The CW’s latest superhero show made an impressive debut that suggests it could be one of the new standard bearers of the genre. Right off the bat, Black Lightning ties its story into real problems that its viewers are probably all too familiar with.
The first time we see Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), he’s yelling at his older daughter Anissa (Nafeesa Williams) for getting involved in a violent protest. Unlike real-life Black Lives Matter activists, Anissa is not protesting police violence, but rather the failure of the police (and the community at large) to prevent the local gang known as the One Hundred from murdering and terrorizing the residents of Freeland. Perhaps the superhero known as Black Lightning could help, but he’s been missing in action for nine years now. Instead, Jefferson is living a peaceful life as the principal of Garfield High, though his electricity powers still bubble out when he’s feeling particularly angry or stressed — such as when he gets pulled over by a police officer and harassed for no reason, right in front of his daughters.
After this ignominious car ride, the Pierces go their separate ways. Jefferson goes to a school fundraiser being held in his honor, while his younger daughter Jennifer (China Anne McClain) heads out to a local club. Between her father’s demanding expectations, stressful school social relations, and the day-to-day racism she encounters, it’s easy to see why Jennifer could use a break. But unfortunately this one goes badly for her. After a member of the One Hundred named Will starts flirting with her, Jennifer soon finds herself pulled into a side room and threatened by gangsters
Luckily, heroism isn’t dead. After his fancy party, Jefferson follows his daughter to the club, where he puts his lightning powers to use taking out the lights and frying some gangsters. Once that threat is handled and Jefferson steps back outside, he’s greeted by the other ever-present threat in his life: cops. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch Jefferson blast these racist cops with lightning, especially after one of them has the ill-conceived idea to tase him.
The incident at the club has everyone asking: Is Black Lightning back? Jefferson, for one, isn’t interested. To him, the whole point of Black Lightning was to kill someone named “Tobias.” After that, it broadened to all kinds of criminals. For Jefferson, it really seems like the struggle has no end, and the only loser is him — especially since the media insists on calling him a “vigilante” rather than welcoming him as a superhero like The Flash or Supergirl. After he kept coming home broken and bloody, his wife Lynn (Christine Adams) divorced him and kicked him out of the house for endangering his daughters. Jefferson is where he is now (celebrated principal, father of two successful daughters, on the verge of a reconciliation with Lynn) because of years of hard work. He’s not turning back into Black Lightning just like that. (Recap continues on page 2)