Tuning in to Black Lightning’s second season premiere last night was equal parts thrilling and stressful. Thrilling because the show’s first season was one of the CW’s strongest offerings in years—and stressful because, well, how do you top a damn-near perfect season of television?
The answer is that you don’t, exactly. While “The Book of Consequences: Chapter One: Rise of the Green Light Babies” is the start of a new season, the episode feels like a continuation of the story Black Lightning has been telling from the very beginning . It’s a story about how the people of Freeland are caught in the crossfire of a larger conflict they can’t handle on their own, and what Jefferson Pierce and his family are doing to keep their community safe.
“Rise of the Green Light Babies” immediately makes clear that Black Lightning isn’t at all finished with its exploration of the different ways that anti-black institutional racism harms people, despite being incorporated into systems that are presumably meant to support and protect the public. In the wake of team Black Lightning exposing the government program that was disappearing young black children from Freeland in order to experiment on them and turn them into metahuman bioweapons, the city is devastated and angry—but the trauma manifests itself in a variety of forms that ultimately ends up causing even more pain.
When Issa Williams, a young teen, suddenly manifests metahuman abilities as a result of using the drug Green Light, police officers swarm the boy and put him in a chokehold that kills him—all the while people look on and record in horror, begging for the officers to let him go. It’s a moment reminiscent of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of Daniel Pantaleo, a New York police officer who was similarly recorded choking the father of six to death in 2014.
Issa’s death sparks a number of different reactions that all reflect the broken state Freeland is in. There’s a justified anger and distrust of the city’s police force, who have a long history of being disproportionately brutal with the city’s population even before Green Light became a problem. Added to that, the families of the people who were disappeared and experimented on have no method of recourse to actually get their loved ones back or hold those who tortured them accountable.
But there’s also a kind of complicated fear of Issa himself. As a “Green Light baby”—a term for new metas who develop abilities—Issa’s an outcast in a society of people who are already second-class citizens. Not only is he different because of the presence of his undefined abilities, but he’s also a kind of symbol for the way that Green Light swept its way through Freeland and triggered a wave of a new kind of superpowered violence that people rightfully fear. That fear becomes something that shapes how many of Freeland’s citizens think of all the city’s new meta population, and it also puts a strain on the Pierce family that brings out each of their own personal dramas.
As Anissa sets out to rob local criminals of their ill-gotten money in order to help the families of those who were experimented on pay for legal representation, Jennifer is struggling to come to terms with the fact that she has powers she can’t control. While Jefferson is obviously proud that both of his daughters take after him in the metahuman sense (and in the sense that they’re both inclined to fight for justice), Lynn is understandable scared for her daughter’s mental and physical well being.
Unlike Anissa’s density manipulation, Jennifer’s energy generation is a powerset that the Pierces scarcely understand and are ill-equipped to help her deal with, which in turn contributes to her feelings of isolation. At a time in her life where Jennifer’s already trying to figure out what kind of person she wants to be, she’s grappling with the fact that abilities like hers are exactly what’s turned the public against metahumans. But for all of the heady turmoil the Pierce family is going through, they’re still tightly-bound to one another as a cohesive unit; it feels like an upgrade of sorts compared to the first season, when they were all still learning truths about one another.
Black Lightning’s villains, on the other hand, are even more disjointed than when we last saw them, and it’ll be interesting to see what their being on uneven footing will mean for their plans of attack this season. Tobias Whale and Syonide feel as if they’re on the defensive or in a mode of planning throughout most of the episode. If anything, “Rise of the Green Light Babies” feels like a particularly strong mid-season episode that’s designed to remind you who Black Lightning’s characters are and what’s pushing them forward and the fact that this is only the season’s premiere promises that we’re in for a wild ride.