“If you breathe at the wrong time you die.”
Those are the words Jefferson/Black Lightning (Cress Williams) told Anissa (Nafessa Williams) as they sparred in Peter Gambi’s basement. Now that they know each other has powers, Jefferson agrees to train her. Simultaneously, a witch-hunt for Black Lightning was ignited as the Freeland police department and the locals blame him for the violent death of Lady Eve (Jill Scott). Of course, we all know Black Lightning was framed for her electrocution but to the outside world, Lady Eve was a respected businesswoman. Behind closed doors, she was a queen-pin who pushed the drug “Green Light” to the masses.
The sparring session between Jefferson and Anissa was a blast (pun intended). It was filled with great martial arts moves and danger room styled holograms. Peter Gambi (James Remar) is a genius with the coolest gadgets this side of “Q” from James Bond. Jefferson tells Anissa that he can’t suit up as Black Lightning until he proves his innocence hence the father/daughter quest begins.
This show has the best soundtrack of any show on television. I love that they pull from a varying blend of Classic R&B, Old School Jams, Neo-soul, Hip Hop, Jazz, Gospel, etc. The music is a wonderful throwback to the days of mix tapes and turntables. The song choices are perfect and fit each scene like a glove.
What is also perfection is the chemistry between the Pierce family members, especially the magnetic Lynn (Christine Adams) and Jefferson. Tonight, Jefferson and Lynn sipped wine, prepared dinner and discussed their daughters. As much as Lynn worries about Anissa having powers, in true mom-like fashion, she asks how the training is going. They also discuss their youngest, Jennifer needing an after-school activity or having her to help clean up Lynn’s ransacked lab. Jefferson then delivers the first of two quotable moments of the episode, “If she (Anissa) wants to change the world, she’ll have to change herself.” Yep. I put that one in my journal.
Speaking of Jennifer (China Anne McClain), she perfectly embodies teen angst while imbuing those moments with humor. Watching her being forced to clean Lynn’s lab (after the break-in two episodes ago) was a hoot. It was filled with sighs and eye rolls, reminiscent of when my parents made me do chores that I didn’t want to do. Jennifer used the moment to ask Lynn what is going between Anissa and Jefferson because something has changed. Lynn deflects and then realizes some research notes are missing. The notes belonged to Jefferson’s father, Alvin, a journalist, who was murdered while investigating a wave of Freeland children developing strange, unnatural abilities. Before the break-in, Lynn sent a powder sample that Alvin had in his research box to another lab.
While this was happening, Jefferson and Anissa went to the Freeland City Mortuary to see if they could find any clues from Lady Eve’s cadaver. It was a cool moment when Jefferson tried to teach Anissa to consider how much actual power will be appropriate to break through the wall. Anissa overcompensates and busts a huge hole in the wall. So much for being covert, but at least there were no active cameras in this hallway thanks to Gambi’s directions. Once inside, they study Lady Eve’s body. Anissa’s medical skills kick-in as she notices the burn patterns all over Lady Eve’s body are not conducive to the type of electrical discharges that Black Lightning omits. Gambi, via com-link, calls it “Lichtenberg scarring”, which is a branch-like pattern. Lady Eve was fully toasted which means it was a device that killed her with electro-thermal nuclear capabilities. Jefferson tells Gambi to search for radiation residue. If they find the weapon, they find the killer and can clear Black Lightning’s name.
While the meta-powered Sherlock Holmes and Watson continue their quest, the moment we’ve been waiting for finally happens… Jennifer’s powers manifest.
While hanging student election posters around Garfield high school, Jennifer’s friend Keisha (Kyanna Simone Simpson) almost falls off a ladder. Jennifer freaks out, her eyes and hands glow red, and she sets fire to the posters and cellphone in her hands. Jennifer hid the happenings from Keisha but was justifiably confused. Later, Jennifer makes a choice to power up again and fries her phone. She is exhilarated and fearful. Woo Hoo! Thunder and Lightning cometh.
Our back from the dead antagonist-de-jure, Lala (William Catlett), returns to his old stomping grounds. He made sure his underlings know that he is back in charge. Weirdness ensued as Lala continued to converse with Lawanda White (Tracey Bonner) whom he killed a number of episodes ago. Lala is the only one who can see or hear her. While in the backseat of a car, Lawanda tells Lala to kill the henchmen who are both in the front seat. Lala responds out loud to Lawanda causing major concern and justifiable fear. We hit new levels of weirdness when Lala was in the shower and an equally naked Lawanda appeared. Lala asks her questions about how did he die, why did he come back, then they french kiss. It was creepy as heck, because not only did Lala callously kill her, but we don’t actually know what she is. After my skin finished crawling, I pondered that the 2nd coming of Lala will most likely add him to the big-bad-guy-club that Black Lightning will encounter throughout the seasons.
Meanwhile, in the Freeland forest, the radioactive residue leads Jefferson and Anissa to find the weapon that killed Lady Eve on the ground. They hide when a man shows up to the exact spot. It’s obvious that he was sent for some nefarious purpose. Jefferson, wearing a hoodie, goes to confront the man who accidentally sets off a contained nuclear blast. Lucky for Jefferson, Anissa held her breath and covered him as the blast atomized the expendable henchman. We learn at this moment that Anissa is invulnerable when she holds her breath. Jefferson almost cannot contain his glee and awe at his daughter’s powers.
Back at the lab, Lynn was shocked to see that the same properties in the Green Light drug are also found in the powder sample that Alvin hid from 30 years prior. That means Green Light has been around for 3 decades and no one really knew it.
You know who else has been around for 30 years? Peter Gambi. I loved the slow-build to this monumental reveal of who Gambi really is. In a pivotal late night, parked car scene, Gambi and the regional ASA Director, Martin Proctor (Gregg Henry) filled in a lot of historical blanks without exposition. We learn that Lady Eve was a liaison between the ASA and the 100-gang. She pushed more of the Green Light drug on the streets than anyone else. The purpose was to study the drug’s effect on people, mostly people of color based on the area they targeted. We know that Green Light gives the recipient short-term enhanced abilities. Proctor says Lady Eve’s murder sets the Freeland Experiments back. EXPERIMENTS? My antennas shot up. Tell me more, tell more, tell more… Proctor reminds Gambi that he promised to find out who Black Lightning is and take care of him and didn’t. So Proctor is bringing in trained ASA operatives to kill him. Gambi tried to reason that they should keep Black Lightning alive to study him but Proctor wasn’t having it. What Proctor said next chilled me to my core.
“I am sick of this neighborhood, Peter.
They don’t take care of it.
The food is all fried.
All the people here are good for is experimentation.
They should be happy we’re here.
Green Light will give their lives purpose, direction.
We’re doing God’s work, Peter.
I was stunned. Not only from the pitch-perfect performances but from how aptly that conversation fits into the current vernacular of societal views on cultural differences. “We’re doing God’s work” made my knees buckle and brought a tear to my eyes. In times past, I have heard those words used to justify racially biased atrocities. This scene was so real and so on point. Another bravo to the writers, producers, and showrunners for not shying away from important topical situations. It took me back to the experiments done on the Tuskegee Airmen between 1932-1972. It made me wonder how much art actually imitates life.
It also made me wonder was this experimentation (along with the unexplained resurrections) connected to the endless bodies that Lady Eve embalmed each week.
All of this drove Gambi to church to seek answers. One of the parishioners, Mrs. Johnson (Marion Guyot) knows him by name, so this wasn’t his first time in a church pew. She encouraged him that “God delivers us out of our troubles and will help us over the finish line. What we want and what we need is not always the same thing.” That was quotable moment number 2.
Gambi turned white as a ghost when Lynn brought her findings of the Green Light drug and Alvin’s investigation. Lynn realizes Gambi knew all along. She tells Gambi “Jefferson trusted you.” A defeated Gambi tells Lynn that he will talk with Jefferson.
In another pivotal scene, Gambi comes clean to Jefferson. He tells Jefferson the only way to protect him is, to tell the truth. The heaviness in this scene was palpable. Gambi says his real name is Peter Esposito and he came to Freeland 30 years ago as an agent for the ASA. Gambi reveals that the ASA was conducting experiments on the people of Freeland using a vaccine to make people passive and docile because of the politically charged environment. The vaccine created meta-humans and it was Gambi’s job to track them down and bring them in. Hmm… didn’t Tobias Whale get his powers from a vaccine? Gambi says he left the ASA when he realized innocent children were dying as a result.
What pushed Jefferson over the edge was the reveal that Gambi leaked the information about the secret experiments to Jefferson’s journalist father, Alvin, 30 years prior. Alvin was killed by Tobias Whale for relentlessly pursuing this story. When Gambi realized (young) Jefferson had powers, he protected him and hid him from the crosshairs of the ASA. Gambi trained Jefferson, made him a super-suit and together they worked towards good. Gambi laments that he can’t protect Jefferson any longer. If he suits up again, Proctor will not only kill him but Anissa as well. With glowing eyes, Jefferson tells Gambi to stay away from him and his family. Powerful moment and a new arc for these characters.
In the end, Jennifer bursts into Annissa’s room (as usual) and admits to Anissa that she fried her phone with her bare hands. Anissa didn’t seem shocked but boy was she concerned. Jennifer can be a loose cannon… now she’s a loose cannon with powers. OH YEAH!!
Black Lightning, Thunder, and Lightning are finally on the way… There’s a storm coming, Y’all and it’s gonna be good
Let me know your thoughts.