The CW’s resident DC superhero family is moving at lightning speed. Black Lightning debuted less than two years ago and it’s already gearing up for a season three premiere on October 9. The series has continuously picked up steam with a prime spot following the long-standing series Arrow. Black Lightning season three will expand its universe in unprecedented ways with the highly-anticipated Arrowverse crossover event “Crisis on Infinite Earths” on top of its own existential crises. It’s a great time to dive into this world and there are many reasons why you should be watching Black Lightning.
The Premise Is a Win
Black Lightning‘s unique premise has truly shifted superhero culture by centering on a powerful Black family. In season one, fans were introduced to Jefferson Pierce, a Black man (and metahuman) who willingly stopped his vigilante activities to fight crime in a different way. He empowers disenfranchised Black youth as the principal of Freeland’s Garfield High School, encouraging them to stay away from gangs and rise above stereotypes and statistics. Jefferson is revered in the community as a savior of sorts who “made it” to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.
But he finds himself at odds with his own family, particularly his activist/medical student daughter Anissa and estranged neuroscientist ex-wife, Lynn. Jefferson’s turn-the-other-cheek philosophy is tested after a police assault and a sticky situation involving his popular teenage daughter Jennifer and a gang called the 100. Black Lightning is reborn with the help of his tech genius confidant Gambi but he isn’t alone. His daughters are also metahumans with very different skill sets and reactions to their newfound abilities. There are also bad metas lurking in Freeland, particularly his arch nemesis, Tobias Whale. He leads a predatory organization responsible for dangerous experiments, deadly drugs, and a tragic accident that leads to the birth of a new villain. Now, the Pierce family is working as a unit to liberate Freeland from all evil, but their decisions come at a cost.
The Balance of Reality vs. Fantasy
This series takes on some serious issues like socioeconomic imbalance, religion, racism, community strife, systemic oppression, domestic violence, police brutality, and more. It’s a tricky line to walk for a comic-book based series but Black Lightning effectively does it with extreme care and tact without sanitizing the truth to make it palatable for uncomfortable viewers.
The subject matter is grounded, but this is undeniably a superhero series packed with explorations of advanced science, heroes living double lives, complex antagonists, humor, intense action, and pivotal moments that impact relationships.
A New Type of Hero(ine)
Jefferson’s hero journey is different from many of his TV counterparts. He is an older married man with children and a “normal” career. He’s trying to repair his relationship with Lynn, offer life and superhero guidance to Anissa, and deal with Jennifer, who is predictably impulsive and rebellious. This is all on top of being Black Lightning, which is a challenge because he must keep his rage and deep need for vengeance in check to set a good example for his superheroine daughters. When he’s not in the suit, he encounters racial profiling and the pressures of trying to live up to his students’ (and most Black Freeland residents’) expectations.
Black Lightning delivers a groundbreaking hero with Anissa/Thunder—TV’s first Black (and extremely beautiful) lesbian superhero. She’s open about her sexuality and has the support of her family, which sends a strong message about unconditional love. Viewers get a peek inside her dating life, but it is not the crux of her character’s journey as she learns to master her powers. Anissa challenges what it means to be a hero by making some morally ambiguous decisions and it makes her feel real.
Jennifer (a.k.a. Lightning) brings an interesting perspective to the genre as someone who doesn’t really want to have powers. The activation of her powers leads to rapid changes—instant isolation, strained friendships, and additional confusion during a sensitive time in her life. Jennifer doesn’t care about saving the world because she just wants to be normal—and that’s okay. Not every hero has to swiftly accept their destiny and her story towards understanding her powers unfolds in an interesting way.
It’s pretty powerful to have three Black metahumans in a family and see them go through the normal ups and downs of life as well as fighting together. And, Lynn is just as vital to this hero circle as an insider for an organization, Jefferson’s confidant, and the solid, reasonable foundation that her daughters need right now.
It’s Easy to Catch Up
Season three is only three weeks away! But in a world where marathon-watching is all the rage, it’s not unreasonable to devour 29 episodes of TV during that time. The show does take a little more focus than your typical “background noise” series but it’s worth the extra attention. There are plenty of cliffhangers and WTH moments that will make blasting through Black Lightning a breeze. The best part is, Black Lightning Seasons one and two are already on Netflix!
A Dope Soundtrack
Black Lightning‘s infusion of soul and R&B from Jefferson’s formative years and current hip-hop fit well into the different narratives of the show. Pay attention for classics like Method Man & Mary J. Blige’s “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By” and rising artists like Jamila Woods. Music choices are essential to the series by helping to set the tone for a scene, further define the characters, and establish emotional connections.
Compelling Secondary Characters
The Pierce family is fantastic, but the show couldn’t thrive without a great supporting cast. The menacing Tobias Whale is a product of rejection and, to an extent, self-hatred with a solid backstory. Khalil has his own interesting arc from high school athlete to a boy on the run.
Freeland preacher Reverend Holt’s relationship with Jefferson and the police department is a great war-of-wills. And Gambi is truly the best wing man in the world with a great cover business. The show has yet to introduce a character who isn’t engaging and each character serves a higher purpose in the plot.
Love and Friendships
The familial love between the Pierces is the foundation of the series. Their relationships challenge stereotypes about Black parenthood in an authentic and thoughtful way. And, the sisterhood between Anissa and Jennifer is sweet, unique, and familiar. There’s romance for Anissa and Jennifer as well as glimpses into the complicated past of Jefferson and Lynn. Gambi’s role in the Pierce family dynamic as a surrogate (grand)father, IT specialist, and suit designer is delightful to watch. And the dynamic between Jefferson and his friend Detective Henderson shows the challenges they both face during tough times.
Black Lightning has a lot of what superhero fans would expect but there’s so much more under the surface.
Header Image: The CW