I often like to poke fun at how shows are “ripped from the headlines” as a way of staying relevant. Usually, when that happens, it’s a story about an isolated incident or something that’s hard to believe as being real. The third season of Black Lightning is very much ripped from the headlines, but the key difference is that it’s not a police procedural like those stories so often are, nor is it a one-shot incident. Instead, it takes the kinds of stories that countless people are experiencing and drops us in the middle of it.
I get invested in superhero shows easily, but I can rarely describe them as scary or harrowing. Black Lightning has often been just that this year as it lets us peek behind the curtains of oppression and occupation and what that might look like in an American city. Spoilers follow for Black Lightning, Season 3, Episode 4, “Lynn’s Ouroboros.”
Odell continues to manipulate the Jefferson family throughout this week’s episode – especially Lynn and Jennifer. Odell has the most emotional hold over the two of them. Lynn is a talented scientist and certainly the only one in the bounds of Freeland that has anything like the expertise to cure the plague that’s tearing through the city’s metahuman population. That means that Odell only has to drop hints that someone will die if she engages in anything resembling self-care.
Throughout this episode, we see Lynn degrading as she goes without sleep and has the bright idea to take Greenlight, the substance that created the city’s many metahumans, to give herself an intelligence boost. It works as intended, but it’s immediately obvious that the drug is impairing her judgment as its addictive effects set in.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Pierce is young enough to be naive and not old enough to know how naive she is. She’s also incredibly powerful. That makes her a useful tool for Odell; she’s a powerful cannon that he can aim with ease. He feeds her info that he claims is from the outside world, showing how dangerous Markovia is. “This could happen to you,” he implies. Jennifer is too scared and isolated to realize that Odell is in the perfect place to tightly control information.
Even Jefferson is susceptible to Odell’s influence. Jeff is smart enough to know there’s definitely a tracking device in his new ASA-created suit, and Gambi helps him disable it. But Odell’s intelligence network doesn’t miss one of its own being blasted by electricity, and Odell is soon lecturing Jefferson about the amount of power he has over the vigilante’s family.
It’s not just Odell that is adding to Jefferson’s stress. After his stint in the ASA detainment facility, he’s only just seeing the state that Freeland is in. As he and Jennifer wait in the car at an ASA checkpoint, ASA guards beat down a suspected metahuman, and the 100 Gang shows up to attack the ASA. Life in Freeland is dangerous.
See Something, Say Something
The oppressive environment continues into Garfield High School where Jefferson is planning to resume his job. The place is crawling with guards, and we get some serious McCarthy-era vibes as the camera sweeps past a “see something, say something” style poster aimed at rooting out metahumans. Shortly after, a student named Tayvon is dragged out of class by the ASA for just that – someone reported him as a metahuman. We find out shortly that this was a vindictive move by the student who reported him, and that Tayvon is not a metahuman.
Principal Lowry, the smug jerk who took over as Garfield’s principal last season, makes his return in this episode, too. He lays some suspicion on Jefferson for the pay bump Jefferson received alongside his demotion. Shortly after, though, he stands up for Tayvon, insisting that the heavily-armed ASA agents unhand the student. They punch out Lowry without hesitation and he ends up on the floor bleeding while the ASA hauls the student off.
Anissa, meanwhile, is still patching things up with Grace, the shapeshifting meta. Jefferson shows up to talk to her, only to discover her well-appointed loft and a girlfriend who knows all the family’s closely-guarded secrets. Jefferson loses his cool, but the two patch things up the next morning so that they can launch a jailbreak for Tayvon.
The revived and brainwashed Khalil is continuing to wax poetic to his murder victims, and he gets another sweet action sequence this episode. I don’t know how much of that is Jordan Calloway himself and how much is a stuntman, but if it’s the former, then the showrunners were sorely underutilizing him. These scenes are fast, brutal, and fun.
Jennifer and Lynn
The episode wraps back around to Lynn and Jennifer and Odell’s manipulation. We learn that Lynn’s greenlight consumption wasn’t her idea. Odell and the ASA have been micro-dosing her with Greenlight each time she comes into the office and flashing subliminal messaging at her.
While it seems like Jennifer’s fellow students are getting through to her misconception that the ASA is a-okay, Odell gives her a new suit, and we find out she’s more powerful than even she knew. Odell tells her to fly up until the suit beeps, and we get a shot that looks like something out of Captain Marvel or Dark Phoenix as solar radiation swirls around her like a sentient being.
Black Lightning is doing a surprisingly good job of looking at occupation through the eyes of the occupied. When the ASA hauls Tayvon off, we see how easily the ASA plays on peoples’ paranoia and persuades them to oppress each other. It almost seems like it’s meant to be abused, as it turns into low-key thought policing and behavior control. If anyone could report you, you’re not going to want to tick anyone off. Being a perfectly mundane human isn’t enough to protect Tayvon.
As Odell tinkers with Jennifer, we see propaganda working on even those that should be primed to resist it. Odell’s manipulation of Lynn shows us how an oppressor can turn even the best intentions back on someone. Scenes like the checkpoint are scary and visceral.
I’m eager to see how Jefferson and his family resist the ASA. The 100 gang is a wildcard here, and it’s hard to tell where exactly they stand. But it seems inevitable that the resistance against the ASA will require more than a small family of metahumans – though Jennifer’s power could be a game-changer.
While I can acknowledge that Black Lightning‘s political tone is not for everyone, I like that Black Lightning is doing something so different from The Flash and Arrow. These are all superhero shows, but the variety in tone, palette, and theme is refreshing.