Cress Williams on 'Black Lightning,' Jefferson's Endgame and Why The Show Is Forever Changed
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Television

Cress Williams on 'Black Lightning,' Jefferson's Endgame and Why The Show Is Forever Changed

Black Lightning has returned full throttle for a second season, and the stakes are higher and grittier this go-round. Last season, Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), a man who had been turned his back on his superhero alter-ego Black Lightning, decided he could no longer sit back and watch his city, Freeland, descend into chaos. After a nine-year hiatus, he chose to slip back into his super suit and use his superhuman abilities to harness and control electricity to try and save his community.

Jeff’s decision to step back into the masked vigilante’s shoes had quite the effect on his family. Namely, his scientist ex-wife, Lynn (Christine Adams) with whom he’d been working to rekindle a romance, and the couple’s daughters, Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain) – strong-minded young women who are discovering their own superpowers.

Despite his best efforts to help the people of Freeland, the season finale of Black Lightning ended with Jefferson at death's door. The menacing Tobias (Marvin Jones III), and his violent 100 gang nearly got the best of the high school principal. Just before the season premiere, Shadow and Act, headed to Decatur, Georgia to tour the Black Lightning set and speak to Williams about Season 2, how everything is about to change for the Pierce family, and why Jefferson will be juggling a lot more demons both in and out of his suit.

"The first part of this season is Jefferson realizing all of the bad things that happened in season one," Williams says. "He's ready to take all the good and is kind of in denial about the bad. In the first three episodes, he's getting confronted with, 'This is the bad repercussion of what you did to the school, this is the bad repercussion of this and that — this is the bad repercussion of your daughter now having powers.' He’s also grappling with his family, Anissa's jumped in, and she's active as [her alter ego] Thunder, Lynn's [working on a cure for the ill] Green Light Babies, and Jennifer's wrestling with her powers."

As far as where the chaos of season 1 has left Jefferson and Lynn, as always, their status is complicated. Because "season two picks up one week after the events of the season one finale, there's literally no time to have the 'define the relationship' talk," he says of Jefferson and Lynn. "So, I think we're just playing house. It's great because as a fan of the show and the characters, I want [Jeff and Lynn] to be remarried and together. So at least for the time being, we get to at least pretend that we are."

The UCLA alum is holding out hope that the couple will rebuild their relationship. "We made a point that they're formally divorced," he explained. "But I made a point of, just from the first episode that Jefferson still wears his wedding ring."

These kinds of touching details ground the character and the show, allowing for fans to relate to the complexity of family relationships. Though Black Lightning certainly has elements of the supernatural, Williams is quite proud of how true-to-life the show is. "What's cool about our show, I think, is that just because one thing happens, which is like real life, doesn't mean that the world stops," he explained. "Everybody's got a family and kids, and you've gotta juggle multiple things. Jefferson has this personal thing going on that is part of his identity, but all of the other things that are going on in Freeland continue to happen. What's going on in his family continues to happen. So he deals with that but then gets derailed with other things. We haven't resolved that."

Those unresolved issues give Williams the space to flex his skills on screen. "As the actor, I love the struggle of it because it gives me something really cool to play," he says. "I also hope that it's pretty messy along the way. Everybody's got individual things that they're wrestling with or dealing with -- to them, it's the end all or be all. Then, you have the family as a whole unit and the world around that."

Photo Credit: China Anne McClain as Jennifer and Cress Williams as Jefferson | Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW Photo Credit: China Anne McClain as Jennifer and Cress Williams as Jefferson | Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW

This season, Jefferson will also be struggling with his role as a father, especially when it comes to his eldest daughter Anissa becoming Thunder. In Season 2, she’s going to make some choices for herself that will undoubtedly set both of her parents on edge. However, as an adult, those are her decisions to make.

"It’s that same journey that parents and children have when the child passes 18, passes 21, so they are an adult, but maybe they still live under your roof," Williams reflected. "It’s that tension of, 'You're an adult and I gotta let you be an adult, but you're still my child, and we do things differently.' That's what's going to play out even more so in this season because Anissa starts to really step into her own and do things the way she sees fit."

That tension between these strong personalities--alongside the deep love these characters have for each other, promises plenty of plenty of drama this season.

"There's not really a lot of grey when it comes to Jefferson, he's very black and white," Williams says. "He's unsuccessfully trying to figure out what that next level looks like. How do you let your child go and be an adult? And how hard it must be when you see them doing things that you wouldn't do because you have that wisdom of knowing that it’s not going to end well. On some level, the very things that Jefferson has been warning her about are going to come true. She's gonna have to come with her tail between her legs and go, 'It worked out the way you said, and I need your help.'"

Despite everything that Jefferson has gone through and will go through, the Living Single alum believes his character has one ending in mind when it’s all said and done. "Down the line -- way down the line, I think that Jefferson's endgame would be to hang the suit up and go back to being Principal Pierce," Williams revealed. "His endgame would be to have a happy family again, watch Anissa become a full-fledged doctor, and see Jennifer control her powers, come into her own and have what she wants which is a normal life. That would be his endgame if Tobias doesn't exist and Freeland gets cleaned up."

It's interesting the way that Salim [Akil]  has structured the season. [The episodes are organized into four books:  The Book of Consequences, Black Jesus Blues, Master Lowry, and Translucent Freak.] Looking at the first three episodes, I think they're all still part of the same book, I was like, 'Oh, I'm not in the suit that much.' If anybody knows about the suit, I was pleased about that, but that also quickly changes. The show is called Black Lightning. It's not called Jefferson Pierce. "

Photo Credit: Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce and Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce | The CW Photo Credit: Nafessa Williams as Anissa Pierce and Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce | The CW

"Meanwhile," Williams continued, "Jefferson is trying to have business as usual and is getting faced with there's no business as usual. Normal is out the door, and everything's changing. I think that's kind of the first part of the season that is gonna shift into a lot more action -- a lot more of those repercussions as we go along."

The second season of Black Lightning premieres October 9 on The CW.

Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or tweet her @wordwitharamide.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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