REVIEW: Black Lightning S1E2 – Lawanda: The Book of Hope

“Perception and fear.” It’s the duality that Tobias Whale (Krondon Jones III) lives by, and the concept that drives many of the characters in the second episode of Black Lightning, titled “LaWanda: The Book of Hope.” In the aftermath of her ordeal with the 100 Gang, Jennifer (China A McClain) tries to hide the fear that her life is out of control by using drugs and alcohol to project the image that she is OK. Her new boyfriend, Khallil (Jordan Calloway), fortunately sees through the facade, and I hope we will continue to see him as a positive influence in her life. Meanwhile, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) confronts some tough realities due to his decision to briefly don the suit of Black Lightning to save his daughters from the 100 Gang. Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer may be safe, but Will (Dabier) and Lala (William Catlett) are still at large, the Seahorse Hotel is still open for business, and the 100 Gang is still kidnapping girls and forcing them into the sex trade. The police are ineffectual, and angry, frustrated parents like LaWanda White (Tracey Bonner), a former student of Garfield High whose daughter was also kidnapped, question Jefferson’s inability to affect any real change. In fact, it’s Jefferson’s seeming inaction that causes LaWanda to react by taking matters into her own hands, culminating in her death at the hands of Lala. This leaves Jefferson at a crossroads. He’s starting to realize that he can’t have one foot in the crime fighting world and one foot out, but which path is he meant to walk: family man or superhero?

Jennifer tries to drink her problems away

The crux of Jefferson’s internal dilemma is outwardly illustrated by the confrontation of two of the most important influences in his life: his ex-wife, Lynn (Christine Adams), and his mentor/father figure, Gambi (James Remar). Lynn’s perception of Jefferson’s powers as an addiction is rooted in her fear that it will ultimately kill him, and now that they are so close to reconciling, she is desperate not to lose him again. Although she is grateful that her daughters are safe, seeing Jefferson struggle with the aftereffects of the fight and the toll it has taken on his body brings back painful memories. Powers she used to think were so cool now feel like a curse. On the other hand, Gambi, who believes in Black Lightning and what he means to the city, encourages Jefferson to expand his area of protection beyond his own family. He even goes so far as to give Jefferson a push to action by tracking down Will and giving Jefferson Lala’s address. He challenges Lynn that maybe she is the addiction Jefferson has to let go of to be who he’s meant to be. It was interesting watch these two people, who arguably know Jefferson the best, go toe to toe with each other because they both clearly love him. Adams and Remar navigate the tension of the scene beautifully. Every superhero story will tell you that “with great power comes great responsibility,” but Black Lightning takes it a step further by asking viewers to also consider: “At what cost should the protection of the city come at the expense of the hero?” Ultimately, as Gambi proclaims, it is Jefferson’s choice, and he chooses to believe his powers are a gift from God and uses them to go after Lala. But every choice has consequences, and Jefferson’s choice may have cost him the thing he treasured most.

Tired of standing on the sidelines while good people are killed, Jefferson makes a decision. Black Lightning is back.

Similarly, a dichotomy of ideologies seems to be forming between Jefferson and his eldest daughter Anissa. Jefferson quoting Martin Luther King at an emergency parents’ conference at Garfield High encapsulates his approach to taking on the 100 Gang and how he intends to help the city of Freeland. Like Dr. King, Jefferson would like to find a non-violent solution to peace through diplomacy and build a better future for tomorrow through his work as a educator. However, if the pointed look Anissa gave her father during the parents conference is anything to go on, something tells me her approach to justice might be a little more Malcolm X. Anissa, still navigating her newfound strength, feels exhilarated from overpowering a gunman when she’s caught in a robbery of a drug store. Whereas Jefferson spends most of the episode trying to exhaust all options before resorting to using his powers, Anissa embraces the opportunity to fight the enemy, power for power. As Anissa becomes more confident in her abilities, I am sure her and her father’s opposing ideologies on how to use them will come to a head as the season progresses.

Lastly, Tobias “Whale” seems to act more like a “Shark,” an ominous presence circling the outskirts of the main plot. However, this episode he seemed to swim in a little closer, tightening the circle and drawing ever nearer to a confrontation with Black Lightning. Lala, having been warned by Tobias to tie up loose ends, finds and unceremoniously kills his cousin Will for his part in kidnapping the Pierce sisters. I have to admit, although I hated Will, I can’t help but feel annoyed at him seemingly being killed off. I say “seemingly” because I don’t believe the writers spent so much focus on Will in the first episode to just kill him off in the second. Although Jefferson seems to be satisfied, I still have questions on how Will escaped the ambulance, hopped up on only pain killers and adrenaline, and whether his prolonged experience with Black Lightning’s electric shock may have had some lasting side effects. At any rate, I hope Tobias murdering Lala in his jail cell means he is now the new, immediate threat Black Lightning will have to confront to protect the fate of the city of Freeland.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know in the comments below!