Black Lightning's Season 3 Finale Was a Family Affair at the End of the World

Lightning being held captive.
Lightning being held captive.
Image: The CW

In Black Lightning’s third season, the Pierce family and their allies found themselves at the center of a crisis threatening Freeland. The city was occupied by the corrupt American Security Agency and besieged by operatives from the nation of Markovia in attempts to gain control of Freeland’s population of young metahumans.

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The war that’s been raging in Freeland’s streets is the sort of national emergency that in almost any other city (and perhaps another type of superhero show) would draw the attention of the larger public. The events would, ideally, bring more heroes to the city with the will and skill to defend the lives of innocent citizens who’ve been lost in the conflict. But because Freeland’s a predominantly Black city—one the government targeted for years in order to kidnap and conduct covert experimentation on young Black children—it’s been rendered effectively invisible to the outside world.

Season three’s finale, “The Book of War: Chapter Three: Liberation,” is both a throwback to Black Lightning’s earliest episodes and an excellent reflection of how far the show’s come as Black Lightning (Cress Williams) faces off with Gravedigger (Wayne Brady) for one last showdown that both men believe they can win. After successfully knocking Lightning (China Anne McClain) out on his own and witnessing Black Lightning’s reaction to her getting got, Gravedigger puts two and two together and revels in the knowledge that he’s already hit Jefferson where it hurt by going after his daughter.

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Even as he’s overpowering Black Lightning, Gravedigger makes it obvious that his personal goal really isn’t to harm other metahumans, but rather to capitalize on the opportunity to build a better metahuman future. But as Black Lightning attempts to explain to Gravedigger how the two of them and Jennifer are all biologically related, the villain immediately demonstrates how he’s willing to make exceptions to his personal code and destroy anyone who would stand in his way, regardless of whether or not they share blood. After using his newfound ability to emit microwaves to drive Black Lightning away, Gravedigger returns to the A.S.A. to offer Lightning a chance to become part of his grand vision.

Much like the MCU’s Killmonger, Gravedigger’s fundamentally motivated by a desire to lash out against the world that he rightfully believes has wronged him and others like him for centuries. The Markovians, Gravedigger explains to Lightning, are willing to let him establish an independent metahuman nation within the country’s borders in exchange for Freeland’s metas. It’s a trade he’s willing to make because he sees those particular metas as byproducts of the racist American government’s machinations.

Gravedigger explains his plan to Lightning.
Gravedigger explains his plan to Lightning.
Image: The CW
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Gravedigger’s extremist revolutionary energy might have actually gotten through to Lightning earlier this season when she was willing to work with the A.S.A. against her father’s wishes in a rather significant rebellious streak. But as Jennifer Pierce has grown into her superhero identity, she’s also grown into her own worldview—one distinctly informed by growing up with a father like Jefferson. For all of Gravedigger’s talk, Lightning knows that it’s heroes like herself and everyday humans like gonzo reporter Jamillah Olsen (Adetinpo Thomas) who are truly fighting for the people’s best interests.

Olsen’s livestreamed videos of the war in Freeland are exactly the kind of disruptive force that would put the country on alert as to the A.S.A’s machinations and the Markovian invasion, which is why Agent Odell (Bill Duke) continues to ensure that no broadcasts are able to make it out of the city. As Odell and other A.S.A. agents watch Olsen be shot and killed in the street during one of her videos, they, of course, feel nothing because their only concern at this point is stopping the Markovians from securing the metas. With the Markovians now actively in Freeland, though, the only option the A.S.A. sees as viable is to simply blow the city off the map, and it doesn’t take long for most of Black Lightning’s characters to realize that’s the case.

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Like most superhero season finales, “The Book of War: Chapter Three: Liberation” is dense in plot to the point of feeling just shy of overstuffed. Though Lala (William Catlett) and Lady Eve (Jill Scott) haven’t factored into this season all that much, both villains get moments to shine as they decide what to do about their city’s imminent destruction. In typical form, Lady Eve reasons that her best chance at surviving whatever’s coming next to Freeland is to pop off a couple of rounds at A.S.A. goons and run, while Lala instead takes to the streets to rally his own troops in order defend their streets from the Markovian invaders.

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Elsewhere in the city Painkiller (Jordan Calloway) still stalks the streets, as Khalil, trapped within his own mind, watches on knowing that the A.S.A.’s programming is going to force him to kill people he loves again if he doesn’t free himself. After a battle of the minds in what looked very much like an early 2000s music video, Khalil is able to wrest control from the Painkiller programming, but Black Lightning takes a brief moment to emphasize that just because Khalil’s back in the driver’s seat doesn’t mean he’s free of the hell Odell and the A.S.A. put him through. Rather than following his orders to seek out and kill the members of the Pierce family, Khalil instead tracks Odell down as he’s trying to escape, and while he doesn’t kill him outright, he doesn’t hesitate to shoot the man through his spleen which, depending on his health, could go either way.

It’s in its final climactic fight scenes that the episode really starts feeling like classic Black Lightning, as the Pierce family teams up to take down Gravedigger once and for all, with some devastating losses along the way. At the Pit where Lightning’s being held, Black Lightning, Lynn, Thunder, Grace Choi, and Brandon (the show’s answer to Geo-Force) gather to converge on Gravedigger with a plan. By shooting the villain with a serum that’ll rob him of his powers, Lynn reasons she can weaken him enough to allow the team’s metas to finally destroy him. But before she has a chance to face him, Gravedigger encounters Thunder and the now-much stronger Grace, who he mentally compels to attack her significant other.

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Grace and Thunder facing off against Gravedigger.
Grace and Thunder facing off against Gravedigger.
Image: The CW

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Black Lightning killed one of its gays, but the fact that the show ended up making Thunder and Grace fight in a battle that left the latter in a coma—literally the episode after the two almost were wed—feels like a slap in the face for reasons that should be obvious. After Lynn arrives at the pit and is able to shoot Gravedigger, Black Lightning, Lightning, and Brandon are able to use their combined powers to weaken him that much more, and when it becomes clear that the Pit’s going to self-destruct, the heroes make their escape, leaving the metavillain behind to burn in a fiery grave.

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Elsewhere, other heroes like police chief Henderson and the young technopathic meta T.C. fall in battle, but their deaths aren’t in vain because, ultimately, the Markovians are stopped, the city is saved, and not long after, Black Lightning, Thunder, Lightning, and Lynn arrive in Gotham City (of all places) to testify to Congress about what went down in Freeland and expose the A.S.A.’s secrets. Having finally figured out how to stabilize the metahuman kids, Lynn, who’s still quite addicted to an altered form of Greenlight, convinces a congressional committee to move forward with a proposed school for metahumans where she, as one of the country’s foremost experts in metahuman development, is meant to oversee operations.

Black Lightning, for his part, finally has the opportunity to present the whole of his findings from his time patrolling Freeland and explain how the A.S.A.’s metahuman experimentation is part of a larger story about America’s history of abusing and exploiting black people. As unbelievable as his story is, being able to present the A.S.A.’s mission control briefcase—the MacGuffin that’s been tossed back and forth for the whole of the series—Team Black Lightning knows that the public will be able to learn the truth for itself, something that could lead to Freeland finally becoming free. This would have been a powerful enough for Black Lightning to end up, but before the episode comes to a close, it’s—unsurprisingly—revealed that Gravedigger’s quite alive and presumably plotting his next move.

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Clearly, Black Lightning’s now in an even better position to become a much more integral part of the Arrowverse because the story of the conflict in Freeland is something that makes national news. There’s no way in the world anyone who’s been paying attention can deny that Freeland and the heroes protecting the city could and should play important roles in the entire planet’s future.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

I don’t think T.C. was killed. He was knocked down, but had a bulletproof vest on, and he was alive when Gambi helped him out of the lair.

I wish the “communications blackout” hadn’t been so total. Now that Black Lightning’s supposedly a founding member of the Justice League, I would’ve liked to see some payoff for that — maybe a cameo in the finale by the Flash, with whom Jefferson bonded in Crisis. I want to see the merger of universes serve an actual story purpose rather than just be an excuse for superficial Easter eggs like having the hearings happen in Gotham City. (And Metropolis would’ve made more sense. Or Washington.) By the same token, when Gravedigger talked about setting up an enclave where metahumans could live free of persecution, I thought, “Umm, ever heard of Central City? It’s part of your universe now.”

Interesting that Lynn referred to the now-stable meta-kids as “outsiders.” It’s been clear for a while now that they’ve been headed for a version of the Outsiders. I wonder if we’ll get versions of Halo and Metamorpho next season.

I know Wayne Brady mainly from Whose Line Is It Anyway?, so I was really impressed by how good he was as Gravedigger. I’m glad he survived, though Jeff unwisely gave him enough info about his family to deduce his identity.