Black Lightning EP on how the 'pain and absurdity' of the world inspired season 2
Black Lightning has never shied away from politics and social issues. In the CW superhero drama’s first season, it used the Flint water crisis, the crack epidemic, and more to craft a story about the problems facing Freeland, the hometown of Black Lightning/Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams). And the show will continue to draw on history and current events to fuel its story in its sophomore year, which features storylines inspired by the border crisis and the “superpredator” scare of the ’90s.
Picking up approximately a week after the finale, season 2 finds the Pierce family and the rest of Freeland dealing with the consequences of the first season. Most importantly, there’s the issue of the drug Green Light, which was created by a rogue government organization and continues to spread through the community, leaving many Green Light babies in its wake. Meanwhile, Lynn (Christine Adams) tries to help the kidnapped children in the pods, and Jefferson works through the guilt he feels for drawing his family into this dangerous life.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, EW hopped on the phone with showrunner Salim Akil to talk about season 2’s real-world inspirations, which aspects of the comics he’s bringing into season 2, and more. Read on below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY:Let’s start at the beginning. Where do we pick we up in season 2?
SALIM AKIL: We basically pick up with them a week later, after having exposed Green Light and fought off this rogue faction of the ASA. Something that we’re doing that I wanted to do was lean a little bit more into tipping my hat to the comic book world. Although we’ll stay in our reality, what I’m doing this season is books. For instance, the first four episodes are called “The Book of Consequences: The Rise of the Green Light Baby.” What we’re talking about when we pick up is dealing with the consequences of the drug Green Light being introduced into this community. So that’s where we pick up at.
So you mean you’re drawing on the comics structurally? We’re not suddenly going to have monsters roaming around Freeland, right?
Yeah, we won’t have monsters. I remember not too long ago when crack hit the streets, someone coined the phrase that this was going to be a generation of “superpredators” that had no conscience, and they were talking about young black men and women who were addicted to crack and in the ghettos of America. So what we’re doing is something similar, examining what are the consequences of when you put a drug like Green Light in the community. To your point, we’re not going to have a bunch of monsters running around every week, but we will see the manifestation of what it does to each individual, because it does something different to each individual. So that to me is what’s interesting about it. We’re going to have fun, I love having fun. So there will be that aspect of it, but hopefully, when you see it, it will be steeped in something recognizable and can start the conversation.
In season 1, we saw that Green Light made people aggressive and gave them super-strength, among other things. In these first four episodes, will see Black Lightning basically tackling one case each episode?
It’s not a case per episode, no. It is an overarching community-based effort to tackle this. The interesting thing is that not everyone manifests super-strength as a result of taking Green Light. There are other ways we’re going to show that the drug has affected people. But it’s not going to be a villain-of-the-week sort of thing.
In season 1, you drew on a lot of real-world history. In addition to crack epidemic, what other real-world events inspired this season’s story?
It’s interesting. When I do these interviews, I laugh at myself because I sound so serious, and I’m really not that serious of a dude. But anyway… it’s interesting that you see these young parents trying to flee countries for various reasons, and what’s interesting to me is that we’re repeating history where we’re snatching children from their parents. We’re snatching them away for a different reason, but we’re still snatching kids from their parents. We’ve gotten to a point in some of our thinking, not everyone’s, where this is okay. To me, that is ridiculous. That is so unbelievable to me that it almost seems like you were reading a comic book. You have a leader who had pre-knowledge of what the result of doing this would result in, and they did it anyway because they say the person is breaking the law. “They’re breaking the law because you crossed a line in the sand and you walked over into our country. You broke the law because you were running from poverty or running from violence, or even if you just wanted your child to have a better life.”
Not too long ago, these same people, who are alive now, were cool with the law of Jim Crow. So we’re talking about laws as though laws are not fallible. Not too long ago, it was cool to have a white fountain and a black fountain. Not too long ago, that was the law. So these same people — a lot of them were in government then and certainly were alive — very few of them spoke out against these laws, and it was the people who helped change these laws. In dealing with the new season of Black Lightning, you will see that these parents, now that they know that their children or family members have been captured in these pods for over 30 years, want to see their children, or they want to see their family members. We’re going to deal with that.
To your point, I take a lot of inspiration from the pain and the absurdity of what a lot of people in this world have to go through. It’s just ridiculous. The same with the absurdity of trying to roll back on gay and lesbian rights. “Now you’ve pricked my imagination, and now I’m going to probably talk about it in the show, and show Anissa having an interest in a much fuller romantic life.” I react to things that way.
In season 1, Anissa [Nafessa Williams] discovered her powers. What’s the next step for her as both Anissa and Thunder?
In the first season, like you said, she discovered her powers, so that took a lot of her time, and the family issues took a lot of her time. We’ll still deal with those, but I think Anissa is a grown woman, and I think what you’ll see is her developing her own ideas about who she is and wanting to have a fuller life, not just her family. I think that’s important to see.
Chantal Thuy tweeted that she was back on set recently. What brings Grace Choy back into the picture?
What brings Grace Choy back is Anissa’s need to have a fuller life, and that’s kind of what brings her back.
For Jefferson, season 1 was about him getting back into the superhero game. What challenges is he facing as a superhero, and as a principal and father?
Oh, you’re going to see. It’s really hard for me to answer because I’d give it away, but I’ll say that his overarching feeling is guilt. If you think about it, there’s no more secrets [in the family]. He’s going to feel guilty because he feels like he’s the one that put everyone in this position. He’s taken the innocence of both of his daughters and his wife; Lynn shot somebody in that finale. Everybody’s sort of in the war now. You never wanted your daughters in the family business, right?
How is Lynn dealing with the aftermath of the finale? Is she feeling guilty too?
Yeah, I would say so, but not as much as Jefferson. I would say what I’m excited about this season is Lynn is going to be a lot more involved. She’s going to move past telling Jefferson, “You shouldn’t be Black Lightning,” and start to find a way to live a fuller life. We’re excited about the idea of her living a fuller life as a character and being a more activated [character] and not just reacting to her daughters or Jefferson.
On the other side of things, we have Tobias [Marvin Jones III], who came into possession of the suitcase. Now that he’s ascended to the throne, can you tease what’s in store for him this season?
In the first two episodes of our season, you’ll know exactly what Tobias wants and how he’s going to get it, and that’ll be exciting, I think. If I told you anything right now, you’d get it right away, and I don’t want to give it away because you’re a viewer too. I want you to be like, “Oh s—!” and hit me with an email.
Black Lightning returns Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 9 p.m. on the CW.