Black Lightning 1x09 "The Book of Little Black Lies"
We’re finally heading into the home stretch with Black Lightning, and it’s becoming obvious that not everything is as it seems. When Green Light was initially introduced, it seemed like it would be a small, minor concern. A drug introduced into a low-income, primarily black neighborhood? What’s new about that? Yes, it has a very high mortality rate, and seems to imbue its users with superhuman strength, but there wasn’t a lot of focus on the why.
“The Book of Revelations” blew all of that out of the water with the reveal that Green Light has been permeating Freeland for decades, that Gambi is a part of the reason for its existence and that it’s a large part of the reason Jefferson’s father was murdered, upping the emotional stakes for all involved. Green Light’s narrative importance is hammered home even more in “The Book of Little Black Lies” as we are treated to evidence that the shady corporation behind Green Light’s distribution has been storing the metahumans created in a facility.
I might be the only one who feels this way, but I enjoyed the absence of Tobias and LaLa this episode, as it allowed us to focus on the strongest dynamic the show has: the relationships in the Pierce family. The majority of this episode focuses on Jefferson and Anissa investigating Alvin Pierce’s murder, as Jennifer struggles with the revelation that she has superpowers, and that her father and sister do as well. In fact, Anissa telling Jennifer the truth works as one of the catalyst for this episode, with the feeling of betrayal when one discovers secrets at the forefront this episode, keeping the episode both complex and compelling.
Black Lightning is able to get away with this, largely because it’s a show that is deeply rooted in its characters. No matter what else is happening in the city of Freeland, we are shown time and time again that the Pierce family is the primary focus of the show. We’ve spent an almost unheard-of amount of time developing these characters, and it pays off in a big way, making tired storylines about family drama into something meaningful because we actually care about the characters.
Jennifer’s plot this episode is particularly affecting because we know her. So her conversations with Lynn, Anissa and Jefferson are emotional and important without feeling artificial. Anissa doesn’t understand Jennifer’s plight because Anissa loves to help others. Lynn wants Jennifer to stay safe even as she and Jefferson use that desire for safety to justify lying to their children for years. Jennifer’s desires are sadly lost as she struggles to understand her new reality. Her conversation with Lynn is so well done, as Jennifer breaks down into tears while putting her feelings into words.
Despite how mature she’s seemed over the season, Jennifer’s breakdown brought us right back to how young she really is. She’s devastated to realize that her normalcy is gone now, as are her possible plans for the future. Prom, college, marriage and children is no longer a clearly plotted path, and it’s not even her fault. China Anne McClain and Christine Adams perform incredibly in this scene, highlighting the parental guilt and responsibility and teen angst well. It’s nice that Black Lightning makes sure to remind us that Anissa and Jennifer are different people, and thus their reactions to this reveal would be different. The level of character understanding is a big part of why this oft-overdone story hits all the right marks.
Black Lightning subverts tropes well, though and this is where I bring you back to Anissa and Jefferson’s stories. Anissa becoming Thunder feels far more organic than other superhero origin stories, largely because the show is still managing to put the focus on the familial bond that Jefferson and Anissa share. We see this front and center when Anissa tries to comfort Jennifer, telling her that having powers doesn’t change her, because it’s just “who we are.”
For Anissa there’s no difference between her public persona and her superhero life. Whether she’s Anissa Pierce, med school student and part-time teacher, or Thunder, superhero, her purpose remains the same, and this translates so well into Jefferson’s understanding, because his function as both Jefferson and Black Lightning is primarily the same. As Jefferson Pierce, he spends his time trying to save the youth of Freeland in the hope of — over time — saving the city, and Black Lightning does the same. Also great is the simple fact that Jefferson isn’t overbearing about Anissa’s desire to participate in superhero activities. He’s definitely protective, but he doesn’t bother with conflict related to it. Anissa has proven herself, even saving her father, and Jefferson is willing and able to respect his daughter in all her variations. When Anissa shows up to fight alongside Black Lightning, the look on Jefferson’s face is all paternal pride and it’s wonderful.
The entire idea of not isolating the Pierce family from each other, no matter how much they disagree or fight amongst themselves is one of the show’s greatest strengths. The conflicts feel real, because the characters are real and organic, fully informed by their backstory. There’s no single conflict that separates the Pierce family, but a series of all too normal struggles that have more to do with the nature of being a family than they do about being metahumans. In continuing to make the focus of Black Lightning personal stories and connections, “The Book of Little Black Lies” succeeds in sustaining the momentum the season has built thus far.
Black Lightning airs Tuesday at 9/8c on The CW.