As it turns out, J.J. (Laura Kariuki) is a great addition.
One of the interesting things in being a devoted Black Lightning watcher is seeing the way it plays with pace in opposition to the other Arrowverse shows. The Flash or Supergirl would tease out something like J.J. across several episodes. Black Lightning rarely has that kind of time — and has even less now as the countdown begins to its series finale. As such, establishing J.J. is key and this week’s episode does an admirable job, both in hinting the subtle ways she’s different from Jennifer (China Anne McClain) and the ways she is very much the same.
In fact, this is the whole point of the episode as Jefferson (Cress Williams) avoids embracing her as a reconstituted Jen. Nevertheless, Kariuki brings so much of McClain’s fire to the role while also establishing a few new things: her increased height, for one. Second, her initial willingness to sit a fight out seems like a new maturity even if TC (Christopher A’mmanuel) talked into suiting up. We hope that maturity does play out and TC sets her up as being older than 18. As it was, McClain looked absurd in the Garfield High uniform. Kariuki would really look like a cosplayer. Also, whether its McClain or Kariuki, Jennifer really should be over 18 at this point. For as much as the show wanted a teen element, it never really sat right once Jen got her powers and ran off with Khalil (Jordan Calloway). The occupation last season pretty much removed Garfield as a setting, but to see again in the first couple episodes this year really underscored just how odd it was for Jen to still be there.
Either way, introducing J.J. solved a number of problems and allows the character to remain on the show despite McClain’s intention to leave. Of course, we’re still not sure if we’ll see her again before the end … but considering the way Jen took center stage in Black Lightning‘s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” tie-in episode, it is possible McClain will appear one last time to properly hand off the character.
Meanwhile, the episode also featured the crazy powerful “what if” moment with Black Lightning stopping a scenario pointedly similar to the murder of Breonna Taylor. Making the sequence so powerful was the switch from the memorial of the unnamed Freeland character to footage of actual protests from the last year — to say nothing of airing the episode so close to the one-year anniversary of Taylor’s death. Then, it all goes into rewind as Jefferson prevents from happening. Like the way he defended the young man walking home from police persecution in the season premiere, it’s another moment which at once speaks to the rage the unprovoked deaths of Black people engenders while also positioning a Black superhero in the place he is most needed. We hope Black Lightning gets to save one more person, if only is this metaphorical way, at least one more time before the end.
The episode also featured some nice forward momentum for Anissa’s (Nafessa Williams) story. She’s taking Grace (Chantal Thuy) on a honeymoon and is getting ready to tell Jefferson and Lynn (Christine Adams) about their quick wedding. Granted, there’s still time for her to back out on that, but if the series can end with Anissa being less secretive, we’ll take that as a win. It may not be as grand a plot as Tobias Whale’s (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) bid for mayor, but sometimes the biggest victories center on a persona living more openly.
Or, in Lala’s (William Catlett) case, dying more openly. It is unclear if his cement coffin is his final end, but if it is, we’ll pour one out for him. Lala has been a favorite from the start and The CW should develop a show for Catlett.
Finally, let’s talk about Gambi (James Remar). He’s playing a dangerous game here with Lauren’s (Elena Varela) emotions. Sure, the DEGs present a clear threat to the team, but will he be able to break her heart in order to stop them? Also, will he ever forgive himself for doing so? Well, that’s assuming she isn’t playing him with the exact same methods he’s using. To complicate matters, we’re convinced their mutual attraction is for real, it just remains to be seen how much they’re using that as a weapon against one another. On second thought, maybe that makes them the perfect couple.
Unfortunately, we’ll be left with that ambiguity — and the final image of Destiny’s (Teesha Renee) new ninja — for the next few weeks. But when the series returns on April 12th, it will be the long-talked about backdoor pilot for the proposed Painkiller spinoff. Consequently, The CW produced an episode specific trailer teasing Khalil’s new situation. But will the return of the Painkiller persona ruin Anissa and Grace’s honeymoon?