Black Lightning Has Become an Active War Zone

Jefferson dealing with an ASA goon.
Image: The CW

Black Lightning has been using the supposed attack from the Markovians to give its heroes reason to be on high alert, but the past few episodes have made it clear that the war is already in Freeland. And it’s only going to get more brutal.

While the bulk of Freelend is living under the American Security Agency’s control, Anissa (in her Blackbird guise) is doing all she can to ensure that the city’s population of metahumans can live freely and (one hopes) escape to safety. Though Anissa’s freedom fighting is giving a significant number of the city’s metahumans a chance at living regular lives, her operation isn’t sustainable, in part because she’s still very much on the ASA’s radar. “The Book of Occupation: Chapter Five: Requiem for Tavon” is relatively light in the way faction sequences, but it still illustrates just how precarious a situation Black Lighting’s heroes are in.

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While Jefferson and Lynn are both technically free from the ASA’s control, the organization is still playing a rather significant role in their lives that goes beyond the fact that it’s obviously continuing to watch them both. As a consequence of her time working with the ASA, Lynn’s become a much more intense, on-edge person, something that isn’t helped by the fact that the ASA is actively looking for Blackbird, who hasn’t really done much to keep her profile low.

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Operating as Freeland’s only freedom fighter has put Anissa in a rather difficult position that the people she’s saving can’t fully grasp. One of the alleged Greenlight kids under her watch (Tavon) isn’t actually a metahuman, and his being in the metahumans’ midst puts them all in danger. Taking Tavon back to his family is obviously the right thing to do in an existential sense, but doing so would put the lives of all the other metas that Anissa saved in jeopardy, which is something only she’s capable of understanding, apparently.

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Anissa’s Blackbird period is something that she doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about because when she’s at home, it’s important she keeps up the pretense that she’s just another regular human who’s merely trying to start a new life with her girlfriend Grace. Grace is past trying to hide her metahuman shapeshifting abilities from other people, but there’s still a degree to which being fully open about what she can do makes her uncomfortable. It feels like Black Lightning is building toward a future where Anissa and Grace take to the streets in order to fight crime with each another, but for the time being the show’s understandably focused on the Pierce family’s fight to regain its freedom.

While Anissa’s out literally ushering people to freedom, Jennifer, like much of Freeland’s population, is spending her time trying to pretend that everything is perfectly normal. But there’s only so much she can do to downplay the fact that the ASA has essentially colonized her school under the pretense that they’re keeping the students safe from dangerous metahumans. Knowing that her parents are working with the ASA, and that her sister is constantly risking her life to save people, has Jennifer on an emotional edge that makes it difficult for her to contain her still-growing powers. Jennifer spends much of this episode going through it because she’s in a state of unease that isn’t being helped by the fact that she’s got to be around armed guards who have no qualms about killing children.

Things only become more dire for Jennifer following Jefferson’s plan to have Anissa bring Tavon back to the city in order to assuage his mother’s fears about what’s happened to him. Anissa knows that trying to bring Tavon back would likely end up in his being murdered, but she follows through on the plan because of her father’s insistence, and the entire operation goes sideways because Anissa ends up being intercepted by Painkiller. It’s obvious that eventually, Black Lightning’s going to end up giving Painkiller some sort of redemptive arc that will (probably) involve his death, but for the time being, he’s a lethal killer who’s capable of taking Anissa on physically and killing Tavon in the process.

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Word of Tavon’s death spreads quickly and it boils the blood of his former classmates who, like Jennifer, all know that the situation they’re living through isn’t on the level. The student body is ready to riot and Jennifer wants to be right there with them, but she knows that giving in to her emotions would put her at risk for slipping up and exposing her powers. For most of the episode, she struggles to keep the pure energy she generates from bursting out of her, but in one particular moment, she has a slip up right in front of a classmate who reveals himself to also be a meta with the ability to absorb the energy that Jennifer puts out. Though she’s yet to properly embrace a full-on hero identity for herself the way her father and sister have, you can see that it’s only a matter of time before she’s going to end up writing her name in the sky with her own electrical powers.

But before Jennifer becomes Lightning, she, like the rest of her family, is playing a part in the ASA’s plans by way of Agent Odell. Odell gives Jennifer the opportunity to get a bit of revenge on the ASA goons for terrorizing her and her peers, but you can practically smell Odell’s ulterior motives seeping out of his pores. Jennifer isn’t guileless, but in this episode you don’t get the sense that she’s fully clued in to the treacherous fuckery she’s in the midst of, which only promises to make Black Lightning more interesting going forward.

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What stands out most about “The Book of Occupation: Chapter Five: Requiem for Tavon” is how inwardly-focused it feels compared to the episodes of other CW hero dramas that are all building toward Crisis on Infinite Earths. The episode doesn’t at all suggest that Black Lightning won’t end up being part of the event, but you can’t help but feel like the series isn’t comfortable simply existing in its own box.


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About the author

Charles Pulliam-Moore

io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.