“I saw a superhero / he was black / he said this is for the streets / Black Lightning’s back.”
Or for us, Black Lightning is finally here. The CW’s new superhero show has been highly anticipated for a number of reasons, and folks, I think after this premiere episode we can all agree that it has earned the hype. The way “The Resurrection” unfolded didn’t feel at all like a pilot — the exposition was organic, the performances were natural, and most of all, the world that Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil have created here feels fully formed.
Though Black Lightning is a superhero show airing on The CW, it’s not yet connected to that Arrow-verse, and in many ways, feels very far away from it. One of the primary reasons is that Black Lightning is not about a superhero origin, but about rebirth. Jefferson Pierce could be a dad on the other shows, just like he is in his own. With the other DC shows, we’re used to seeing people in their 20s dealing with the onset of incredible powers. But Black Lightning tells a more mature story in more ways than one.
“The Resurrection” introduced us to a number of key players and locations that will set the stage for the season: Jefferson Pierce is Black Lightning, but he is also a high school principal. He hung up the cape, as it were, 9 years ago, after his wife, Lynn, gave him an ultimatum and split up their family over it. She couldn’t handle him coming in bloody and beaten after fighting in the streets as a vigilante. But, as “The Resurrection” showed us, clearly they are still close and have a lot of love between them. They’re close with their daughters, too — Anissa and Jennifer — the former is a med student and teaches at Garfield High School where he father works, and the latter is a high-achiever looking to rebel.
That rebellion is really what sets the stage for bringing Jefferson back as Black Lightning. Though he is triggered emotionally when the police pull him over in the rain as a potential robbery suspect (which, as he points out, is patently ridiculous), he maintains his composure. At Club 100, he gives in to that a little more, in order to help save his daughter. Afterwards, he zaps the police who again wrongfully apprehend him. But as his friend Henderson says later on the local news, that was an act of violence — one that can be construed to make Black Lightning (or at this point, the rumor of him) a vigilante rather than a hero. And this all comes after Jefferson admonished Anissa for participating in the protest that turned violent. “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars,” he quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. (*corrected! The “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” quote that was by Fannie Lou Hamer — thanks Pete Corson).
That’s a lot to deal with, thematically, but Black Lightning does not shy away from any of it. The show has something to say, and it knows how it wants to say it. “I tried to do it the right way,” Jefferson says at Club 100 before using his powers to make sure Jennifer got out safely, and that choice is made clear over and over again, including in his run-in with Lala later to ask him to keep Will away from the school. Jefferson’s priority is to handle things as a principal and a pillar of his community, not to resort to violence. (It’s clear though that neither Jennifer nor Anissa are afraid to use physicality when necessary, like when Jennifer knees Will in Lala’s office for making assumptions about her and their relationship, and Anissa drops him to the ground when he shows up to the school). But when it comes to combating evil — like when he went to the Seahorse motel to rescue his daughters — there was no choice. Lynn, at the end of the episode, seems to finally understand this in a new way. Jefferson has to be Black Lightning not because he wants to be, but because he has to be.
“The Resurrection” gave us a sense of that as well, not only in the flashbacks to Jefferson and Lynn’s relationship (I loved the way the only color highlighted there was blood), but in Jefferson’s conversations with Gambi. Gambi, we learn, has known Jefferson since Jefferson was a child and thinks of him as a son. He also apparently has helped him develop into Black Lightning in order to take down Tobias Whale, the killer of Jefferson’s father. But as Jefferson points out, that was just the start — then it was that they needed to take down petty criminals and corrupt politicians, and there was no end. It required a sacrifice that Jefferson wasn’t willing to make, which was losing his family.
Among all of this, let’s also not miss the fact that Lala, at the Seahorse motel, echoes a line that Jefferson used earlier. After Will shows up at the school, Jefferson tells Anissa that in his 7 years there, there has not been any violence. Lala says the same thing to Will at the Seahorse, that in his 5 years running that place they hadn’t had violence there. It’s a really fascinating juxtaposition, one that shows how Black Lightning has a number of different players who all think they are saving the community in their own way. In maybe my favorite scene of the episode, we saw Lala schooling a young kid who sells drugs for him about being polite to Jefferson — to look him in the eye, shake his hand, and introduce himself. He then roughly chastises him that while he’s on the phone, the white boys he’s supposed to be selling to are being groomed to run the world, and him. He then takes his phone and tells him to grab a broom. But before Lala is seen as any kind of street hero, don’t forget that he pulled a gun on Jefferson for disrespecting him by not using his street name.
“The Resurrection” was a fantastic opening hour for the series, one that shows just how intelligent and complicated Black Lightning aspires to be. It’s not a regular superhero show. That’s a good thing.
Rating: ★★★★★ — Excellent