Farewell, Black Lightning
Daredevil’s final season had a fair number of things going for it, but was weighed down by the main plotline. Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk set out to retake his place in the upper echelons of New York society while destroying his nemesis, Matt Murdock, and all he held dear. And no matter what Matt and allies tried to do, none of it worked, because Fisk was always five steps ahead of them. Fisk was utterly unstoppable for twelve and a half episodes then very suddenly wasn’t because the season was over and it was time to wrap things up. And it was such a drag. Fisk being all knowing and all powerful made him less interesting as a character, Team Daredevil going twelve hour-long episodes without a single win got old and hard to slog through.
So imagine my disappointment when I found myself living through it again.
At the end of season three, the Pierce family (Jefferson/Black Lightning, Lynn, and daughters Anissa/Thunder and Jen/Lightning) seemed to be at their zenith. They had not only repelled an invasion by the armies of Markovia, they’d also brought down the corrupt American Security Agency. After three years of mounting danger, they’d finally brought peace to Freeland and safety to its population of chemically-induced metahumans, exposing the ASA’s history of experimenting on Freeland’s black community. Also Black Lightning was in the proto-Justice League but that won’t come up and doesn’t really matter.
So imagine my disappointment when season four kicks off and everyone’s a mess.
Jefferson’s given up being Black Lightning, filled with grief, rage, and remorse over the death of his ally and best friend Inspector Henderson during the fight with Markovia. He’s beating up gang members for crossing lines but not wearing the suit… which is what keeps his powers from hurting him. Lynn has kicked her drug addiction, but is now hooked on juicing herself with meta-powers in the name of watching over her daughters. Meaning her and Jefferson are having the same argument they’d had for three seasons but had switched sides? Anissa spends most of her time waiting for her shapeshifter fiancée Grace to wake from a coma but otherwise is the only one keeping it together, still juggling two costumed identities as both people’s hero Thunder and Robin Hood-esque outlaw Blackbird. And Jen… Jen still can’t pick a good decision out of a lineup, develops her own addiction, and thus screws up so hard she gets recast for most of the season, long story.
Plus the new chief of the Freeland PD, which is just as racist and violent as most US police forces, has decided to target metas, including if not especially Lightning. And nemesis Tobias Whale… well you know what he’s doing, I opened this page with that. He’s doing the worst part of the third season of Daredevil, only the heroes are too busy self-destructing to hit back for like six episodes.
So let me just take a moment to explain how the fourth season leaned too hard into some of this show’s weaknesses. Because I loved Black Lightning when it started, and wanted more from the final season, but they leaned too hard into the parts that never worked.
Why can’t Black Lightning be Black Lightning. This show has always savagely overestimated how much I want to see Jefferson Pierce not be Black Lightning. Whether he’s being gradually pulled out of retirement (season one), prisoner of the ASA (season three), or just sulking in his tent like Achilles for half the goddamn season (season four), it comes down to the same thing: I don’t watch Flash to see Barry Allen not be fast, and I don’t watch Black Lightning to see Jefferson Pierce refuse to be Black Lightning. As to why he isn’t doing it this year…
They fail to sell key relationships. For three years, the core of Jennifer Pierce’s arc was her starcrossed love for Khalil, known as Painkiller after he became a powered goon for Tobias and then a mentally programmed assassin for the ASA. I don’t know if it was the writing or the actress’ kind of bored performance in her scenes with Khalil, but I never bought them as true love. Painkiller’s only in the back half of this season, not turning up until the backdoor pilot for his spinoff that didn’t get picked up (those episode are always the worst), but in place of that… star Cress Williams is selling the living crap over losing his best friend in Inspector Henderson, but I’m not sure the show sold that relationship until it was over. Jefferson says he lost his best friend and I thought “Really? Him? Since when?” But back to Jennifer…
Jennifer Pierce is the worst. Jennifer Pierce habitually sprints towards the worst choice available, then pitches fits that her family doesn’t trust her judgement or keeps secrets from her. Last season she was enraged no one told her Khalil was alive but a partially brainwashed assassin, and I wanted so badly for someone to say “He’s dangerous and you’ve never once made a good decision where he’s concerned.”
No one told them they’re not a streaming exclusive. Black Lightning is a network show that writes itself like it’s a streaming show. For at least the second year running, you had to watch the entire season to get any sense of closure on any story. Black Lightning was a show in dire need of villains of the week.
Now this wasn’t a final season that taints the whole show, like Game of Thrones or Battlestar Galactica or, they tell me, Lost. The Pierce family has, overall, been very worth knowing. But they let me down. They went too grim with too little relief from the darkness, and when a show’s being released over 13 weeks, that’s a lot to deal with.
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