“Wayne Brady makes for a compelling villain” is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write. It’s 2020, though, and everything is weird; so here we are. Wayne Brady makes for a compelling villain. The penultimate episode of Black Lightning‘s third season brings as many dangling plotlines together as it can and gets us ready for all-out war next week. But first, beware spoilers for Black Lightning Season 3, Episode 15, “Book of War: Chapter Two: Freedom Ain’t Free.”
“Book of War: Chapter Two: Freedom Ain’t Free”
I asked before for more time learning about Gravedigger, and the penultimate episode of Black Lightning‘s third season delivers in spades. The show does it, of course, through its favorite framing device: A very serious person talking to a camera pointed slightly upward, speaking truth to the camera. This is at least the third time the show has done this; It did it with Sargeant Grayle of the ASA, then with Jefferson himself, and now with Gravedigger. It’s very possible Anissa or Lynn did it, too, and I’m just not remembering.
This time, though, it’s intercut with Gravedigger’s backstory as a supersoldier in World War II; the first metahuman and a black man fighting Nazi soldiers. The action here is fun and dynamic as Gravedigger takes down one soldier after another. He describes his experience as a black soldier, ending up on gravedigging duty and how that shaped him, both giving him respect for the enemies he’s killed but also showing him that the society he was fighting for doesn’t want him. He explains that he digs a grave for every enemy he fights.
Back in Freeland, Dr. Jace shows Lynn that when Gravedigger users her serum, which allows a human to temporarily adopt a metahuman’s abilities, his system will accept the power permanently. Given the chance and the right crossover, he could become the most powerful metahuman in the Arrowverse. As it is, he’s the rare case of a villain whose goals aren’t entirely loathsome. He’s not trying to drill a hole in the city, end existence, nuke the world; he’s trying to give what he sees as freedom to people who are oppressed.
Much of this episode is stage setting, but it doesn’t feel quite like the others have before. Previously, it was the show getting ready for something to happen; narrative chess pieces being moved around to suit the story. This week, though, there’s a sense of tension and impending danger. Of course, yes, the Freeland heroes are going to fight the super-powerful Gravedigger and his literal army, but they did that before, and it didn’t feel nearly so tense.
On the hero side of things, Jefferson is trying to rally his troops for a stand against the Gravedigger, but there’s a lot going on. Jen feels under-utilized as the most powerful metahuman. Brandon has a single-minded focus on killing Dr. Jace that suggests he might be more of a villain than a hero at some point in the future. Anissa and Grace are starting to get very serious about their relationship, which makes me wonder about Grace’s safety.
Lynn discovers that Gravedigger and Jefferson share genes, and Jefferson says that he had a great uncle in World War II who never came home. Lynn explains that she wanted to see why Gravedigger and Black Lightning (and the other Pierces) make up the bulk of the stable metahumans. She says “only” stable metas, but I feel like she’s leaving out TC, Erica, Grace, and others. I’ll give her that most of the other metas–Painkiller, Lala, Tobias, and so forth–aren’t nice or reliable, but I don’t think that’s what she meant by ‘stable.’ Meanwhile, Jen is constantly going off on her own and struggling to control her powers. So, Lynn, what’s up?
Over with Freeland’s gangsters, Jeff tries unsuccessfully to recruit Lala, who is too laser-focused on revenge to care about anything else. Lala gets one step up on Lady Eve, but we’ve seen how that generally goes for him. Meanwhile, she’s dealing with Agent Odell. Eve was once a member of the ASA’s “Shadow Board” and wants back in. She’s willing to do anything, including give Odell the location of the briefcase. The one that she gave to Gambi, asking him to destroy the ASA with it. Through that whole scene, there’s this eerie tone playing that makes the whole scene unsettling.
When Gambi brought the briefcase down last week, Jeff commented that it looked like the Nuclear Football. It seems like that might’ve been a bit of foreshadowing. Lady Eve wasn’t giving the man she tried to kill a powerful device to make amends. Instead, she was giving him the red dot at the end of a big ASA-shaped laser target that is now squarely on his back.
Khalil is walking alone when some Markovian soldiers happen upon him. When they get the advantage, Painkiller takes over, easily dropping the soldiers. He ends up alone in a hotel room where his two personalities argue in his head as he lays stone still on his bed. They eventually come to blows in another exciting fight thanks to Jordan Calloway. I feel like there’s no way he comes out of this alive, and that’s kind of disappointing. I wish they’d matched him with whoever is choreographing fights this season two seasons back.
Brandon, meanwhile, is keeping Dr. Jace tied up while he plays Xbox even though he knows the city is in danger. I’m not sure if he’s much better than Painkiller at this very moment.
The Markovian invasion is imminent, but the team is as ready as it can get. So Anissa calls a family dinner to announce that she and Grace are getting married–that night. Jen, meanwhile, knows she’s the most powerful meta in Freeland and thinks that she can handle Gravedigger on her own to protect her family. So while Anissa and Grace get into coordinated white outfits, Jen suits up and confronts Gravedigger, essentially interrupting her sister’s last-minute wedding. Jen is meant to be an immature teenager, and this drives it home. Instead of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, she’s now doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. But again, this interrupted wedding makes me think Grace’s days are numbered and that it’s a very small number. I really hope not; killing her off would play into too many tropes at once.
Things are about to explode
Gravedigger proves more than a match for Jen, and her father arrives just in time to save her life. The episode ends just as the two are about to go at it, like an edit that cuts right before the dynamite explodes.
Between Gravedigger and Khalil, we got a couple great action scenes, and they were part of an otherwise very tense episode. The show has a lot to pay off next week in one episode. We have to see Gravedigger defeated and Freeland turned into a free land; the revenge triangle of gang leaders Tobias, Lala, and Lady Eve resolved; the loose cannons Brandon and Khalil dealt with; Anissa and Grace’s engagement resolved in a hopefully constructive way. I’ve probably missed some here. It’s a lot for one episode. But this has been an excellent season for Black Lightning and I’m eager to see the show wrap enough of these stories up to bring us a satisfying conclusion while keeping us on the hook for next year.