Warning: This post contains spoilers from the season 1 finale of Black Lightning, which aired Tuesday night. Read at your own risk!
The war between Black Lightning (Cress Williams) and Tobias Whale (Marvin Jones III) will continue into season 2!
In Black Lightning’s season 1 finale, Jefferson Pierce/Black Lightning, Anissa/Thunder (Nafessa Williams), Jennifer (China Anne McClain), Lynn (Christine Adams), and Gambi (James Remar) survived the ASA’s assault on Gambi’s cabin and found the pods containing the missing children, and Gambi put a bullet in the exceedingly racist Martin Proctor (Gregg Henry), who ran the ASA. Meanwhile, Whale seized control of Proctor’s operation and acquired a mysterious briefcase containing a glowing green object that will allow him to become the king of Freeland — thereby bucking the trend of CW superhero shows ending with the season’s big bad being defeated by the hero. (Read our full recap here.)
EW hopped on the phone with executive producer Salim Akil to talk about his plans for Tobias in season 2, those crazy episode titles, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: On most superhero shows, the big bad is usually defeated by the end of the season, but Tobias Whale makes out of season 1 in one piece and in a stronger position of power. Why did you decide have Tobias survive season 1?
SALIM AKIL: One reason is everyone loves Tobias, so I wanted to make sure we brought him back on the show at the end of Black Lightning. He’s just really a good villain, and we love Marvin Jones. From a story standpoint, what we wanted to do in episode 12 was sort of make that our finale and then see what we could do in episode 13 to sort of tease the audience to come back. Tobias always wanted to run Freeland, he always wanted to have a seat at the table. What we’re going to do is give a seat at the table in season 2. What’s in that briefcase is very exciting.
Can you tease what’s in the box? All we see in the finale is the glowing green light.
Well, I can tease it by saying what’s in the briefcase is exciting. I can’t give you anymore than that because you’ve seen the show and if I give you even a hint, you’ll know exactly what it is. You could probably guess what it is.
Is it something that comes from the DC Comics mythology, or is it something completely new?
Both, actually. It’ll come from the DC mythology and it’ll be completely new as well. That’s why it’s so exciting, because you’ll get to see some things you’re familiar with and you’ll get to see some things you haven’t seen before.
The finale also ended with Gambi killing Proctor. Are we done with the ASA, or is there a chance we’ll see them again down the line?
No, we’re not done with the ASA. We’re done with Proctor, but we’re not done with the ASA.
Now that Tobias has taken over Proctor’s work, is he now part of the ASA, or are they still on opposing sides?
Two opposing sides.
One of the things I found really interesting about the first season is how the usual superhero tropes are immediately changed when you have black people at the center of the story. For example, in most stories, gaining powers through science is a happy accident, but here it’s the result of governmental abuse and racism, and evokes real-life events like Tuskegee experiments and the Flint water crisis. In approaching this story, why did you decide to draw on those terrible historical events?
It’s what you said about the African-American experience, you know, Tuskegee experiments, the Flint water crisis. What we wanted to do in the show is show that this is real. Often, black people are accused of being paranoid, but our paranoia is only paranoia until it becomes real, right? So the Flint water crisis, Tuskegee experiments, Green Light flooding the black communities with drugs and guns, we wanted to show that in the show and sort of explore it in a reality and not in a way most people would approach it — as though this is just some kind of conspiracy theory. That was the approach, and that will remain the approach on the show.
We [Akil and his wife, Mara Brock Akil] tell the stories from a black perspective. We do black on purpose, from Girlfriends to Being Mary Jane. We approach our stories from a black perspective because that’s who we are, and when we decided to take the show on, we wanted to do it in a way that people could identify with and recognize themselves, from the Tuskegee experiments in “Green Light” to also in the form of just raising your children and those challenges that you have. So we’re approaching from a ground level, and those shows that sort of do superheroes in a way that you fight aliens or other heroes or villains with these immense superpowers, we wanted to try to ground it a little bit so that people could see themselves.
Speaking of the family aspect of the show, what do you have planned for Anissa and Jennifer in season 2?
It’ll be the same path. Jennifer uses her powers because she has to, and usually it’s a reaction, whereas Anissa uses her powers in a very proactive way because that’s her point of view and her life. She wants to be involved, she wants to save the community, whereas Jennifer just wants to be a typical teenager. We’ll continue to explore that difference and see how they come to terms with their powers, because we’ve always said that in most superheroes or comic books that I’ve seen, powers are all positive, and what we wanted to do was complicate it a little bit and see how it affect you as a human being.
Do you have plans to bring Grace Choy back in season 2?
Yes, Grace Choy is going to come back in season 2.
Do you already know what you want to do with her, or is that up in the air until the writers’ room opens?
It’s kind of up in the air. Actually, our first day back in the writers’ room is today, so we’ll start figuring that out as soon as I land.
Did you feel you accomplished everything you wanted to in season 1, or were there things you had to save for season 2?
Oh no, we didn’t accomplish everything. There was so much we wanted to do, and that’s what makes season 2 exciting, because we know some of the things we want to do and are excited about doing it. Then there are things throughout the season that we discovered that we want to explore as well. The ground is just fertile. Really all the writers are just champing at the bit to get back into the room.
What was one of the unexpected things you discovered in season 1?
You know what? We didn’t expect that Jennifer wouldn’t like her powers. We always expected her to enjoy the powers, but clearly she doesn’t. That was a turn of events that we really weren’t prepared for.
How did you land on that take for the character?
Just working through the season, you kind of figure out the personality of the character. As you work your way through the season, characters sort of develop a personality, and that’s how Jennifer developed in our minds.
Finally, I loved this season’s episode titles because they were just so metal. What’s the story behind the titles?
It just me messing with people. [Laughs] To be honest, Jefferson’s nickname is Black Jesus, and one of the things I wanted to do was to keep that theme and to make it a little biblical, “The Book of this,” “The Book of that.”
Black Lightning has been renewed for season 2.