The System Still Has Zero Tolerance For Young Black Recovery in Black Lightning

The Book of Consequences is still writing chapters in this season of Black Lightning, and while they aren’t all necessarily as intense as the first episode, the stories unfolding within them are lasting and dramatic. Things seem to be coming to a head on multiple fronts, with circumstances subtly demanding more and more from the Pierces while also slowly splitting them apart.

It’s significant, though, that these unfolding storylines all seem to revolve around one assumption about the world: when young black people rely on those in authority for support, and for their very survival, trust and believe that white folks of Freeland ain’t got none to spare for ‘em. Not a drop.

[Spoilers for Season Two, Episodes 2-4]

One of the starkest examples of this dilemma can be seen in Garfield High, which has found its replacement for Jefferson in Mike Lowry, a man who bills himself as no-nonsense but… let us be honest, he is all nonsense. At the end of Episode Two, Jefferson at least has the good fortune to address his students with the news, and it is as heartwarming as ever to see the whole Garfield student body get up in the end of that episode to challenge him with the same mantra that he has asked them to repeat so often in the last season—to hear him tell them that the thing he plans to do with his life is “Live it, by any means necessary”—especially considering all his frustrations up to this point.

The episode after this is literally titled “Master Lowry.” After a glimpse of the school maintenance staff putting up metal detectors at Garfield’s entrances, we see the new principal for literally all of one minute and seven seconds for the entire episode—I timed it, several times, to make sure. That’s really all we need to know about him: Lowry is the kind of man who blindly wields power over and makes assumptions about young black bodies in lieu of understanding, and considers that course of action better than the alternative. Lowry frames all of his decisions as an attempt to prevent Garfield students from becoming either victims or perpetrators of gang violence, but to Jefferson (and us), it’s painfully obvious that the consequence of his policies is marginalizing and ostracizing kids until they find themselves on the street anyway—as argued when Lowry expels a boy for fighting just because he threw the first punch. Jefferson insists in that moment that Garfield “was built on the understanding that no one is beyond redemption.” Lowry’s reply? “Time’s change.”

You’d think that Jeff already has enough to deal with, but Anissa alone continues to be a handful. She’s still busting up gangsters for their drug money and donating their ill-gotten gains to the church, and Reverend Holt’s still unbelievably grateful about the windfall. She even got Gambi to tag along on a strike against Vladislav Zlovak, a kingpin and money launderer who plans to buy a struggling local clinic, hoping to kill two birds with one stone by taking down the bad guys and funding the clinic. Small problem, though: she’s goes through with the mission without her father’s blessing, and in the subsequent father-daughter argument, Jeff utters the eternal ultimatum of black parenthood: “My house, my rules!” Anissa’s grown, though, so you know what that means: packing a bag and spending a couple nights at Uncle Gambi’s house ‘til everything cools down. That’s when we find out about the next big problem on the Pierces’ horizon: Zlovak didn’t like being robbed, or learning that his money’s going to the same place he was trying to buy out…which means that Black Lightning and Thunder have to stop a clinic from being blown up.

In other Anissa news, remember Grace, the really sweet girl that she was dating all the way back in Season One? Well, Anissa apparently forgot for a little bit and tried to get some loving on the side from a musician named Zoe B. No judgments from me, of course—nothing’s wrong with a little fun—but Jennifer comes to her soon after with some little-sister wisdom: “You need to stop focusing on this shiny object… She’s cotton candy, and you need soul food.”

Jennifer’s been on a terrible roller coaster over the last few episodes. Her parents have put her in the care of Perenna, a metahuman therapist with powerful telepathic abilities, in the hope that she can help Jennifer control her powers and eventually get back to school. She’s coming to terms with her feelings through the process, but unfortunately, those feelings revolve heavily around Khalil, who still won’t take a bloody hint and is still actively trying to worm his way back into her life. When his continued presence, the frustration of being away from her social life, and her parents’ growing control over her collide, it seems that the winner is Khalil—who already has to deal with Tobias Whale’s dismissive attitude towards him. I just have to say that I hope Jennifer takes the same advice she gave to her sister—sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Lynn has struggles with white authority to deal with just like Jefferson—the ASA has assigned her a ‘partner’ in her mission to take care of the metahuman children in the pods. That partner, Dr. Helga Jace, is unfortunately a ruthless mad scientist who’s been pardoned from serving a term in prison for several instances of severe malpractice. Jace cares about data more than she does about people, and is more than willing to sacrifice bodies just for a sliver of new information—and attitude which is clearly at odds with Lynn’s desire to help these kids find life after their experimentation. What’s worse: because of her compromise with the ASA, Lynn’s research on her family’s genetics is now in Jace’s hands, and she’s already eager to take their bodies apart, too.

As a backdrop to all of this action, Freeland is experiencing all manner of turmoil. Issa, the young man we saw die and return in the season premiere, learns with great frustration that his power is the ability to draw the harsh truth out of everyone around him. It’s because of this power that his mother, and later his sister, seemed to turn their backs on him, although they both later come back to him with understanding and love. One of the truths he learns in the process is that Green Light is slowly killing him, and he makes the seemingly mature decision to accept his fate and live out his days waiting for his own molecular annihilation. Whether that slow death is also an inevitability for others has yet to be seen, but one can only hope that Lynn makes a breakthrough before any of these deaths come to pass.

Obviously, Tobias has been making moves, in the meantime. He shot Kara Fowdy in the stomach with a damn harpoon and sent her crawling back to Gambi seeking a safe haven, where she passed away just before telling him that Tobias does indeed have the briefcase. Since then, he’s been in police custody for attacking Freeland and allegedly murdering one of his colleagues in order to tie up loose ends (an act that said colleague seemed to take remarkably in stride, considering), and in true Whale style, he walks off the charge without an issue. He’s publicly in the clear now, which is exactly what he wanted—the chance to get back into public life and return to rule Freeland while looking like a pillar of the community. Plus, Zlovak came to him personally, seeking permission to tear up the streets looking for whoever stole their money, so a war of some sort may still be in the cards.

The upcoming few episodes are apparently grouped under the title of “The Book of Blood.” Considering the promise of each of these potential threads—the tension growing at Garfield between Lowry and the students; the blocks being overtaken by not one but two gangs working in concert with each other; the ‘Green Light babies’ coming out of the shadows, all seeking a solution for their confusing transition into metahuman-ness; the ASA’s flippant attitude toward the bodies they’ve trapped in glass boxes; and the ever-looming promise of a Round Two match-up between Black Lightning and Tobias, among so many others—I expect that the we’re about to face some incredibly intense showdowns. And this time, the consequences will be even more dire. Hopefully, the Pierce family can reach a place of harmony in time for them to confront each other directly before all hell breaks loose.

Brandon O’Brien is a performance poet and writer from Trinidad. His work is published or upcoming in Uncanny MagazineStrange HorizonsSunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-SpeculationArsenika, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is also the poetry editor of FIYAH Magazine. You can find his blog or on Twitter @therisingtithes.

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