If you were trying to come up with a tagline for this third season of BLACK LIGHTNING, consider "a house divided." And maybe some **plot spoilers** now. What makes this show so interesting to me are the ever-shifting family dynamics of the Pierces. But Season 3 opts to scatter the family. The ASA's insidious Agent Odell (Bill Duke) is keeping Jefferson and Dr. Lynn confined at some well-guarded facility to conduct meta-human experiments, leaving the Pierce kids rudderless in the tumultuous city of Freeland. Whatchu think Anissa was gonna do? The militant child proceeds to take on another vigilante persona in her fight for the cause. Her younger sister, Jennifer, starts making wrong choices left and right.
The first arc of this sixteen-episode season concerns the military occupation of Freeland, with the ASA (American Security Agency) serving as the hostile head of the snake. And if you were anticipating a deluge of social relevance with regards to how Freeland's mostly black community suffers under the ASA's thumb, that's here, too, and if you want specifics, I'll direct you to the episodes "Requiem for Tavon" and "Battle of Franklin Terrace." Fact is, the first few episodes exude a sense of palpable bleakness as the ASA exerts its stranglehold on Freeland, wresting control away from local authorities, controlling the media, and promoting its own warped propaganda. The ASA's public justification is national security. The ASA is allegedly in town to prevent a hostile foreign power, namely the Eastern-European nation of Markovia, from appropriating Freeland's wellspring of meta-humans. But, really, we all know what the ASA really wants to do is acquire and weaponize the meta-humans for its own shady purpose.
As always, heavy topics get addressed, subject matter that seem even more timely given the state of rampant unrest going down in our republic. This show has never shied away from embracing its cultural roots and tackling uncomfortable political issues. Factor in the grounded, on-point character work and I may fight you if you disagree that BLACK LIGHTNING, from the time it first aired, has been the most grown-up show in the Arrowverse.
I'm halfsies on this season. Can't give it full marks. Honestly, the Occupation arc was depressing and dispiriting. AND it split up the Pierce family, physically and ideologically. The first heap of episodes features an ineffectual Jefferson who went around moping and sulking and with no access to costume or powers. When he does recover costume and powers, he ends up tagging along with his daughter, Anissa, who had become a significant player in Freeland's underground resistance. See, while Jefferson was away being detained, she'd been protecting the city. I tell you Anissa is in even less of a mood to listen to her father's moralizing. Anyway, the Occupation arc unleashed several good moments, but I couldn't wait for the show to move on.
I perked up when the plot shifted the venue away from Freeland, as Black Lightning and his crew brought the fight to Markovia. And, more and more, it seems as if the show is laying groundwork for the Outsiders. Somewhere along the way, we run into Gravedigger, the season's biggest big bad. I was skeptical at first about Gravedigger, seeing as he's played by television personality Wayne Brady. But Mr. Whose Line Is It Anyway? wasn't messing around. He convinced me, man.
Unlike Tobias Whale, one can argue that Gravedigger is a sympathetic character. He's an interesting hombre whose origin story dates back to World War II. Fact is, he and Jefferson are two sides of the same coin, both holding it down for their respective communities. It's their philosophical approach that's at loggerheads, the Gravedigger's cynicism a counterpoint to Jefferson's optimism. But you see where Gravedigger's coming from, how his country and government did him wrong. And I have to believe there'd be those who would buy into his dream of a free society of metas within the Markovian borders. And then there's that, when it's time to throw hands, Gravedigger easily holds his own against a squad of Black Lightning and other metas.
If there's a villain more scary than Gravedigger, it's Agent Odell, and keep in mind he's no meta. But there's something unsettling about how Bill Duke plays Odell as so soft-spoken and yet so sinister. Agent Odell is basically Amanda Waller with a y chromosome.
Meanwhile, old Tobias Whale twiddles his thumbs for most of the season.
I have to 'fess up that Black Lightning isn't my most favorite character in the show. Those would be Jennifer a.k.a. Lightning and my favorite tailor spy, Gambi. Season 3 introduces new characters, my favorite being the technopathic kid. As far as character arcs go, Dr. Lynn and Khalil/Painkiller were served best. It sucks that Cress Williams morphs into a supporting character in his own show for a huge chunk of the season. He does snag a batch of strong dramatic scenes as Jefferson tries to salvage his crumbling relationship with his ex-wife.
The action is consistently good. In my opinion, this show's fight choreography is superior to the other shows currently in the Arrowverse. Why is it I get more of a kick from watching Thunder and Lightning and even Painkiller in action more so than from watching Black Lightning in action?
I keep jamming to the funky soundtrack.
If you're looking for the episode that ties into the Crisis crossover, it's episode nine.