Black Lightning Season 4 Premiere Dives Into The Trauma Of A Hero On The Brink
The season 4 premiere of Black Lightning begins with a harrow scene that perfectly defines the conflict Cress Williams’ Jefferson Pierce feels in this last chapter of his story. Yet, like all great comic book stories, it also serves as a reflection of our real world right now. Processing the loss of a loved one who never should have died, the weight of the world’s distrust and inequity becomes too much to bear.
Black and brown people all over the world are feeling just as he is in this scene. People who’ve lost loved ones and livelihoods due to the COVID-19 pandemic understand it, too. Even those lucky enough to not sympathize with such trauma can begin to empathize, because the story and performance are moving on their own. It’s a damn shame this is the final season of Black Lightning, but they are going out at the top of their game.
Well get into the content of the scene below, but in a “big picture” sense, the season premiere of Black Lightning really does feel final. In comic stories, which are almost always serial in perpetuity, Since we know this story will end at the culmination of this season, Salim Akil and the rest of the storytellers can make things get real bad for our heroes. As per usual, James Remar’s Gambi gives voice to the purpose of both the character and the show Black Lightning. These characters will be laid low this year, and it will be glorious to see when they pull themselves back up.
Spoilers for the season 4 premiere of Black Lightning to follow
We Are Watching Jefferson Pierce Slowly Fall Apart
Image via the CW
The above opening scene of the show focuses heavily on the loss of Bill Henderson, played by Damon Gupton. Last season, Black Lightning and company went to war. Henderson fell while fighting it, but his sacrifice helped ensure their victory. A year later, Jefferson still feels the loss of his “brother,” and the person he blames is Black Lightning. So, when he encounters police officers brutalizing a young man for no reason other than he’s black. When Jefferson, a respected member of the community tries to intervene, they pull their guns on him. In a particularly reckless moment, Jefferson unleashes on them. For those of us who are especially tired of bad cops getting away with murder, it’s a cathartic moment. Yet, it’s the beginning of the end for Jefferson Pierce and Black Lightning.
The main thrust of this episode is that Jefferson has essentially given up on his family. He is no longer interested in working things out with his wife nor interested in coaching his daughters in their careers as powered heroes. Yes, much of this is his disaffection with his choice to put on a suit. But it’s more than that. On a network full of superhero stories, Black Lightning stands alone. He is a hero who saved the world and the multiverse, but he can’t protect his family from the color of their skin.
That’s why the episode begins the way it does. The guilt Jefferson feels at Henderson’s loss is something every superhero deals with. Yet, even if he single-handedly arrested every criminal in Freeland, the first look he and his family will get from police is one of suspicion. The threats to his family’s safety come from all directions.
Black Lightning Is Not the Hero of the Season 4 Premiere
Image via the CW
China Anne McClain’s Jennifer and Nafessa Williams’ Anissa stepped into their father’s super-boots as Lightning and Thunder, respectively. We don’t get much time with those characters, as this episode focus mostly on Jefferson. However, what we do see of them shows that Jefferson’s little girls have grown up. They are dealing with their own losses, defending the city, and, in Jennifer’s case, still having fun with their powers. It’s especially satisfying seeing Jennifer flexing her super-heroic muscles and enjoying her abilities. Yes, the show ends with her falling out of the sky after her powers malfunction. However, for most of this episode, she’s almost realizing her full potential as the most powerful member of the Pierce family.
Last fall, McClain released an emotional 13-minute video revealing that she wanted to leave the show even if this wasn’t the last season. She expressed disillusionment with the industry, calling it “not important” in light of the pandemic and real-world issues. However, the work this talented young woman did on this show was very important. Her story in particular is a powerful metaphor for how the world treats young women, especially young women of color.
In the show, Jennifer has these incredible powers. Her family wants to protect her from them, but also protect the world from the damage they could do. In trying to keep her caged, they end up causing the very sort of trouble they hoped to avoid. Yet, Jennifer is able to become Lightning, a scarily powerful hero, nonetheless. This is a story, I think, every young person can relate to in some way. In a series full of great stories, the kids that grow up loving this show will grow up loving Jennifer.
Wrapping Up the Stories In Freeland, and Some Brand-New Trouble
Image via the CW
While the biggest enemy to Black Lightning in the season 4 premiere is himself, there are still villains afoot in Freeland. Marvin Jones III’s Tobias Whale is back yet again, but this time he’s bamboozled Freeland into thinking he is its savior. He continues to haunt Christine Adams’ Dr. Lynn Stewart, who is conducting metahuman experiments on herself in secret. Melissa De Sousa steps into Henderson’s shows as the new Chief of Police Ana Lopez, and she wants to hunt down and identify every metahuman in Freeland. Wallace Smith also joins the cast as Detective Hasan Shakur, the opposite of Henderson in that he’s gunning for Jefferson Pierce yet very sympathetic to Black Lightning. Also, a company called Monovista Internationl is coming into Freeland to exploit its citizens after the war.
Yet, the two big villains missing from this first episode are its most interesting. Jill Scott’s Lady Eve and Wayne Brady’s Gravedigger are two near-immortals and post the greatest threat to, well, everyone. One can only imagine these heavy-hitters are being held back until the end run of the series. Likely all of the villains’ stories will converge, but at this point it’s not readily clear how. Whatever they end up doing, however, will surely involve Lightning, Thunder, and a fully suited-up Black Lightning. Still, the villains take the backseat in this episode to the inner demons of the Pierce family. And these demons are not villains they can knock out or lock up.
Black Lightning airs on Monday nights on the CW.
What did you think of the season 4 premiere of Black Lightning? Where do you think this story is taking us in the final season?
Featured image via the CW
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.