The CW’s Black Lightning – Where the 3rd Season Went Wrong and How the 4th can Rebound
Black Lightning season 3 wasn't great but after the universe twisting events of 'Crisis' combined with a course-correct - the show can be saved from itself.
In no way is it easy to put together a multi-million-dollar production. I respect the difficulty of making so many moving parts play nice; the crew, writers, cast, producers, studio execs and even board members all have to of one accord.
With that completely understood, I still cannot make an excuse for the third season of The CW’s Black Lightning. I’ve been an avid fan of the series since it debuted. I even continued to watch it and sing its praises long after I gave up on the rest of the network.
That’s why I’m so disappointed in the third season of the show. While neither of the first two seasons was perfect – neither made me quit. Because that’s what I ended up doing around the fifth episode. However, being under citywide quarantine I psyched myself up to continue via Netflix.
The remainder of season three was hard to get through – to say the least. It was corny, politically heavy-handed, narratively unorganized, and overall unenjoyable. What used to be a fun well-written superhero show told from an African-American perspective, degraded into a hodgepodge of grandstanding, agenda-filled, wokeness.
Season three has long wrapped and been made available for all to see. The damage can’t be undone – but the show can still be righted. There were a number of interesting bits sprinkled in this year which can help streamline the focus of the next season. It also stands as an example of mistakes not to repeat.
Anissa’s Always Right
The first season showed us something that was new for The CW. The hero wasn’t a kid just starting out and discovering their abilities – but a fully grown man with a lived life and a family, who’d long since retired from superhero-ing. Jefferson Pierce is pulled back into the life when his daughters are swept into gang violence.
The following season was very much an extension of the first. However, there were hints of problems that would eventually be accentuated in the third season. The biggest issue I found was the pedestaling of Jefferson’s eldest child, Anissa Pierce, aka Thunder aka Blackbird.
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Her Blackbird persona came to be during season two as a way for Anissa to do less savory work without tarnishing the Black Lightning name. However, in season three, Blackbird was seen much more than Thunder. She’d become the symbol of the resistance fighting against the ASA occupation, while Jefferson was imprisoned by the same organization.
That would have been fine had it also not changed the entire Anissa character into an obnoxious, militant, disrespectful, know-it-all – most notably and frequently in the face of her father. Even when confronted with her mistakes and misjudgments, the writers failed to have the character grow, but instead, she was vindicated by a sociopolitical rant.
The Pierce Family Secret
One of the series’ constants is the fact that Jefferson and his two daughters aren’t just metahumans – but naturally stable ones. In the world of Black Lightning, meta’s aren’t born, but created via experiments conducted by various governments over the decades. One experiment was the release of a synthetic, highly addictive drug called ‘greenlight.’ Once administered, greenlight can mutate subjects and grant abilities.
Nevertheless, these artificial metahumans die very soon afterward. One of the few in the show’s history to survive long term without outside interference is Black Lightning, and by extension, his two daughters. This fact is challenged in the latter half of season 3 when we’re introduced to the character, Gravedigger (portrayed by Wayne Brady).
By season’s end, it’s revealed that he’s not just more than 100+ years old and been in possession of his powers since gaining them in a World War II experiment – but is also the brother of Jefferson’s grandfather. This proves that the Pierce family’s special genetic disposition goes back at least three generations.
All the subplots in this past season were nonsensical and boring for the most part, but I found this particular piece intriguing. Wayne Brady ‘s character survived the finale which means they’ll be using the high paid actor again. I’d recommend taking advantage of that and swing for the fences with a truly otherworldly story.
One other interesting thing did occur in season 3. While this year’s Arrowverse crossover wasn’t enough to draw me back in – it does open up a world of possibilities. Black Lightning and the rest of The CW DC shows now officially share one continuity. In Black Lightning’s world now exists Gotham, Superman, The Flash, and of course, the concept of aliens.
Although DC Comics may be changing or possibly closing its doors forever in the coming months – The CW network can still mine their catalog for the foreseeable future. Within that catalog is a character named Icon. He originates from Milestone Comics, an imprint acquired by DC years ago. It’s also the company that originally created Static Shock.
Eventually, Milestone – also known as the Dakotaverse – was rolled into the greater DC universe. Icon, key among the characters utilized. He even joined the Justice League and was a recurring character in the Young Justice animated series. In a lot of ways, Icon is another version of Superman, but without any connection to him or Krypton.
As a baby refugee, Icon’s pod crashed landed on Earth in the mid-1800s – more specifically, in a southern state of North America. Unlike Clark, Icon had a very alien appearance. However, the pod adapted his physiology to resemble that of the first intelligent life it encountered – in this case, an African-American woman.
Icon has a number of abilities, again, very similar to Superman – including being long-lived. In the current year, though being found almost 200 years ago, Icon looks to be firmly in his prime. Using Icon as the source of the Pierce family genetic gift would be an awesome way to truly introduce Black Lightning into the larger alien-filled Arrowverse.
Keeping it Street
One of the mistakes made by Black Lightning this season was doing way too much. In the process, they lost what made the show different from the others on the network. Though its main characters can lift cars, hurl lightning bolts and fly – the story was grounded, relatable, and endearing.
Though they did manage to get reacquainted with their more street-level characters before the end of the season – it felt like an afterthought. The show ultimately got weighed-down with stories about government occupations, a metahuman plague, foreign invasions, and convoluted, nonsensical, interpersonal drama.
The showrunners did their best to weave in issues of drug abuse, human trafficking, and even some much-needed Tobias Whale scenes – but it got all muddled-down with everything else that was forced in. Not to mention the large roles that Black Lightning’s daughters were given this season. Jennifer and Anissa are a big piece of the show, but they shouldn’t be the focus of the plot.
It’s not the fault of the characters. The blame falls squarely on the virtue-signaling of the writing staff. While trying to make them stand out and be more significant to the plot – the girls instead came off as insufferable, both comparatively inexperienced, yet they constantly belittled their father with declarations of wokeness.
Judging how season three ended, the fourth will have Tobias Whale returning to Freeland with a vengeance. He’ll no doubt want payback on the Pierce family as well as take back his underworld crown from his rivals La La, and Lady Eve (played by singer, Jill Scott). If the season preoccupies itself with the Pierce family trying to keep the streets from imploding within a power vacuum – there may be hope.
In the third season the producers overreached, and in the process, lost their way. Instead of being a look into the life of a man struggling to raise his family and save his city – the Black Lightning series became a platform. They traded entertainment for social relevance. Here’s hoping they can look past their Twitter accolades, recognize their missteps and move forward.