This week the CW’s Black Lightning wrapped it’s freshman season, and what a season it was. It’s a show that hit the ground running, and quickly became the best show on the CW network. While not always the most action packed show, Black Lightning thrives off it’s relatable characters and its exciting story. I was totally unprepared for how incredible this show ended up being.
The show follows Jefferson Pierce, a principle at Garfield High School located in the city of Freeland. For years, Pierce used his powers of electricity to protect his city as the superhero Black Lightning. But after the battle with the villain Tobias Whale ended in him almost losing his life, Jefferson chooses to hang up the mantle and return to his normal life. Nine years later, the city of Freeland is falling into chaos as the 100 gang is slowly taking over. When Jefferson’s daughters, Anissa and Jennifer, are abducted by the 100, Pierce once again becomes Black Lightning to save them.
From there the story gets progressively more and more insane. Tobias Whale also returns in an attempt to rule all of Freeland. There’s a conspiracy involving illegal government experimentation. Anissa starts to manifest powers of her own. All the while Jefferson is trying to protect his city both as Black Lightning as well as the principal of Garfield High. Black Lightning juggles a lot of plot lines throughout its thirteen episode run. It’s a thing of beauty when all of these elements begin to come together towards the end, and we are left with a masterfully told story about government corruption, social justice, and what it truly means to be a superhero.
What impresses me the most about Black Lightning is just how well written the show is. It’s so mature and smart and unlike anything else on the CW. This is not an attack on the rest of the network, but there are certain choices that the writers of shows like Arrow, and The Flash, and Riverdale that are irksome. Such as unnecessary drama caused by characters not talking to each other, pointless love triangles, forced social/political messages. There’s none of that in Black Lightning. The drama created in the show is always organic and it makes sense. Characters talk to each other the way that normal people do. They actually talk about their problems and deal with them like adults.
A perfect example is when Jefferson first decides to become Black Lightning again. This causes tension between him and his ex-wife Lynn as the last time Jeff put on the suit he almost died. But they actually talk about her issues with him suiting up. They deal with it like adults. If this was Arrow, again no offense, Jefferson would have hid suiting up again from Lynn for half the season until she found out, yelled at him for not telling him, and then she’d give him the silent treatment for at least two episodes. Rinse and repeat until the series ends. In Black Lightning characters actually talk things out and grow as characters. One of the show’s strongest aspects is watching the Pierce family interact with each other and learn from each other. It’s this strong family dynamic that’s the heart of the series.
But Black Lightning tries to be more then just a superhero show. At the same time, it’s a social/political commentary about the world we live in. The show tackles police brutality, the war on drugs, the growing racial tension in this country. And it tackles all of these things (mostly) in a very well written way. Although there are a few moments where the show lacks subtly in it’s message. One of the villains in the season finale goes so over the top with the whole stereotypical evil white man bit that he’s a borderline cartoon character. But for the most part, the show tackles it’s social commentary with maturity and intelligence. It’s great to see a comic book show that’s willing to take risks and be about more then just superheros punching bad guys.
And we haven’t even talked about the characters yet. Jefferson Pierce is an instantly likable protagonist, backed by an incredible performance by Cress Williams. He’s smart, charismatic, and somehow manages to look cool in that silly looking suit of his. As Black Lightning he is a powerhouse, and watching him rip through wave after wave of bad guys is always satisfying. But what I like the most about Black Lightning is how he’s just as much a hero outside the suit as he is in it. As Jefferson Pierce, we constantly watch as he tries to improve the lives of not just his students, but the people in the community around him. He is always going out of his way to make sure his students get the best education and go on to live full healthy lives. And we see the result of his hard work in the people that interact with him. We see countless folk, both current and older students, whose lives were changed because of Jefferson Pierce. And that’s what makes him such a fantastic character. Jefferson Pierce never needed powers to be a hero.
There’s also the rest of the Pierce family. His oldest daughter Anissa, played by Nafessa Williams, is a teacher at Garfield High as well as an avid social activist. She’s strong willed and confident (maybe a little too confident for her own good). Her progression from activist to full on superhero is handled extremely well. And the dynamic between her and Black Lightning makes for some the season’s best moments.
If there was anything to complain about, I’d say that I have a small issue with some of the villains. Tobias Whale is excellent. Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III is absolutely terrifying as the show’s primary villain. He is an absolute monster and steals every scene that he’s in. The same cannot be said for most of the other villains. Primarily Martin Proctor, played by Gregg Henry. For a show as well written as this one, it’s disappointing that by the end Proctor is reduced to nothing more then the stereotypical racist white guy role. It serves the story well enough, but he lacks the depth that we get in the other characters. And I feel like they go way to over the top with it by the end of the season. And it’s a little disappointing that the guy who plays such a major role in the story ends up being the most forgettable. And there’s a couple of other villains throughout the season that don’t amount to as much as they should. I won’t spoil it, but there are certain characters that feel like they are meant to be a big deal and are kind of cool, but then end up not doing much.
The only other downside to this season is that while the finale is really good, it felt like they could have used one more episode to wrap things up more cleanly. They set up the next season nicely, but getting there felt rushed.
But these problems that I have are minor compared to how much the show gets right. I could honestly keep listing more and more reasons why this show is so awesome. There are so many amazing things about this show that I didn’t even have time to get to in this article. But lucky for you, the entire first season of Black Lightning will be available on Netflix on April 25th. If you haven’t seen the show, I urge you to try it out. In the same vein that Black Panther was a refreshing change of pace for comic book movies, Black Lightning is changing the game for comic book TV shows. And I cannot wait until the next season comes around.