Black Lightning's Most Shocking Episode Yet Is Also Its Most Grounded

Cress Williams as Black Lightning
Cress Williams as Black Lightning
Photo: CW

By now it should come as no surprise that when given the opportunity, Black Lightning never misses the chance to inject elements of real world conversations about police brutality and systemic racism into its plot. In case you’d forgotten that fact during the show’s brief hiatus, “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder” is a somewhat heavy-handed reminder.

Illustration for article titled Black Lightning's Most Shocking Episode Yet Is Also Its Most Grounded

Over the course of the past five episodes, Black Lightning’s done an expert job establishing its sprawling cast of characters, their conflicting motives, and the intricate web of secrets and lies that ties everyone together. Now that the season’s just about halfway over, it’s high time that the show’s threads start to come together in a cohesive way, and “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder” goes about making that happen by centering its focus back on the Pierce family.

Jeff’s return to the vigilante life as Black Lightning has had an increasing impact on his daughters’ lives since the very first episode—something their mother’s been desperately trying to avoid. For Anissa, the effects of her father’s extracurricular activities have been way more traditional and predictable by genre television standards. But “The Book of Thunder” takes care to dedicate a fair amount of screen time to Jennifer, the youngest of the Pierce girls, who’s arguably the member of the family living farthest from Black Lightning’s more fantastical elements.

As a show about a family superheroes in the making, Black Lightning has always been in a unique position to explore the cape genre in ways that set it apart from most other shows like it. We know from Lynn and flashbacks into his Black Lightning glory days that Jeff’s all too familiar with overexerting himself in the name of keeping Freeland’s streets safe, and how that would logically put a strain on his family. “The Book of Thunder” drives home the idea that even though Jennifer’s the least involved in the “family business,” there’s no real way she ever could have hoped to be untouched by the ripple effects caused by Black Lightning’s return.

While the rest of the show’s characters have been dealing with losses that are somewhat removed from their own personal lives, Jennifer’s loss of Khalil to Tobias Whale’s manipulations feels so much more grounded and reflective of what the teenaged daughter of a superhero would have to struggle with. Though we basically know at this point that Jennifer’s soon to come into her own powers inherited from her father, “The Book of Thunder” humanizes her in a way that Black Lightning hasn’t quite done for Anissa yet. One imagines this is meant to further telegraph just how different they will be as heroes.

While Jennifer’s story is mostly ground-level, emotionally-relatable teen drama, Anissa’s fast-tracking her way to becoming a full-on masked hero—fitting given the episode’s title. The mystery that surrounds Jefferson’s father’s death and the origins of the powers of Freeland’s metahumans has never seemed like a particularly difficult one to unpack, so it’s encouraging to see Anissa blowing her way through it as she pieces things together. “The Book of Thunder” does run into the unfortunate problem of making everyone seem a little bit dense in retrospect because of just how much everyone suddenly learns about one another by the episode’s end, but it’s all worth it for the major reckoning that closes the episode out.


It’s interesting that the first time we really see Black Lightning fight another proper metahuman, he’s unknowingly facing off against his daughter and, surprisingly, she’s able to hold her own. Though neither Jefferson nor Anissa probably know it just yet, their in-costume fight perfectly symbolizes the kind of dynamism that’s ultimately going to be the only thing that saves Freeland. Anissa is very much like her father in a lot of ways, but as she’s been coming into her identity as a vigilante, she’s learned that she’s ready and willing to be a kind of hero that her father—in his civilian guise—isn’t. She’s bold and headstrong, both because she’s superhumanly durable and because that’s just who she is as a person.

So far, the soon-to-be Thunder’s been one of the few forces powerful enough to stop Black Lightning in his tracks. If he’s smart, he’ll see this encounter with his daughter as an opportunity to learn a thing or two about what he can do to better protect his community.

Illustration for article titled Black Lightning's Most Shocking Episode Yet Is Also Its Most Grounded

Assorted Musings:

• The production values on those kids’ cellphone videos where they were talking trash about Jennifer were very, very high.


• Multiple parts of this episode, like Jeff bailing Anissa out of jail and Anissa and Jennifer bonding in Anissa’s room, seemed to be direct callbacks to Black Lightning’s premiere.

• That mute white girl finally spoke!

• Peter Gambi cannot be trusted.

• Can everyone hear Anissa taking deep breaths every time she uses her powers? Because if they can, it’s a pretty obvious tell that a smart criminal would use to their advantage. It’s also really great to see that Black Lightning is leaning into the idea that Anissa’s meta gene is making her super-dense and not just strong.


Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.



Lightning... shocking... grounded.

You have a great capacity for electrical puns.