The CW Shorts Out Black Lightning

After last week’s late DuckTales deep dive, we’ve arrived at the end of Black Lightning. The advertisement logo still looks cooler than the one on the title card. The CW continued to do as little promotion for its final season as possible, unlike Supergirl. It’s hyped up the mid-season return of Superman & Lois much more than this series finale. It took until the penultimate episode to get a next episode promo! Don’t be shocked to read SPOILERS & groan-worthy electricity puns throughout.

The Pierce family felt united at the end of season three, but now they’re just self-righteous at each other. While there’s no time limit on grief, Jeff wallowing in Bill Henderson’s death hinders the series momentum. We spend a lot of time getting the family back in synch rather than the family confronting forces more powerful than them combined. While season three might’ve had too much going on, this felt like it didn’t have enough. Some viewers may appreciate a back to basics approach, but it didn’t have a dynamic hook to balance the lowered ambitions.

Jeff & Lynn don’t live long enough to see themselves become villains like the season premiere teased. This is a testament to them having a better therapist than Bucky Barnes. (Is it unethical for the same unnamed psychiatrist to treat them both if they’re unaware?) This allows the series to end on a positive note, although fans of tragic hero arcs may feel cheated.

I expected to witness the inception of Pierce’s School For Gifted Youngsters this season. It’d be a great way for Jeff to combine his passion for education with superheroics. He’d still be making a difference in Freeland by teaching its metahumans to use their powers safely. He might not have to worry as much  about making excuses for his alter ego either. It doesn’t manifest. What happened to Geo-Force, Atomic Knight, & the other Outsiders?   

Did The CW nix Outsider Academy because Legacies already covers a similar concept? The DOD on Superman & Lois, however, has its own metahuman school. Were the shows instructed not to overlap on this despite its potential to strengthen its shared universe? Or did the writers just decide following up on this status quo changing tease was too hard? Even if you prefer Principal Pierce in a normal high school setting, Garfield gets short shrifted.

As soon as Grace awakens from her coma, Anissa marries her. Once they’re together again, they don’t feel like a simpatico couple. When we see them together they’re mostly disagreeing with each other. Their honeymoon gets hijacked by Painkiller shenanigans to set up a spinoff. Grace now morphs into a Blackbird-esque outfit called Wylde to do crimefighting.

This dusts off the tired “protagonist joins fight club” trope. (Remember when this was a novel TV gimmick?) It works out better than expected because it results in Jefferson helping a teacher who became homeless after the Markovian invasion. (Grunkle Gravedigger is still at large.) I also like seeing how Lativius respects Mr. Pierce. (Did Devonte get a secret superpower from green light?)

Tobias Whale offers to fund Lynn’s genetics clinic for nefarious ulterior motives. Lynn accepts as a means of keeping tabs on him. Except she doesn’t. Whale is able to corrupt her research & destroy the Pierce family. They know Albino Kingpin is responsible for most of Freeland’s woes yet drag their feet moving against him. Tobias even gave Jeff a heads up about how he’d be ruining his life & legacy at the season’s start. (Krondon plays smug evil so well.) They didn’t even have an assortment of villains of the week to distract them. (Where’s Steel-Fist Feeny when you need someone just to be laid out by a single punch?) At least Lightning is more proactive about defending her public image.

It took five episodes to get Jeff back into the Black Lightning suit. (That’s sadly a more impressive pace than Legends Of Tomorrow.) He got the Flash to drop off a super-science doohickey to reassemble Jen’s particles after she exploded in the ionosphere. Now she’s a different actress. (See, you don’t need to drag out a fake death for half a season before recasting, Batwoman!) I appreciate they went full scifi to resolve this issue. Laura Kariuki does a great job mimicking China Anne McClain, whom decided to depart before learning it’d be the final season. Reconstituted Jen poses as her cousin, JJ, in public.

The Kobra Cartel is boring. Nobody wears serpent regalia. Lady Eve’s underboss Destiny has taken control. It’s unclear whether she did so at the behest of a Lady Eve while she’s recuperating or if Lady Eve really died. If she did die, her resurrection was even more pointless than Fish Mooney’s. (Major Sara Grey didn’t return as a werewolf either.)

RIP the mayor of Freeland’s absurd hair. Red assassinates him with a bullet sans rifle. Tobias’s new flunkie looks like Gotham’s Zsasz but without any of his goofy charm & flips a coin like Two-Face. He has magnetic powers but isn’t Dr. Polaris. Whale’s lawyer, Val Seong, has power-negating powers. Tobias Whale becomes the new mayor by playing the pathetic pinheads of Freeland like a harp from Hell!

Promethium is introduced as an energy source rather than an adamantium equivalent. Perhaps it’s supposed to be the real element rather than the fictional metal? Apparently the destruction of the ASA forecefield around Freeland terraformed the minerals below the city? Gambi uses it to make new supersuits shielded from DEGs, which are apparently unrelated to Kilovolt’s energy rifle in Batwoman. Anissa’s costume, activated by snapping her fingers at high density, in particular is a fashion upgrade. She gets it just in time to lose her powers! Seriously?

LaLa makes a speech about how he’s going to turn the tables on his rival, then waits half an hour in an obvious trap for police to light him up. Destiny calls in Ishmael the urban ninja to take him out. This reminds me of when Tobias Church called in another swordswinger but more satisfying. Instead of decapitating Latavius, this immortal is frozen in ghetto carbonite concrete.

Ishmael says he needs to kill 100 people to get into The League Of Assassins. Did nobody tell him Speedy & the al Ghul sisters dismantled it? Also they just inducted anybody who showed up at Nanda Parbat. His urban camo hoodie looks cheap, but he’s much more competent than expected. So I guess he’s the Beard Hunter of the series. His squinty  eye makes him look much like The Weird. Apparently he’s the only rookie based on a canon character, which puts this ahead of LOT season six so far. (There’s another Ishmael who seems less likely an inspiration.) With his name, shouldn’t Ishmael be hunting the albino Whale?


I’m gonna tell my younglings this was Bib Fortuna, Jabba the Hutt, Han Solo, & Boba Fett.

Rather than a comedic aside, episode six has one of the most disturbing fourth wall breaks. A no-knock warrant leads to careless cops shooting an innocent couple. The narrative is immediately interrupted with a documentary montage about the murder of Breonna Taylor. Not only is there a fictional tragedy, but you see the high profile real world tragedy that clearly inspired it. This show is already on the more dour side of escapism, & this sequence adds a dose of nonfiction suffering on top. Then time rewinds as we see that Black Lightning actually saved the couple. Time travel isn’t a new power Jeff develops like memory erasure. Both the montage & rewind are jarring in how they break immersion.

James Remar sort of has a monotone but it’s not unpleasant. Even when he’s supposed to be angry his voice is calm & soothing. Gambi gaslights an old flame into a relationship so he can sabotage Directed Energy Guns from the inside. It’s as effective as it is unethical. In case you had any favorites, I guess this season is devoted to making them all terrible. I really wanted to hear his explanation for seducing her to steal promethium from work that made her not shoot him.

Jordan Calloway’s name is in the credits for each episode despite not appearing until the seventh for his Painkiller backdoor pilot. (Cress Williams sits this one out just like Stephen Amell did the backdoor pilot on Arrow.) I was not expecting it to feature discount Guardians Of Ga’hoole & Ghost In The Shell. Grace & Anissa’s honeymoon to the CGI environs of Akashic Valley, Las Vegas with Wakanda flavor, felt like  late 90’s/early 00’s syndicated throwback. The new growly modulated Painkiller voice is bad. This did not convince me Khalil needs his own show. He can add flavor as a supporting character but isn’t automatically compelling by himself. His new sidekicks aren’t interesting either. It didn’t get picked up anyway. He is claustrophobic in the world’s biggest air ducts. 

Whale has Jefferson framed for embezzling from Garfield High & Lynn for medical human rights violations using Looker to mind control witnesses. (Lynn being processed may be triggering.) He somehow combines the wireless power emitter made by Gambi’s girlfriend with Val’s nullifying meta-gene in his sister’s crypt to simultaneously depower the entire Pierce family in a great cliffhanger. Those don’t seem like they can be easily combined into something so useful. It’d be like pouring ice on a WiFi router to give everyone on the network chilblains. Luckily Gambi installed a bubble in Lightning’s upgraded suit to keep her from going splat. Whales uses Lynn’s research to extract meta-genes from unborn babies which he repackages as meta-boosters.

TC is best boy. Christopher A’mannuel is quite endearing as a techie who doesn’t rely on a constant stream of pop culture references. Despite crushing on JJ, he still arranges a date for her with a rival. Then her date is immediately killed by Red. Well played, TC!

In the spirit of Barry Allen, JJ electrocutes herself to reboot her powers. Grace doesn’t want her powers back, much to Anissa’s chagrin. Jefferson is ungrateful that Anissa is paying Lynn’s college sweetheart is heading her legal defense. Lightning brings Red to justice, whereas Painkiller takes care of Looker (It’s still puzzling that this racist supervillainess has almost nothing in common with her heroic counterpart.) & Ishamael. Painkiller vs. Ishmael is cool because the former won by poisoning the other’s sword hilt.

Lady Eve’s Shadow Board recruits Tobias with a blue hologram box. What do they actually do? We never find out, so they’re a wasted callback.

Chief Lopez suddenly gets a tragic backstory in the penultimate episode? She is virtually identical to The Flash’s Kristen Kramer except her actress resembles Kamala Harris. Mayor Whale tells her to arm the anti-metahuman taskforce with meta-boosters & anti-inhibitor bracelets so they can take down Lightning. She delegates this Detective Shakur, whom thinks this is a bad idea. I expected Shakur to give the anti-inhibitor bracelets to Jefferson since he’d been looped in to his secret identity, but he doesn’t.

In the penultimate episode, Jeff & Gambi plan to wipe Tobias’s mind of the Pierces’ secret identities with a doohickey. Depowered Jefferson insists on not having back up for this confrontation in his father’s house. Since Whale still has his superstrength, this does not go swimmingly. Tobias apparently beats Jefferson to death just like he did his dad. The CW finally adds a trailer to the end to spoil that Black Lightning does survive into his series finale.

JJ flies back to the ionosphere to get charged up for her showdown with Tobias. The remaining energy particles follow her back down as Jen. It turns out that JJ was actually an energy alien that had stolen Jen’s DNA & memories. WHAT? The series finale is not the time to be dropping retcons like that! So Jen is Jean Grey whereas JJ is The Phoenix Force. The original wins the battle of the double Lightnings. I figured China Anne McClain would return for the finale, but I was expecting her latest recharge would just reset her original form. (Laura Kariuki had such a thankless task, especially since McClain’s more rabid fans were enraged at getting a substitute.)

Chief Lopez goes loca & takes a power-absorbing meta-booster so she can defeat Lightning personally. She maniacally drains the city’s power grid. Shakur tries to talk her down, but Lightning 1.0 makes short work of her.

Gambi, Grace, & Anissa destroy the emitter in Tobias’s compound, which is easier done than said. Like much of the finale’s action, it felt perfunctory. Thunder finally gets to wear her spiffy purple suit for one battle!

Instead of killing Jeff outright, Tobias buries him alive. He wastes a lot of oxygen screaming. He has a flashback to Gambi helping him develop a code, which gave me Dexter flashbacks. (There are no flashbacks to Jefferson’s original  costume briefly glimpsed in season one.) Once the emitter is exploded, Jeff realizes he can recharge himself via the promethium under Freeland & explosively rises from the grave!

Despite the family theme, the Pierces don’t need to be a unified force to finally vanquish their Big Bad. Black Lightning prevents Tobias from defenestrating him by hoisting him on his own petard. Tobias gets impaled on conveniently placed spike beneath his window & begins desiccating. Whale uses his final breaths to quote Khan Noonien Singh Captain Ahab while trying to shoot Jeff. His famous last words are on brand yet not racist! So much of the series stressed how important it was not to sink to Whale’s level by murdering him, yet that’s how the Whale problem was ultimately resolved. Seems like a whole lot of grief could’ve been avoided had it happened sooner.

There is shockingly no follow-up to the impaled mummy mayor. The FBI hadn’t even finished collecting Looker’s testimony against him yet! The death of one mayor is a tragedy, but losing two is Gotham City-level carelessness. Also Latavius broke out of his concrete prison in the final scene.

Lynn & Jefferson decide to get remarried. Black Lightning & Gambi decide to retire again. They’re leaving Freeland’s safety in the hands of Thunder, Wylde, TC, & Lightning. TC disables the kill code in Khalil’s head by erasing his memories of the Pierces. I can’t begrudge them getting happy endings, but concluding the series on LaLa  was a strange choice. There is no mention of a school for metahumans, another mayor, or Freeland’s economy booming from mining promethium. Maybe they could’ve included some of that if they hadn’t devoted so much time to the doppelgänger battle.

Much like The 100’s swanswong, this series finale wasn’t necessarily bad just underwhelming. “The Book Of Resurrection: Chapter Two: Closure” fit in three resurrections. It also had a lot of random sci-fi  elements that weren’t set-up. That may work in the free-wheeling Doom Patrol or LOT, but they’re jolting in this more grounded series. New story possibilities were ignored in favor of glorified rehashes. As great a villain as Tobias Whale was, killing him wasn’t the most innovative of defeats. On the plus side, all the major heroes survived. One silver lining could be that this cancellation makes the cast, whom filmed the series in Atlanta, more available to guest star in other Beeboverse shows made in Vancouver.

The final season of Black Lightning fizzled out. It’s not bad per se, but it doesn’t rise to electrifying heights either. While losing one of its stars was a hurdle, it didn’t seem like there were other external circumstances preventing it from being a blowout final season. Considering how haphazard DC Comics handled Black Lightning, it’s commendable that it had four seasons of mostly consistent quality. (He’d probably still be in obscurity if it wasn’t for the success of Static Shock!, which the was inspired by Black Lightning in the first place.) While it’s fishy that other CW shows seem to run indefinitely, at least this didn’t completely blow a fuse by being stretched out too long. (Maybe some fresh writers could’ve averted that though?)  I wanted more oomph before The CW turned the lights out.

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