Black Lightning 1x02 "LaWanda: Book of Hope"
Is Black Lightning back?
That seemed to be the question on everyone’s mind as we began “LaWanda: Book of Hope”, the second episode of the show’s freshman season. The central focus of this episode is all about Jefferson’s struggle with coming out of retirement. Although Jefferson was more than happy to don the suit to save his daughters (and had the full support of his ex-wife Lynn), he still wants to win her back (that kiss they shared could light a few fires!) and knows that Black Lightning is a deal breaker. Lynn, a neuroscientist, believes that Jefferson’s powers are a drug and that every time he uses them he sinks further into addiction. She thinks that Jefferson makes a bigger impact as principal of Garfield High and, for a while, Jefferson agreed with her; but LaWanda White, one of Jefferson’s former students—now a military widow and a mother—forces him to examine his privilege.
Anissa and Jennifer were saved because Black Lightning is their father, but, even more so, because Jefferson is well-respected in the community of Freedland and has the right connections. His best friend is Inspector Henderson and that means that, in addition to Black Lightning, there was an actual police effort mounted to save Anissa and Jennifer. Even after their rescue, the Pierces are given the luxury of knowing they have a police watch car stationed in front of their home and Inspector Henderson himself coming over to check in on them during his nighttime dog walk.
LaWanda is desperate to save her own daughter from the prostitution and addiction found at the Seahorse Motel and rebuffs Jefferson’s MLK quote (“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”) with Emma Lazarus’ “Unless all of us are free, none of us will be free.” What makes her emotional appeal to Jefferson even more devastating is that she’s not asking for Black Lightning’s help, she’s asking for Jefferson’s; and he can’t provide her that help without betraying his promise to Lynn and potentially losing his chance at happiness with her.
We’re also given a glimpse into how inefficient (and sometimes complicit) the police force is when investigating crimes. Jefferson naively believes that after Black Lightning busted up the Seahorse Motel, that operation had at least been shut down. He’s astonished to hear from Henderson that not only is it still active but Will (Jennifer and Anissa’s kidnapper) escaped his ambulance ride and LaLa can’t be attached to the crime at all. With the Pierce girls as the only witnesses talking, they’re in a very dangerous position and LaLa wastes no time in emphasizing that, sending an emissary armed with a water gun full of red paint to their home. It sends the message they intended it to: even with the watch car stationed in front of their home, LaLa can still reach them.
Enraged, Jefferson confronts LaLa alone—while LaLa is surrounded by his gang—and is quickly overpowered. The deal Jefferson thought they had struck is apparently null and void because LaLa is under extreme pressure from Tobias to get things back in order; LaLa means to do exactly that, even if it means killing his own cousin (Will) or once again holding a former teacher at gunpoint. LaLa’s desperation to save his own skin eventually comes back to bite him when LaWanda, ready to save her daughter by any means necessary, finally sees him arrive at the Seahorse and rushes him with a video recorder. LaWanda unfortunately gives her life in an attempt to save her child, but her efforts are not in vain.
Jefferson is distraught when he hears that LaWanda has been murdered and it’s this loss, one that was possibly preventable, that forces him out of retirement for good. His confrontation with Lynn about his decision is both heartbreaking and heartening. Jefferson fully realizes that choosing to be Black Lightning means probably losing Lynn, but he can’t continue to let these actions go unpunished.
Everything about this episode’s fight scene was great: the choice of song (“Am I Black Enough for You?” by Billy Paul), the doorman who gleefully tells Black Lightning where to find LaLa, the man in the elevator who offers to hold the door for him, even Jefferson using a quip to distract Inspector Henderson so he can make a quick escape. It was invigorating to say the least, but the reverberations felt at home (with Lynn staying just long enough to let Jefferson know she’s displeased with him) are a painful shot to the heart.
On a lighter note, Anissa is shown cozied up with her girlfriend in the beginning of the episode and it’s beautiful to see the physical and emotional comfort that Cheona provides her with. Most of the focus on Anissa this week is light: we get to see her out and about with Cheona in super cute pantsuits and sharing hugs and cuddles with her as well, but we also see her struggling with the aftereffects of the kidnapping—so much so that she winds up making a late-night trip to the pharmacy for sleeping pills and inadvertently winds up wandering into an armed robbery. We are given another showing of Anissa’s surprising skills and it seems that flexing a little muscle puts Anissa’s mind at ease, because she leaves the sleeping pills on the counter and walks out happier than she came in.
Jennifer has some high moments too, finding herself a new boyfriend in Khalil, a student athlete who seems to be kind and caring and perhaps exactly what she needs right now. We all deal with stress in different ways, and Jennifer has turned to alcohol to cope, sneaking a bottle of wine in the gym with a friend and then later trying to entice Khalil to indulge with her. I’m not ashamed to say I’m worried about Jennifer. Her coping habits are unhealthy, and I’m surprised that, at least thus far, it doesn’t appear that she’s receiving any professional help.
Overall, the second installment of Black Lightning was just as strong as the first and promises to keep us glued to our screens with its next episode: “LaWanda: The Book of Burial.”
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW and will be covered weekly on Truth Bee Told by April Morris.