Black Lightning Season 1 Review (spoilers)

  • Series Title: Black Lightning
  • Season: Season 1
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 2 (Blu-Ray)
  • Network: CW
  • Cast: Cress Williams, Nafessa Williams, China Anne McClain, Christine Adams, James Remar, Damon Gupton
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1

Black Lightning is the latest superhero television show on the CW based on DC Comics. Jefferson Pierce is a high school principal and the divorced father of two daughters, one in med school and the other in high school. He’s divorced, but he and his ex-wife have a friendly relationship. And once upon a time, Jefferson was the superhero known as Black Lightning. But he’s retired from all that – he thinks.

Modern Freeland, the Pierce family’s home city, is experiencing a resurgence of gang violence, and trouble with drugs, especially a new extremely addictive drug called Green Light. Jefferson Pierce is torn between doing something about it by returning to the superhero life, and doing what his ex-wife wants: helping mold young African American students to be successful by being a high school principal. But when one of his daughters goes to a dance club owned by the 100 gang and gets held at gunpoint, released, harassed at school, and then kidnapped, Jefferson can no longer stand idly by.  He gets his suit out of mothballs, and with some help from his friend, Peter Gambi, he hits the streets to rescue his daughter.

Once Jennifer is freed, Jefferson thinks he can hang up the suit again, but at a rally at his school, a woman challenges him, stating that her daughter is still being held by the 100. The woman, LaWanda, goes to the hotel where her daughter is being held and forced to be a prostitute and she takes pictures of johns, and the other illegal activity at the hotel. Jefferson talks to his friend in the police department, Inspector Henderson, but he says he can’t do anything. When LaWanda is murdered by LaLa, a gang member and former student of Jeff’s – he gets back in the suit.

Gradually, Jefferson realizes he has to become Black Lightning because his city needs him. When I was watching this show week to week last year, it almost became annoying every time Jeff expressed doubts about being a superhero. The show is called, Black Lightning, obviously it’s going to have a Black Lightning in it. But later developments in the series and Jeff’s daughters made the show interesting to watch anyway.

Jeff’s older daughter, Anissa, is a med student, a teacher in the health studies program at Jeff’s school, and a social activist. When she starts to develop special powers, she immediately practices them and sets out to help others. She doesn’t tell her father – and he finds out in the worst way possible. (It’s a scene I found even harder to watch and more reprehensible second time around, Black Lightning beats up his own daughter when she’s in her improvised costume.)

Jeff’s younger daughter also develops powers, but she wants nothing to do with it. Jennifer wants a normal life, not to be a superhero. Jennifer also gets really, really upset when Anissa tells her she’s Thunder and their father is Black Lightning. This family drama is the heart of the show. I found Anissa’s journey to becoming Thunder more interesting than Jeff’s obvious decision to return to being Black Lightning. And Jennifer’s utter disdain for her powers, until the very end of the season, was a very different take on the subject. I liked it a lot.

Meanwhile, the city of Freeland is experiencing rampant gang violence, multiple deadly shootings, LaWanda is killed, LaLa is killed, and Jennifer’s boyfriend is shot in the back and loses the ability to walk. For Khalil its a tragic end to his track and field career. The opening episodes of the season are depressing. But as Black Lightning gets out there, especially with Thunder, they also discover there’s more going on than gang violence.

Freeland was the center of an experiment, with the people being given a “vaccine” that should have made them “passive” (yeah, I immediately thought of Pax in the Firefly movie Serenity). Instead, many people, especially children, died. Other kids became metahumans and gained powers. Gambi was part of the ASA (secret gov’t agency) cleaner crew spotting metahumans and helping to capture them. When Gambi realized the drug was killing kids, he quit. The drug, Green Light is the same drug 2.0, and it’s also turning kids into metas.

Tobias Whale is the “businessman” in control of the 100. He also killed Jefferson’s father when Jeff was a boy – a crime Jeff witnessed. Jeff’s father was a reporter who discovered the vaccine given to children in Freeland was tainted and causing deaths. His story was spiked (not run by his editor). Jeff’s father also exposed corruption surrounding Whale. Much of the early half of the season has Jeff somewhat obsessed with finding Tobias Whale, whom he thinks has returned to town (he’s right). Whale is an albino, huge, and extremely racist, cruel, and uncouth.

Whale’s paid partner is the female assassin Syonide. She reminds me of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, with her clothes, her hair, and her attitude.

Martin Proctor is Peter Gambi’s old boss from the ASA. He’s out to kill Black Lightning and keep the Freeland experiment going – even though it’s now an illegal, rogue operation. He’s racist, bigoted, and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. The introduction of Proctor makes Whale seem like small potatoes, though in the end, only one of the two survives to return next season.

Black Lightning is an interesting show to watch because almost the entire cast is African American, and it really gives you a view into a different world. In the pilot, we see Jeff being pulled over by two white cops, in the rain, forced out of his car, roughed up, and presented to a mute woman who is then asked, “Is this the guy who robbed your store?” Remember, Jefferson Pierce is a respected high school principal. Jeff continuously reminds his daughters and the students at their school they must control their anger. Another community leader, a local preacher, leads a protest march after LaWanda’s death and is shot – though we’re told later that he recovered. Jeff’s friend on the force, Henderson, is a good police officer, but with so much corruption and institutional racism in his department he’s barely holding on and is limited in the help he can bring.

Black Lightning is highly recommended and will return to the CW this Fall (2018).

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