Image: CW

Years before the events of Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce left the vigilante game behind after realizing there’s no real end to a superhero’s struggles. But what happens when a hero’s crusade to protect the public is both a calling and an addiction they can’t kick?

Before he became a pillar of the community in his civilian guise, Black Lightning did his part to keep Freeland safe by taking on local gangs like the 100. When the gangs were dealt with, he moved onto corrupt politicians and police officers and later expanded his purview to regular, everyday criminals.

The more responsibilities Black Lightning took on as a crimefighter, the clearer it became that he and Jefferson Pierce couldn’t share a balanced life without one half hurting the other.

Black Lightning could have pushed directly into a rather straightforward kind of “with great power comes great responsibility” storyline about how being forced to save his daughters as a superhero inspires Jefferson to don his superhero suit again permanently. But “Lawanda: The Book of Hope” pivots to something far more interesting by framing Black Lightning’s powers and superhero identity as something that Jefferson may actually be addicted to.

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It’s left purposefully vague whether whatever’s plaguing Black Lightning is purely physical, psychological, or even real and it’s a compelling added dimension to a superhero’s internal conflict. Black Lightning hasn’t at all gotten into the specific origin of Jefferson’s powers or explained how his metahuman gene works. But the idea that he gets a superpowered endorphin rush he has difficulty letting go of works well when you consider that, unlike most other CW heroes, Jefferson’s a middle-aged man.

While Jefferson bringing Black Lightning out of retirement could very well be part of a mid-life crisis of sorts, “Lawanda: The Book of Hope” is careful to zoom out a bit and also focus on the external factors involved in Black Lightning’s return. The 100's grip on Freeland isn’t the sort of problem that was ever going to go away just because Black Lightning showed up to scare a couple gang members at the seedy Sea Horse Hotel.

Even with rumors of the Black Lightning being back in town, the 100 quickly reestablish their operations at the Sea Horse and Jefferson’s brought face to face with the consequences of being a heroic figure within the community.

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The promises he made to protect his students as Garfield High’s principal seem to have no meaning after one of his pupils is seemingly sucked into the 100's sex trafficking network. Black Lightning’s efficacy as a superhero is called into question when it becomes clear that the 100 are only growing stronger despite assertions from the Freeland police department that the situation is under control. All of this feeds into Jefferson’s resolve to really embrace his secret persona more fully and you get the sense that, on some level, he believes that his simply trying harder is the key to saving the city.

But “Lawanda: The Book of Hope” is a sobering dismissal of that notion as it lays out the larger scale and gravity of the war Black Lightning is trying to fight. Lawanda White, the devastated mother of the missing girl, decides to take on the 100 to find her daughter after she loses her faith in Jefferson, doesn’t make it to the end of the episode because Black Lightning needs us to understand that Jefferson’s war is unwinnable the way he’s fighting it.

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Will, the shellshocked 100 member who works for Lala, doesn’t make it to the end of the episode either because Black Lightning wants everyone to understand that all wars on crime, both real and fictional, have painful consequences for all people involved and not just those we traditionally frame as innocents. Most shockingly, Lala, the source of a solid chunk of the problems in these first two episodes, also dies because Black Lightning’s biggest bad isn’t the 100—it’s the whoever is pulling the strings in the background.

Assorted Musings

  • This episode really doubles down on the idea that Jefferson Pierce is a local celebrity in Freeland and that everyone knows he’s got a huge sway in the community. With that in mind, it seems odd that nobody’s figured out how he’s Black Lightning, especially after the Pierce girls were saved last week.
  • Tobias Whale’s colorism is an interesting character trait to introduce that works on a couple of different levels.
  • Why is Black Lightning just walking around in public? You’d think he’d have a lightning-mo-bile or some such because otherwise, he’s just...walking to crime scenes.
  • Let the record show that Anissa’s girlfriend accurately identified her as a cat daddy.

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