This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 3 Episode 12
I watch TV to escape, so I watch very few straight contemporary shows. I like sci-fi and fantasy, and the pure, unadulterated escapism. But “superhero” shows straddle the line between realism and escapism because they exist in realities exactly like our own, except that magic is real. Whether or not meta-human abilities are magic is a discussion for another day.
Black Lightning rivals Legends of Tomorrow in how outlandish it can be, but it is somehow the most grounded of the Arrowverse shows. For that reason, it is not always fun to watch, and sometimes it’s downright difficult. This is especially true when episodes call on specific imagery to evoke something visceral in its viewers. This week’s episode hits the same emotional chords as some of the heavier ones, but isn’t as literal and is therefore easier, and more enjoyable, to watch.
The Markovians are finally making money moves. In the last episode, they abducted Lynn and Tobias. But they left Sgt. Grayle in Freeland, alive… to tell the tale, I guess. When Lynn sees Dr. Jace, it’s ON SIGHT. Lynn delivers a two-piece and a biscuit, then serves a second helping when Jace gets too familiar. Jace might not have made it if Colonel Mosin hadn’t shut Lynn down — with a shock collar (woo sah). Mosin tells Lynn how Odell conditioned her to take Green Light then leaves her a dose, to keep her sharp. Thanks, bro.
Two weeks ago, I said that Lynn under the influence of Green Light is a wild card, and we see in this episode, she is not one to be played with. Tobias learned that the hard way when he attacked her, and now he’s back where he started, strapped to somebody’s hospital bed, spewing anti-Black vitriol, mad. It’s wild to think that Tobias’ internalized racism doesn’t allow him to see other Black people as on his level, which leads to him constantly underestimating them.
Grayle—who, again, is left alive for some reason— tells Jefferson about Lynn’s abduction and sets up a meeting between Jefferson and Major Grey. Jefferson and Grey agree to squad up on an op to Markovia, on the condition that everyone Jefferson brings on the mission has complete immunity from the A.S.A. Anissa and Gambi have reservations, but they agree to join the team, along with Jennifer, Brandon, and Grace, who all insist on coming. I love that every powered person, and Gambi, is gung-ho to infiltrate a hostile foreign country, who also have metas, on their own soil. What’s up danger.
Jennifer has spent the majority of this season being manipulated by Odell, who wanted to forge her into a weapon for the A.S.A. And although she’s found most of her good sense, and came back into the light, she’s still the product of that conditioning. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Last week I said I wanted the writers to give Jennifer her due, and it’s like they heard me from the future because Jennifer really shows her growth in this episode.
After taking Painkiller down (and bringing him to the hideout) Jennifer learns that everyone else in her family knew Khalil was still alive. Last season, this would’ve probably led to a huge blowout and Jennifer losing control of her powers. But Jennifer just expresses her upset and continues on. She’s still emotional, but she’s not held captive by her emotions, and has become more powerful because of that.
Jennifer just wants Khalil back. TC uses his powers to get into Khalil’s head, and traps Painkiller (a program, essentially) behind a firewall so Khalil can regain control of his body. When Khalil refuses to exit his mental safe haven, Jennifer goes into his mindscape—his bedroom in his mom’s apartment—to coax him out. When Khalil emerges from the mindscape apartment, he’s confronted with the images of everything he’s done as Painkiller, including killing his mother. This is extremely jarring for him, and he is immobilized by the realization of what he (rather, his body) has done.
Actors don’t always get to flex on this show, but when they do, it can be powerful. Jordan Callloway absolutely murks this scene. He conveys despair, anger, and shame eloquently. I welled up, my heart broke for Khalil. Gambi told Jennifer before going in that Khalil may not be able to cope with what he’s done, and that proves to be the case. Khalil wants to stay in his own head, which he knows will kill him, but Jennifer convinces him to leave. His feelings don’t change once he’s awake in the real world, he tells Jennifer they can’t be together and denounces himself.
This is not the reunion I wanted for Jennifer and Khalil. I kind of wanted something sappy and romantic, like maybe Painkiller would see Jennifer, and Khalil’s feelings for her would be so overwhelming that he’d bypass the chip and break free from its programming. This is better, though. Jennifer does bring Khalil back but she isn’t a balm, and nothing as silly as love will magically heal all his wounds. There’s a lot of work to do and I hope Khalil is given the narrative space to do it.
Speaking of narrative space, Grace isn’t allowed much, which often makes her feel like an afterthought. Grace insists on going on the Markovia mission, and Anissa disagrees. They spar, so Grace can prove she can hold her own. But as fun as watching them fight is, it is a scene that mostly serves as a reminder to the audience that Grace can Do Things. I love that Anissa is a lesbian woman in a queer relationship with another WOC, and that their sexuality isn’t a storyline, but I hate that scenes with Grace feel tacked on. They always feel like a reminder of a character the writers intend to spend time with… at some point. I praised this season for its focus, it’s just too bad that it comes at the expense of some characters.
Jennifer is coming to her own and finding her superhero lane. Anissa is establishing her position as a capable leader. Jefferson is becoming less rigid, and adapting his heroics to Freeland’s and his family’s needs. Everybody is on task. Black Lightning is in its stride and continues to deliver. Let’s just hope next week these Markovians live up to the hype.
I don’t know if a trope exists that’s magical negro-adjacent but TC is dangerously close to being that.
Brandon has a positive effect on Jennifer and they keep each other grounded. I wouldn’t mind them coupling up but I would love for them to be really great, platonic friends… If he survives the season, which feels iffy to me.