On March 14th, I was at a delightfully nerdy wedding in San Diego. March 16th, I was in full-on quarantine, forbidden from interacting with people, all of my classes were cancelled while they figured out how to teach Hospitality Management online (which I could almost do a separate blog on), and my theatre company was dealing with a crisis, which had my mood falling into a depressive spiral… so I did the only thing that made sense. I played Civilization 6 with a friend over the internet while watching nearly the entire third season of Black Lightning in two goes. I’d watched the first three episodes as they aired (more or less) but then fell behind and stayed behind. Well, nowhere to go and nothing to do, may as well binge some Black Lightning.
we’re talking about superhero TV suckers how’d the third season go?
Perhaps the thing that kept it off my watch-list was the kinda grim opening. Corrupt intelligence agency the ASA has put all of Freeland under martial law as they and the rogue nation of Markovia are fighting over who will control the city’s supply of chemically-induced metahumans. The titular hero was in ASA custody while they figured out how to use him. Things were not great for the people of Freeland.
But if you look at the third season in the context of the previous two, it really works. What we saw here was the culmination of a three-season arc. Season one introduced us to the ASA’s attempts to create an army of meta-soldiers out of Freeland’s African-American population: both the original attempt that created Black Lightning, and the second round caused by the highly addictive drug Green Light. Season two saw the ASA step up their attempts to control the new wave of metas, and weaponize the originals, who had been kept in stasis tubes for decades; and then just as the Family Lightning was trying to stand up to the ASA, their cold-as-ice commander Agent Odell (a chilling Bill Duke) revealed that the rogue nation of Markovia (which has comics connections to Black Lightning we don’t have time for*) was also trying to build a meta-human army, and were willing to invade Freeland to get one.
*Black Lightning was a founding member of C-list superteam the Outsiders, alongside Geo-Force**, who was the crown prince of Markovia. Guess we did have time.
**One of the metas Team Lightning works with has powers similar to Geo-Force’s, and almost names himself that in an Easter Egg gag, but gets cut off before he can. Makes sense, powers aside, he’s not remotely similar as a character.
So the Pierce family find themselves caught between two unpleasant forces. Patriarch Jefferson/Black Lightning tries his best to keep Freeland and his family safe; matriarch Lynn keeps working with the ASA in an attempt to save the lives of the original Green Light kids (but falls victim to Odell’s schemes); older daughter Anissa/Thunder fights to smuggle meta-kids out of Freeland using her backup superhero identity Blackbird; younger and very stupidly stubborn daughter Jennifer/Lightning gets suckered into working with the ASA; Jefferson’s adoptive father figure Gambi works to bring down his former employers; and Jennifer’s first great love (apparently) Khalil, last seen dying from having his artificial spine literally ripped out by crime lord Tobias Whale, is brought back to life as brutal ASA assassin Painkiller… but the real Khalil may still be in there somewhere.
The ASA are bad, bad people and deserve to be stopped. But the Markovians are at the door and they are not an improvement. This leaves the Lightning Family stuck in the middle, just trying to make life better for the innocent people of Freeland. It makes for solid dilemmas, keeps the Pierces off their toes, and while the season is basically one long story, it still has chapters and levels and stays dynamic.
And Wayne Brady is the final boss of it all? That’s a surprise. Wayne freaking Brady turns up in the third act as Gravedigger, America’s first metahuman solider, a World War II experiment who turned on his country after living through decades upon decades of institutional racism and so defected to Markovia. He actually does quite well in the role, and allowed me to use the sentence “That was a great long-shot of Wayne Brady murdering the hell out of some Nazis.” Nobody could have predicted that was a thing I might have to say.
So overall, it’s a great epic conclusion to the ASA saga that’s dominated the show up to this point. I just have a few notes… it was a little rough needing to watch 16 episodes to get closure on even one storyline; I have no idea where they go from here; and I’m going to need more time on the others. Okay. First…
Two characters were kinda underused. Inspector Bill Henderson, who started the show as Freeland’s One Good Cop and became Black Lightning’s Commissioner Gordon, had depressingly little to do in what turned out to be his last season on the show. And Black Lightning’s nemesis, Tobias Whale, gets some meaty speeches but is basically in a holding pattern, spending the season a prisoner of either the ASA or Markovia. Like Stringer Bell in the second season of The Wire, it feels like Tobias is only here because they’re going to need him next year, so they want to keep the actor on the payroll.
Third… Jennifer finds the dumbest take on any situation and over-commits to it. Most annoying? She gets mad at her entire family for not telling her Khalil is still sort of alive, to which I would have liked just one family member to say “Well you have never, in your life, made a good choice when it comes to him.” She’s willing to risk anything for Khalil, manages to bring him back, then she gets one brief look at the Painkiller persona and wants nothing to do with him, and I’m like “Woman, literally everyone told you about this, even him.” I do not love Jennifer Pierce.
And finally… Black Lightning got to do his first CW crossover, appearing in parts three and five of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and then in the end, Black Lightning’s Earth was rolled into Earth-Prime, meaning he now officially co-exists with the Flash, Supergirl, Superman, Batwoman, the Legends, and all their associated side-heroes. Now… this changed nothing about the season arc or the show in general (unlike Flash and Supergirl), but it did feel like this should have had some impact. I managed to justify a lot of my questions, though…
(Note: Yes, it absolutely would have been better if any of these explanations were in the text. But maybe we don’t need our entertainment to waste time answering every nitpick the internet might have.)
(That link is to a 36-minute video but it’s worth it, maybe just finish reading my thing first?)
Q: If Black Lightning is in the CW Justice League/Superfriends now, why didn’t the other heroes come help him?
A: Well, watch their shows, they are very busy. Also the ASA coverup of their sinister actions was very effective; the outside world thought Freeland was quarantined due to a pandemic (oof, that aged badly in a hurry). Flash, Superman, and Supergirl are trusting people; they’re not going to assume the government is lying. And, again, they have a lot going on. Also, when Black Lightning invades Markovia to rescue Lynn? That was an awkward as hell mission to take Famed American Heroes Flash or Supergirl on. It made sense that he only assembled a strike team of Regular and Recurring Characters from Black Lightning. (Also Batwoman would have said no, she was going through some shit at the time.)
Q: If Markovia and the ASA are fighting over meta-human soldiers, why aren’t either of them in Central City, America’s other major hub of meta-powers?
A: Because Central City metas were caused by a particle accelerator explosion infecting citizens with dark matter, whereas Freeland metas were sold an addictive drug. One of those seems way easier to replicate.
Q: Why doesn’t Black Lightning call his super-friends for help?
A: Same reason the Flash only showed up to help Green Arrow three times outside of the crossovers. Because they never do, they never will, just accept it. Not in the comics, not in the Marvel movies, not in the Marvel Netflix shows that never presented a valid excuse, not in the Arrowverse. Yes, Supergirl could have fixed nearly every problem Black Lightning had, but “Black Lightning: the Superhero Who Calls His Whiter and More Powerful Friends to Save Him” is terrible television.
That said… when what they need to do is expose the horrible abuses of the ASA… I couldn’t help but wonder why Jefferson didn’t even try to contact the two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists he met with superhearing and flight and bullet-proof skin. If Kara “Supergirl” Danvers can take a minute to help Batwoman come out as gay (and she did, via a CatCo interview/cover story), surely she’d have time to expose a massive crime committed by a government agency. And they’d have done much better standing up to the Markovians than the actual journalist they recruit. Maybe nobody told him Kara and Clark’s secret identities? Does he only know who Flash and Batwoman are?
Anyway, good job, Black Lightning.
Next page: Some Oscar bait nobody saw