This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 3 Episode 14
Black Lightning is at its best when its heroes are in sync with one another, and operating from a place of complete trust. The Pierces have been fractured this season, but in this week’s episode, they navigate their issues in honest dialogue and come back together to protect Freeland, as a unit.
For the majority of the season, both the A.S.A. and the Markovians have been pulling their punches, waiting for the other to drop their guard, or looking for an opportunity to gain the upper hand. This gave off the impression that nothing was happening and called into question the legitimacy of the Markovian threat. But after Jefferson’s semi-successful mission in Markovia to rescue Lynn and retrieve Tobias, the Markovians are putting boots to the ground outside of Freeland, ready to bring the fight to their front door. They hit the Perdi first, which draws out Black Lightning and Thunder to help.
When formerly-deceased Lady Eve discovers that regularly-resurrected Lala has Tobias’ A.S.A. briefcase, she persuades him to hand it over, then passes it on to Gambi as a “peace offering.” TK makes short work of opening it and they discover it contains the genome of every meta the A.S.A. has had contact with, including the first known meta in recorded history.
Tyson Sykes was a Black soldier in the US military who heard one too many racial slurs and gave some white boys That Work. He was given a choice: court marshall or volunteer for the super soldier program. Naturally, he chose the not-prison option, and long story short his meta-gene was activated. He dropped bodies for the US for decades, earning him the moniker Gravedigger, but he ultimately chose to fight for Markovia because why fight for a country that doesn’t give a damn about you?
In what is absolutely no surprise to anyone, we learn that the US created the Markovian meta program to recreate their success with Sykes, and had been funding it for decades until the Markovian government was overturned. Gravedigger led that coup, and in what is perhaps the actual only shocking thing about all this… A Black man controls the Markovian army. I’m going to put aside my doubt that Markovians are somehow less anti-Black than your average American, and just be impressed that the writers always find a way to empower Black folk.
The A.S.A. is an organization, but the face of that organization is a Black man. The Markovian army is presumably all white, and it is led by a Black man. There doesn’t appear to be an entity in this universe too white that a Black man can’t be in charge of it. And I, for one, love to see it.
I love that this show refuses to center whiteness. Clearly everything that is happening in Freeland is allowed to happen because it is a majority Black and Brown city and the powers that be aggressively do not care about those demographics. The occupation relies on the government’s antipathy toward citizens of color, and in a very real way, the villain here is systemic racism and structural imbalances of power. And yet… At the end of the day, there is usually a Black man with a grudge or conviction spearheading the whole thing.
This show’s commitment to being Black AF should be lauded.
I’ve said before that Black Lightning is one of the more grounded shows in the Arrowverse —primarily due to how heavily it borrows from real-life cultural moments— but it is still a show about powered people, where impossible things aren’t just possible, but standard. And when it leans into that, it can be very fun. Like, nothing about Lala or Lady Eve make sense, and for all we know they’ve served their narrative purpose this season, but the thought that there is someone reviving dead people of questionable morals for no obvious reasons is interesting to me, and I wish we’d explore it more because, WHY?!
There is an expected level of absurdity with this kind of show and I wish there was maybe a bit more of that instead of near non-stop heavy, gritty storytelling. We can tell a compelling story with depth and nuance and still leave room for randomness and humor, and that is perhaps the thing this show lacks the most. I want characters to grow and be tested and to continually progress in some way, but that doesn’t always have to come in the form of trauma.
Khalil has been through a lot, especially in this episode when Painkiller breaks free and attacks Jennifer. And while I appreciate that Khalil is given space to process and navigate his trauma, I hate that he will be defined by it for the foreseeable future. I don’t want easy fixes, or for things to just work out for the sake of bringing levity to the show, but I also don’t want to watch every single character struggle in order to make things feel “real.”
The world of Black Lightning feels tangible, in part because it does reflect our reality and it does tell topical stories. But there is more to us than struggle, and letting the characters have more fun, and leaning into the randomness and absurdity of the setting would take this show to even greater heights.
We’ve waited all season for the Markovians to pop off, and now that they have, I’m excited to see how the Pierces and their allies deal with the invaders, and how the city responds. I’m just hoping the show lets up on the suffering and allows us to enjoy the fighting, display of powers, and the spectacle.