Despite being an old dude wearing glasses, ASA Agent Odell is the only one making moves right now. After establishing in the first two episodes that Freeland is under martial law by the ASA and siege by Markovian forces, it’s time for action to start kicking off – and does it ever. But almost all of it is a result of Odell moving pieces around on his chessboard. Spoilers follow for Black Lightning, Season 3, episode 3, “The Book of Occupation: Chapter Three.”
“Agent Odell’s Pipe-Dream”
Freeland is still under martial law, and a virus is ripping through the metahuman population in the ASA’s detainment facility (a.k.a. prison). Metahumans are dying left and right. We witness this first hand when Deputy Chief Henderson goes to see his officer, Detective Sargeant King. King asks Henderson to get some money she hid away and give it to her husband shortly before collapsing in pain while her skin dissolves off her face. The ASA has Freeland under lock and key, but not under control.
Or is that just an illusion? Agent Odell is tough to read. This week he relaxes his grip on the Pierce family, but it’s almost certain that he has invisible strings to tug on when the time comes.
The Markovian army is closing in, and the ASA needs to make moves. For that, they need the Jefferson family. Odell addresses the outbreak first. Jefferson is reticent to let Lynn help, but both of them know that kids will die if she does nothing.
Black Lightning’s Back
Next is Jefferson. He is perhaps the most reticent of the three. I can’t say that I have that much in common with Jefferson, but Odell’s trick would’ve worked on me, too. Odell sets down a box in front of Jefferson: a watch. Jefferson is unimpressed until Odell convinces him to run some of his voltage through it, at which point a slick new uniform that amplifies Jefferson’s powers materializes. Barry got his Flash Ring last year, Kara got a super-suit that materializes when she takes off her glasses, and now Jeff has his watch suit. Everyone’s accessorizing their way to the fight these days while Oliver is over there putting his green leather pants on one leg at a time, just like us normal people.
When Jeff gets to the site where he was supposed to rescue ASA agents, they’re there, but there’s more to it: once he has the agents out, they inform him that they were supposed to get captured. Once Jeff had them out they were to grab Dr. Jace, the villainous doctor who (supposedly) created the virus.
If you can’t tell, I’m ready for anything Odell says to be a head-fake. He sprinkles enough grains of through throughout his lies that it becomes difficult to tell what’s true and what’s not, and I really like that. We’re in the same spot as the Pierces: we know not to trust Odell, but our information is too limited to know what we can and can’t take at face value.
Time to go nuclear
Case in point: Jennifer Pierce. She has some great moments in this episode, but it starts with deception. She gets her big moment to be a superhero when Odell visits and asks her to help him take out a data center hidden out in the woods. Odell talks her into it with a paper-thin story about how Markovians killed the mother of her boyfriend, Khalil. We know that the resurrected high-school athlete has been rebuilt as an ASA fighting machine – literally. Why would Markovian agents go after a random middle-aged woman? It makes no sense. But Odell knows it’s enough to make Jennifer dance when she’s already itching to get out and throw her powers around.
This was a good character moment but I was a bit disappointed by the effects. Jefferson’s fight at the Markovian camp was fast, exciting, and visceral. Jennifer sends some floaty yellow balls at a thing far away and it explodes instantly. There’s no weight to any of it. It’s just CG happening to CG. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but the VFX team could’ve done more here.
In addition to this moment, there’s a good one at school. I wouldn’t have minded a few more of these down moments, even if I enjoyed this episode. A new student bussed in from another school approaches her, told that she’s the best one to give a tour. She probably is, but she doesn’t hold back as she shows him all the places in the school where villains attacked her, then-Principal Pierce, and the school itself. The writing here finds the perfect tone of someone who has been through too much trauma coping with it by treating it humorously.
But it’s not just the Pierces under his thumb. He also has Tobias Whale locked down in the pit. Without his serum, Whale is no longer super strong, and his body is aging quickly to catch up with the time delay Remember, he was an adult when Jeff was just 15. Now Jeff is greying, which means that Whale should be downright elderly – and he is. But he still has information that Odell needs. Last time Odell asked him using a young man who could force the truth out of people, Whale dumped a bunch of information that “forced” Odell to kill the kid. So this time, Odell gets right to it. He slides on a pair of sunglasses and hits a button, opening a huge panel that fills the room with UV light. Whale begins to fry almost immediately and quite literally.
We see how tenuous Odell’s grasp is on everything, though, when he comes back later to try to negotiate with Whale, and it becomes clear that Odell is the one who has to do the work to get the information he wants. Whale knows he’s valuable, and he’s not going to give that information up easily.
Big Wick Energy
Then we get back to Khalil who has apparently mastered twenty-something martial arts. If he’s a machine, he’s a machine that is apparently having a very good time and feeling extremely smug. He shows off his skills in the training room and then Odell sends him off to empty a house of Markovians.
The action sequence that ensues is tremendous. The choreographers clearly had time and money to work with because this is definitely channeling that Big Wick Energy the best a tier-2 network television channel can.
Khalil steps through the house, mowing the soldiers down with quick headshots and brutal hand-to-hand attacks. The show knows better than to imitate Wick’s center-axis-relock stance; this scene is a lot more over the top and looks more traditional in that respect. But it’s still really fast and crisp for a network TV show. Actor Jordan Calloway must be working hard for the show, and it’s paying off.
Finally, most of the show’s downtime goes to Anissa. Her girlfriend Grace finds her, and they have a touching scene where Anissa tries to persuade Grace that she doesn’t mind that she’s a shapeshifter. But she’s also clearly uncomfortable when Grace turns into an old man. Grace, for her part, seems to be going through the same crisis that many fictional shapeshifters end up in: “what is my actual default form?” They eventually end up going home together, though, and Grace still looks cold and scared. I’m really interested to see how she develops, especially since I expected the show to draw that plotline out a lot longer.
After two episodes stuck in lots of blank white rooms, the Pierce family is home. No one has time for Jefferson, though. They all have their own lives. But this is where the season seems to be getting its footing. Things are starting to move. I’m excited to see how Odell’s lies play out. I expect Khalil to ‘wake up’ and turn on the ASA. I’m still wondering how things will go down with Lala from last episode, and I’m expecting outright war with Tobias once he’s out. Jeff has a great new suit, but what safeguards has Odell built into it that will keep him on the ASA’s leash?