NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Black Lightning” are present in this review
It turns out that a lot has happened since the Season Two finale of Black Lightning. As the third season begins with, “The Book of Occupation: Chapter One: Birth of Blackbird”, Freeland is now governed by martial law, as the ASA’s forces step in to quarantine and examine metahumans, seemingly in preparation for the coming Markovian threat. The metahuman collection also includes Jefferson, who is being forcibly confined to the ASA’s custody, leaving Freeland without its main vigilante protector once again. This means that the Pierce sisters must pick up the slack, primarily Anissa, who has now made her ‘Blackbird’ identity the sole hero defending Freeland from ASA oppression.
Sidelining Jefferson in the season premiere is certainly a bold move, but it does present a nice chance to help Anissa and Jennifer keep coming into their own as budding superheroes. Now with the training wheels taken off, and Anissa in particular being single-handedly in charge of Freeland’s defense, both Anissa and Jennifer find themselves struggling separately with Freeland’s new ASA supervision and curfew. Anissa is combating it more directly, but Jennifer exploits Gambi’s face-changing technology to disguise herself as different people, allowing her to wander the city after curfew, and use her powers to prevent them from overwhelming her.
It turns out that Anissa is fighting the war for Freeland on two fronts as well! While she’s operating as Blackbird by night, by day, she’s instead functioning as a representative of Freeland’s metahuman clinic, which she’s keeping tabs on, in an effort to determine whether the clinic is secretly aiding the ASA in identifying and handing off metahumans. There’s certainly a lot of politics flying around Freeland too, as usual, namely addressing concerns over Black Lightning’s and Thunder’s disappearances, whether the clinic is on the up-and-up, and what the ASA’s presence means for the supposed war against Markovia. A Markovian kidnapping effort, led by obscure DC Comics baddie, Cyclotronic Man (until he’s seemingly killed by a hotshot commander, Carson Williams anyway), is also narrowly thwarted, seemingly proving that Markovia has indeed come to Freeland to target its metahuman supply.
As much as the material outside of the ASA holding facility was predictably the strongest part of Black Lightning’s third season premiere, there is one great storytelling wild card within the ASA that’s continuing to function very well, and that’s the ever-mysterious Agent Odell. Odell’s true loyalties and morality remain in question, which continues to play exceptionally off of Lynn in particular. Despite Odell appearing to want to make an honest effort to battle the Markovians, there’s always the hanging question of whether Odell isn’t faking most, if not all of the Markovian attack. This becomes particularly suspicious once Issa is forced to compel a rapidly-aging Tobias Whale to talk about the briefcase, wherein he reveals that Freeland’s metahuman oppression goes directly up to the President of the United States, and that Odell is using the battle against Markovia to capture metahumans and turn them into weapons. Odell then responds to this by killing Issa via poisoning, and lying to Lynn about it. Yikes!
The idea of Tobias aging rapidly and nearing death without his serum injections is pretty interesting, but frustratingly, the episode doesn’t end up exploring much of this. Instead, most of the material at the ASA facility that doesn’t revolve around questioning Odell’s motives instead surrounds Jefferson, who is being forcibly detained, so that Odell can, “Protect his assets.” This is a bit of a lame explanation for why Jefferson is being confined though. It feels like too transparent of an excuse to sideline him so that his daughters can take charge in Freeland proper. Odell preventing Jefferson from leaving, even after his mandated quarantine time is up, also feels all too predictable, particularly since Lynn is also prevented from leaving, because her research is invaluable when it comes to controlling the captured metahumans.
Fortunately, another more interesting quest unfolds in the city to round things off, as the season premiere lays the groundwork for another politically-charged and dramatic season of Black Lightning. Apparently, everyone has been trapped in Freeland by the ASA, leading to Anissa working with Gambi to try and smuggle various people out via a weak point in the city’s barrier. Anissa doing this successfully is pretty exciting too, even if she ends up getting blown through the other side of the barrier by a grenade launcher, as the episode is winding down! This definitely proves more exciting than the latest Grace sighting, which proves that Grace is wandering around Freeland attacking ASA soldiers, and… That’s it. Man, this show really does not know what to do with Grace, does it? To add insult to injury, Anissa ends up sleeping with a reporter from out of town that ended up being trapped in Freeland by chance as well, possibly setting up a tedious love triangle, albeit one that may hopefully prove to be better than the increasingly annoying Anissa/Grace drama from last season.
Either way, Lala yet again awakening at the end of the episode handily addresses that storytelling question, even though a dying Tobias Whale probably won’t be able to make much use of him against Black Lightning at this point. Speaking of, it’s a bit ironic that Black Lightning himself would end up being the weakest element of Black Lightning’s latest season premiere, where he can see ‘visions’ of Issa and Tobias via a new mutation in his powers, a turn that feels pretty contrived to say the least. Still, it was nice to put Anissa single-handedly on the front lines of Freeland’s new war for metahumans, even if Jennifer still isn’t able to join the fight to the same degree. Even then however, Anissa has now found herself on the other side of the ASA’s barrier, no doubt leaving the city freshly vulnerable to the ASA’s tightening grip, just in time for Jennifer to likely step up in her sister’s place. I’m still not sure exactly how Markovia is invading Freeland, when it’s so tightly locked up, but for all we know, with talk of a metahuman-imprisoning conspiracy that goes all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief, maybe the true threat to Freeland is domestic, not international.
- The ASA-occupied Freeland now having to be protected solely by Anissa
- Agent Odell's increasingly intriguing moral ambiguity
- Tobias rapidly nearing death in prison
- Too many annoying contrivances with Jefferson's imprisonment
- Grace yet again distracting from better storylines