Black Lightning Season 3 Episode 1 Review: The Book of Occupation: Chapter One: The Birth of Blackbird

Black Lightning is back for a third season, and Freeland is very much on Markovia's meta-hungry radar.

This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.

Black Lighting Season 3 Episode 1 Review

Black Lightning steps into its third season confidently. Picking up a few months from where last season left off, Freeland is under martial law and completely separate from the rest of the world — literally, under a force field. It was revealed in last season’s finale that a war with Markovia was coming. Markovians want metas for their army and are targeting Freeland because of its direct connection to creating an experimenting on them. Funny that the A.S.A. created the problem they’re now tasked with solving.

The people of Freeland are at the mercy of a military that wants to use metas for their own gain. Citizens are detained and scrutinized at even the slightest suspicion they may have the meta gene. We see Commander Williams (Christopher Duncan) threaten Chief Henderson to hold a press conference announcing stricter rules and curfews. It is clear that local law enforcement has little to no authority anymore, and that the A.S.A. has full power over the city.

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Power has a lot of different meanings on this show: There are metas, people who have powers that are beyond normal human ability. There are people like Jefferson and Chief Henderson who are respected and have the power of authority. There are people like Tobias who people fear and and cede power to. Then there is the A.S.A., which has structural power; power that is all-encompassing and that trumps the individual. Black Lightning does a good job of playing with these different concepts of power and showing how they interact, overlap, and cancel each other out.

With Jefferson detained at an A.S.A. facility, Black Lightning is MIA. Thunder and Lightning are also nowhere to be seen and some feel like they’ve abandoned the city. However, while Jennifer is lying low and mostly working behind-the-scenes, Anissa is operating openly as Blackbird. She dawns a voice-changing mask and basic street clothes and uses her power to liberate detainees, whom she brings to safety at Reverend Holt’s church. She is an individual, but because her ability allows her to become effectively indestructible, she has the power to disrupt the A.S.A.

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The A.S.A. has always been a big player in Black Lightning but Markovia is treated like the larger threat. However, we see a Markovian operative, Psyclotron, easily taken down by Commander Williams — who can mimic any meta’s power. It’s easy to imagine how this looks to the imprisoned metas: Where Williams is their jailer, Psyclotron is their potential liberator.

I wonder if this will become a part of the storyline. Maybe Markovia doesn’t need to “steal” metas, maybe metas will line up for their cause in retaliation for the treatment they’ve received at the hands of the U.S. government and the A.S.A. Black Lightning has never shied away from larger conversations and questions about authority and ethics, and examining the role of governments in radicalizing people would keep in line with the kind of topical storytelling the show is known for.

One of the things that attracts me to Black Lightning is how openly and unabashedly it addresses societal and systemic issues regarding race and class, among other things. These things aren’t just tacked on, the stories revolve around them; it is in the show’s DNA. Nothing about it feels inauthentic because it depicts a truth many Black people in this country have experience with. The Pierce family is a perfect lens with which to view this world because they operate in a space of relative privilege in the same oppressive systems that keep their city vulnerable.

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In going into this season, I was excited to see how Jennifer has progressed now that she’s taken ownership of her abilities. She is getting stronger, but with the constant threat of detection, it’s becoming more difficult for her to maintain control of her power. She has to use them or it hurts her. She’s at risk because her powers, unchecked, are dangerous and would make her an even bigger target for capture or worse. I hope that she will continue to explore and grow more confident in her power.

Anissa, on the other hand, has always been confident in her power and has always found a way to use it, even to her detriment. As Blackbird, she is a liberator and puts herself in between the military and the people of Freeland. When Gambi opens up a breach in the barrier surrounding the city, it’s Blackbird who leads people through it and who takes the hits single-handedly when the military encloses on them. When we last see Anissa at the end of this episode, she is outside the barrier, unconscious, having taken a direct hit from an explosive round. How she recovers from that and how she’ll get back into the city are things we have to wait for.

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Tobias was finally defeated at the end of last season and is now imprisoned in an A.S.A. facility where his powers are no longer keeping him from aging, and time is catching up with him. And while this gives us a reprieve from his specific brand of evil smarminess, the fact that he is not dead means he is an ever-present threat to the Pierce family. I don’t know that killing him off would be the move, but I suspect since he is still alive, he will have a larger part to play. What that part is is hard to say, but I’d be interested in any story that takes a break from Tobias vs Black Lightning.

This episode makes me anticipate the rest of the season. It does a good job of establishing where characters are now and what potential roles they may step into as the story progresses. Markovia is no longer an insidious, unknown threat, but an active one. I look forward to seeing how power shifts as a result of that and what it does for Freeland and our characters. I hope this season maintains focus and doesn’t find itself branching out too far away from its central conflicts. If the following episodes consistently operate at this level, this will be an exciting season to watch.

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4 out of 5