REVIEW: Black Lightning S1E3 – Lawanda: The Book of Burial

Grace shares with Anissa her love of comic books and how superheroes inspire people

In a continuation from last week’s episode, Black Lightning deals with the realities of what it means to be a hero that inspires others to action. Tired of “walking around with a sign trying to change people’s hearts,” Anissa (Nafessa Williams) embraces her newfound powers as a chance to “do more,” recording her training sessions as she learns how to control her abilities. To her, superpowers mean a chance to really make a difference, but for Jefferson (Cress Williams) it means struggling with the idea that people’s belief in his alter ego may be the very thing that gets them killed. This episode also introduced two highly anticipated characters: Lady Eve (Jill Scott) and Grace Choi (Chantel Thuy). Thuy brings so much charisma to her portrayal of Grace, and the chemistry she has with Williams is immediate. And Scott expertly navigates Lady Eve’s deceptively sweet, outward persona with her sinister, truer nature. All this time I thought Tobias (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) was the show’s Big Bad, but Lady Eve makes him seem like the mini boss you have to go through to get to the Big Boss. Anyone that makes Tobias Whale nervous is not someone you want to mess with.

Lady Eve is not pleased with Tobias’ apology of money for Lala’s indiscretions

At the center of the main plot is the Church, in its empowerment and hypocrisy,  serving as a vehicle to drive the narrative of both the Hero and the Villain. The empowerment of the Church to give hope to the downtrodden is represented in how the people of Freeland view both sides of Jefferson Pierce. Jefferson Pierce, the Man, is commonly referred to as “Black Jesus” by the community. Similarly, Black Lightning, the Superhero, is regaled as an archangel, sent to do God’s work. It’s the reason Reverend Jeremiah Holt (Clifton Powell), convinced that Black Lightning is a sign that God has heard their prayers, gives an impassioned speech at LaWanda’s funeral, encouraging people to follow him in a march to take back the streets from the 100 Gang. Both titles elevate Jefferson to a mythological status that he is afraid he can’t live up to. After all it was LaWanda drawing inspiration from Black Lightning that also got her killed. On the other end of the spectrum, Lady Eve touches on the hypocrisy of the Church,  and how it can be used to placate and control the masses through false hope. Tobias is far from being a “spiritual man,” so Lady Eve schools him on how “the good book helps folks stay in line.” She doesn’t mind people believing in God, just not “believing that they can take back these streets.”

The hypocrisy of the Church can even be extrapolated down to the hypocrisy of its leaders. Reverend Holt, whose prestige is built on the appearance of being a God fearing man of the people, also occasionally uses profanity and wears a $25K watch, a silk handkerchief, and clothes that are probably more expensive than most in his congregation can afford. His church pays the 100 Gang for “protection,” and, furthermore, it’s a fellow pastor that tips off Lady Eve to Reverend Holt’s plans to protest. These two opposing ideologies clash when Tobias sends 100 Gang members to shoot marchers, and it’s through Black Lightning’s re-appearance to protect them that hope of his return is made real. Even Tobias may have become a believer at the end of the episode, when he sees, firsthand, the man he thought he killed alive and well. However, judging by his reaction, I don’t expect to see him at next Sunday’s sermon.

Anissa trains in secret

Meanwhile, the Pierce sisters are both handling big transitions in their life with differing levels of openness. Anissa, on the one hand, has been closed off, distancing herself from church, family dinners, sister time, and her girlfriend. It speaks to the bond that Lynn (Christine Adams) has with her daughter that she senses Anissa’s distance isn’t just because of her break up with Chenoa. Jennifer (China A McClain), on the other hand, is almost a little too candid with her parents, in a hilariously awkward scene in which she calmly proclaims to her parents that she’s ready to have sex. That scene is incredibly followed by an even more awkward conversation between Jefferson and Khalil (Jordan Calloway), surrounding the young man’s hygiene habits – I will never be able to think about athlete’s foot the same way again.

However, the most heartwarming part of this storyline is when Jennifer and Khalil plan out their first time together, Khalil, somewhat embarrassed, reveals he is a virgin. Jennifer doesn’t make fun of him for it, or think less of him because of it. In fact, it just made him that much more attractive to her. And here I was thinking Jennifer and Khalil’s relationship couldn’t get any cuter. There’s such a focus in society on the hyper masculinity of black men being tied to their sexual prowess, that it was nice to see Khalil open up to Jennifer about his virginity. It was refreshing contrast to Will’s toxic masculinity from the first episode, which it was why it was frustrating to see this smart, young athletic scholar with a bright future get shot at the rally and learn that he was possibly paralyzed and may never walk again. It felt like a punishment, and to be honest, I’m bitter.

Miscellaneous thoughts: Tobias claims he loves Black people, but his often jarring commentary regarding them makes me wonder if his complicated relationship with his Black identity is tied to the negative stereotypes placed upon him as an albino. I hope that gets expounded upon in future episodes. As always, let me know how you feel about this latest episode in the comments below!