Last week on Black Lightning, fans were left with a shocking reveal when it appeared that The CW series had recast the role of Jennifer Pierce. After essentially exploding with energy from the ionosphere, Gambi managed to "reconstruct" Jennifer, but the woman that emerged looked vastly different. This week's episode, "The Book of Ruin: Chapter Two: Theseus's Ship", revealed what actually happened to Jennifer and in doing so answered the question of whether the role had been recast.
Warning: spoilers for this week's episode of Black Lightning, "The Book of Ruin: Chapter Two: Theseus's Ship", below.
The woman who emerged from the pod in Gambi's sanctum really was Jennifer Pierce. Completely shaken by how different this young woman's appearance was, Gambi ran some tests to confirm that the DNA was a 100 percent match to Jennifer Pierce (as played by China Anne McClain) and Lynn (Christine Adams) was able to explain why this new Jennifer (played by Laura Kariuki) looked so different. Jennifer's original appearance was only one possible expression of the information in her DNA. Her new appearance was essentially the same DNA, just expressing itself differently. Other than her appearance, she was still Jennifer in every way.
This was a hard pill for some to swallow. Jennifer herself struggled initially to deal with this sudden change, though a pep talk from Grace (Chantal Thuy) helped a great deal. Jefferson (Cress Williams) in particular struggled with the change. He rejected the idea that this was Jennifer at all for a bit before ultimately coming around -- and even teamed up with her when Lightning 2.0 arrived to help him deal with police brutality in Freeland.
By establishing this new version of Jennifer as being the real deal, the series essentially offered a narrative reason for why Jennifer is now portrayed by Kariuki. McClain had announced ahead of the series' Season 4 premiere that she would be departing the series and that she would only appear in a certain number of episodes and not the entirety of the fourth (and now 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."
With Kariuki now playing Jennifer -- or JJ as she was nicknamed in the episode -- it also opens the door for Jennifer/Lightning to continue and appear in the Painkiller spinoff should it go to series, something that showrunner Salim Akil previously teased.
"We're shooting the Painkiller pilot now," Akil said. "We fully intend for it to be a spinoff. I know that if Painkiller gets picked up, you'll probably see [the Pierce sisters] in there."
Black Lightning airs Mondays at 9/8c on The CW.
What do you think of how Black Lightning handled the Jennifer situation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.