How Black Lightning explained Jennifer's new look
Warning: This article contains spoilers from Monday's episode of Black Lightning, "The Book of Ruin: Chapter Two."
What happened to Jennifer Pierce?
That's the question Black Lightning left us with last week after Gambi (James Remar) reconstituted Jennifer's physical body, which exploded in the ionosphere. To the Pierce family's surprise, actress China Anne McClain, who played Jennifer, didn't emerge from the rebirth pod once the process was done. Instead, new actress Laura Kariuki did, implying that the role of Jennifer had been recast. Thankfully, Monday night's Black Lightning wasted no time offering up an in-story explanation/theory for the actor swap.
The CW superhero drama's latest installment began with Jennifer (Kariuki) being horrified when she discovered she looked completely different. From there, Gambi ran multiple tests, all of which confirmed that this was indeed Jennifer Pierce, even though her dad, Jefferson (Cress Williams), couldn't quite believe it.
"What happened? She has the same DNA, the same genes," a puzzled Jefferson asked, sparking the beginnings of an explanation in Lynn's (Christine Adams) brain.
"It's the genes," Lynn replied. "Just because they share the same genes doesn't mean they'd express themselves in the same way." She continued: "It's like identical twins. They share the same genes, but depending on the environment, they would express themselves in a different way, like different eye color, hair color, different level of disease."
"Something in the transmutation process must have caused the genes responsible for her appearance to express themselves in a new way," explained Gambi, who also shot down Jefferson's hopes of changing Jennifer back. "Jeff, it's a miracle she survived at all. We're just going to have to accept the fact that this is the new Jen from now on."
So there you have it, it's the genes!
While Anissa (Nafessa Williams), Lynn, and the rest of the team immediately accepted that this is their Jennifer, Jefferson struggled to do so. But he eventually came around after Jennifer joined him in the field and helped defend some innocent people from the aggressive Freeland Police Department. And to help her reintegrate into society without raising too many questions about the Pierce family, TC (Christopher Ammanuel Darby) used his technopath powers to create a new identity for her.
Of course, the real-world explanation for why Jennifer's appearance suddenly changed is way simpler and easier to understand: After the CW announced Black Lightning was ending with season 4 in November, McClain revealed that she had decided to leave the show even before it was canceled and was only going to appear in a limited number of episodes.
"What I did know and have known along with the rest of the cast since before we even started shooting this season is that I am leaving the show and was leaving the show," she said in an Instagram post. "This was going to be my last season, regardless of if it went on or not. For different reasons, that, to be honest, I don't want to go into. I just want y'all to trust me on it."
Alas, it doesn't look as though Jen 2.0 will have much time to adjust to her new look, because the episode ended with a sword-wielding mercenary named Ishmael — who has to murder 100 metahumans in order to join the League of Assassins — being hired to kill the Pierce family.
Black Lightning airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.