Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The weight of history is deeply felt on Black Lightning

Image for article titled The weight of history is deeply felt on Black Lightning
Photo: Annette Brown/The CW

History plays a big role in Black Lightning. The weight of it, the constant presence, the reverberations, the reminders. History doesn’t let up. It’s a part of and informs nearly every interaction in Freeland. The show’s patient approach to storytelling, taking its time to fill in the backstories of characters before forging ahead with the season’s larger plot, is a big part of that feeling of history as inescapable presence. Every conversation that Lynn and Jefferson have, whether flirtatious or confrontational, boasts a depth that’s built on their fraught history together. Every time Jefferson and Anissa step into the world as Black Lightning and Thunder, the fact that the superhero life once tore this family apart lingers in the shadows. This family, and this town, is caught up in something big, and they’re doing what they can to alter the narrative, to change the course of history.


“Sins Of The Father: The Book Of Redemption” in particular, and Black Lightning more generally, is all about how history not only informs the present in a concrete way, but also our perspective on what that present means. This is an episode filled with ghosts of the past, coming back to haunt, coming back to make a claim to the present. The subtext is text, or flesh, when it comes to Lala. He’s come back from the dead to lead the 100 in Tobias’ absence, but he’s not without his demons. LaWanda already made her mark on him, and in “Sins Of The Father: The Book Of Redemption” he’s followed around by Will, his other coldhearted victim. Once again he’s left with a tattoo on his chest, Will’s face forever imprinted on his skin, a constant reminder of the past.

More consequentially, and less supernaturally, Gambi simply can’t escape his life within the A.S.A. Proctor comes to collect his man after he realizes that the old scout must have tipped Black Lightning off about his warehouse full of kidnapped kids with superpowers. 30 years of kidnappings in a single warehouse, a physical representation of the past, and a reminder of Gambi’s sins. He helped the A.S.A. find some of the kids in those tanks, and no matter the good he’s done for Jefferson and his family since, he can’t escape that knowledge. That realization is there in the visual storytelling: as Gambi walks into his shop, the physical space that represents his ability to change and become a better person, he’s framed by two mirrors. Into that reflection comes Proctor and his henchmen, his past quite literally coming up from behind him.

What happens when that past comes back? Violence. The past is filled with violence, and the pattern continues until someone can break the loop. Gambi’s previous misdeeds result in torture, but then also redemption, at least in part. Jefferson saves his friend and mentor from Proctor, revealing himself as Black Lightning in the process. This could be the moment that frees Gambi from his past at the A.S.A., and maybe from his guilt over lying to Jefferson. He’s never truly been free, always trying to stay one step ahead of the past, but now he might have a chance to truly move on. That can’t happen while Proctor is still out there, but this is a step in the right direction.

Similarly, Jefferson tries to break the loop of violence with Malik, a young student of his. When he sees him slinging Green Light on the streets, he talks to him and tells him to come to special Saturday classes in order to get his life on track. “I’ve seen this before,” he says, referencing all the children that have been swept up in drug dealing because of circumstances out of their control. Jefferson is trying to exert some control, and show that Malik has options. Malik chastises him for his “lectures”; “not lectures,” says Jefferson, “just solutions.” Jefferson understands that Black Lightning’s impact only goes so far. You still need small-scale, grassroots change. Malik shows up to the class, of which he’s the only student, and immediately finds something in Jefferson’s mantra. It’s a start, something to show the kid a way forward.

That kind of hope is what superhero fiction is all about. There’s hardly a single superhero character in popular culture who hasn’t struggled with their purpose, only to realize that their very presence as a force of good can inspire change, even if they can’t save everybody. Black Lightning may have come back to rescue his daughters, but in the process he found a renewed purpose, which is to give the people of Freeland hope, even if some of them are currently trying to drop air conditioners on his head. Being a superhero comes with its fair share of haters and opportunists.


“Sins Of The Father: The Book Of Redemption” is largely a table-setting episode, one that moves a lot of pieces into place before the final three episodes of the season. There’s certainly a lot of action and movement, with Gambi being tortured and Anissa and Jefferson fighting off a number of Proctor’s men in the abandoned warehouse, but it’s all in service of events to come later. Table-setting episodes can quickly become sluggish, but “Sins Of The Father: The Book Of Redemption” is bolstered by the season’s consistently spirited and moving thematic explorations. The past can’t be escaped, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying to change the future.

Stray observations

  • I love how slowly, and meaningfully, Black Lightning is expanding its universe. Every episode gives us something new to ponder about Freeland, the ASA, and the spread of superpowers.
  • Anissa keeps returning to the same talking points about Jenn’s powers, seemingly not understanding that their outlooks are very different.
  • “I don’t do low profile.” “Yeah, I see that.”
  • Lala isn’t messing around now that he’s back from the dead, ripping ears off the dudes who try and confront him.
  • Vice Principal Kara is the current “spotter” for the A.S.A. I was wondering what had happened to her!
  • This week in the Black Lightning soundtrack: