Black Lightning Asks What a Real Hero Fights for in “LaWanda: The Book of Hope”
"Black Lightning, my man!"
Black Lightning is back, but what exactly does that mean for Jefferson Pierce?
A spokesperson on the news says that if Black Lightning is back for a personal vendetta and not to help the community, he’s giving the people of Freeland false hope, and that is “selfish, and it’s cruel.” And there is some truth to that. After all, Jefferson’s daughters are safe … but no one else’s.
Jefferson tries to uplift the parents at his school only to get pushback from parents in the community, bringing up Dr. King quotes only to be reminded by a father that “they shot Dr. King in the head, Mr. Pierce!” Other girls have been taken, and the Seahorse motel has been reopened. They are being forced to turn tricks for the 100 gang. LaWanda White, a mother whose daughter has been a victim of this sex trafficking, asks the most important question: why did Black Lightning recuse Jefferson’s daughters and no one else’s? “Unless all of us are free, none of us will be free.”
I’m glad this is being brought up, because it would be super suspect if no one else acknowledges that the “Black Jesus” of Freeland is the only one who gets justice. For most of this episode, Jefferson declares, he doesn’t want to save this city (very opposite of Oliver Queen). He just wants to protect his family. Well, he isn’t the only one.
What is Black Lightning’s responsibility in all of this? Jefferson wants to be a family man and put his past behind him to move forward, but he still used his powers and connections to save his family when no one else could. It is very possible that, without his powers, Anissa and Jennifer would be dead or at least lost to him.
LaWanda decided to go to the Seahorse motel to try and bring attention to the situation. She’s willing to risk her life for her daughter and doesn’t have any powers. That’s what makes her heroism so profound, and what makes it so tragic that when she tries to stand up to Lala she’s shot and killed for her efforts.
It’s a powerful moment, because we see that Lala knows LaWanda, and it shows that Lala has a relationship with the people in the community just like Jefferson. In fact, there is a possibility he went to school with LaWanda at some point in time. Yet he guns her down just as easily as he guns down Will, his own cousin, earlier in the episode.
We make fun of the “with great power comes great responsibility” line from Spider-Man, but this episode excellently shows why it is a constant motif in many comic book stories. If you have the power to help people and not do anything are you complicit in the darkness around you?
While we haven’t yet seen any “projects” it is clear that Jefferson lives in a very nice area, in a huge house, with Inspector Henderson as his neighbor and friend. There is a disconnect between Jefferson and the community, but LaWanda, through her death makes Jefferson realize that. Jefferson wanted to believe he could save more lives as a High School Principal than as Black Lightning and he could help his students transcend their environment, but he forgot that when those students go home, they are confronted with everything all over again. Garfield is an oasis, but it is not reality. Realizing that makes Jefferson decide that he has to go and be Black Lightning again, but that also means letting go of Lynn.
Lynn is an interesting character, because let’s be real: the position of love interest to a superhero is often a thankless role. However, we have yet to see in the Arrowverse a male superhero whose love interest was his ex-wife. An ex-wife that still deeply loves him, but sees his superpowers and vigilante-ism as an addiction. Lynn is a neuroscientist, so maybe that is how she has explained how Jefferson could do something so dangerous to himself constantly, but it is also out of fear.
It is easy to look at the show and paint Lynn as the bad guy, but she has spent years being the girlfriend and wife of someone who constantly put his life in danger. At first, she thought it was cool, but “The reality hit. What I thought was cool almost destroyed us.” LaWanda’s husband died in the military, and at his funeral he “only got a folded flag” along with a gun salute. If Jefferson died as Black Lightning, what would he get? What would her daughters have gotten? I can’t blame Lynn for not wanting the man she loves to fight an endless fight where he might not come home.
But, if Jefferson is going to use his powers to save his daughters and no one else, that is wrong.
Gambi finds the discarded body of Will and snatches his cellphone before the police come. (They are really bad at their job.) This allows him to find Lala’s GPS, so Black Lightning goes to bring the trouble. Taking down a sea of thugs, Jefferson makes his way to Lala, beating him bloody before the police show up and he is forced to flee. I am already loving the fact that Jefferson’s best friend in real life is his enemy as a vigilante. Delicious comic book fun.
Anissa, who has been spending her nights with a girlfriend whose name no one remembers, goes to the drug store to try and get a sleeping aid only to come across a robbery. The gunman tries to attack her when she accidentally taps into her powers and flings him across the store. Much cooler than breaking a sink.
The episode ends with The Kingpin—I mean, Tobias Whale—walking into the police station and being allowed by several cops to have access to Lala, whom he chokes to death. After all, a man who would shoot someone’s mama would also turn rat. It is a pathetic end to the character, and I have to say I’ll miss Lala. He played his evil crony roll well.
- I see Kara is ready to slide right into the role of Jefferson’s main squeeze. I can’t blame her, per say, but girl you can hold up just a little bit.
- Tobias Whale is gonna be an interesting character. The evil albino character isn’t exactly a nuanced one, and so far they are making him the voice for colorism by calling darker-skinned black people “darkies.” I wonder if they are going to explore his struggles as an albino black man, or if he’s just gonna drop in some Uncle Rukus-isms from time to time.
- They did not hold back on the names, which is not a criticism. Shaquandalyn, I love it. Usually, black names are used as jokes, but there is an amazing amount of empathy for different kinds of blackness on this show that warms my heart. I keep forgetting it’s on The CW. I was even kinda impressed that they are gonna use Negro as their n-word. I know they can’t go there, but the writers are still trying to make it sound right.
- Chuck from Riverdale is a nice guy here and wants to be Jennifer’s boo. Awww? It is a cute subplot, and I appreciate that how Jennifer is dealing with PTSD with drinking and acting out and Khalili puts shit in perspective. He’s seen his brother shot and killed, father in jail, and mother working too damn hard. Its good to see a male love interest get to be a positive figure.
- Anissa’s queerness is so well integrated. It’s post-sex, and her girlfriend is a person, and we see she’s similar to her father in prioritizing the community over a relationship. Also, seeing two black women as a lesbian couple is really awesome. Her folks know, and it is not a big deal to either of them. Ugh, I love it so much.
- “When you try to look at his face it hurts”—Well, that explains that.
- I love all the older/working class men who help Black Lightning.
(image: The CW)
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