This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 3 Episode 15
There is something to be said about the fact that Black Lightning is given only 16 episodes a season when its contemporaries, sans Legends of Tomorrow, are given 22. In this case though, I think the shorter season length allows for more concise storytelling, and minimizes the need for filler episodes which often do very little to push the characters or the narrative forward. This season is so strong because it has focused intently on the story it wanted to tell and everything on-screen has been in service of that goal.
Black Lightning has maintained momentum by spending roughly the first half of the season in the insular world of A.S.A.-occupied Freeland, exploring characters through their individual response and adaptation to the circumstances. Though it perhaps took too long for the Markovians to become more than just boogeymen that Odell evoked to justify some unscrupulous action, that time spent with just the A.S.A. gave the audience much-needed context for the motivations and actions of the Markovians and their leader.
The A.S.A. detained, experimented on, and killed Freeland’s citizens under the false pretense of protecting them from a foreign military force intent on exploiting them. Forcing the audience to experience and sit with the A.S.A.’s treatment of Black folks and metas put us in a space where we could empathize with Gravedigger and approach him with more nuance than we may have, had we not seen first hand the mistreatment of Freeland’s people, which reflect his own experiences.
Gravedigger has a grudge against the United States, but instead of taking it to their military directly, he’s coming for other victims of their experiments in a comply or die situation. In his mind, he is liberating Freeland’s metas. Where Colonel Mosin wanted to build an army, Gravedigger just wants to… save them? By forcibly removing them from their homes under threat of death, so that they can be “free.” He is, if course, also a victim. And he is a product of his trauma. So while his logic isn’t objectively logical, it is easy enough to follow his internal reasoning.
Black Lightning is entrenched in moral ambiguity, and this episode is shades of grey epitomized.
The A.S.A. has always been a threat to Freeland, and the audience isn’t expected to see Jefferson’s decision to work with them now as inherently right or correct, not in the way that this same choice is framed at the beginning of the season. It was much easier to contextualize Jefferson or Lynn working with them when their operation seemed to have a smaller reach. One could be convinced it was the best choice, or the lesser of two evils. But that distinction is a lot less clear since the occupation, and the show does not make it black and white for the characters or the audience.
The US created the meta program in Markovia, and it created the A.S.A., it is thus singularly responsible for everything that is happening. But instead of taking any kind of responsibility, the US military is prepared to nuke Freeland (and the invading Markovians) which just further justifies Gravedigger’s hatred and antagonism. He is the clearly established villain but he also makes several valid points which makes him compelling. It’s easy to root against someone who is objectively wrong, but it’s much harder when their perspective has validity. The writers have done a great job of giving different sides equal weight without pushing a strict good guy/bad guy narrative.
The Pierces are “good” but they are fallible. They operate from a place of wanting to protect their family and their city, and that makes them heroes, but it doesn’t always make them right.
Jefferson coordinates a plan of attack for his team to confront Gravedigger when he touches down in Freeland. He puts himself and Anissa at the Frontline and puts Jennifer, who is the strongest of the team, at the back with the other kids. While this makes sense for a father to do, it doesn’t make sense tactically, so Jennifer, per usual, takes matters into her own hands. She asks TC to let her know when Gravedigger makes landfall, and when he does, she sneaks off to confront him by herself.
Gravedigger is the first (known) meta and his unique physiology allows him to take as much of Lynn’s meta booster serum as he wants without it wearing off, thus allowing him indefinite use of whatever powers he wants on top of his inherent abilities. Jennifer knows none of this and she comes at him with everything. He easily deflects her attack then throws her against the perimeter, taking it, and her, out. Luckily Black Lightning catches her before she crash lands and is able to jumpstart her heart with his electricity. He then comes face to face with Gravedigger.
Their confrontation is major not just because they are two extremely powerful metas, but as Lynn discovers, they share DNA. Gravedigger is Jefferson’s great uncle, and he is the first meta, which explains why the Pierces are the only stable metas in Freeland. Jefferson won’t want to kill his family, but Lynn implores him to choose himself or their girls if it comes down to it. Jefferson has had to make compromises to do what has been needed during the occupation, but whether he will be able to bend this much is something we’ll have to wait for the finale to see.
Some other things:
- Anissa asked Grace to marry her. Their relationship is one of the bright spots of the show even if the writers haven’t always included Grace into the story organically. The fact that Grace is suiting up, and that she’s evolving and getting stronger, hopefully means we’ll see more of her, and them together.
- Khalil is struggling to contain Painkiller, and when he runs into Markovians on the way out of Freeland, Painkiller takes the wheel. It’ll be interesting to see whether Khalil regains control, loses it entirely, or if they will learn to coexist.
- Brandon finally got to Dr. Jace and is trying to get out of her anything he can about his father. I love that for him, but I am a lot less invested in this story than I think the writers want me to be. I imagine, or hope, there will be some revelation about his parentage that will make his vendetta arc pay off *shrug*
- Lala is still looking for Tobias and has taken Dr. Blair hostage, looking for his whereabouts. And Lady Eve has reached out to Odell with an offer to provide the location of the briefcase in exchange for her old seat at the table. These are the only derailments from the primary story and I’m assuming they are setting things up for next season. Otherwise, the finale may have more loose threads than it has time to tie up.