Black Lightning 2×01, “Rise of the Green Light Babies,” shows us that saving the day isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning of it.
I was glad to see that season 2 of Black Lightning was titled “The Book of Consequences.” First, because I was curious to see the aftermath and ripples caused by the events of season 1 and seeing this title meant that we would get the continuation of many of the awesome storylines that had been set up in the first season. It meant that the finale was merely a stopping point, not an end point.
But I was also glad because it meant that Black Lightning would continue its streak as a show that is not only fantastically written, superbly cast, and well-acted — but as one that does what so few superhero narratives have the courage to do: Have their heroes live out the consequences of their actions.
So many superhero stories — whether they be DC or Marvel, on the silver screen or the small screen — don’t follow through with having their heroes deal with the consequences of their actions. They’ll often give lip service to consequences, give the shape of change, but without ever really committing to it.
Consequences, after all, don’t fit tidily into prescribed narratives for superheroes, and often repercussions are swept aside to make room for greater melodrama, bigger fights, more exciting reveals and extra special team-up storylines.
Luckily, just as we saw time and again in the first season, Black Lightning isn’t concerned with being like other superhero narratives, which focus on dramatic events and increasingly grandiose storylines. Its concern instead lies in how the events and storylines impact Jefferson, his family and the community.
This first episode checks in on each of the characters as well as on Freeland — which, in many ways, is a character of its own — and gives us a look at how the events of last season have impacted their lives.
The episode opens with a horrifying scene that we, unfortunately, have seen all too often — the murder of an innocent Black child at the hands of White police officers. And as difficult as this scene was to watch, I also admire Salim Akil (who directed this episode) and his continued commitment to situating Black Lightning’s narratives against real-world events — and doing so in a way that fits into the show’s own storylines without ever being either gratuitous or self-aggrandizing.
The death of Issa at the beginning of the episode not only shows us how the world at large is reacting to the explosive reveal of the government’s experimentation on poor Black communities, but also how Freeland itself is reacting to these “Green Light Babies.”
While the police force is reacting with physical violence, the government is reacting with emotional violence by forbidding families from gaining access to their own children and loved ones. And just as they do in our world, the government in this fictional world wields bureaucracy and unlimited financial resources as its weapons, leaving the community of Freeland reeling when it realizes that it will take at least $500,000 for even the chance to see their loved ones again.
This, of course, doesn’t sit well with Anissa, ever the crusader, who implores her father to do something about this situation. And while I think I agree with Jefferson that they’re limited in terms of what they can now accomplish with the pod children as Black Lightning and Thunder, I am definitely not mad about the fact that Anissa decides to take on what feels like her fiftieth job as Freeland’s Robin Hood.
And while she is pretty damn successful in this episode at stealing from (and kicking the asses of) wealthy drug dealers and giving to the community fund, I have no doubt that there will soon be consequences — both from her parents and in the form of retaliation from these drug dealers.
Yet while those directly affected by Green Light only desperately want their children back, the rest of the community seems more ambivalent to the Green Light Babies. Kiesha casually calls their existence proof that the end of days is near, further cementing Jennifer’s belief that her powers are nothing more than a curse and a burden.
Jefferson, too, can see what these Green Light Babies may very well become — a scapegoat for all of Freeland’s problems. It’s all too easy to imagine the ambivalence turn to fear and then to mistreatment, easier still when Issa literally rises from the dead and is met with fear, hatred and persecution from those closest (both literally and figuratively) to him.
The Green Light Babies are the product of a warped government experiment that should have never existed, yet now cannot be denied. The question for the rest of the season isn’t just how will these newly powered individuals react to the world, but how will the world react to them?
Last season, we saw Jefferson Pierce fully embrace the role of Black Lightning. Doing so brought back hope into Freeland and allowed its citizens to feel and be safe against antagonists both known (The One Hundred) and unknown (the ASA).
Yet as heroic stepping into that role was, there are still consequences for doing so. Because while his time as Black Lightning has allowed him to bring a greater sense of safety into the community and allowed him to unearth a truly despicable truth about the nature of the ASA, it’s also meant that his public facing role as principal of Garfield High has suffered.
And this is the episode where his (seeming) neglect of that role comes to a head. Rather than having to shut down the school, Jefferson makes the incredibly painful sacrifice of choosing to resign. It’s a difficult decision and I can’t necessarily say that I believe it’s the right one. After all, as Jefferson points out, it’s basically his leadership that has kept the predominately white school board from treating these underprivileged kids like they’re criminals and all but greasing down the school-to-prison pipeline.
On the other hand, as far as they and anyone else knows, Jefferson has been increasingly absent throughout the year — and specifically in dangerous and life-threatening situations. As Napier Frank says to Jefferson, his concern is for the students, not Jefferson’s job, and for all intents and purposes, Jefferson as Principal Pierce isn’t taking care of the kids.
Last season, the conflict was whether Jefferson could be a superhero and keep his family life intact, and the season mostly answered that with a resounding yes. Unfortunately, what we learn in this premiere is that you can’t have it all — you can’t be a superhero, committed family man and an effective principal.
I’m sad to see Jefferson have to step down — not only because it’s obvious that his role of principal is important to him and he was good at it, but because I worry about who this school board will put in his place. My guess? It’ll be someone more in line with their zero-tolerance, hardline stance — which is exactly what Garfield and the community don’t need.
Black Lightning is at its strongest when it focuses on the Pierce-Stewart family, so it’s no surprise that my favorite moments of this episode centered around scenes which had the entire family together.
And while last season ended with the Pierce-Stewart family as a cohesive unit, the season premiere fractures them and sends them spinning off away from one another. Although Lynn and Jefferson have reconciled enough to be once again sharing the same bed, their differing values on superpowers, as well as their stances on Jennifer, the pod children and Lynn’s role in it all put them at odds for much of the episode.
Jennifer’s continued (and understandable) fear of her powers have her lashing out at both Anissa and Lynn, while Jefferson and Anissa’s disagreement on how to help the families of the pod children leads her to committing reckless acts of vigilantism that are a secret to her whole family.
These are difficult situations with no cut and dried correct answer, where it’s easy to see all sides of the conflict. But just as it does with its plotlines concerning the community of Freeland, Black Lightning likewise imbues its storylines surrounding the family with authenticity and realism. This is a family that cares for one another, in a show that cares about its characters, so their problems are never played for melodrama or exacerbated for the sake of ratings.
Instead, we get to see individuals support each other and communicate, we see them love one another despite that which comes between them.
So even if Jefferson and Lynn don’t agree on everything, you see them come together and support each other before the episode’s end. You see Lynn comfort Jennifer after she accidentally hurts her mother with her powers.
And you see the entire family come together and take care of an increasingly confused and distraught Jennifer, who has to spend hours in the bathtub because her powers are beyond what her mother can understand and what she can control.
We have yet to fully see where Jennifer’s powers — and her inability to both accept and control them — will lead. And if I know this show, it won’t be fun or easy.
But because I know this show and trust it, I also know that wherever they lead, her family will be there for her, every step of the way.
Notable moments and lingering questions
- When Fowdy pulled off her shoes during her fight with Syonide and spikes emerged at the bottom? AMAZING.
- I wish I could be more upset about Syonide, but I feel like we never got enough character development for her. I am interested to see what happens with Team Tobias now, though. Does Painkiller get promoted?
- I was glad to see Henderson finally figure out Black Lightning’s true identity. I’m never a fan of narratives where detectives, journalists or other such clever characters are somehow completely ignorant of the secret identity of someone close to them.
- That said, where does his relationship with Jefferson go from here?
- Also, do we trust Fowdy now? Because I really want to. I wouldn’t mind her joining the team.
- And speaking of trusting people, do we trust that Khalil is genuine in his want for redemption and reconciliation, or is it just a plot to get close to Jennifer in order to then get close to Jefferson?
- Will Issa (whose powers — I think — have to do with him being able to force people into telling the truth) be scooped up by Tobias (boo!), or will Black Lightning (yay!) get to him first?
- What in the hell is in the briefcase?
- Fun fact: Robert Townsend, who played Napier Frank, wrote, directed and starred in the 1993 movie The Meteor Man, which is about a superhero from D.C. who fights back against street gangs.