Breaking Down the Black Lightning Series Finale With Showrunner Salim Akil

Tonight saw the end of Black Lightning. The CW superhero family drama ran for four seasons and ended on its own terms, with the story playing out tonight just like it always seemed like it had to -- with a showdown between Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) and Tobias Whale (Marvin Jones III). With the heroes of Freeland getting their powers back, the series ended as the family story that it began as, and showrunner Salim Akil, who helped shepherd the character to the screen along with producer Mara Brock Akil and Berlanti Productions, has been there with Jefferson from start to finish.

Unfortunately, the planned Painkiller spinoff starring Jordan Calloway will not go forward. That means, for now, the story of Freeland is done until and unless somebody decides to bring one of these characters to another Arrowverse show.

Akil joined ComicBook to break down the finale.

What went into the decision to have to give Lala the last word?

Well, I just wanted to give people hope. You know these characters are, I think all the characters on black lightning have contributed to what I consider, the mission of the show. And Lala has always been one of my favorite characters because he reminds me so much of myself and a lot of my friends that I grew up with. Someone that is seen as a villain, and in a lot of ways he is, but he also has a moral compass, and he really sees what he does as a business, and he then contributes to the community. So, I really wanted to have Lala stand up and represent that.

You decided to wipe Khalil's memories of the Pierce family. Was that a hard choice or was that something you knew you wanted to do as soon as you started entertaining the idea of spinning Painkiller off?

It was something that I knew I wanted to do because I wanted to give him sort of a fresh start and really get that kill quarter out of his head so that he, and so that Khalil and Painkiller could try to develop a working relationship. It's still going to be difficult for them to develop that relationship. But as we've seen on Black Lightning, they're managing it. Now that they don't have that kill order to talk about or to negotiate, I wanted to just leave them with just themselves, you know?

Most superhero shows, the first season is just their evil doppelganger. Black Lightning never went that way, but we did get to see Khalil and Jennifer both deal with that. Was that an intentional commentary, or just something that happened organically?

Well, with Khalil, I think I take myself a little bit too seriously, but what I'm trying to explore is the duality of a lot of African-American men. And I mean, W.E.B. Du Bois talked about it. In one regard, you want to be the American dream. You want to be that participant in American culture, but at the same time, you're always seen as the other.

Within yourself, what you're trying to do is become whole. You're trying to become a whole person, and there's always something that separates you from the whole. There's always a reminder of what separates you from the, be it police brutality, the lack of jobs, lack of concern about the violence in your community.

So the idea behind him becoming sort of a mirror image or the bad side, Painkiller being the bad side of him, it was just this idea that I just talked about with Lala, is that you have a lot of young men out there who are trying to become whole, and there are so many. A lot of young African American men, Latin men, Asian men, any other gay men who are trying to become whole. And I'm specifically talking about men only because we were talking about Khalil and Painkiller. That they're always reminded that they're the other.

In terms of Jennifer, when China decided that she wanted to leave the show, I was just trying to figure out what would be a decent way to solve the challenge of her leaving. So that one sort of happened from a creative standpoint.

To this day, no superhero show has ever had a more visceral opening, than the traffic stop in the Black Lightning pilot.

God yeah. That came straight out of my life man. It came straight out of my life.

We talked about that at DC in DC. That was such an intensely personal thing -- as the show has grown and evolved, have you been able to keep it very personal, or have you opened it up to the experiences of the writers a little bit more?

I think that there are particular episodes that were very personal or a story arc that were very personal. The arcs come from a personal place, but then you have to allow the artists, the other artists that are around you to do their thing, because that's why they're there.

Particularly in this last season, I did very, very little rewriting because I knew it was the last season. I wanted the other artists, the writers, and everyone else, to be able to express themselves freely. So that was a really interesting experience for me, but it was a good experience.

Jeff's early experience, when his daughters started to manifest powers, was to be very protective of them. By the end of the series, he's handing off the mantle. What went into the decision to essentially take Jeff completely off the board for the first half of the episode?

It just sort of happened naturally. This thing with Tobias that he had, that coffin to me was like a breakthrough in terms of his psychology. And so you saw the flashbacks where he talked to Gambi, and we finally realized why he's so against killing, and you saw the flashback with his father.

Those two things, to me, were like breakthrough therapy sessions. If you notice, Jeff never stopped to just reflect. Being in that coffin -- being nothing but human, without any powers...they say, when you're close to death, your life begins to flash before your eyes.

I didn't feel it necessary to have him fly around or having a bunch of fights. I really wanted to resolve his psyche. That's why we did that.

Black Lightning didn't start as part of the Arrowverse, but they are very much there now. How has it been introducing these characters to this wider world and knowing that when the show is over, they are still going to be carried on and exist beyond Black Lightning?

I think so. I think any show that's on anywhere should take advantage of the fact that they're out there. You shouldn't leave the show without that as a possibility. I think it totally fits the characters. Superman had Inspector Henderson as being part of that. Initially when we started, I was just so focused and adamant about people getting to know these characters and know Freeland. So at that time, I just didn't want to sort of step into the broader world.

But now, I hope that any show, anywhere, that is in the DC Universe, takes full advantage of the fact that they are part of DC Universe, because I think it would only benefit them in the short term and in the long run.

Superheroes are so dominant as a genre now that it almost feels like a bucket list thing that everyone has to do one. Is that itch scratched for you now, or are you still interested in doing some more?

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It's interesting. I really never thought it was a show about superheroes. I always saw it as a family show. I always saw it as a way to communicate people, having fun by having great music, by having great stories, but ultimately what it's about for me is to help others in their community, and an interesting family dynamic. And it's very odd thing for a family to go through the things that they went through together and come out alive whole and healthy.

So in terms of the itch, the itch is always about telling great stories. If it's a Western, if it's sci-fi, or whatever, for me, the itch is always, "can I tell a story that people can identify with?" Hopefully they can say, "oh, I know a person like that," or, "oh that's a problem that I have," or "I'm like that." I always want them to be able to identify with something or someone. So the itch is about telling stories, not necessarily the genre.