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Entertainment Weekly

TV Recaps

Black Lightning recap: 'Black Jesus'

Carin Baer/The CW

Posted on

We gave it a B

Black Lightning

1/16/18 - 1/1/70

type
TV Show
Genre
CW Superheroes
creator
Mara Brock-Akil, Salim Akil
Cast
Cress Williams
Producer
Greg Berlanti
Network
The CW
seasons
1
Status
In Season

Drugs come to Freeland in this week’s episode — specifically, a dangerous new drug called Green Light, presumably named by Lorde fans. The show describes it as a mix of drugs like crack and PCP, but Green Light has unique attributes beyond the scope of any real-world equivalents. First and foremost, it literally gives users superpowers. When Jefferson Pierce shows up at Garfield High one morning, he finds students clustered outside a bathroom. When he investigates, he finds a student named Bernard going on a rampage, using superhuman strength to rip urinals from the wall. Jefferson shocks him into submission before anyone else arrives, but the incident suggests a new front has opened up in his struggle against the One Hundred.

Strangely, the superpowered side effect of Green Light is not addressed for the rest of the episode. Instead, Jefferson focuses on finding out where it’s coming from. He goes about this in old-fashioned Batman style, beating up street dealers until they give him information about their source. This leads him to an old childhood friend who goes by the name 2 Bits. Black Lightning’s bar confrontation with 2 Bits is probably my favorite scene of the episode, and not just because it’s soundtracked by a high-energy jam from up-and-coming rapper Trapo. 2 Bits has heard about Black Lightning’s M.O. — after shaking down gangsters for information, he knocks them out and calls the cops on them — and begs for leniency, since he’s already had two drug-related offenses and a third would send him to jail for 30 years. This is what I love about this show: In the middle of its epic superhero action, it can pause to have a short debate about mass incarceration of black men and the inhumanity of “three strikes” laws. Anyway, they strike a deal whereby Jefferson gets his information and 2 Bits gets off with a promise to never sell drugs again (lest he face a more merciless Black Lightning next time around).

Meanwhile, Bernard is still in trouble. After recovering from his drug-fueled rampage, he’s faced with expulsion from the prestigious charter school. This would be especially devastating since Bernard is on the verge of graduating with multiple college admissions waiting for him. Just like he spared 2 Bits, Jefferson is determined to save Bernard from cruel and unusual punishment. It’s his way of paying forward what his own teachers did for him back in the day. Unfortunately, the school board doesn’t see it that way. They want to expel Bernard, and the only way Jefferson can save him would be relinquishing some of his executive power over such decisions. Jefferson is bummed that he can’t save everyone by himself, but then again he’s not as Christlike as the “Black Jesus” moniker suggests. As his secretary tells him, his sacrifices on behalf of other people still depend on those people to follow through and make the right decisions for themselves. Unfortunately, Bernard isn’t making the right decisions; by the end of the episode, he’s gone back to the One Hundred for more Green Light, necessitating another superpowered intervention from Jefferson. Although Jefferson is the one compared to Jesus, that shot of him carrying a beaten-down Bernard through the hallway makes him look like Mary in Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Jefferson isn’t the only Pierce determined to do something about Freeland’s new drug problem. While driving through the city, Anissa spots some of her students buying Green Light. She pulls over and breaks it up, and later that night comes back in her clandestine hoodie to give the dealers a fistful of thunder. It’s an interesting juxtaposition since the drug-given powers seem so similar to Anissa’s own strength. Maybe that parallel will be explored more down the road. (Recap continues on page 2)

It’s getting harder and harder for Anissa to keep her powers secret. Later that night, Anissa is hanging with fast friend Grace as she closes up the Ruby Red Lipstick Bar. Unfortunately, they’re soon plagued by a contingent of homophobic male harassers, who promise they’ll burn the lesbian bar to the ground. That elicits a well-deserved superpowered smackdown from Anissa…right as her father is investigating the Green Light warehouse just a few blocks away.

Black Lightning hears explosions, and they intrigue him so much that he abandons the truck carrying Green Light in order to investigate them. He tells Gambi that he suspects the explosions might be more relevant to his search, but I bet he detects the similarity to his own powers. By the time he arrives, however, Anissa and Grace are gone and the men are all sprawled unconscious in the parking lot. Gambi hacks into nearby camera footage and sees Anissa doing her stomps, but once again declines to tell Jefferson what he saw (remember him erasing the Tobias footage last week?) in favor of investigating the scene himself. But he doesn’t find Anissa either.

But though Gambi has kept the fact of Tobias’ survival from Jefferson, Tobias himself has finally realized that his old foe is well and truly alive. Since his entire criminal reputation was built on the fact that he supposedly killed Black Lightning, Tobias’ superior Lady Eve tells him in no uncertain terms he must finally make good on that boast. The reason this episode feels a little less explosive than its predecessors is that Tobias is unsure what to do. When he finally devises a plan to get back at Black Lightning with the help of his sister, it’s the decidedly non-violent kind.

After Jennifer’s boyfriend Khalil gets the official diagnosis that his spinal cord is severed and his paralysis is permanent, he starts getting plied with gifts, including help paying his medical bills (I love this show’s eye toward the details of economic hardship in modern America). They are, of course, from Tobias, who wants to use Khalil’s injury (WHICH HE DIRECTLY ORDERED) to turn public opinion against Black Lightning.

I’m really excited to find out the details of Black Lightning’s past battle(s) with Tobias, especially given the new information in this episode. Apparently the reason he thought his foe was dead was that Black Lightning fell into a river, and shortly after an unrecognizable body was pulled out. That could make for a powerful parallel to the American history of racist lynching.

In the meantime, Tobias repays the doctor who gave him false information by savagely beating him to death.

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