Black Lightning – Season 4 Episode 13
“The Book of Resurrection: Chapter Two: Closure”
Black Lightning delivers its last ever episode with a final showdown with Tobias and a look ahead to the future for the Pierce family.
I’ve repeatedly said that endings are hard. It’s difficult to wrap something up in a way that makes sense for the involved characters and is satisfying for fans who have invested their time in the show. I don’t envy those who had to bring such a complex show to a close because it’s no easy task. I’ve mentioned in my reviews of this season that there was no real sense of building to a definitive conclusion. Things were developing slowly, different elements were being added and by the time this episode rolled around there were too many plates spinning to possibly deal with everything.
To an extent that’s fine. TV shows end but the lives of the characters -those who survive anyway- continue so there has to be a sense of continuity that persists once the credits roll and the viewers stops being part of that journey. Freeland is a vibrant and complicated setting with a lot of moving parts defining how it functions so there was on way this show could reasonably change everything in a way that suggests there will be no further issues in the future. Gang warfare, drugs, racism, class struggles and all sorts of other issues will remain part of the DNA of Freeland so making no attempt to wrap any of that makes sense. Freeland has always been bigger than the characters that exist on the show and they have always done what they can to make it a better place but they were always limited in what they could accomplish. That remains consistent and the show finishes with Freeland continuing to be a living setting that will function after the end credits roll.
Unfortunately the finale doesn’t have time to deal with Freeland as a setting because it remains focused on the characters. It’s notable that the final episode would leave out one of the main elements that carried the show over its run but it’s a symptom of how much there was left to cover and the time available. Focusing on the characters for a series finale is expected though to me it should also be a celebration of what the show was at its best and this episode just isn’t that.
There are some confusing choices made. One that stands out particularly is that Jefferson spends most of the episode buried alive in a coffin he can’t get out of. This isolates him from the other characters who believe that he’s dead and prevents him from doing anything other than deal with the fact that he has been buried alive. This means that the lead spends most of the final episode in a single location unable to actually do anything. There are attempts to compensate for this through flashbacks that interrogate his values and foreshadow him eventually killing Tobias by detailing the first time he killed someone by using his powers. As always Gambi is there to support him and tell him that he had no other choice which matches up with his pragmatic approach to dealing with problems. The young Jefferson being unsettled by what he has done reinforces his values at the later stage in his life where he still finds killing unpalatable. This serves as a reminder of his dynamic with Gambi where Gambi would be the one who would do everything he could to prevent Jefferson from crossing the line.
The conversation he has with a manifestation of his father is particularly strong. It ties into Jefferson’s mental struggles over the course of the season, particularly when it comes to his perception of his own worth. In this case he’s worried about being no better than Tobias but the manifestation of his father highlights the qualities that make them nothing alike and assures him that the man he has become makes him the one who can stop him. Cutting back and forth between the young and present day Jefferson helps illustrate the point that Jefferson feels lost and hopeless. In his mind he’s made no progress and achieved nothing in his continued efforts to stop Tobias but his father points out that he has everything he needs and has what it takes to win. Since this is a manifestation conjured up by Jefferson’s subconscious it shows that he does believe in himself even if he has managed to convince himself that there’s nothing to believe in. It’s a resolution of sorts to what has been plaguing Jefferson all season and allows him to face Tobias with the necessary determination to win this time.
From very early on in the show it was mentioned that Black Lightning was created to bring down Tobias. Jefferson had a personal stake in that because Tobias killed his father right in front of him so that mission statement was always very clear. It’s fitting that the show would end with Tobias being brought down by Jefferson. It amounts to a short yet well executed fight sequence where neither of them are holding back and the hatred between them is palpable. Tobias meeting his end after mentioning that one of his favourite words is “defenestration” before Jefferson turns the tables on him and throws him out of the window was a really nice touch in the moment but there was also an emptiness to the end of Tobias’ as he was killed without being defeated.
There are wider implications to Jefferson’s actions that aren’t considered. Tobias was the legitimate Mayor of Freeland with massive public support so for all anyone knows the Mayor was murdered by Black Lightning. At no point is his true nature ever revealed to the people of Freeland which means that he likely still has the support of those who elected him. The Mayor plot was a power grab on Tobias’ part in the same way he tries to accrue power everywhere else but it also linked in with his agenda to ruin the lives of the Pierce family. With the resources at his disposal that becoming Mayor would afford him he would have more than enough influence to ruin the Pierce family and he very nearly did. The issue is that him taking on the role of Mayor comes to nothing, taking control of the Shadow Board comes to nothing and there’s no comeuppance that discredits him in the eyes of the public. He is killed and that’s a personal victory for Jefferson but there’s no moral victory that proves Tobias to be the villain which makes for a weak ending to such an engaging villain.
Another confusing choice was around the return of the original Jennifer and the reveal that the new Jennifer -hereafter referred to as JJ for simplicity- is an entity that copied her DNA and assumed her identity after believing that she had killed the original. This invalidates the work that was done with JJ since her introduction. The exit of China Anne McClain meant that something had to be done and recasting the role was working really well in exploring issues of identity, self worth and perception but having this all be a trick orchestrated by an entity native to the ionosphere casts a major shadow on that because none of it was real. It was all a trick and there’s no justification given to why the entity known as JJ would engineer such a scenario. Having the original Jennifer reclaim her life and rejoin her family is satisfying in that it allows the original actor to be among the cast again but the reveal that facilitated it was completely pointless and is at odds with what the previous episodes were looking to achieve with the new actor in a familiar role. Once JJ is defeated the whole thing is dismissed as a mistake on the part of the other characters for not noticing and it has no real impact.
The resolution to Chief Lopez’ contribution to the season is about on par with how underdeveloped she had been up to this point. Her taking on electricity based powers furthers the idea introduced in the previous episode of her becoming everything she hates but all it amounts to is a brief showdown with Detective Shakur along with other officers follows by Jennifer coming in to finish the job. This makes the presence of both Lopez and Shakur over the course of the season somewhat unnecessary given how little was done with them overall. Lopez’ defeat means nothing because nothing comes of it. It was set up that her actions would have an impact on whether women can occupy positions of authority and be taken seriously but there’s no mention of whether she ends up damaging that through how she behaves here. As with Tobias she is simply defeated and the episode moves on.
One thing the finale does do well is how it deals with certain character beats. Khalil/Painkiller being able to get rid of the kill order as long as he’s prepared to lose all memory of the Pierce family. There’s a tragedy to that choice and they both make that heroic sacrifice in order to remove a dangerous piece of programming. It gives Khalil and Painkiller a fresh start albeit an unwelcome one that was clearly meant to lead into the spin-off that will now never see the light of day but as a resolution for Khalil within the confines of this show it works because it ties something up that was part of what the character dealt with over the course of his time on the show.
The final moments with the Pierce family where they finally celebrate Grace and Anissa’s marriage were really endearing and made great use of what has always been a close family dynamic. There was levity, there was compassion and there was happiness which felt fitting and incredibly satisfying after what they have all been through. It’s overly neat for Jefferson to announce that he’s passing the torch to Grace, Anissa and Jennifer, Lynn and Jefferson to announce that they’re getting remarried after such a long struggle to get to that point and Gambi announcing his retirement. All of this is with a massive asterisk as Jefferson and Gambi both make it clear they’ll still be around which possibly keeps them on the board for crossovers with the other shows in the future. Even if not it plainly states that life for these people goes on and the ongoing situation in Freeland is far from resolved. Lala’s revival at the very end of the episode punctuates that point very clearly.
A messy finale that is full of confusing choices, haphazardly wraps up ongoing plots and offers an unsatisfying conclusion to the long conflict between Jefferson and Tobias. The mission statement from early in the show was that Black Lightning was created to bring down Tobias and the ending is true to that mission statement though Tobias is killed rather than actually being defeated as the public doesn’t end up seeing him for who he really is. As far as anyone in Freeland is concerned Black Lightning murdered the Mayor though the episode has no interest in acknowledging the wider implications of Tobias’ death. The build-up to their final fight works really well because it taps into the mental health struggles that have been plaguing Jefferson all season. Jefferson manifests a version of his father who helps him realise that he has what it takes to bring down Tobias and that he’s a much better man that Tobias will ever be. Using the young and present day Jefferson to illustrate the progression is really effective and it’s earned when he gains the necessary confidence. Having Jefferson spend most of the episode in a grave on his own is a confusing choice especially for the final episode but there is some compensation through how he works up to his conflict with Tobias. The reveal that the new Jennifer is an entity native to the ionosphere that assumed her identity after believing it killed the original was another odd choice. It invalidates the character development that occurred over the past few episodes as well as the coverage of compelling and relevant issues. It ends up meaning very little as a reveal and has no real consequences though it is good to have the original Jennifer back among the cast.
Chief Lopez’ contribution to the episode was largely inconsequential. Her having electricity based abilities furthers the idea of her becoming what she hates but her defeat is meaningless because there are no consequences to it though some of that has to do with how underdeveloped the character was overall. The finale does well with certain character beats. Khalil/Painkiller making the tragic heroic choice to remove all memory of the Pierce family in order to get rid of the programming that compels him to kill them resolves a major plot point in the context of this show in a satisfying way. The final moments where the Pierce family celebrate Anissa and Grace’s wedding were really endearing and well earned after all they’ve been through. The bullet point delivery of how everything will change now that Tobias has been defeated is somewhat clumsy but seeing the characters interact is always a joy and it confirms that not everything is resolved in Freeland as the credits roll as punctuated by the return of Lala in the closing moments.
- Jefferson internalising the build-up to his final confrontation with Tobias
- the advice given to him by the manifestation of his father
- strongly reinforcing Gambi and Jefferson’s dynamic
- Tobias having the tables turned on him and his “favourite word” being what ends up killing him
- Khalil/Painkiller making a tragic heroic sacrifice and a satisfying conclusion being provided
- the endearing final moments shared by the Pierce family
- confirming that life goes on for the characters and that Freeland is still a place that needs protecting
- Tobias being killed but not defeated
- the implications of his death not being at all explored
- Jefferson spending the majority of the final episode isolated from other characters
- the JJ reveal invalidating the previous character development and having no consequences
- Chief Lopez’ contribution and defeat being completely meaningless
- rapid fire bullet points detailing what the characters will do next
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User Review( votes)
Messy finale aside, Black Lighting was overall a very strong entry into the Arrowverse even if it didn’t start out connected to that expansive universe of TV shows. Early on I was drawn to it through strong characterisation and excellent worldbuilding. Freeland was a complex lived in setting that had its own rules governing it. Jefferson and his family were a part of the framework that surrounded them and contributed to it in various ways. At first his role as an educator and community leader was tenuously balanced with his role as Black Lightning. With Garfield High School he created a safe space for young black people to learn and better themselves; as Black Lightning he acted as a symbol of hope to inspire those to be better within society. Problems cropped up along the way but on the whole he was able to be a positive influence in both of his major roles.
As a reviewer I dropped off midway through season 2 and missed season 3 entirely for my own reasons but returned to covering the show for the final season. I always enjoyed it and was really impressed at how it was able to escalate threats while still making the characters a priority. For the most part it was about how they reacted to things and the choices they made within what they were dealing with. Allowing Freeland to be an evolving character in the show made it stand out among other superhero shows and there was a distinct purpose to most of what the show was trying to achieve.
One thing that stood out was how this show approached social issues. The majority of the main cast being black meant that the show was ideally placed to tackle racism, social inequality, difficulties that are experienced within black communities and many other connected problems. Framing it through a superhero lens allowed these issues to be explored in a unique way and Freeland was the perfect setting to cover a range of backgrounds over the course of the four seasons. the handling of these was rich, textured, brutally honest and unapologetic. The show was a clear platform to shine a light on them and always did so brilliantly with characters that are intrinsically connected to them.
I’m always particularly drawn to strong characters and spend a lot of time focusing on how they progress when I review TV shows. The characters in this show were routinely engaging with intricate and well developed relationships that evolved over time. Problems drove them apart and resolutions brought them back together, choices were made that might steer them off the right path but there was always an eye on where they would end up. Of course there were missteps along the way but on the whole the characters remained a strong part of the show and the actors playing them inhabited them perfectly. Sustaining Tobias as an antagonist across the entirety of the show was an impressive accomplishment as he never became stale or appeared to be outstaying his welcome. His defeat may have been underwhelming but he was always engaging, threatening and varied in terms of how he was deployed.
I hope to see these characters appear again at some point whether that be part of a crossover even in the future or even as guests on other shows. The finale ends with them all still on the board to be picked up at a later date so there’s no reason they can’t reappear somewhere down the line. It’s a show I will miss and it’s regrettable it had to end on such messy terms but that doesn’t invalidate the good work done over the course of four mostly excellent seasons of television.
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