NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Black Lightning” are present in this review
The increasingly busy occupation of Freeland is continuing to create a scattered series of storylines on Black Lightning, particularly with the heroes now scattered across various sectors of the city. “The Book of Occupation: Chapter Two: Maryam’s Tasbih” continues directly on from the events of the season premiere, with Jennifer having to hold down the fort at home, Anissa being on the outside of the ASA barrier in South Freeland, Jefferson and Lynn being stuck in ASA custody, and Gambi trying to covertly gather intelligence against the ASA, with the begrudging help of Henderson. All the while, the power vacuum within The 100 left by Tobias’ arrest leads to an opportunity to seize power by Lala, who is now determined to strike back at Tobias in his own way.
The Freeland occupation by itself remains an interesting scenario, and there are some highlight storylines within this mess of plotting. That’s just it though– This episode is a bit of a disjointed mess, jumping around willy-nilly in order to keep up with all of the various personalities that are crucial to the current series arc, with mixed success. Many of the payoffs simply amount to setups for the next two episodes as well, demanding that viewers come back next week, if not two weeks later, in order to see what happens with many of the ongoing developments in Freeland. This makes for an annoying sense of Black Lightning spinning its wheels on this particular week, rather than actually meaningfully moving the story forward.
First, the better story arcs, of which Anissa’s is arguably one of the best. It turns out that Anissa, as Blackbird, has ended up striking a deal with the Perdi in South Freeland, paying them to provide food and shelter for those being smuggled outside of Freeland proper. This results in increasing tension between both the refugees and the Perdi, which Anissa has to continually try and defuse. All the while, Markovian and ASA patrols provide a persistent obstacle, forcing Anissa to rough up the enemy patrols and Perdi naysayers in equal measure! Seeing Anissa become increasingly brutal and exasperated due to her efforts to smuggle people out of Freeland’s city limits makes for a lot of great storytelling, especially when it begs the question of how much of Anissa’s violence is for her cover as Blackbird, and how much is due to Anissa buckling under the pressure to be Freeland’s current sole superhero.
Likewise, Jennifer holding down the fort at the Pierce family home, as well as Garfield High, makes for some more better storytelling, which is why it’s a shame that more focus wasn’t placed on Jennifer’s arc here. Jennifer not only has to maintain Anissa’s cover as Blackbird when Odell visits the Pierce household, on top of negotiating for reduced surveillance, but also has to desperately try and appeal to the increasingly undisciplined students at Garfield High, two of whom she has to rough up as well, while hiding her powers! This also happens to nicely complement the ASA ‘re-activating’ Khalil, who appears to be some sort of clone with a brain chip implanted in him in this case, making him completely subservient to the ASA as a living weapon. Odell chillingly sending the revived Khalil on a first mission to kill his own mother, as a test run, made for one of the most effectively dramatic moments of this episode too, while also providing a memorable re-introduction to Khalil’s character, now as a mindless ASA enforcer, instead of a reluctant thug for Tobias Whale.
Unfortunately, the rest of the storytelling surrounding the ASA once again felt underwhelming in this episode, especially where Jefferson and Lynn were concerned. Lynn trying to help a struggling Green Light victim whose cells are degrading presents some promise, particularly when Jefferson surprisingly talks as if she’s an asset, much like Odell, but the conflicts between Jefferson and Lynn regarding their subject feel very forced here. Jefferson suddenly seeing his fellow Green Light metahumans as disposable in any respect feels especially out-of-character for him to boot! Not only that, but Jefferson’s friction with Commander Williams also ends up going nowhere, instead merely leading to the revelation that the ASA are still aware of Jefferson’s energy signature, and are forcing their metahuman subjects to fight each other for research. Well, duh! This isn’t terribly shocking on either count, and once again makes Jefferson and Lynn feel like they’re forcibly benched, so that Black Lightning’s supporting cast can get heightened focus during the ASA occupation.
The rest of the storylines in the episode are barely worth mentioning, and are just awkwardly dumped in here and there, without a real sense of flow or engagement. Moments like the Markovians rallying troops, and Lala taking apparent leadership of The 100, could have been interesting, but they’re lacking in any real sense of drama or dread. Lala being gunned down by lieutenants of The 100, only to be resurrected and thus take their loyalty, is completely predictable and underwhelming in execution for example, since viewers are already well aware of the fact that Lala can’t be killed by mere bullets. Likewise, Gambi forming an alliance with Henderson, forcing him to side with the ASA in public, but work against them in private, also presents some promise, particularly when Gambi makes use of some of his hologram technology to pose as an ASA solider on the streets of Freeland. All this amounts to however is Gambi stealing some piece of tech so that he can better communicate with Anissa, which merely tips Anissa off to the patrols that she would have easily beaten anyway. It does little but eat up more runtime in an episode that’s already a pretty big mess of story arcs.
I do at least get the sense that Black Lightning is going somewhere with this car crash of storytelling, but it has to waste a week laying the foundation for the next duo of offerings from the, “Book of Occupation” story pod, and that’s very disappointing. “The Book of Occupation: Chapter Two: Maryam’s Tasbih” is frustratingly disjointed and uneven with its plotting, presenting good story arcs for the resurrected Khalil and the Pierce sisters, but almost everyone else is left to languish around and either barely accomplish anything, or go through the motions of predictable, uninteresting story arcs. The ASA’s stranglehold on Freeland is predictably not loosening at all either, even as Jefferson brings up the very speculation that I wondered about during the season premiere; If the entire invasion is a government ploy to capture and experiment on metahumans in Freeland. That question still hasn’t yet been answered, but regardless of what the ASA or Markovia is up to, hopefully the show can find a more interesting and consistent obstacle to engage Black Lightning’s ensemble of characters with, rather than just leaving them to impotently struggle against the inevitable.
- Anissa's increasing brutality as Blackbird
- Jennifer struggling to protect the home front
- Khalil being resurrected as a mindless ASA weapon
- Jefferson/Lynn conflicts are forced and annoying
- Lala seizing power in The 100 is underwhelming
- Gambi/Henderson alliance is under-utilized