Black Lightning: The Consistent Villainy of Tobias Whale

TV shows are often obsessed with redeeming their villains, but Black Lightning has never attempted to justify or soften Tobias' malevolence.

Marvin "Krondon" Jones III as Tobias in Black Lightning Season 4
Photo: The CW

This Black Lightning article contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 4, Episode 12.

Jefferson Pierce is dead. Or so it seems, as we turn the page on Black Lightning: The Book of Resurrection: Chapter One: Crossroads. Tobias Whale is on the precipice of achieving everything he has worked for. His mayoral win was supposed to secure his seat on the Shadow Board, but that offer was rescinded after his failure to completely immobilize Freeland’s metas. But Tobias is always one step ahead, and he sends an invisible assassin—powered up with meta boosters—to kill the apparent head, then takes his place, dubbing himself King. Tobias has been playing a very long game, and he is reaping the fruits of his labor. And if he’s to be believed, he’s finally killed his nemesis.

Tobias is not just a violent criminal who perpetually exploits and endangers Freeland, he is also a Black man who is anti-Black—dangerous as hell. He has never been likable, and Black Lightning has not spent a single second attempting to justify his malevolence, or soften it. That consistency pays off here, because he is a true villain. He can’t win! Not just because we want the heroes to, but because he is so. goddamn. awful. He is irredeemable. Writers on the whole seem obsessed with redemption, but like in real life, there is no ctrl+z for past behavior. Some people are just… bad. And as much as I hate that man—and I hate him deeply—it’s exciting to watch an antagonist who enjoys being the bad guy, with no hesitation, and no guilt.

But the Pierces never stay down. Even without their powers, Grace and Anissa take down Monovista’s—and Tobias’—meta gene harvesting plant, likely putting a pause on Tobias’ plan to expand his range outside of Freeland. This is very On Brand for Anissa, and I love that she continues to do her, regardless of whether she has powers. Her consistency is also something I greatly appreciate. I only wish she and Grace had been able to be a team for a longer time. Still, I enjoy that we got to watch their relationship grow and flourish. Speaking of growth, JJ finally feels solidified as a hero. She wants to quit after Uriah is killed, but her dad reminds her of why she is needed. He puts faith in her, and she rises to that by capturing Red, and showing Freeland who Chief Lopez really is—an anti-meta bigot.

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When JJ exposes the Chief’s metaphobia, Lopez reacts hysterically, hurrying to use a meta-booster on herself. All we know about Lopez is that she is a woman who feels pressured by that fact to do the absolute most in her position as Chief. And she hates metas to an unhealthy extent. Her entire tenure on the show has been disliking metas, trying to annihilate them all, and trying to capture Lightning, by hook or by crook. She hasn’t tried to take down the Kobra Cartel or the 100s, or do literally anything else the leader of a law enforcement agency should do in a city overrun with gang violence— and one that has just narrowly survived a military siege. Lopez has given us nothing this season, and her inclusion feels like a choice that was made before the powers that be knew this was the end. On the other hand, one of Black Lightning’s biggest weaknesses is misutilization of their cast. Lala disappeared multiple times over the seasons, and characters just kind of mosey off-screen.

This is also evident with Ishmael who… aint shit? It’s hard to say whether this being the final season necessitated changes to his story, or if he was always going to come to Freeland and give us the bare minimum. I did enjoy his scraps but, you cannot say this man killed like 97 metas and is trying out for the League of Assassins and have him only manage to slightly kill one meta out of the six he was set upon. LMFAO. I really tried to see it for him, but he couldn’t take out Jefferson when mans was having a blackout. He left his first four jobs unfinished, and still got paid to go after Khalil and Looker. I have never seen a Black man fail up like this, it was honestly a treat. But playing him up as a late-game Boss then having him lose all but the very first fight is… hilarious, actually. I’m just glad at least one of the new additions, Detective Shakur in this case, is getting to do a little bit more than slightly aggravate the Pierce family.

I am glad that Gambi has brought Lauren into the fold, even if their relationship feels… shallow. I understand the choice to make her someone from his past, it skips the preamble. But, a relationship that is formed off-screen, and that we only see glimpses of throughout the season, is not easy to connect with. Still, I am rooting for them because Gambi deserves… something. It was too late in the show to fully explore new relationships, but I’m all for happy endings wherever we can get them.

I am going into the season finale feeling safe, which isn’t the most exciting place to be. I don’t want Jeff to be dead. I don’t think death is the only,  or even the best way to say goodbye to a series. But the finale should  make a strong statement one way or the other. The Pierces have excelled against increasingly worse odds, and their triumph is more or less assured. I want BlackLightning to end on a high note, and I want to come away from it feeling full. Here’s hoping.