A few of the Arrowverse shows are struggling this year, thanks in part to the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths and in part to some excellent previous seasons. Black Lightning, meanwhile, has been firing on all cylinders. So far, Black Lightning has shown us what an American occupation might look like, given us a look inside the idea of people being kept in cages, and how those things play differently on parents, children, doctors, and freedom fighters. And Black Lightning isn’t slowing down. Spoilers follow for Black Lightning, Season 3, Episode 7, “Henderson’s Opus.”
The Freeland resistance is well underway this week, and one of the ASA’s top cats is on ice. That sounds like a victory, right? Unfortunately, just about every character this week is having to make tough decisions that pit their wants and needs against their morals.
I’ve been saying consistently that Black Lightning is the best CW DC show this season. Despite that, we haven’t had very much of the man himself. Now, with Jefferson Pierce separated from his wife, Black Lightning is back to work.
Go with grace
Before we get to that, though, we revisit Grace Choi, Anissa’s girlfriend. Anissa cares deeply for Grace, but Grace is struggling. When we watch superhero shows and shows about people with powers, we spend a lot of time on people being afraid to use their powers or being brave enough to use their powers to protect others. What we don’t see much of is what Grace is going through.
Grace has had a few close calls with the ASA, and her anxiety is spiking. As a result, her ability is going into overdrive. Right now, she has just a few forms – cheetah, old man, young girl, and her default form. But she seems to have lost any control of which form she inhabits, with careful camera pans being used to disguise her constant shapeshifting.
Early in the episode, Anissa tries to calm her down with some calming music and that works for a bit. Outside the house, though, Grace won’t always have Anissa with her and won’t always have access to a calming AI routine. The two are starting to realize that this could get both of them in serious danger, and Anissa asks her father to help get Grace out of the city. Grace consents to this with reservations and, indeed, on the way out, Black Lightning, Grace, and the other Freeland escapees are attacked by an ASA squad.
Grace bolts. She’s used to being deserted and left to defend herself and expects nothing more from Black Lightning. And so when he seeks her out in the abandoned house, over the body of a mauled ASA soldier, she’s able to take on her default form because Black Lightning has earned her trust. He came back for her.
While I’ll be the first to admit that that’s not how real anxiety works, I love that the show is putting superpowers and anxiety in the same bucket and seeing how they mix here.
Throughout the episode, Black Lightning has to make decisions about who to protect. In one scene, the resistance has a bomb set under an ASA truck and just before they detonate it, Black Lightning zips by and zaps it. The resistance is justifiably ticked off, but Black Lightning feels an obligation to make sure that innocent people aren’t caught in bloodshed. Both sides have a point here. Resisting a military force with just words doesn’t work, but it’s impossible to depend on one man – even a superhero – to enact all of that violence alone. Jefferson and Henderson argue over it, and it damages Reverend Holt’s trust of the vigilante hero.
In another, Black Lightning interrupts a firefight between civilians and the ASA. I can’t remember, looking back, whether they were actually civilians or a Markovian cell disguised as such. After Black Lightning subdues them, though, the ASA then executes them behind his back and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that if he pushes back, they’ll kill even more people.
For Black Lightning, there is no win in which he doesn’t have to compromise his moral stance in some way.
I live, I die, I live again
Meanwhile, Lynn has snuck Gambi into the ASA compound with his cool holographic shroud. He hacks the ASA’s system and shows her Khalil. As a side note, I really wish Arrowverse hacking would even for just a split second resemble plausibility, even if it cannot be realistic.
Here, Gambi and Lynn face their own moral dilemma. On the one hand, Khalil died, and the ASA turned his body into a Terminator-like killing machine. He’s dangerous to the Pierce family and to the resistance. On the other hand, Lynn demonstrates that his memories are still in his mind by playing back a couple of his memories. Which are just video files? One of which plays back in the third person.
That’s not how any of this works
I hate to keep complaining about this stuff, but it takes me out of the story every time they do it, and there are almost always more elegant ways they could convey the same points. Instead of playing back a high-def video of a memory, they could’ve played a scrambled outline of Jennifer. Memories aren’t photographs and videos.
Anyway. The pair debates between terminating the Terminator and trying to resurrect Khalil, the latter of which would set us up for lots of cool action scenes. But it seems like every Arrowverse show has one or two characters that they don’t know how to use.
Use him or lose him
James Olsen was that character on Supergirl. Harrison Wells is that character on Flash, but they used that to establish the multiverse (thus turning it into a strength instead of a weakness). Khalil is that character on Black Lightning. Actor Jordan Calloway is charismatic and good looking, so I imagine the writers probably don’t want to discard him, but you can only kill and redeem a character so many times.
Khalil was Jennifer’s nice boyfriend, then he got shot; Tobias manipulated him into being one of his minions. Then he regretted his actions, and Tobias ripped out his spine Mortal Kombat-style, killing him. Now, he’s a reprogrammed zombie soldier. Are we really going to go through this again?
Still going strong
While all this is going on, Jennifer is still navigating her way through the occupation on her own. With Odell out of the way – temporarily, it would seem – she ends up meeting with the acting director of the ASA, and pushes them for information about Dr. Jace. Where Jennifer and Brandon’s relationship is going and how it’ll play out is still a mystery, especially with that probably-still-good-inside Khalil out in the background.
Despite a couple of frustrating flaws, I’m still enjoying Black Lightning every week. It’s the strongest show this season with the most coherent story. Almost everything seems to tie back into this occupation-and-resistance story, and all those connected threads are making for a stronger overall rope.