Black Lightning Season 3 Episode 16 Review: Book of War: Chapter 3: Liberation

Black Lightning Season 3 ramps up to a climactic ending, and not everyone makes it out alive.

Photo: The CW

This Black Lightning review contains major spoilers.

Black Lightning is a show that doesn’t concern itself with being chill. It has zero chill and never tries to give the impression that it ever has or ever wants to have chill. It doesn’t go from zero to 100 because that implies it even has a zero, which it does not. This show stays on the accelerator, and it might let up a little, but it has never heard of a brake, it’s full throttle till the gas is exhausted… 

The Season 3 finale starts at 100: After saving Jennifer (following her foolhardy attempt to take on Gravedigger solo), Jefferson charges up and takes Gravedigger on himself. What follows is one of many superpowered, supercharged showdowns between Gravedigger with his array of borrowed powers and various members of Black Lightning’s meta team. 

Elsewhere, throughout Freeland, Markovians are snatching metas, destroying police and fire stations, and killing citizens indiscriminately. Jameelah Olsen reports on the Markovian invasion live from the streets and is gunned down on-camera. Where the camera could have focused on her attacker, or her wounds, it instead focuses on her face. It lingers just long enough for us to grasp the gravity of the situation, but not long enough to feel voyeuristic. This kind of visual can hit too close to home, and can be uncomfortable to watch, but it fits the narrative and doesn’t feel gratuitous.

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This season gave us a full military occupation by a shady government entity, and a Russian-adjacent foreign threat, both hellbent on turning Freeland’s metas into their weapons. From the first episode, we’ve been in the shit, and every episode since has kept us in it. We’ve watched our heroes struggle, adapt, learn, grow, and evolve. We’ve watched characters we care about be tested in ways we didn’t expect and seen them come out different, stronger, and more prepared to face their enemies and themselves.

Jefferson has always been a leader, he’s always respected authority, and he’s always had a strong sense of what is right. That has been his foundation as a father, an educator, and a superhero. The A.S.A. occupation of Freeland and the treatment of its citizens challenged Jefferson’s moral code, and he had to soften some of his hard lines in order to be effective against Odell and the A.S.A. Ultimately he came down on the side of doing what needed to be done to protect the whole, even at the expense of the individual. Jefferson maintains his sense of rightness but he’s also learned to adapt.

Lynn, on the other hand, held fast to her personal sense of rightness throughout, sometimes to her detriment. She worked for the A.S.A., knowing their intentions to do harm, hoping she could save Freeland’s pod kids and Greenlight metas. She continued her work even when there was a possibility it could further empower the A.S.A. and Markovia. Her struggle with addiction this season made her bold and unpredictable in ways that sometimes worked against her, but she was able to help save Freeland from the Markovian invasion, and eventually stabilize Freeland’s metas. All while under the influence of Greenlight. I have made my feelings about her addiction clear, and I remain unconvinced it was necessary to tell this story, but Lynn has been a more dynamic character this season, which was exciting to see. 

Jennifer has grown the most this season. She started out as Odell’s willing apprentice, enthusiastically developing and using her powers in service of the A.S.A. It took seeing the worst-case versions of herself from alternate universes to move her toward independent thought and action. Once she established for herself what was right, what was wrong, and who the real enemies were, she was an unstoppable force. This got her in a lot of trouble, especially in the last episode, when she confronted Gravedigger alone and almost died. But it also showed that she’s fully embraced her powers and accepted the responsibility of having them.

Anissa has been the most consistent over three seasons. She’s always shown potential and a willingness to step up, and this season she came into her own as a hero and a leader. She struggled with having authority earlier in the season, going too hard on Anaya and the Perdi, but she’s a more thoughtful leader now.

Other characters have also shown up and shown out.

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Henderson, as acting police chief, had to cooperate with the A.S.A., but he was secretly leading the Resistance the whole time. Like Jefferson, his strict sense of what is right was challenged, but unlike Jefferson, he adapted quickly. When Markovians tried to ambush Jefferson, Henderson took them out, saving Jefferson (and Jennifer) before succumbing to his wounds. He lived a hero and died a hero, and he didn’t need meta powers for that to be true.

Khalil also showed immense growth this season. After Painkiller rampages (taking out Markovians, helpfully), Khalil (shirtless, I feel the need to mention) fights him in their mindscape, and regains control of his body. After Odell wipes his hands of Freeland, and sets self-destruct on the Pit, Khalil thwarts his getaway. Instead of killing Odell, which would be within his rights, Khalil shoots him and leaves him for Jefferson or God to deal with. There are still places for him to go if he returns for future seasons, but if this is the last we see of him, he’s had a satisfying narrative arc, and this is a solid place to leave him.

TC has been clutch all season, and he was absolutely vital in every successful move Black Lightning and the team made. I only hope he gets to be more than just useful if he appears in future seasons. Brandon did a lot to keep Jennifer grounded, and even though his personal vendetta felt superfluous, I like him as a character and wouldn’t mind seeing him and Jennifer explore their relationship. Lady Eve and Lala really only came to serve their specific purposes, but both of them in their own (mostly selfish) ways, helped to protect Freeland and I respect that.

This season moves characters forward in ways both subtle and overt, and they are so clearly defined. After the Markovian invasion, there is a special commission in Gotham in which Lynn and Black Lightning are asked to testify about the occupation and the invasion. Black Lightning presents the commission with the A.S.A. briefcase chronicling decades of their heinous crimes.

The Markovians were the boogeymen of the season, and though they rose to the level of threat they were promised to be, they were still secondary to the real villain. Odell was never going to be a good guy, and the A.S.A. was never going to be justified. The A.S.A. is responsible for _decades_ of experimentation on Freeland’s vulnerable Black and Brown population. It is partly responsible for making and keeping Freeland vulnerable.

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The A.S.A., and the larger governing body of this country — which was built atop the labor and oppression of Black people — are responsible for everything, all roads lead back to them. It was their initial experimentation on Gravedigger and their desire to create more metas like him that birthed the meta program in Markovia and in Freeland. I love that Black Lightning can tell a story of this scope while maintaining an intimacy with the characters and with the city itself. There may be vast conspiracies, but the focus always comes back to the people of Freeland, and to the characters we care about.

This episode expertly wraps up the season-long arc, putting an end to Odell and the A.S.A. and pushing Markovia back into the shadows. It ties up all major loose ends while teasing the return of Tobias and Gravedigger, both powerful metas with personal grievances against the Pierce family. It gives us a very clear sense of who everyone is and what they are about and we know Black Lightning and his family stand ready to buck up to whatever comes their way next.

Black Lightning kept its foot on the gas, and on our necks, the entire season. Real life doesn’t slow down or wait for you to catch up, so it’s only fitting that the show move in the same way, keeping us on our toes the entire time. Black Lightning tells meaningful, relevant stories about Black identity, culture, and politics, with powers and superheroics superimposed. It’s about Jefferson, the father and community leader, as much as it is about Black Lightning, the meta and masked hero. It goes hard because it can, and because it’s the responsibility of a show like this to use its framework of superheroism to tell rich stories about people because, ultimately, that’s who heroes are.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5