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Black Lightning Star On The Moral Complexities Of Playing The Villain

According to Marvin Jones III, the best kinds of villains are the ones who mirror the hero in unsettling ways

It's often said that the strength of a hero is determined by the cunning of its villain. But for Tobias Whale (Marvin Jones III), the tortured drug kingpin at the center of Black Lightning, it goes even deeper than that.

Freeland hero Black Lightning (Cress Williams) and his adversary Whale are more alike than they are different, both operating from their own moral code and staunch sense of justice. One is the self-proclaimed "King of Freeland" and the other, its sworn protector.

"If you look at Black Lightning and Tobias Whale, they're not all that different. The swell of revenge is high on both ends," Jones told MTV News, adding that their personal loses — Jefferson's father, Tobias's sister — only add to their mounting conflict.

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But there's also an insecurity to Whale, who on the surface is so menacing but is driven by his own inner turmoil, that Jones taps into, especially in the harrowing conclusion of the season. There's a scene in the penultimate episode ("The Resurrection and the Light: The Book of Pain") that so heartbreakingly quiet but speaks volumes to Whale's character. After the devastating loss of his sister and the return of his vigilante enemy, Black Lightning, he examines himself in the mirror, taking in the physical scars left on his body while his emotional scars weigh heavy on his mind.

For Jones, the scene was more than another excuse for the CW to get one of its male television stars shirtless. (Though, he does jokingly admit, "If you're not a freakin' model, you can't be on the show.") This was Whale at his most vulnerable and self-loathing.

"He's looking at his physical wounds, of course, but he also has a lot of internal things going on with him," he said. "At the same time, he's trying to be the mature man. He's trying to not let his need for vengeance consume him."

Ultimately, it's that impenetrable thirst for vengeance that separates good from evil, superhero from super villain. Even at the height of his power in the Season 1 finale — with Proctor off the Freeland chessboard for good and the ASA seemingly eliminated — Whale isn't satisfied. He wants more. He wants to destroy Black Lightning.

"He's feeling confident in his decisions," Jones said. "He's reaffirmed in his own abilities and his decisions, but at the same time, he has more allegiance to his own satisfaction than he does anyone's else's."

Because when it comes to playing the villain, the best kind of justice is the kind you take, even if you have to do so with your bare hands.