This Black Lightning review contains spoilers.
Black Lightning Season 3 Episode 5 Review
Black Lightning has, in the past, evoked specific moments in Black culture and history, and this episode does so again in a powerful, yet brutal way. When Jefferson steps in after an A.S.A. soldier attacks a student, he’s first knocked to the ground and, then, when he defies the order to stay down, is severely beaten by two or more goons. I already knew this was a deliberate callback to the 1991 police beating of Rodney King by the LAPD, but the video of the incident — offered as a spark of revolution for Freeland — made it clear.
Let’s talk about how we get there.
Odell is looking for people who match Blackbird’s metrics and Anissa surfaces as a possibility. He goes to Painkiller, who is absolutely destroying his sparring partners, and tasks him to go after Blackbird. I expected this to happen, and now that they’ve shown Painkiller murking folks in a myriad of fun ways, we understand just how big a threat he is.
Lynn is still singularly focused on stabilizing the Freeland metas, and it’s become such a huge part of her life that she dreams about it. After waking from one of these dreams, she has an epiphany, which sends her back to the lab. She realizes that Dr. Jace embedded in the meta virus an amino acid chain that could theoretically stabilize the metas. Why Dr. Jace would do such a convoluted thing, and what her agenda is, I couldn’t say. But the enzyme can’t be synthesized and only one person can produce it.
That person is Tobias, of course. Odell brings him to the lab so that Lynn can extract the enzyme. In order to do so, she has to give him the serum that makes and keeps him young. Throughout the process he does what he’s best at — talking shit — and reveals that he knows about her family. He calls them “…one merry, melanated, meta family, solving crimes and protecting Freeland.” (A wordsmith!) He then promises to leave her and her daughters alone after he kills Jefferson. She doesn’t take kindly to that and starts extracting his bone marrow sans anaesthesia. Afterwards, she lays into Odell, basically telling him that, when they’re done with Tobias, he gotta die.
At a press conference, Acting Chief Henderson (his emphasis) offered a $50k reward for information leading to the capture of Blackbird. In a scene straight out of a cartoon, someone throws a tomato at him. Later, he arrests Two-Bits for assault (throwing the mater), and stealing provisions from the A.S.A. to sell. Then, he visits Reverend Holt at his church, where he questions him about Blackbird before arresting him for human trafficking… which is technically what smuggling people is, but arresting Reverend Holt is doing too much.
On the topic of doing too much… After Gavin’s parents come to Mr. Pierce about the A.S.A. taking their son and, they believe, killing him, Jefferson asks Anissa to bring Tavon back. When she goes to the Perdi to drop off the vaccine, she’s met with (justified) hostility for bringing even more people. Blackbird explains the need for the vaccine, and when Anaya takes the cases, she says “excuse me while I go save my people from the plague you brought.” Sis. Their situation is volatile and Blackbird continues to make it worse and I’m just hoping the Perdi don’t take that out on the people they’ve been sheltering.
Tavon asks Blackbird to get his video messages to his parents; she offers to bring him home instead, warning him of the danger he’s in, but not realizing just how much. Painkiller analyzes her patterns to figure out where she got in and out of the perimeter and is posted up where he thought she would pass through. He’s waiting for her when she passes the barrier.
Grace and Gambi — who is at Anissa’s to look out for her — hear A.S.A. radio chatter that Blackbird was spotted near the perimeter and not to engage. Not long after, Odell pops up. He’s surprised to find Anissa there because he suspects she’s Blackbird. But, after noting how well Anissa fits the bill, he says, “you simply can’t be at two places at once.” When she asks what that means, he tells her, “Blackbird has breached the perimeter, the A.S.A. is engaging as we speak, and her reign of terror has come to an end.” When he leaves, Grace shifts back to herself and Gambi rushes out to help Anissa.
When Blackbird sees Painkiller waiting, she doesn’t recognize that it’s Khalil, and tells Tavon to run. When they fight, he quickly gets the upper hand, but Tavon hits him and is grabbed by him, thus poisoned. However, Painkiller is distracted long enough for Blackbird to throw them hands and kick him out of the perimeter, which he is now stuck outside of. She calls for help, but, by the time she gets to Jefferson and Gambi, it’s too late. Tavon dies in Jefferson’s arms. Anissa tells him: “I told you it was a bad idea. Look what you’ve done.” Ouch.
The following day at the high school, students learn that the A.S.A. killed Tavon. A group of them walk up to the A.S.A. soldiers posted outside the front of the school and call them murderers, show photos of Tavon and chant his name (but don’t touch or threaten them). One of the goons hits a student, and that’s when Jefferson gets involved. Shots are fired into the air, Jefferson gets hit, and… well, you know the rest.
Just before that happens, Brandon (the new boy) approaches Jennifer in the hallway, eager to ask her something, but they’re interrupted by the commotion. When she sees her dad struggling from a side door, she almost runs out to help him, powered up! But Brandon grabs her and, when she starts to light up, he absorbs it! I thought he might be a snitch, but I’m glad he’s another meta (though, it should be noted, those identities aren’t mutually exclusive).
After all that, Jennifer meets up with her homeboy Odell and asks how the A.S.A. beating people up is protecting them from Markovia. This man had the nerve to say he marched with MLK: “I never enjoy seeing a Black Man being beaten on the street.” To which she replies,” your men, your responsibility.” He says they did that on their own and will be reprimanded, then asks if she wants to ride with him, which she does. Ugh. I wish she’d just… Not let him talk her out of her justified anger.
Later, Jennifer is suited and booted when she bursts in on the A.S.A. goons playing cards and minding their business. Methinks Odell gave her permission to, as Tobias put it, “light they asses up.” And while they deserve, I hate it for her. Little sis was ready to end Tobias last season. She had a merry ol’ time taking out the “Markovians” for Odell a couple episodes back. And now, she’s about to give these folks the ol’ razzle dazzle. She’s becoming problematic.
As it turns out, Henderson leads the insurgents. He takes Two-Bits and the reverend out of the paddywagon he’d had them locked in all day and tells them they’ve all been working separately and finally need to come together now that Freeland has something to rally around: Tavon’s murder and Jefferson’s beating. I had a feeling Henderson was for the people, but I thought he was the person on the radio spilling tea about the real goings on (he still might be). I’m glad to know he’s been A Problem for the A.S.A. and that it’s only going to get worse for them now he’s assembled Freeland’s heavy hitters, including Blackbird.
In 1992, three of the four officers who brutalized Rodney King were acquitted. This sparked a six day-long riot in Los Angeles where 63 people were killed and over 2,300 were injured. The rioting ended after a massive military response. In many ways, Freeland’s resistance starts where Los Angeles (and Ferguson, and all the other real-life movements) ended. With an occupation. And it is the same disregard for Black lives, the denial of justice, and fatigue with the unfairness of it all that continue to fuel movements in real life and will spark the movement in Freeland.
We’ve been watching the A.S.A. break Freeland down the whole season so far. And if that was the pyre being built, this episode is the match being struck. I can’t wait to see the ensuing blaze when Freeland starts to fight back.
Nicole writes commentary and critique about film, television, and popular/nerd culture, including Doctor Who. You can follow her journey through time and space at Black TARDIS, a Doctor Who blog for Black Whovians and other fans of color. If you want to keep up with her, you can find her social media and contact at http://strangespeci.men.