way those ideals are enforced.It’s one more aspect of this show that makes it great.
Jefferson’s ex-wife, Lynn Pierce (Christine Adams), doesn’t get a lot of screen time this episode, but when she does, she absolutely shines. It’s so refreshing to see a divorced couple on screen who don’t spend their time bickering, but have managed to be amicable co-parents who obviously still respect and care for each other. Lynn and Jefferson may be divorced, but I don’t think that relationship’s sparks have been fully extinguished!
Even in its variances, Black Lightning homes in on one of the most prevalent common factors in any superhero story: fate. Jefferson has spent a decade hiding his powers, only to have to use them again to save his daughters. Jefferson tells Gambi (his Alfred wannabe) that he just wants to save his daughters (not the city), but it looks like those two things aren’t going to be as easy to separate as Jefferson thinks. You can hide who you are, but eventually the truth always finds its way to the surface.
The Black Lightning premiere is an electrifying start for The CW's first Black-led show that is incredibly timely in its appearance, especially in today's political climate in the United States.
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW and will be covered weekly on Truth Bee Told by April Morris.