Black Lightning Is Raising the Stakes to Keep Things Interesting

Jefferson breaking in his new suit.
Image: The CW

Black Lightning’s become a decidedly more complicated show this season because of the difficult position it’s put its titular hero in. By agreeing to be detained and studied by the American Security Agency, Jefferson Pierce has ensured that his children will remain relatively safe and free. But it also means Freeland’s lost Black Lightning again, which has plunged the town into chaos.

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Jefferson understands that his situation with the ASA is a precarious one, because while he and Lynn are being treated moderately well, all things considered, the same isn’t true of the other metahumans being held in captivity. While Jefferson’s largely unable to do much for his fellow metas while he’s being held, Lynn—because of her medical background and experience working with the green light babies—knows that she could very well save lives that the ASA would otherwise destroy. Jeff and Lynn are on each other’s side, but Lynn’s willingness to work with their keepers is an understandable source of consternation for Jeff, who can only see the ASA as the villains they are.

Though Agent Odell repeatedly insists that the ASA only wants to study metahumans out of a desire to keep them safe and prepare for the Markovian’s inevitable attack, Lynn witnesses first-hand how the ASA’s treatment of metas directly leads to the sudden deterioration of their health. Despite all of her attempts to keep them safe, the meta children continue to die horrifically and there’s little she can do but watch in horror.

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Jefferson and Lynn have no reason to believe Odell’s grim predictions about the Markovians taking over Freeland, but “The Book of Occupation: Chapter Two: Maryam’s Tasbih” makes clear that the agent isn’t wrong about the danger the foreign country poses. Following the Markovian attack on the ASA’s building in Freeland, it’s explained that the agency believes the only reason the attack was even possible is because of the amount of reporting that drew attention to the facility’s existence. It’s a sound enough theory, but the fact that the ASA subsequently uses the attack as a justification for a complete media blackout limiting any and all media reports out of Freeland makes the entire situation feel nefarious.

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The Markovians are very much in Freeland, and the ASA plans on eliminating them by any means necessary, including bringing people like Khalil back from the dead in order to turn them into superpowerd soldiers. But Khalil isn’t truly himself after the ASA resurrects him—his Painkiller persona is the only thing the agency leaves intact in his mind, and to test out whether the procedure has truly done its job, Khalil’s first assignment is to seek out and murder his still-grieving mother.

Black Lightning’s obviously building toward a heartbreaking reunion between Khalil and Jennifer, who likely still has feelings for him, but before the two have their eventual confrontation, Jennifer’s arc this season seems to be focused on her providing cover for Anissa, who’s still operating as Freeland’s only costumed vigilante. As Blackbird, Anissa’s managed to keep a number of Freeland’s metas safe from the ASA, but the more work she does to shuttle people to freedom, the more people are inclined to take issue with her methods which, to be fair, are becoming markedly more brutal.

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Black Lightning finds a considerable amount of renewed focus in “The Book of Occupation: Chapter Three: Agent Odell’s Pipe-Dream,” as Odell informs Lynn that there’s been some sort of viral outbreak amongst the ASA’s population of metas. What’s terrifying about the disease is that it appears to be human-made, leading Lynn to theorize that it’s a Markovian weapon that was first unleashed when the Cyclotronic Man made his first and last appearance earlier this season. Though Jefferson’s still apprehensive of Odell, the agent gifting him a fancy new watch that also manifests a new and improved costume gives the hero reason to believe that perhaps the ASA’s intentions aren’t entirely malicious.

Khalil is back.
Image: CW
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The ASA’s true intentions are the most interesting through line so far this season, because in a number of different, small moments, Agent Odell and Commander Williams show they still have the capacity for humanity in them. But at the same time, both men have demonstrated it’s easy for them to deny the humanity of the innocent people they’ve imprisoned and tortured. Black Lightning show us both sides of this season’s villains by simply letting them move through the world, but it clues Jefferson in to their treachery by giving him a newfound kind of X-ray vision that allows him to see through the ASA’s literal walls.

Jeff’s discovery of his new powers is mirrored in the way Jennifer begins to realize just how much of her father’s instinct for heroism she’s inherited. Though she’s not full-on operating as a superhero the way Anissa is, the chaos Jennifer deals with at school brings out the part of her that feels the need to do heroic things. Living in the midst of martial law has Jennifer in a somewhat different state of mind which makes her more inclined to fight with her fists and not just with her words. It’s not that she’s going dark, but she’s developing the kind of edge that feels like a proportionate response to the way that her everyday life is changing.

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In exchange for his new suit, Jefferson ends up agreeing to go on a mission for the ASA to take on the Markovians, and his successfully completion of said mission leads to his finally being released from the detainment facility. But his homecoming is a bittersweet one because even though he’s back, his family is...tied up in the complications of their own lives. Freeland is still the Pierce family’s home, but it’s also a place in a state of flux where no one is really as safe as they’ve convinced themselves they are. What’s more, the Markovians have yet to really launch their full-scale attack on the city, meaning that things are only certain to become more intense and unsafe for the people of Freeland.

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About the author

Charles Pulliam-Moore

io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.