REVIEW: Black Lightning, S1E4 – Black Jesus

Episode 4 of Black Lightning, titled “Black Jesus” yet ironically the first episode in which no one calls Jefferson (Cress Williams) by the moniker, shines a spotlight on Gambi’s (James Remar) duplicitousness and sets Khalil (Jordan Calloway) down a dark path. Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and her father’s storylines parallel each other this week, as both set out to crack down on the rising spread of Green Light, a drug so dangerous it’s like “crack and PCP got together and had a baby,” being sold by the 100 Gang to the kids of Garfield High. Meanwhile with Black Lightning clearly alive, Lady Eve (Jill Scott) and her partners are less confident in Tobias’ (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) ability to lead the 100 Gang so she gives him an ultimatum: kill Black Lightning or she and her partners will turn him to dust. With Tobias’ hard won reputation is at stake, he calls for backup from his sister, Tori Whale (Edwina Findley Dickerson), to help him come up with a plan to get rid of Black Lightning once and for all.

We need to talk about Peter Gambi. It always seemed like there was an ulterior motive behind his fervent desire to see Black Lightning return, no matter the cost. At first it could be easily dismissed as Gambi wanting the best for the city and being inspired by Black Lightning, the same as the rest of the community. However, last week, he erased footage of Tobias Whale from security cameras, and this week Gambi continues to try to manipulate situations that might put Jefferson and Tobias in each other’s orbit. When Jefferson comes to his friend and mentor, gung-ho to suit up and take on the 100 Gang for selling Green Light to his students, Gambi stalls, advising caution, a departure from his previous enthusiasm for Jefferson to go into the field. Jefferson gets a lead on the distributor, a former athlete and friend who goes by the name “2-Bits” (Jason Louder), and tries to get him to cooperate, going to see 2-Bits first as the “Carrot” (Jefferson) and, when that doesn’t work, the “Stick” (Black Lightning).

This leads to probably the funniest moment of the episode with 2-Bits negotiating the terms of his cooperation to avoid jail time and getting a Black Lightning selfie before he’s knocked out. 2-Bit’s intel leads Jefferson and Gambi to a Green Light distribution center, but it’s a series of explosive sounds nearby, which Jefferson goes to investigate, that calls Gambi’s motives into question once again. Upon checking the area’s security footage, Gambi sees an unidentified woman (Anissa, whose face is concealed by her hood) with remarkable strength taking out some thugs, but tells Jefferson the cameras didn’t catch anything. A new vigilante with super powers certainly seems like something that Black Lightning would need to know. Instead, Gambi again chooses to hide this information from Jefferson, taking a weapon to investigate on his own. Gambi’s secrets continue to pile up, and, whether it’s just him being overprotective of Jefferson or covering up his own sins, I’m really ready to know where he stands.

Meanwhile, like her father, Anissa is eager to take the fight to the 100 Gang. She confronts some drug dealers trying to sell Green Light to her students, and I must admit it amuses me that her “Harriet Tubman” nickname is what all the students call her, not just her sister. Anissa is still hiding her powers from her parents, but at a family dinner at the Pierce house with the Hendersons, she makes her feelings clear about what could be accomplished with power, justifying some of the collateral damage Black Lightning causes with the overwhelming good he does for the city using his powers. While Jefferson’s story this week deals with his refusal to let collateral damage pile up, for Anissa the ends justify the means, and sometimes people getting hurt is the cost of saving the city. She puts this Machiavellian mentality into action when she goes back to confront the same drug dealers from earlier at night as a hooded vigilante, but human bodies are not the same as old washing machines in a junkyard and the two dealers nearly become collateral damage thanks to her over confidence. It was a reality check for Anissa to see the consequences that come with her gift firsthand. Her “any means necessary” philosophy is tested again when she has to use her powers to save new friend and crush, Grace (Chantal Thuy) from some homophobic thugs who’ve been harassing employees of the Ruby Red Lipstick bar. I’m really enjoying the dynamic between Anissa and Grace so far, and I like that Grace encourages Anissa to open up to her parents. The scene of Anissa comforting Grace inside the bar was beautifully lit, and Anissa subtly asking Grace if using her powers was just, and Grace’s affirmation that it was, seemed like the start of a superhero secret between the two of them.

Lastly, my Jennifer (China A McClain) x Khalil ship hit some rough waters this week, as both teens struggle to deal with the aftereffects of his shooting. Khalil is alive but his rehabilitation is difficult. Jennifer is determined to help him through it; however the time she spends with Khalil is adversely affecting her time spent on other activities like school and track. When she announces her decision to quit track and spend more time supporting Khalil, her parents resistance to this is understandable; her boyfriend’s nonchalance at her throwing away her future, however, is not. I think Jennifer wanted Khalil to object, and the fact that he didn’t seem to care, as long as she was his “ride or die,” was the first sign of a crack in their relationship. Khalil learning that all hopes of him walking again are dashed, coupled Tobias and his sister Tori’s plan to turn Khalil against Black Lightning and use his story to deteriorate the city’s faith in their hero, foreshadows a dark path for Khalil that I hope Jennifer doesn’t get dragged into.

What did you think of this episode? Comment below!