The second season of The CW’s impactful superhero series, Black Lightning is well underway. This season, the women who have stood behind, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) as he reluctantly resumed his role as the vigilante, Black Lightning, are about to be front and center. During Season 1, the audience watched as Jefferson’s ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams) voiced her concern and disdain about Jeff putting his superhero suit back on. Now, Lynn is ready to take matters into her own hands, using her own superpowers – her role as a doctor and scientist—to save the children of Freeland who have succumbed to the volatile Green Light drug.
Jeff and Lynn’s daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) are also finding their footing as superheroes in their own right. During Black Lightning’s inaugural season we watched the young women grapple with the knowledge of their father’s true identity, as well as the revelation of their own powers. While Anissa is keen to work alongside her father as the superhero Thunder, Jennifer is uncomfortable with her new abilities and her inability to control them.
Reluctant as they may have been, as Salim Akil, Black Lightning’s creator/showrunner, told Shadow and Act, the women of Black Lightning will spend season 2 following in Jeff’s footsteps and coming into their own.
Shadow and Act recently traveled to Decatur, Georgia, where Black Lightning is filmed to speak with Christine Adams, Nafessa Williams, and China Anne McClain about Season 2 and why their characters will be the focal points as we move forward.
“I think I’ve been so lucky to play this kind of character in this kind of show,” Adams said of Lynn, who is the only person in the Pierce household without superhuman abilities. “There was always the discussion of her not having superpowers –how that feels, and how she would navigate this chapter. Lynn has evolved. She’s a protective mother, that’s always first and foremost. But also at the end of season one, she killed someone. There’s no going back from that,” she said. “In season two, she goes on this unbelievable journey, which is not just about the family but it’s about her as a doctor, as a mother, a woman, and a wife. Killing someone has tapped into something very primal to Lynn.”
Adams is exhilarated to see that Lynn will be breaking out of the mold of “wife/mother,” a position that women are often boxed into on television. “I’ve always said, all of our characters are three-dimensional,” the British actress explained. “I think everyone’s journeys are interesting. While Lynn serves the purpose of being the caretaker, she is so much more. That’s a credit to Salim because he unpacked where we could take her and what is she capable of. She’s pretty much capable of anything. I think that’s an interesting twist.”
Determined to help the child victims of the Green Light drug from thirty years ago and the present, Lynn thrusts herself headfirst into a world that has been typically reserved for Jeff and his mentor, Gambi (James Remar). “It’s a very interesting arc,” Adams revealed. “Lynn hates the fact that she’s become so emotionally invested as a scientist. She’s getting in her own way because of her emotions. It’s gonna be tough and it’s not going to be a good outcome necessarily. This is a real case of what happens when you’ve always been able to fix stuff, and you can’t do it. This is what she’s facing. Lynn is accomplished, smart, and she’s been able to think through things, solve the problems — all of that is just out the window. She doesn’t know how to help [Jennifer] control her powers. She doesn’t know what to do with her older daughter,” she said. “It’s really coming at her at a very high speed, and she will struggle immensely to deal with it all.”
With the Green Light babies, there is more at stake for Lynn then she ever anticipated. Finding a way to help them will also impact her family’s future. “There’s a real sense of, ‘this could be a witch hunt,'” Adams explained. “‘My children could be identified as subhuman, dangerous to society, and there would be nothing I could do about it. If the government decides that all metahumans must be rounded up and put on an island, what can I do? How the hell am I going to keep these girls safe?’ The honest answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ There’s obviously loads of parallels between what’s going on with opioids today and the Green Light babies,” she said.
While her parents seem intent on keeping secrets and trying to help the people of Freeland from behind the scenes, Williams’ Anissa–the eldest daughter of Jefferson and Lynn–has embraced her badass alter ego, Thunder, full-throttle. “Jennifer’s matured, for sure,” Williams emphasized as she sat down to chat. “She’s a better superhero and, she’s a smarter superhero. She knows exactly what she wants, which is to save her community and walk in her purpose. She’s doing that — there’s no question about that,” Williams said.
“However, she’s taking some risks. Anissa truly believes that her abilities are a gift, so she’s just trying to get her sister on board,” she said. “This season, I think [Anissa’s] meant to learn is to balance it all, to not to be so caught up in just the superhero world and remember that she needs to have a life. She needs to find balance.”
Jefferson and Lynn have hesitantly stepped aside to let their daughter embrace her alter-ego, Thunder. However, Anissa’s decision-making during Season 2 will undoubtedly cause some tension in the Pierce household. “I think Anissa is an activist at the core,” Williams said. “She’s a fighter; she always wants to fight for social injustices and fight for her people. She’s thinking, ‘Now I can use my activism through being a superhero. Although I’m not in the streets marching, I’m still doing my part as an activist.’ The politicians in Freeland, they’re not getting it done. So she’s like, ‘By any means necessary, I’m gonna take care of this. I’m the strongest; I can get it done,'” said Williams.
Though Jennifer and Anissa’s relationship has been one of the core themes of the series stemming from Season 1, as the sisters grapple with their new abilities and new outside influences, Black Lightning fans might be surprised to see how their relationship shifts and transforms. “I think like any older sister, Anissa’s very overprotective,” Williams revealed. “She can see things coming. I think Anissa’s just really overprotective and just really wants to guide Jennifer as best she can. However, Jennifer is hot-headed, and she’s gonna do what she wants to do.”
While her older sister seems to delight in her new role as a superhero, Jennifer is horrified by the idea of her powers and being “othered” by society. Since she’s still trying to come to terms with what her newfound abilities mean, Jefferson and Lynn are focusing on their youngest daughter’s mental health with the help of Perenna (Erika Alexander), a therapist with telepathic abilities.”
“I really like the storyline and the fact that they are handling Jennifer’s powers from the inside,” McClain said. “They really dove in and worked on parts of her mind to make sure that she was level on the inside so that she would be able to control her powers. Jen has some pretty powerful abilities. At the beginning of Season 2, she is really upset because she went from having all of this freedom —she would go out with friends and go hang out with her boyfriend and stuff, and now she can’t do any of that. Jefferson doesn’t even want her at school.”
While Jennifer might be struggling when it comes to connecting with her family, there is one surprising person she might find a connection with. Kahlil (Jordan Calloway), Jennifer’s ex-boyfriend who was remade into the villainous Pain Killer by 100 gang leader, Tobias Whale ( Marvin Jones III) has been trying to find a way into the 16-year-old’s world once again. “A lot of stuff happens between Jennifer and Khalil,” McClain said coyly. “They have a very interesting relationship. I’m trying not to say too much, but, they were friends before they started dating. She cares a lot about him as a person. She wants him to be okay. She wants him to be safe. Obviously, he’s the opposite of that because he’s with Tobias, but she cares a lot about him, and you’re going to see that in her decision making when it comes to later episodes in the season. Right now, Jennifer is dealing with herself. She’s like, ‘I don’t have time for this. I can’t deal with anybody else. I am already dealing with a lot on my own.’ I just want Jennifer to learn how to be okay with herself before she tries to focus on anyone else.”
The strain from her newfound powers doesn’t just force Jennifer to distance herself from her family, but also from her friends—specifically her best friend Kiesha (Kyanna Simone Simpson) “It strains her relationship with everybody who doesn’t know what she’s going through,” McClain said. “There’s just a really big disconnect with Kiesha, and in true friendships and in a sisterhood like that, part of it is being able to tell them things. But Jennifer feels like, Kiesha might run away and never come back, she doesn’t want that.”
Still, don’t expect things to end bleakly for Jennifer as the second season of Black Lightning progresses. According to McClain, buried deep down inside, the outgoing scholar-athlete knows that her powers might be her destiny. “Part of her feels like she should step up, but that’s also why she’s still mad that she has powers,” the actress explained. “She’s like, ‘I shouldn’t feel like this. I shouldn’t feel forced to step up because my sister has fully accepted it. I’m 16; everybody leave me alone.’ However, I definitely think that part of her feels a responsibility to step up, put a suit on, and get her butt out there and help. And she will eventually.”
As the Pierce women deal with their individual circumstances and choices, they will also deal with specific trials and tribulations together. “We’re dealing with the consequences of our decisions from Season 1,” Williams articulated. “That means that we aren’t operating the same as we were. We’ve got to make some changes within our family and within our professional lives. You guys will have to tune in to see exactly how that unfolds.”
Black Lightning airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or tweet her @wordwitharamide