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Black Lightning: Season 4 / Series Review – Shattered Lightning

There is the shoehorned pseudo-pilot mid-season episode starring Khalil/Painkiller (Jordan Calloway) teasing a potential spin-off that was in the works – which has since been squashed around the same time the final episode aired. The “backdoor” episode titled “Painkiller” was an out-of-place disaster, with an oversaturated neon color palette and an overabundance of CG scenes that assaulted and offended my ocular organs. The fact that this was to foreshadow Jordan’s solo spin-off series was a shame, and the prenatal cancellation was just salt on that garish wound. Fortunately, we get to see Jordan’s character return to Freeland. Jordan’s acting remains stellar, even with him juggling duo personalities (Khalil the Yin and Painkiller the Yang) which he makes work despite how hokey it may seem.

Black Lightning — “The Book of Ruin: Chapter Four:Lyding“ — Image Number: BLK409fg_0012r.jpg — Pictured: Jordan Calloway as Painkiller — Photo: The CW — 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

In terms of the climax, the two-parters “Book of Reunification” and “Book of Resurrection” cap off Black Lightning’s final season. Compared to prior seasons, none have felt more rushed and formulaic than this. Brute forcing their way into the boss’ layer and take out the bad guy was pretty much copy-pasted from last season with less fanfare. Given how well prepared Tobias was by this point, the fact that everything went down near-effortlessly for our heroes was appalling and offensive from a standpoint of suspended disbelief. On a side note, Lopez’s adjacent super-powered tantrum being undone in a single shot was obscured. And the bewildering revelation of Jennifer’s deceptive doppelganger (played by Laura Kariuki) was so out of left field and superfluous it might as well have been out of the park. The bait-and-switch cliffhanger of the penultimate episode was not appreciated either and would have been more impactful (being the final season) if the showrunners stuck to their guns. The climactic confrontation between Jefferson and Whale is less than epic. Given how their bitter rivalry has been built up to that point, it was a severe disappointment. To spare the hero the moral dilemma of vanquishing his mortal enemy, karma steps in to absolve Jefferson of any culpability when Whale meets his inevitable end.

There are a lot of negatives about Black Lightning’s final season that tarnish a once promising show. For whatever reason, gone are the subtle and overt social commentaries the series has been known for. Even when it focuses exclusively on the Pierces, a lot feels disjointed. Lynn’s addiction is quickly dismissed; the introduction of a “new” Jennifer serves no narrative purpose or conflict; Painkiller’s return ultimately goes nowhere; the out-of-the-blue former secret love interest of Lynn thrown in last minute had little to no room to develop and is resolved off-camera (or forgotten). Not to mention, the handful of miscellaneous secondary and tertiary bad guys are utterly lackluster and forgettable. Lastly, the epilogue tease of a returning villain is meaningless. At face value, all I can see is a protracted sequence of pointlessness.

Black Lightning — “The Book of Resurrection: Chapter Two: Closure” — Image Number: BLK413b_0232r.jpg — Pictured: (L-R) James Remar as Gambi, Chantal Thuy as Grace Choi, Nafessa Williams as Anissa and Christopher Ammanuel Darby as TC — Photo: Boris Martin/The CW — ©2021 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

In terms of pros, however, the acting by the main cast remains the series’ greatest virtue. Cress and Christine both get outstanding moments this season, and despite the bad hand Jordan was dealt, still nailed that high level of quality he had set for himself. Marvin also kills it as Tobias Whale, and he’s given free rein this time around to ham things up without having to share or delegate the spotlight. Also, Tobias’ endgame reaches that level of ultimatum this series needed to go out on, even if it was not executed to perfection.

It is regrettable that Black Lightning had to close on a muddled, rushed mess of a season, that nevertheless had shining moments. Technically, these characters still exist in the CW “Arrowverse”, but the likelihood of them coming back in any meaningful way in the future is next to none. I can only wish the entire cast the best of luck in whatever new roles and endeavors they find themselves in post-Black Lightning, as such talent should not be shelved indefinitely.

Looking back, Black Lightning was avant garde. A family of all-Black superheroes in an oppressed and downtrodden Black community plagued by corruption, gang violence, exploitation and an indifferent or racist police force/government. Black Lightning was a unique African-America superhero story that tried to highlight these facets African-Americans face both on a micro and macro scale. In terms of aesthetics, its ever-improving and unique comic book art style and hip-hop tracks gave it a distinct flare and presentation.

Looking forward, we have the new “Naomi” CW series by executive producers Ava DuVernay and Jill Blakenship, starring Kaci Walfall, which is in production and is forthcoming. Here is hoping “Naomi” (a relatively new Black DC superhero) learns from Black Lightning, both the good and bad, and improves from and outperformed its forbearer.

Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics, or videogames. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and videogamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.

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