Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is a man wrestling with a secret. As the father of Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Ann McClain), and principal of a charter high school that also serves as a safe-haven for young people in a neighborhood overrun by gang violence, he is a hero in his community. Nine years ago, Pierce was a hero of a different sort. Gifted with the superhuman power to harness and control electricity, he used those powers to keep his hometown streets safe as the masked vigilante Black Lightning, but he left the Superhero days behind. Almost a decade later, Pierce’s crime-fighting days are long behind him…or so he thought.
Black Lightning picks up nine years after Jefferson Pierce, now a principal at Garfield High, retired the mantle of the titular hero. Throughout the episode, Jefferson struggles with using his powers, but he doesn’t want to become Black Lightning again, due to his promise to (ex-)wife Lynn. But as violence from the 100 gang ravishes the city and targets his daughters, Jefferson has no choice but to suit up once again.
In one episode, Black Lightning has established itself as a very different type of DC show. Its storytelling feels more unique than the Arrowverse shows, and it’s, simply put, on another level. It is very character-driven, not reliant on comic book theatrics, and focuses just on the one city. It also deeply explores socially relevant themes, such as police brutality and gang violence. Things like that make it feel much more than just another superhero show; in fact, it’s a great drama show that just happens to be based on a comic.
Black Lightning also thrives due to its cast, which is predominately African-American. The CW’s superhero shows tend to get flack because of their cast’s acting skills, which some say is too cheesy or whatever. However, this cast doesn’t have a single weak link. Cress Williams is flawless casting as the titular hero, perfectly portraying the character’s emotions and more. The idea of an older, retired hero getting back into the game is interesting, and Williams masterfully pulls it off. China Ann McClain and Nafessa Williams are excellent as Pierce’s daughters, Jennifer and Anissa, respectively. They are actively involved in the story, and they both have their own interesting arcs. Christine Adams, Damon Gupton, and James Remar are great in their respective roles. Marvin “Krondon” Jones III’s Tobias Whale didn’t get much screentime in this episode, but when he was on screen, he was very intimidating.
Due to its standalone nature, Black Lightning is able to run free and tell a unique superhero story. It’s not worried about connecting to other shows, and it’s tonally on another level. In fact, I kept forgetting that I was watching a CW show. The action, storytelling, character drama, and everything else has more of a prestigious feel to it that I’ve never felt with the Arrowverse. While the other shows typically focus on its titular hero and a team of other people, the Pierce family is the heart of Black Lightning. I wouldn’t complain if Black Lightning did eventually cross over with The CW’s other heroes, but frankly, it doesn’t need it to be great.
I can’t really point out any noticeable flaws with this episode. In my opinion, superhero television pilots are hit and miss. Some are really good (The Flash, Arrow), while others are not so great at first (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Supergirl) and need a few episodes to find their footing. However, Black Lightning is a legitimately great pilot that hooks viewers from the get-go. It does everything that a pilot needs to do and more. Hopefully, the rest of the season will live up to that.
In summary, Black Lightning‘s series premiere was phenomenal. It takes a unique view to the superhero genre without relying on conventional approaches, and it puts compelling character drama above flashy CGI. It is the latest addition to superhero TV’s current reign, setting a new standard for The CW especially. It also made me want to read more Black Lightning comics, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay to an adaptation. TL;DR – go watch Black Lightning. You’re welcome.
Check back later this year for our midseason recap of Black Lightning.
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