Posted January 25, 2018 by Jasmin in Reviews

REVIEW: Black Lightning S01E02 – LaWanda: The Book of Hope

Episode: S01E02 – LaWanda: The Book of Hope
Air Date: 23 January 2018
Director: Oz Scott
Writer: Salim Akil
Based on Characters by: Tony Isabella, Trevor Von Eeden
Starring: Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, Christine Adams, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, Damon Gupton, James Remar

The music of Black Lightning weaves its way into the story in such a way that it adds another layer of depth to an otherwise familiar superhero and formulaic series. The selection is especially on point in this second episode, “LaWanda: The Book of Hope.” It opens and closes with Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” over images of both Jefferson and Anissa trying to come to terms with their powers.

Both original songs and old classics feels like their own character in the series and are given the space to shine as such. Black Lightning also stands out among other DC series because it has its own theme song (with lyrics) and a soundtrack peppered with tracks from Hip Hop Artist GodHolly. Music composer/supervisor, Kurt Farquhar, is no stranger to TV with credits like Girlfriends, The Game, Moesha, King of Queens, and Being Mary Jane.

Cress Williams Tracy Bonner Black Lightning

© Richard Ducree/The CW

While the base formula of this series is the same as the rest of the CW fare, it approaches the genre from a different angle. Jefferson Pierce is a father whose main focus to protect his family, not save a city. Whether that was a direct jab at fellow DC series Arrow is unclear, but I enjoy that Black Lightning feels different.

The villain field is shortened in “LaWanda: The Book of Hope” as both Will and Lala give way to comic big bad, Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III). One exchange between Whale and Lala at the beginning of the episode is jarring in its language, but sets the audience straight on the kind of villainy we can expect from Whale as the season progresses.

“Squeeze these darkies until they crack,” Whale tells Lala while ordering him to push citizens of Freeland to their breaking point in the hopes of outing who he calls the fake Black Lightning. “Damn, boss. You really do hate black people,” Lala replies. “No, I love black people. I hate incompetent, thick-lipped, scratch where it don’t itch, negroes like you. Y’all keep us acting like newly freed slaves.”

Marvin Krondon Jones III Black Lightning

© Mark Hill/The CW

Whale himself is Albino, and has a silent white henchwoman always at his side. The exchange is harsh yet instantly relatable to a black audience as Whale crudely explains the invisible line between what society would call a thug and a respectable black citizen. If this is the tone we can expect from Whale moving forward, viewers should strap in for more politics and elements of racism and colorism.

However, other than his kingpin bravado, Whale has not been fleshed out enough for me to really take to him as a villain. I love a good bad guy; and I believe good TV needs a good villain to really shine. Black Lightning is not there yet, but in cutting some loose ends, I’m ready to see where the story goes from here.

Anissa’s powers keep manifesting at night and she’s no closer to understanding how to control them than she was in the pilot, “The Resurrection.” Comic fans will know her better as Thunder. What is most intriguing about her character is that she becomes part of a group of heroes known as the Outsiders (not to be confused with S.E. Hinton’s classic novel). Other members of this group include former Arrow regular, Arsenal/Roy Harper.

One more great aspect the series keeps from the comics is the canon that Anissa is a lesbian. Not only does the CW have a superhero series helmed by a black man, but it also displays a lesbian relationship between two women of color. Black Lightning ticks a lot of boxes but there’s a genuine inclusiveness to the series as opposed to surface level diversity. (To be fair, the CW Arrowverse has LGBTQ couples in all of its series.)

Cress Williams Black Lightning

© Guy D’Alema/The CW

The story needs to be tightened up and villains need to be fleshed out, but I like the characters. I want to know what happens with Anissa’s powers. WIll Gambi design a better suit for the titular character? Let’s continue the conversation about how to root out bad forces and build a stronger community. Overall, “LaWanda: The Book of Hope” paints a picture of town collapsing under the weight of an epidemic that authorities seem inept at solving. And who doesn’t love a story about people who come together to be their own heroes?

Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.

Jasmin loves Batman, sci-fi, and movies with lots of explosions. When she’s not writing about geektastic things, she’s probably playing video games or watching sports. Her ultimate goals include traveling the world to watch tennis and working for BioWare to revive the essence of the original Mass Effect Trilogy.