While the other Arrowverse shows typically name their episodes individually, Black Lightning breaks things up into clean arcs. This season, we sit firmly in the Book of Occupation, and the occupation is affecting everyone’s lives. While Jefferson and Lynn try to help an ailing metahuman in detainment, Anissa is trying to negotiate her way to safety, Jennifer is struggling being on her own, and Gambi is trying to hack his way through problems, as usual. Spoilers follow for Black Lightning, season 3, episode 2.
“Book of Occupation: Maryam’s Tasbih”
Black Lightning is not afraid of getting political, and this season is steeped in analogies and comparisons to the real world. After last season’s explosion of metahuman activity, the ASA now has the city of Freeland in proper lockdown, and the Jefferson family is split up. Black Lightning has been all about family since the beginning, and each season has culminated in the family coming together to protect themselves and their city. That they’re separated, then, should be a clue to how dire the situation is.
Jefferson and Lynn are still locked up in ASA detainment, where Jefferson’s powers seem to growing and changing. Lynn remains committed to helping the Greenlight kids, even if that means helping out ASA Agent Odell in the process. Jefferson voices exactly my theory from last week in a moment of frustration here: the Markovian army, as of yet unseen, is a smokescreen act by the ASA. A distraction to give the organization an excuse to control and contain the metahumans in Freeland.
That turns out to be… only partially true. We finally see the Markovian army in this episode, and we even see their general speaking what I assume is Russian (or some related language). The Markovian army is real and it is in Freeland. If the ASA is using the Markovian army, it’s merely a side effect of the army actually being there.
Jefferson and Lynn come to blows over her continued willingness to do research for Agent Odell. Lynn worries about the kids, and with good reason. One young woman named Maryam, who has the ability to blend into her background like a chameleon (or octopus), is sick and fading fast. Her hair is falling out and she’s in incredible pain. Lynn seems to be the only person willing to take care of her. Jefferson helps, but he also wants to pump some information out of her. In the process, we find out that the ASA has some of the meta kids fighting each other, though it’s unclear whether it’s for entertainment or “science,” as we haven’t seen it happening yet. Either way, it’s cruel.
Commander Williams shows up at one point and calls Jefferson a “meta” but spits the word. Jefferson doesn’t miss the irony of a black man using a word like a slur and nearly attacks him over it. Agent Odell moves the Pierce family to a much nicer room that has some of their favorite things in it in hopes of pacifying them.
Meanwhile, Anissa finds herself trapped outside Freeland with the group of metas she led through the hole in the ASA’s forcefield discovered by Gambi. It turns out that she’s taking the people through the Perdi farm, one of the primary adversaries of the previous season that the Pierce family managed to turn into a tentative ally. However, the Perdis still have to protect themselves, and quickly get frustrated with Anissa’s total disinterest in their safety, and things escalate quickly. Anissa is on her own out here. She’s previously shown that she’s a capable adult (despite what her parents want to think) and proud freedom fighter, so this seems like exactly where she should be. It doesn’t mean she’s any less isolated though.
Jennifer, meanwhile, is trying to pretend that life is normal. And when I say she’s trying to pretend, I don’t mean that she’s ignoring the problem. Rather, she’s all too aware of it. The ASA has cameras in her house monitoring the home inside, which Jennifer has taken the liberty of disabling. When Odell questions it, he doesn’t seem too interested in pushing her. Maybe he realizes how powerful she is and doesn’t want to make a walking nuclear bomb mad. She has to tell Odell that her sister is in the shower and hope he doesn’t want to stay around and wait until Anissa is dried off – at which point the jig would be up since she’s not actually home.
At school, Jennifer tries to maintain the status quo while also trying earnestly to uphold the values that her parents have instilled in her. She tries to break up a fight, only to end up pulled in and forced to put a couple of angry boys down. When the audience cheers, she’s furious, and not just because her powers almost showed themselves.
Out in the Open
Peter Gambi and Deputy Chief Henderson, meanwhile, both have a form of privilege at their disposal. While both are feeling the pressure of the lockdown, neither are metahumans, and Henderson is the chief of police. It doesn’t let either of them off the hook, but it means they can walk into a room and not be questioned. Gambi has a high-tech disguise to help that along, but it still matters. When the two team up to get some tech from the ASA, who are bunkered up in the 100’s hangout, not one of the guards suspects that anything is up when Henderson comes in shouting.
And then there’s Lala the deathless, the gangster that died during the first season, only to be resurrected by the spirits of people he’s killed. It’s still hard to tell whether this is some kind of power, or if he’s possessed or cursed. We also don’t know exactly where Lala stands. He seems in this episode to be standing up for the community, but he’s also a dude who has mercilessly killed quite a few people with no reason. I could see him rallying the gang members of Freeland to fight off the ASA, and then turning around and betraying the people he was just protecting when he finds out they don’t have as much gratitude as he hoped.
Allegory All Over
It seems to me that the writers are trying to show all the different facets of occupation and detainment. Authorities separate parents from their kids and then taken in as criminals without any due process. The children are left to fend on their own. Freedom fighters are isolated and have to contend with people who want to protect themselves at any cost. Kids at school have to deal with the occupation without the life experience (usually) imparted by adulthood. Meanwhile, people who aren’t looked upon with suspicion are able to navigate this world more freely and, in this case, are using it to help out those who can’t navigate as freely.
I wasn’t as big a fan of this episode when I first watched it, but I like it more the more that I think about it. The writers are doing some interesting stuff here that, if they handle it right, could make for a very interesting season in a show that’s been consistently enjoyable since it began. And let’s not forget that Black Lightning himself is part of the Crisis this fall.
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