Black Lightning returned on Monday, picking up a year after the events of the Season 3 finale and revealing a Freeland trying to rebuild after the Markovian war. The episode also saw Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning (Cress Williams) dealing with his own personal fallout from the war as he continues to grieve and come to terms with the actions his family had to take in the name of saving themselves and the city. But the episode doesn’t just see Jefferson sad, it sees him angry as well, that anger culminating in a showdown with Freeland police. According to series showrunner Salim Akil, Jefferson’s showdown was inspired by the real-life death of Elijah McClain.
Warning: spoilers for the Season 4 premiere of Black Lightning below.
In the episode, Jefferson comes upon two Freeland police officers detaining and brutalizing a young black man who appears to be either on his way to or from a music lesson as he is carrying a violin. Despite Jefferson vouching for the young man, the police turn their guns on him, prompting Jefferson to simply have enough of the oppression and unleash his Black Lightning powers on the police. As Akil told Entertainment Weekly, that opening scene was in part inspired by McLain, the 23-year-old unarmed black massage therapist who died in 2019 after being placed in a chokehold by police and sedated by paramedics in Colorado.
“The opening was inspired by Elijah McClain, the young man who was killed in Colorado,” Akil said. “It is a balance. There’s almost a yin and yang. In one moment, you could feel righteous in the thing that you’re doing with the cops, and then become almost a vigilante in dealing with this gang member because he wasn’t trying to save anybody at that moment. He was seeking revenge. What I like about it is that you get to see the yin and the yang of that. And we’re going to have to deal with that. It’s fun. It’s like when Batman turns evil or Superman turns evil.”
Of course, Jefferson’s actions with the police will have consequences and Akil teased that Black Lightning may go “comic book dark” this season.
“Well, that’s what they think,” Akil said about the police seeing Black Lightning as public enemy No. 1. “Certainly the new chief of police Anna Lopez [Melissa De Sousa], thinks that. But I think there’s a really nice reveal of what happens when he gets loose because he goes dark. He goes comic book dark in the series. So I’m really excited for people to see it.”