The Black Lightning Series Finale is Imperfect and Powerful

Black Lightning's legacy lies in giving us a world where Black people are empowered and where Black people win.

China Anne McClain as Jenn in the Black Lightning Series Finale
Photo: The CW

Black Lightning has given us four seasons of culturally relevant sci-fi drama, and the Pierce family has been its center. In the season finale, the family show up for one another and for Freeland and take a final stand against Tobias Whale.

Jefferson Pierce is not dead, but he’s buried alive, and still without his powers. As he prays for his family and his city to be protected—and reflects on his own heaven- worthiness— his family pushes back against Tobias. Gambi, Anissa, and Grace infiltrate Tobias’ heavily secured building and destroy the emitter. In the coffin, Jefferson talks to his father in an ancestral plane, a life/death spiritual in-between, and he is able to get closure about his father’s death and be affirmed as a hero by the very person he modeled his heroism after. He returns to consciousness aware of his power, and recalling what his father says about him having everything he needs, he pulls power from the earth—drawing from the Prometheum under Freeland—and breaks free.

“The Book of Resurrection: Chapter Two: Closure” is a powerful, if imperfect finale whose weaknesses don’t detract from overall enjoyment of the episode. The episode follows through on all of the stories built up over the season, to varying degrees of success. The decades-long rivalry between Jefferson Pierce and Tobias Whale culminates in a physical altercation that, while brutal, doesn’t really live up to the level of animosity the two harbor for one another. Fortunately, this brawl is just the final stand in a season-long battle that played out through politics and manipulation instead of fists. The real victory isn’t the knockout, and by the time Jefferson lays hands on Tobias, the Pierces have already won.

Jefferson has always tried to live up to the example his father set for him. He’s always strived to be a good man, and to do right by his people. Being Black Lightning was just one part of that, and it weighed heavily on Jefferson whenever he felt like he failed. Having his father tell him that he’s a good man, that he’s lived up to that ideal, is a powerful moment for Jefferson. We know that when he goes after Tobias there is no glee there. That’s what makes these two men different. Jefferson doesn’t want to kill Tobias, but he isn’t given much of a choice. Jefferson doesn’t relish the kill—the way LaLa or Painkiller does—he takes satisfaction in the victory because he kept his family and his city safe. Equal to that, his daughters proved themselves capable of protecting themselves, each other, and Freeland. He succeeds as both a hero and as a father. He and Lynn decide to get remarried, and he and Gambi officially retire, leaving Freeland under the protection of Thunder, Lightning, TC, and Wylde.

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Anissa and Grace have been in sync this entire season and have moved as a unit, powered or otherwise. It has been incredible to watch their relationship as both a married couple and a vigilante team grow and flourish. It’s also amazing to watch Jenn become her full and truest self. When JJ returns to the ionosphere to charge up, Jenn—the real Jenn— follows her back to Earth. JJ is an entity that existed in the Glaze without physical form, who latched onto Jenn, replicated her DNA, and took her memories so she could have a physical existence. We were given hints throughout the season that there was more to JJ. Jeff had a sense that something was off and particles lingered around JJ whenever she went back into space. I applaud the creativity here and how it allowed Jenn to stay on the show with China Anne McClain gone. China’s return was exciting, and Jenn’s fight with JJ was a fun and cool moment that allowed both actresses to shine, and showed how powerful Jenn truly is.

The same cannot be said for Lopez. She takes energy absorbing powers—Black Lightning’s powers, it appears—and almost drains Freeland’s power grid, to obtain enough juice to kill Lightning. Detective Shakur and the meta task force hold her off until Lightning shows up, and makes quick work of her. Lopez is the biggest disappointment of the season. She’s not allowed to be anything more than a minor foil, and the time spent with her this season is not rewarded in her final confrontation with Lightning.

There is a sense that there are some stories left untold or that are incomplete, but none that have a strong negative impact on the finale. What is the Shadow Board and what do they want with Freeland? What did it mean for Tobias to lead them? There may be comic context I’m missing, but within the show, they’re never really given an identity and it feels like narrative energy that could’ve been better spent elsewhere, perhaps in making Lopez a more fully realized character.

TC tells Khalil he can remove Odell’s kill order but Khalil will have to forget the Pierces. Khalil accepts, which is a definitive choice that doesn’t necessarily work if Painkiller had been ordered to series. The choice for Khalil to forget the Pierces would resolve one of the major conflicts for the character and undermine the story that show was aiming to tell. It makes me wonder whether an alternate scene was filmed for Khalil that was contingent upon the spin-off being picked up or if Akil had low expectations for the series being picked up and wanted to close out Khalil’s story satisfactorily. Whatever the case, I have enjoyed Calloway this season and wish we could see more of him, but am happy with the way his story concludes.

Finally, What happened to Lauren? Again, why spend time introducing her to the family if not to make her a part of it in any way? Gambi is as central to the show as any of the Pierces and it seems like a missed opportunity to give him a happy ending that doesn’t solely revolve around the Pierces.
I am happy that the Pierces are alive and whole and healthy and happy. This is the ending I wanted for them, even if it felt at times like it might’ve come too easily. What I wanted for this episode was to feel full and I do. I feel an immense amount of joy and satisfaction after this finale, not because it does everything right but because it does right by the characters we love. Black Lightning has always been on-the-nose when it comes to cultural and political dynamics, and it has always played with concepts of power, but more than anything, it has given us a world where Black people are empowered and where Black people win. The series finale drives that point home by showing us a family of Black heroes who are alive and whole and healthy and happy which is a powerful thing in and of itself. Black Lightning is a superhero show that leaves us with Black triumph and Black joy.