Red Stewart reviews the second episode of Black Lightning…
Despite presumably being the first part of a two-episode arc that continues with next week’s ‘LaWanda: The Book of Burial’, ‘LaWanda: The Book of Hope’ felt a lot like a direct continuation of “The Resurrection.” Watching it, it was almost like the writers had read my review and proceeded to address all my potential concerns that episode had raised in me, despite thinking it was overall great.
For starters, I noted how I was not a big fan of Pierce’s ex-wife Lynn suddenly deciding it was okay for him to put on the costume again, especially when the writers had provided her with good reasons for taking that stance. Tying into that, I expressed hope that the series would continue to explore the harsh reality of trying to be a superhero as an older adult, though I secretly expected it to be abandoned soon after.
The opening ten or so minutes of ‘LaWanda: Book of Hope’ immediately addressed these concerns, with Pierce in pain from his previous excursions at the Seahorse Motel. Lynn, hearing his grunts, goes to comfort him and expresses regret over asking him to put on the mantle again, labeling herself a hypocrite. However, Pierce assures her that it was a one-time thing and that Black Lightning will not return. This came as a surprise to me as, at the end of the previous episode, I was convinced that he was officially back as a superhero. After all, in typical tales involving heroes coming out of retirement, like The Dark Knight Rises and the Arrow season 2 premiere ‘City of Heroes’, the return aspect is handled quickly to get to the main story beats as soon as possible.
By taking things slow, series creator and writer Salim Akil is able to flesh out the society Pierce and the other characters reside in, giving believable reasons as to why someone would want to come back into this life of suffering. At the top of that list is selfishness, a theme that is recurrent throughout the episode as Pierce examines how his lack of initiative is hurting those around him. “What I want to know is why Black Lightning rescued your girls but nobody else’s?” a former student of Pierce’s asks him during a PTA meeting to his discomfort.
That student is the episode’s namesake LaWanda, whose daughter has been missing ever since she started hanging out with the 100 gang. LaWanda claims that the police are unwilling to do anything, and, in an exchange between Pierce and his old friend Detective Henderson, that unwillingness is expanded upon in appalling detail: girls who sell themselves for the 100 develop a Stockholm syndrome mentality. If you try and get them to turn on their masters, they refuse. “It’s not just their bodies that are slave to these fools, it’s their minds,” says Henderson dryly. As someone whose known people who worked in law enforcement, I appreciated this expansion on the police department’s limits greatly. We all know that one of the most common tropes in superhero fiction is the inability of law enforcement to do anything – after all, if they were completely competent, there would be no need for superheroes and vigilantes in the first place now would there? Too often this has been simplified as interior corruption: Smallville, Arrow, and the various adaptations of Batman have all employed some variation of this, and it was nice to see Black Lightning move in a different direction.
The rest of the episode’s plot continue from this meeting as Pierce struggles between wanting to help the people as himself and recognizing the need for Black Lightning, culminating in an event so shocking I could not believe the writers actually went through with it. It summarizes everything wrong with the community Pierce resides in, yet is powerful enough on its own to get anyone back in a suit.
Unfortunately, for all its positive elements, ‘LaWanda: Book of Hope’ was held back by two key subplots revolving around Pierce’s daughters Jennifer and Anissa and their romantic relationships. The romance alone would have killed the episode’s pacing, but Akim made the decision to tie it in with the their psychological trauma from being kidnapped in the pilot. I felt this was a mistake as any variation of post-traumatic stress disorder needs to have a lot of time devoted to it, and thus can’t be shoehorned into another episode.
If you can overlook this aspect, Black Lightning delivered another strong outing, raising the stakes for what to expect from the future.
-The episode gave an explanation as to why no one can identify Pierce despite the small size of his mask – he apparently generates an energy about him that makes it painful to look at him. Decent enough, but I would like it to be shown at some point, like Flash blurring his face.
-How did Gambi find Will’s body?
-Episode introduces this idea that Pierce is addicted to his powers. This is something that has been explored from a villainous point-of-view, like in Chronicle, but it’ll be intriguing to see how a superhero deals with it.