Black Lightning Season 4 Episode 13 “The Book of Resurrection: Chapter Two: Closure”
Director: Salim Akil
Starring: Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, Nafessa Willaims, Christine Adams, Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III, Grace Choi, Peter Gambi, Melissa De Sousa, Wallace Smith, Reggie Hayes
Runtime: 42 minutes
Well, this was disappointing. Throughout Black Lightning‘s final season I’ve gotten a bit concerned that 13 episodes wasn’t going to be enough to properly resolve all the story threads the show had open. But the shocking penultimate episode, in which Tobias Whale seemingly killed Jefferson/Black Lightning himself in the same way he did his father decades ago and then sent pictures of her father’s lifeless body to Jen (Laura Kariuki) was a welcome jolt of intensity. Obviously, Jefferson wasn’t really going to be dead, or if he was he would return to life somehow, but the cliffhanger was still an encouraging sign that the series would stick the landing and bring the four-season feud between the Pierces and Tobias to a satisfying close. Sadly, that impression was misleading and the actual finale went beyond my wildest fears by delivering a rushed, messy, completely unsatisfying conclusion.
Soon after learning what happened to Jefferson, the family’s grief turns to rage. Fortunately, there isn’t too much lingering on the “should we kill Tobias question” as they instead get down to strategizing the actual details of how to stop him. Anissa, Gambi, and Grace head out to destroy the power-dampening machine while Jen/JJ flies up to the ionosphere again to give herself an extra dose of power. This is a predictably bad idea and she almost evaporates again as she did earlier in the season. The surprise comes when she escapes, after which leftover particles form what looks to be a human face. Later, the particles form back into the original Jen, played once again by China Anne McClain.
Upon returning to Earth, Jen confronts JJ, who had led TC (Christopher A’mmanuel) into the tunnels under Freeland for a mission. When Jen arrives JJ hits TC with an energy blast, now colored red, before going on to explain who and what she really is to her double. JJ is apparently one of a group of formless energy beings that live in an environment in the ionosphere that she refers to as “the Glaze”. She wanted to experience life in an actual body and was presented with the perfect opportunity when Jen started flying up to the ionosphere. Every time she did JJ was able to build more of a connection to her and influence her thoughts to make her want to continue going up until she was able to switch places with Jen and create her body. JJ has no intention of giving up her new life and the two girls get into a vicious battle that ends when Jen somehow flies into JJ’s body and causes it to explode from the inside out. JJ’s motivations are definitely interesting and Kariuki does a great job transitioning from her performance as what we thought was a version of Jen to a ruthless villain but the storyline takes too much time away from what are ultimately more important things. While it provides a mostly satisfying resolution to the Jen/JJ arc which was compelling enough for what it was I think the show would have been better off coming up with a simpler explanation for McClain’s limited role as the explanation and confrontation with JJ eats up a lot of screen time, especially given that Jen also has another nemesis to deal with in the episode in the form of former police chief Lopez who has gone raving mad, giving herself powers with a meta-booster and going on a rampage in a counterintuitive attempt to wipe out metahumans. Jen stops her with minimal effort, which also makes this storyline feel almost entirely superfluous, and continues to run out the clock. Jen’s a great character and I’m glad the show has devoted a lot of attention to her throughout its run but this season often felt like it was favoring her at the expense of others, which is especially disappointing as it’s the final season and given the reveal that the “Jen” we watched for most of it (Kariuki’s version) isn’t even really Jen.
The Arrowverse has a recurring problem in which the series often become so enamored with their supporting characters (most of which are admittedly very compelling) that the leads’ stories lose their central importance. Black Lightning has been guilty of this often, and the final season as a whole and finale specifically are the best examples. The episode’s use of Jeff is frankly pretty absurd, both in regard to his screen time and how his story is resolved. He’s kept in the coffin entirely too long given that it was always certain he would get out and while the scene that gives him the strength to do so is nice as it comes in the form of another talk with his father’s spirit, it’s not emotionally impactful enough to justify the long subplot. The time we spend with him in the coffin isn’t used particularly well either. The episode cuts back and forth to flashbacks of young Jeff (Kaden Washington Lewis, who is always a welcome presence) and Gambi secretly burying a dead body. I assumed the body was Jefferson’s father’s but it’s eventually revealed to be that of a gang member who was attacking Jefferson. Jeff used his powers to defend himself but accidentally killed the gang member, filling him with deep remorse. Gambi tries to assuage his guilt and promises to teach him how to use his powers for good. There are some interesting ideas present in this reveal but it’s not executed well at all. The episode seems to be arguing that killing the gang member is a central cause of Jeff’s self-doubt and questioning of his morality but adding it in the final episode is pretty ridiculous. At the very least we should have been told about this incident earlier in this season, if not in a previous one so that we could understand its impact on Jeff for longer before he overcomes it. As it stands it actually reduces his complexity, as his legitimate questions about the morality of Black Lightning are made to look like the result of misplaced guilt.
Most disappointing of all is how Black Lightning’s final, most important battle concludes. After the dampener goes down Jeff is able to draw on the electricity from the promethium Gambi discovered beneath Freeland and blasts his way out of the casket, emerging in full costume. He then proceeds to fly over to Tobias’ penthouse and attack him. The actual fight is fine, if not necessarily as intense as their past brawls, but it’s the brevity of it and the way it ends that is really upsetting. By the time the episode actually gets to the fight, it has to treat it as just another superhero mission, rather than the showdown the series has been building to since day one. Eventually, Jeff blasts Tobias out a window that he was going to throw him out of, and Tobias lands impaled on a metal spike. Even after everything he’s done, Jeff moves to save his enemy but Tobias, gone completely insane, takes out two pistols and starts shooting at him, while on another of his quasi-religious rants, forcing Jeff to blast him again. The second shock seems to negate the effect of Tobias’ super-serum and he rapidly ages and dies. In my review of the season premiere, I noted how it seemed like the show had written itself into a corner with Tobias, as Jeff purposely murdering him would be too dark a note to end on but putting him back in prison when he’s consistently shown he can escape prosecution wouldn’t be conclusive enough. The show was almost always going to have to use a cheat like this and I did like how as he got close to finally destroying the Pierce family Tobias’ own hubris played a role in undoing him (Krondon played his declining sanity wonderfully) but the execution of his death and defeat is about as anti-climactic as possible and fails to convey the complexity and importance of the conflict for Jeff.
As has been the case often this season the best part of the episode revolves around Khalil/Painkiller, even though his sequence starts somewhat abruptly. After regaining his powers when the dampener goes down TC visits Khalil and Painkiller in their virtual mental space to inform them that he has a solution to rid them of the kill order that compels Painkiller to want to kill the Pierce family. Unfortunately, the only way to do so requires TC to erase all Khalil’s memories of the Pierces. Eager to be free of the programming Painkiller says to just do it but Khalil hesitates at the thought of not remembering Jen. But ultimately he decides to go through with it and Jordan Calloway perfectly delivers the episode’s best line when Khalil says “I always knew I would give my life for that girl. Never thought I’d have to forget her.” This seemed like a further set-up for the Painkiller series, which unfortunately did not get picked up by The CW (there’s supposedly a chance it’ll instead air on HBO Max but I don’t think anyone should hold their breath), but it was still a fittingly bittersweet end to the character’s role on Black Lightning, on which he’s always been a tragic character. But it is too bad Khalil and Jen never got to reunite onscreen after the third season.
The Pierce family’s final sequence comes at Anissa and Grace’s long-delayed, and, per-COVID restrictions, small, wedding reception. But the happy couple’s celebration is somewhat overshadowed by a series of major announcements by their elders. Jeff announces that he’s retiring as Black Lightning again and is confident that Thunder, Lightning, and Wild (Grace’s superhero name) and that doing so has opened the door for him and Lynn to officially get remarried. Gambi likewise turns over his superhero back-up and tech duties to TC. I wasn’t satisfied with the reveal about Jeff and Lynn, both because I don’t think their therapy storyline was developed enough for a successful second marriage to be feasible and because Jeff retiring to please her regresses them too before she finally accepted Black Lightning last year. Fortunately, as the kids are quick to guess, Jeff and Gambi would both be happy to help out or give advice if needed, and in fact, seem eager to do so, and they humorously admit as much. Cress Williams has said that these lines were purposely changed to be more open-ended in case any of the other Arrowverse shows want to use the character in a guest appearance at some point and continued to say that the creators of The Flash (which is starting its upcoming eighth season with a five-part quasi-crossover event) have already reached out to him about reprising the role. This was a great relief, as it opens the door for another show to give the character a better send-off than the one he gets here.
If Tobias’ end is the most disappointing the strangest part by far in the finale is the actual last scene of the show. Lala emerges from the cement prison that Tobias put him in a few episodes ago (a delightfully weird homage to The Empire Strikes Back), which was damaged during Jeff and Tobias’ final battle. Lala walks over to the window to see Tobias’ corpse, still impaled on the stake, and smirks, mocking his hated former boss about how “Someone finally stuck it to your ass.” It’s a baffling editing choice to end the series on Lala of all people, especially as the scene easily could have been placed before the party and makes the whole production look amateurish.
It’s hard to believe how thoroughly this finale failed, especially given the general quality of the show. Black Lightning as a whole has had some flaws and idiosyncrasies throughout but for the most part, it’s a strong, smart, important series in both the superhero canon and on television in general and its first and third seasons, in particular, are excellent. But the ending was a true letdown that likely affects how the series will be seen going forward. The cast, crew, characters, and story all deserved better from the head creators.
Black Lighting Series Finale
Black Lightning ends with a messy and rushed finale unworthy of the otherwise strong and important series.