After 4 seasons, the CW show Black Lightning (based on the comic book hero of the same name) has come to an end. While it didn’t last as long as other entries in the popular Arrowverse, it was a well received addition overall and despite the drop in viewing figures, it will be greatly missed.
The show tells the story of Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), a high school principal in the city of Freeland, who has retired from his secret life as vigilante Black Lightning. Between his day job and also being a loving father for his two daughters, Jennifer and Anissa (China Anne Mccain and Nafessa Williams), he is very content with his life. There is even a hint at a reunion between himself and his estranged wife, Lynn Stewart (Christine Adams). However, the peaceful life that Jefferson has cultivated for himself and his family is thrown in jeopardy as ‘The 100’ gang terrorise the citizens of Freeland. Reluctantly, Jefferson finds himself back in his costume, with the aid of his longtime father-figure and mentor, Peter Gambi (James Remar). As the show progresses, he finds himself going up against crooks, foreign armies, shady government agencies and the notorious gangster who took his father’s life, Tobias Whale (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III). In the backdrop of all these conflicts, the show deals with themes such as family relationships, socioeconomics and systemic racism.
One of the many reasons why Black Lightning has gained a foothold with its audience is the focus on an African-American superhero family. It comes as no surprise that people enjoy seeing more diversity in the shows that they watch, and if the successes of the Black Panther movie and the Luke Cage Netflix show are any indication, black oriented stories are in demand within the superhero genre. While Jefferson and Lynn are separated at the beginning of the show, they still maintain an amicable, even loving relationship. They also put aside any differences that they have when it comes to raising their daughters. When the daughters begin developing superpowers of their own, the dynamic of the show changes and the family aspect becomes more important than ever. Jefferson must pass on his knowledge of the trials and tribulations of being a superhero, whilst also maintaining his authority over two super powered and highly independent daughters.
The fictional city of Freeland, where Black Lightning is based in, has a population that is predominantly African-American. This denomination represents the majority in almost every aspect of the city’s infrastructure, whether it is in law enforcement, education, healthcare, politics and even criminal activity. The show does a good job in demonstrating the varied lives that black people can lead, as opposed to the clichés that have been shown on TV for far too long. Another aspect in which the show excels in is its use of hip hop and RnB music, adding in another layer of cultural authenticity.
However, the argument can be made that its handling of representation and racial issues often serves as one of its flaws. Throughout the show, Jefferson has felt the brunt of systemic racism within the police force. While this is a real world issue that merits discussion, its appearance within the show often feels artificial. As I mentioned earlier, the majority of the Freeland Police Force are African-Americans, including the Chief of Police for the first 3 seasons, Bill Henderson (Damon Gupton), who was also Jefferson’s friend. With this fact in mind, it seems highly unlikely that systemic racism would be allowed to exist at all, given how outnumbered the racist police officers would be. It would be believable that some of the white police officers harbour racist views but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that they would be so brazen about it, given the lack of systemic support they would receive in a predominantly African-American city. At the end of the day, it all comes down to a balancing act. There is no problem with highlighting these issues as long they don’t take priority over the story.
Black Lightning does a good job of balancing this for the most part, but given how rare it is to see a show about a super powered African-American family, it would be nice to focus a bit more on the positives than the negatives. This could also be applied to other areas of the show as well. While showing the ups and downs of family life is important to developing well rounded characters, I think that there was a bit too much discord at times. Jefferson and Lynn remain close despite their separation but some of their arguments seem far too trivial, given their intensity. A big part of Jefferson’s character arc was the fact that he initially gave up being a superhero as per Lynn’s request before their separation. Then, as events begin to unfold, he decides to step back into the superhero game but displays reservations about his daughters joining him. He then briefly steps down as he deals with grief between the end of Season 3 and the beginning of Season 4. Throughout all these stages of his life, Lynn seems to have problems with the decisions that he makes. She seemingly changes her mind at the drop of her hat regarding how she feels about Jefferson being a superhero. Granted, she is allowed to have complex feelings regarding this issue, but it almost paints Jefferson in a negative light when in reality, he can’t win no matter what he does.
When all is said and done, I can gladly accept these flaws as I know that they are balanced with the cool action scenes, good storylines and amazing performances. In particular, Tobias Whale and Lala (William Catlett) continue the trend of comic book villains stealing the show with their charisma. It’s a shame that the CW Network has decided not to pick up the spinoff, Painkiller, which revolves around the character of the same name (played by Jordan Calloway). His character evolution was quite interesting to watch and there was definitely a demand by the fans to see it continue. However, I am glad to see that Black Lightning ended before it dropped in quality. It is sure to be fondly remembered!