We begin in the security of the Black Lightning Cave, or whatever you want to call the high-tech operation located in the basement of Gambi’s tailor shop. There, Jefferson Pierce is walking his daughter Anissa through some basic superhero training — teaching her both how to look out for threats and how to discount the ones that aren’t actually dangerous. Outside the cave, though, things aren’t going as well for Black Lightning. The corrupt white police chief has announced his intention to use all available manpower to hunt the vigilante in the wake of Lady Eve’s death, but even Freeland citizens are starting to turn on their hero. Violence and murder don’t make many friends, even (or perhaps, especially) when you’re framed.
Framing a community-beholden black activist for violence is nothing new for the U.S. government, of course. The Black Panther Party, for example, was consistently smeared by the actions of FBI informants and agents provocateur who infiltrated the organization and did their best to spur the Panthers toward violence that would discredit them in the public eye. And make no mistake, state repression is at work in Black Lightning’s framing as well. We see as much when Gambi meets with a superior, a suited man from a government organization known as the ASA. Despite Gambi’s pleas, this man is very forward about wanting to kill Black Lightning as soon as possible — not out of love for Lady Eve or a general distaste for violence, but simply because “I don’t like power I don’t control.” As if that ideology wasn’t naked enough for you, Mr. Evil Suit White Guy immediately starts spewing a racist screed about Freeland’s citizens and culture. He literally says both “the only thing the people here are good for is experimentation” and “we’re doing God’s work.” Scientific racism, religious hatred, and state repression all bundled up into one nice man! Black Lightning is a very smart show. I will return to this point.
As part of their attempt to clear Black Lightning’s name, Jefferson and Anissa break into the morgue to examine Lady Eve’s body. With Gambi’s help, they detect that her burns could only have been caused by a high-voltage nuclear weapon. Since Black Lightning doesn’t actually kill anyone, the coroner had no sample with which to compare the burns.
Before moving on to the next page, I feel obliged to mention this episode’s biggest twist: Jennifer Pierce has powers too! While putting up posters at school with her friend, Jennifer freaks out when her friend almost falls off a tall ladder. That freakout manifests in the form of crackling orange energy that lights up Jennifer’s eyes and burns her phone. Things certainly aren’t getting easier for the Pierce family! (Recap continues on page 2)
Thanks to Gambi, Jefferson and Anissa are able to track the radiation signature for the weapons that killed Lady Eve all the way to woods on the edge of town. Anissa is still getting the hang of a stakeout — turns out going to the bathroom beforehand makes it all much easier. But it’s awesome that she’s here with her father, where she can roast him for using an old-model cell phone to call Henderson securely. But that’s not all she can do; when a mysterious man suddenly appears and starts investigating the weapons, Anissa can tell he doesn’t know what he’s doing. She tackles her father out of the way just before the man accidentally detonates one of the super-powered guns.
The sensation of being saved by his own daughter (when he thought he was going to need to save her skin) induces a rush of happy endorphins in Jefferson. He can’t stop excitedly rambling about Anissa’s potential when he gets home. But the high doesn’t last long. Lynn tells Jefferson to talk to Gambi; after comparing samples, she’s learned that Green Light is almost identical to the vaccines Alvin Pierce was investigating 30 years ago — around the exact time Gambi first moved to Freeland.
So Jefferson and Gambi sit down, and we finally get some answers — though not nearly all, I suspect. Gambi confesses that his real name is “Peter Esposito,” and that he was sent to Freeland as an ASA agent to help administer a vaccine meant to keep the city’s black population docile in an era of explosive political tension. The only problem is, the vaccine started giving people superpowers. When Gambi leaked that information to Jefferson’s father Alvin, Alvin started an investigation and was murdered for it. Gambi felt that by training and protecting Jefferson, he could redeem himself for getting Alvin killed. But time is up, and now not even he can stave off ASA boss Marvin Proctor (the evil white guy in the suit from the beginning of the episode). This may not come as a surprise, but Jefferson doesn’t take the news well. He storms off and tells Gambi to leave his family alone, at the same time that Gambi is telling him to give up being Black Lightning for his own safety.
That’s what I mean about this show being smart. It has tied up the real-life history of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the Flint water crisis, reporter Gary Webb’s stories about the CIA flooding inner cities with crack-cocaine, and police corruption into a meaty, evocative superhero narrative. I relish every episode.
Also LaLa is back — alive, but not exactly well. He keeps talking a to a vision of Lawanda that no one else can see, and even tries to make out with her in the shower before she vanishes back into his chest tattoo. Not sure what exactly is going on there, but I bet we’ll find out soon enough!