Black Lightning season premiere recap: Freeland puts kids in cages too
It’s time for more Black Lightning! And so far, the season 3 premiere is giving me hope that this outing will avoid some of the mistakes of last season.
Season 2 lost me a bit when it went too far out into the fantastical. I know that’s a weird thing to say about a superhero show, but I think Black Lightning has been able to do a really good job of showcasing real-life racial dynamics and structural inequities through its comic-flavored storytelling. And in season 3, the show is aiming directly at our real-life crisis of family separation and putting kids in cages.
Last season ended with Agent Odell declaring a state of emergency, with the foreign nation of Markovia looking to start a war over Freeland’s supply of metahumans. When season 3 begins, that state of emergency is in full effect and the ASA has essentially declared martial law in Freeland. Anyone suspected of being a metahuman is hauled into a facility for days at a time and forced to answer questions while collared — even Jefferson Pierce himself!
We soon learned that Jefferson willingly gave himself up to the ASA in order for Odell to leave his daughters alone. So while Black Lightning is missing from the streets of Freeland, a seemingly new vigilante named Blackbird has taken his place. It’s Anissa, of course, but she’s exchanged her Thunder costume for a voice modulator and a black bloc outfit that looks quite a bit like an antifascist street fighter. (It also strongly resembles Regina King’s costume in HBO’s upcoming Watchmen show, so be on the look out for parallels once these shows are airing episodes at the same time.)
During the daytime, Anissa stops by ASA facilities as a representative of the Freeland clinic connected to Rev. Holt’s church. It strongly resembles news videos of Democratic politicians visiting border detention centers over the last year, where all they really end up doing is talking to some of the detainees about their conditions without really changing anything. It’s the same here, and one woman in the group is so sick of it that she literally jumps out of their car on the return trip.
Anissa’s sick of it too, she just has to hide it better. She uses her trips with the clinic to find out what the ASA is up to; on this excursion, Gambi is able to use her reconnaissance to detect an opening in the ASA’s energy barrier surrounding the compound. That allows Anissa to return at night as Blackbird and smuggle convoys of suspected metahumans out of ASA custody and back to the clinic.
There’s just one thing holding Anissa back, and it’s the same as ever for her: sex. There’s a reporter in time named Jamillah Olsen. She works for the hilariously named ClapBack News and is in Freeland to report on the ASA occupation. But when she conducts an interview with Rev. Holt in which he celebrates Blackbird’s actions, she pushes him so hard on questions about how what Blackbird is doing is “against the law” — very much reminiscent of our real-life “is it okay to punch Nazis?” discourse — that I have to suspect she’s not quite on the side of the Freeland people. When she later hits up Anissa at a lesbian bar and they hook up, I can’t help but wonder if this journalist is trying to uncover Blackbird’s real identity.
Carson Williams, the ASA security chief with the eternally valuable power to mimic other people’s powers, seems to have taken Tobias’ place as our primary antagonist at the start of this season. But Tobias is still a force to be reckoned with. Odell has Issa Williams interrogate Tobias for him — which seems like a very useful application of someone with the power to compel other people to tell the truth. But is Odell ready for Tobias’ truth to get out there? Under compulsion from Issa, Tobias declares that season 1 villain Martin Proctor was not a rogue agent, as advertised, but that he was working directly for Odell, who works directly for the president of the United States. Odell’s mission is three-fold, per Tobias: Obtain all metahumans in Freeland, turn them into weapons, and erase evidence of ASA’s connection to the president. That’s some valuable information; no wonder Issa starts to fear for his life after hearing it.
But Odell’s biggest question — where is the briefcase? — remains unanswered, probably because Tobias doesn’t know. But we viewers do. The final shot of the episode shows the briefcase in the hands of none other than Tattoo Man.
After a bit of a sophomore slump, I’m excited to see where Black Lightning goes from here.