Despite A Satisfying Series Finale, Black Lightning Deserved Better
The series finale of Black Lightning aired this week, bringing an end to the saga of the Pierce Family as they’ve grown and changed over four seasons. However, thanks to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic and the, arguably, short-sighted view of the CW, that story will not reach its full possible potential.
The cast and crew, led by showrunner Samil Akil, could have filled the void in the larger “Earth-Prime” corner of the DC Multiverse left after the Arrow series finale. He could have become the experienced vigilante/superhero mentor that the Arrowverse needs. The Legends of Tomorrow and Superman & Lois, especially could use some Jefferson Pierce wisdom. However, it’s a fandom trap to fall into despair over what wasn’t, because it stops you from appreciating what is. And the series finale of Black Lightning brought the story of Freeland to a satisfying close, with an ending that was reminiscent of The Wire.
With the series fully in the rear-view, and the Painkiller spinoff likely not happening, I want to take a moment to fully appreciate what Black Lightning was. The CW DC Universe is definitely its own thing, not to be compared to the DCEU or even Titans. They are basically romantic morality plays for teenagers with hot people and superpowers. Like the comic books that inspire these shows, they can be both substantive and silly. Yet, what makes Black Lightning stand out, even above Black Panther, is that it’s the most in-depth examination of the juxtaposition of god-like superpowers and how even they aren’t enough to overcome the harsh realities of being Black in America. It’s for others to determine how effectively they did that, but that they took the big, risky swing is worthy of all geeks’ respect.
The Series Finale Gave Black Lightning His Vengeance
Image via Warner Bros. Television
Every superhero has their tragic origin story, and in this series the ageless Tobias Whale (played as a villain you love to hate by Marvin Jones III) is the engine of that tragedy. Jefferson Pierce, played by Cress Williams, witnessed Whale murder his father, an investigative reporter. Throughout the entire series, Jefferson struggled with the superheroic mantra of not killing and wanting Whale dead. In the final season of Black Lightning, Whale earned his mortal comeuppance ten times over. In the climax of the final confrontation, Jefferson begged Tobias to not fight him to death. Yet, Whale (ironically somewhat) quotes the infamous Ahab death lines from Moby Dick. In the end, Jefferson ran out of chances to give him.
The rest of the series wrapped up their storylines in, honestly, what feels like a rushed fashion. We get enough, but it definitely feels like there was more story to tell. We even get a resolution to the story of Painkiller and Khalil (played by Jordan Calloway), one that gave him a fully clean slate for his spin off. Unfortunately, the CW declined to pick up the spinoff series, but the show could find a new life at HBO Max.
The final moment of the show was like a joyous version of the infamous ending to The Wire. Jefferson “retires” from the superhero life, leaving the job of protecting Freeland (and the world) to his super-powered daughters. Jason Remar’s Gambi also retires, leaving his “Guy in the Chair” duties to Christopher Ammanuel’s TC. Even William Caslett’s Lala reemerges (literally) as the new ageless crime boss pulling the strings behind the criminal underbelly of Freeland. It’s the perfect comic book ending, closure for the audience but the strong implication the story, the cycle goes on.
Lamenting the Crossovers That Might Have Been
Image via Instagram
When Black Lightning first premiered, I questioned the decision to keep it separate from the rest of the Arrowverse. Unfortunately, practical realities kept the show from being tied to the larger universe. Black Lightning filmed in Atlanta, while the rest of the shows filmed in Vancouver. While the Crisis On Infinite Earths event corrected that, the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic prevented any crossovers from taking place. Akil told Entertainment Weekly that he planned a number of crossovers. He wanted to build on the connection Jefferson made with Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen. Since Barry was raised in a Black household, he thought they could have a lot of fun with the cultural things he’d be aware of because of that experience. He also wanted Nafessa Williams’ Thunder and Chantal Grace’s Wylde to team up with Javica Leslie’s Batwoman.
“In our minds, it seemed like the Flash and Black Lightning had really connected and we certainly wanted to have something with the Flash. …We wanted to have someone say like, ‘Hey, Barry, go put on some music,’ and Barry puts on some of the deepest soul you can find and they think, ‘Oh, maybe he’s trying to impress us.’ So fun things like that….
“We even thought about Thunder and Grace having a crossover with Batwoman…. We thought that could be interesting. At that time, we really throwing out a lot of stuff.”
Luckily, just because Black Lightning aired its series finale, that doesn’t mean the characters can’t come back. Schedules and willingness to return permitting, these crossovers can happen just on the other characters’ respective shows. Cress Williams even hinted to EW that discussions are already underway for an appearance on The Flash. Frankly, I’d like to see him appear on all of the other shows. Superman & Lois is all about raising kids with powers, and Jefferson Pierce is an expert on that. It would also be hilarious to see Black Lightning’s no-nonsense approach to problems at work in the chaotic neutral world of Legends of Tomorrow. This would give Jefferson the chance to show off some comedic talent, if only as the straight man to the antics of the rest of the Waverider crew.
So, while I hope to see these characters again, I am happy with the little we got with the Pierces. Black Lightning was a fantastic show that hit all the right beats for a CW superhero series. I think it could have gone on for more than a few seasons, but Akil and company delivered something great with what they got.
Black Lightning is available on the CW’s site and Netflix.
What do you think? Did you enjoy the series finale of Black Lightning? Share your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.
Featured image via Warner Bros. Television
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 of superhero short stories, Tales of Adventure & Fantasy: Book One is available as an ebook or paperback from Amazon.