Last week, Black Lightning left off on a heartbreaking cliffhanger when Jennifer Pierce/Lightning (China Anne McClain) flew up into the ionosphere despite the protestations of her friends and family, only to be overpowered by the energy. In the last moments of the episode, Jennifer seemingly exploded into light. This week, "The Book of Ruin: Chapter One: Picking Up the Pieces" followed up on what was next for Jennifer, but in the process may have made a major change to the character not only in terms of the story but the cast of the show as well.
Warning: Spoilers for this week's episode of Black Lightning, "The Book of Ruin: Chapter One: Picking Up the Pieces" below.
Resolving Jennifer's predicament was the major focus of the episode, with Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (Cress Williams) risking his own life to collect Jennifer's energy and bring it back to the sanctum so that Gambi (James Remar) could attempt to transmute it back into a human body -- with an assist from a special device speeded in from STAR Labs in Central City. All throughout the process, there were concerns that Jennifer might not survive the process but Jefferson kept believing the best. However, as the process finished and it was clear that Jennifer's body had been remade, it was Jefferson's turn to think that something was a bit off and he ultimately was proven to be right. While the young woman who emerged from the chamber seemed to be Jennifer in terms of her mind, the body was very different. A completely different young woman walked out, much to a shocked Pierce family.
The change isn't just a narrative one, however. The woman who stepped out of the chamber and was identified as Jennifer Pierce was not McClain, who has played the character since the show's debut. Instead, actress Laura Kariuki stepped out in what appears to be a recasting of the Jennifer Pierce/Lightning role. We say appears to be because, at the time of this article's writing, there has been no official announcement that the role was recast, though Nafessa Williams who plays Anissa Pierce/Thunder on the series, did post on Instagram shortly after the episode aired a photo of herself with Kariuki and asked fans to welcome her to the Black Lightning family.
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If the series did recast Jennifer for the remainder of its run, this storyline is certainly a way to do so in a compelling and very comic book-like way and, in a sense, isn't a complete surprise. Last year, McClain took to social media to reveal that she would be leaving Black Lightning in its fourth and final season.
"There's something I want to tell you, and for those who haven't heard, I'm sorry," McClain said at the time. "This season of Black Lightning that we're filming right now is going to be the last season of the show. I didn't find that out until yesterday. I found out with everybody else. I didn't know. But, what I did know and have known along with the rest of the cast since before we even started shooting this season is that I am leaving the show. And was leaving the show. This was going to be my last season, regardless of if it went on or not. For different reasons, that if we're being honest, I do not want to go into. I just want y'all to trust me on it."
She added, "I didn't want to tell you until I had to. Now with this news breaking, it felt like the right time. But, I knew I was going to have to tell you at some point because I only agreed to do a certain number of episodes. I'm not in the whole season. Obviously, y'all are going to notice that, given that I've been in every episode in the past three seasons. There's been a lot to happen over this quarantine, and I'm not talking about the PC side of it. I'm not talking about that. These things are real. And the way of the world now, it's real. All of this is an illusion, this industry for what it is, and everything that people look to and praise? It's not important."
Black Lightning airs Mondays at 9/8c on The CW.