SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the sixth episode of the first season of “Black Lightning,” titled “Three Sevens: The Book of Thunder.”
Black Lightning’s (Cress Williams) secret is out — at least to one person who matters a lot to the family man and superhero.
In the sixth episode of the new CW superhero drama, Jefferson Pierce aka Black Lightning came to what he thought was the aid of his ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams), only to end up fighting his own daughter Anissa (Nafessa Williams), who had finally suited up as Thunder. Her still-developing powers proved to be no match for his, but after he took her down, he revealed himself, still in his own suit.
“One of the things that Salim [Akil, series creator] and I have always believed personally is that violence has consequences, and they’re often unforeseen. So it was a way of us dramatizing that — it was a way of us dramatizing the often sad truth that people who ought to be on the same side are fighting each other,” co-executive producer and episode writer Charles Holland tells Variety. “We had a golden opportunity to do that [because] we had two characters, both very well-intentioned, both very intelligent, but misinformed. And that leads to conflict that is painful to both.”
Here, Holland talks with Variety about crafting the “turning point” episode and where the Pierce family — and the show — goes from here.
At what point was it decided that Black Lightning’s identity would be revealed to his daughter — and that her new powers would be revealed to him — this early in the show’s run?
Salim started, probably in our first meeting when we all sat down to lunch, with tent poles for the different places he wanted to be in the season. He not only came in with defined characters, he also had a pretty strong idea of the direction he wanted to take over the first season. So he always knew he wanted one of the tent poles to be that father and daughter are both motivated by trying to achieve justice, and they’re unaware of what each other’s doing, and their paths cross, they end up in a collision [and] that’s a turning point for everybody.
How did you come to the decision to have the characters fight each other first and then make the reveal?
We had already set up that the daughter is a new age activist — she marches and she even gets called in an argument “Miss Black Lives Matter” and her sister jokingly refers to her as Harriet Tubman. She is very much involved in that. But her father is, as well. Her father is a person who is committed to and has come back to the community and brought all these things to bear — his reputation, his celebrity. He transformed the school. He is a hero in a more old-school way. So we’re showing the collision between old school and new school. We were interested in dramatizing a conflict that already existed between them in terms of old-school and new-school [ways] to achieve justice. But we also wanted to dramatize what it means to fight for justice and how justiceis viewed differently if you are an African-American hero — because if you’re an African-American hero, you’re not only an immigrant, you’re an unwilling immigrant that for centuries had an illegal status and were viewed as property. Snap judgments are a really bad thing for African-Americans — from “You don’t get the job” to you get shot. So the snap judgment is how terrible things have happened, and the scene was meant to be a callback to that — to how snap judgments and implicit bias can do that. That was involved in the reveal [but] then there are questions about if you have a gift, are you required to use it for other people? We go there. But at the same time, we’ll be talking about responsibility.
What responsibility do you feel in setting up stories that the audience will think about further on their own?
What we hope will happen is that our show will spark conversations that should be had. So certain things we say explicitly, other things we say implicitly. Rather than saying explicitly, “It’s too bad that the many groups that want advancement are fighting each other” [or that] what happened in the ’80s [with] the Rainbow Coalition falling apart because communities came to blow [or] that Hispanic or Latino concerns about housing are pitted against African-American concerns about housing. We hope that people will look at that and be entertained — because we’re storytellers who hope to entertain you — but that it will resonate in their brains and they’ll be thinking and it will start conversations.
Is that where the confederate statue came in?
In this episode, Anissa has been trying to figure out how to use her powers and trying to figure out what it means and she is involved in a social activist position about “We need to do something about the confederate statue on our campus.” I will tell you I came up with that before [real life] events. It was an interesting moment because there was some sensitivity about whether we should do it, but that [sensitivity] evaporated when it actually happened. That issue has been simmering for a long, long time. It’s one of those things in society that look like pride for one person but for another, it’s a slap in the face every time they have to look at it. So in Anissa’s social justice activity vis-a-vis the statue, she did what she thought she had to, which is becoming a superhero because she couldn’t do it as a regular person. She decided to destroy the statue, but in [doing so] the reality of using great power, you have to use it with responsibility. She did that, and she was horrified by the reaction of others. People were scared, people were hurt — it was not a good thing. So right at that moment where she realizes using her powers may not be the thing to do, what do I do? I’m going to talk to my mom — and she runs into Black Lightning.
Thunder is still figuring things out when it comes to her powers, but she held her own in a lot of ways in that fight.
One of the things that is important to us is to dramatize the importance of the next generation. It’s going to turn out that her powers are actually far more impressive than his. She’s literally invulnerable and stronger than he is! So we are showing female empowerment here, but at the same time, we’re also showing that folks can be pit against each other that could be working with each other.
How does the family move forward from here, especially given how emphatic Lynn was about not wanting her husband to be a superhero and now her daughter is one, too?
In Lynn’s case, she is concerned with what’s best for the family — “What’s best for my children? What’s best for my family as a unit?” It was her belief that his superhero adventuring was not what was best for the family — that is was a selfish act on his part. However, once your child is involved in something, it changes the tenor of the conversation. I don’t want to give anything away going forward other than to say there was a reason why it became clear to both parents at the same time. It’s going to change the dynamic for the entire family.
Where does that leave Jennifer (China Anne McClain)?
“Black Lightning” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on the CW.