April 18, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Black Lightning”


Although it’s part of the CW/Greg Berlanti DC Comics assembly line, BLACK LIGHTNING, created by Salim Akil, has been strikingly different from its comrades.  So far, it hasn’t noticeably been part of the shared universe formed by Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow, aside from its invocation of “meta-humans” to describe those with super powers.  While those other shows are all about ad hoc, constructed families, made up of friends and adoptees, Black Lightning is centered around a nuclear family of parents and their biological children.  Most surprising has been Black Lightning‘s willingness to be political, in a barely allegorical way:  not only did Season 1 deal with narcotics and racially-tinged police violence and corruption, but its main plot turned on the government conducting secret experiments on African-Americans to keep them docile, a narrative that was specifically likened to the stories about the US supplying crack to poor neighborhoods.

The Season 1 finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Charles Holland and directed by Akil, didn’t bother with subtlety:  Big Bad government agent Martin Proctor (Gregg Henry) delivered the line “Make America Great Again” not once but twice, and in close-up, in case we missed the point.  This is heady stuff for mainstream escapist pop entertainment, and Akil deserves credit for keeping Black Lightning light on its feet while delivering its messages.  The finale was unusual, too, in devoting much of its first half to the struggle of Black Lightning himself, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams, a warm central figure), to work out his issues with his dead father while in a state of unconsciousness, before arising to take on Proctor and gang boss Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) with the help of his superpowered daughters Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain), not-so-ex-wife Lynn (Christine Adams), and surrogate dad/mentor Peter Gambi (James Remar).

A bit too far in one direction, and Black Lightning would be The Incredibles; to the other, a political tract.  The show stayed on track, and did a good job with its stories of Jefferson’s daughters’ emerging powers, and Gambi’s secret government past.  (The storyline about Jefferson and Lynn falling back into each others’ arms was more trite.)  Tobias was a strong villain, although Proctor was a more cartoonish figure, and it was good news that the former will be back next season while the latter appears–as much as such things are permanent in the comic book world–to be done.  Black Lightning, like the other CW superhero tales, struggled with its low budget and limited scale for action.  It did better when it concentrated on its family and social issues.

As the ratings for The Flash faltered this season, the range for the network’s superhero shows tightened into a 0.4-0.6 range and Black Lightning was squarely within that, impressing with its stability whether or not its Flash lead-in was new or a rerun.  Unsurprisingly, it will be back next season, and we’ll see how much license Akil will have to push his storytelling past the genre’s fantasy norm.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."