11th Oct2019

‘Black Lightning 3×01: The Birth of Blackbird’ Review

by Jason Brigger

Stars: Cress Williams, China Anne McClain, Nafessa Williams, Christine Adams, James Remar, Marvin Jones III, Damon Gupton | Developed by Salim Akil

Black-Lightning-s3-poster

Black Lightning is back, and the series is taking a drastic turn in not only the storyline but also the look. Whether it’s the film they are using or how they are shooting the series, the show looks fresh and clean. It was something I noticed right away and made the series seem like a first-class production. The series premiere is set a few months after last season and in that time, Freeland is now under martial law and completely separate from the rest of the world. The whole city is under a force field, just let that sink in for second, and no one can enter or leave the city.

The reason for this “protection” and extreme measures from the government? A war is beginning with Markovia as the Markovians want meta-humans for their army and since that little experiment a few decades ago, Freeland is ground zero with meta-humans. The government has no choice but to go all-in with martial law on this town. Unfortunately, with great power comes great corruption. The “good guys”, aka, the ASA, are detaining anyone that could possibly be a meta-human, which includes Jefferson, in order to complete tests on them. We are introduced to several unknown characters; each being interviewed regarding their personal history and how they came into possession of the drug Greenlight. There are obviously some major civil rights issues going on at the facility and by the ASA, but they don’t care because they need answers.

The showrunners deliberately made the ASA detention centers reflect the look of the real-world immigration detention centers and the parallels in the story are uncanny. Children are being separated from their parents, families are being detained, and everyone is asking questions but there are no answers. As much as I don’t like real-world politics in my television shows, I do appreciate the more serious and realistic tone Black Lightning is moving towards this season.
With Black Lightning’s crew gone, and half the city thinking Black Lightning is dead, the city of Freeland is in a state of chaos. Due to the fear of the ASA, Jennifer and Anissa cannot use their powers in public and their superhero personas are forced to stay out of the public eye. Anissa is at least high profile enough in her personal life, due to her medical training, that she can at least tour some of the ASA detention centers. It’s at a detention center when Anissa (and us) first encounter a Markovian agent, Cyclotronic (Chase Anderson), trying to infiltrate and kidnap a few meta-humans. The ASA soldiers show up and their commander, Carson Williams (Christopher Duncan), dispatches and kills Cyclotronic easily. Hopefully the Markovians have some more powerful agents because Cyclotronic was disappointing in attempting to fire the first shot at the ASA.

Lynn arrives at the detention facility to pickup a newly released Jefferson, after 31 days in captivity, but since the attempted attack by Cyclotronic, Agent Odell decides keep Jefferson, and now Lynn, at the facility. Agent Odell wants Jefferson to assist with any potential future attacks by the Markovians and cannot afford to let him go back into the public. This decision does not sit well with Lynn and Jefferson, but they have little choice but to comply. Anissa vows to help the citizens anyway she can, which means using her other alter-ego (not Thunder), Blackbird, to assist Freeland. I personally feel the Blackbird costume, all black hoodie and mask covering the lower half of her face, is a much better look and if the series is moving towards a more serious tone, this is the vigilante to lead it. Blackbird isn’t alone in her fight as Jennifer and Gambi are on her team, providing tech support and eventually, a way bypass the force field protecting Freeland.

Team Lightning is not the only heroes in Freeland. Reverend Holt has converted the basement of his church into a secret room which houses potential detainees of the ASA. The good reverend teams up with Blackbird in assisting the future detainees in escaping through the force field and into greener pastures but not before several ASA soldiers shoot a rocket, yes, a rocket, at Blackbird, injuring her and throwing her pass the force field and into freedom. The citizens can only look on as Blackbird clings to life and we are left with the question of her health to next episode.

My favorite character, Tobias Whale, is not having an easy time in the ASA detention center. Agent Odell is spending much of his time psychologically torturing Whale, all in an attempt to find out what was in Whale’s briefcase last year…what’s in the box?! Agent Odell uses another meta-human to question him, but Whale knows this game and isn’t letting anything slip about the briefcase or what mysterious item was in it. A surprising result of Whale being in ASA custody and being strapped to a neck collar that stops his meta-human powers is Whale is no longer is immortal, resulting in him rapidly aging and dying. Seeing Whale with long hair and a disheveled look is haunting as we have never seen Whale not in control of himself or his surroundings. It will be interesting to see what becomes of Whale, but I can only hope, despite Whale being a villain, Whale regains his powers and takes vengeance on Agent Odell, the true evil in this series.

One Good Thing:

  • Blackbird. As noted above, Anissa can no longer be seen in her bright Thunder costume as vigilantes are now hunted by the military. The story arch of the vigilante Blackbird, originating from beating up drug dealers to help fund the local clinic to now leading detainees, a la Underground Railroad, out of Freeland, is a surprise I didn’t know I needed. At this point, I’m all in for Blackbird staying and Thunder leaving and never showing up again.

One Bad Thing:

  • Lynn and Jefferson. It’s only one episode but I have no idea where the storyline for Jefferson and Lynn is going this season. I’m all for being surprised but the minimal use of these characters definitely is a change of pace for this series and leaves me to wonder if the focus will be geared more towards Anissa this year. The unfortunate part is Jefferson and Lynn’s characters are the glue that holds the series together and the more they keep them separate from their children, the more the series suffers from what makes it stand out, a series about a superhero TEAM.
  • Captain Henderson. Okay, this is a two-part Bad Thing this week. Commander Williams meets with Captain Henderson to advise of how things work in Freeland now: the police report to the ASA/Commander Williams and the police will be their backup. Henderson doesn’t appreciate the new pecking order and, in front of other ASA soldiers, actually punches Commander Williams. Sigh. This was such a horrible scene not only for the ridiculousness of Henderson choosing to punch Williams but because the commander doesn’t even arrest Henderson or fire him. No, the soldiers put a gun to Henderson’s head and force him to comply to the new standard. Sigh again.

This Episode’s Grade: B- (Good)

The season premiere was a nice reboot of the series after a lackluster season two of Black Lightning. The series still has a lot of mistakes it needs to fix, stop bringing LaLa back, but this episode did correct some of the issues. 

Freeland being cut off from the rest of the country is an interesting turn as the citizens are truly alone and no longer can count on others, including their favorite heroes, to resolve their issues. Anissa resorting to her Blackbird persona is a welcome change and I’m interested where the Markovia/ASA war will lead. If you stopped watching last season, and I don’t blame you if you did, this was a good episode to get you excited again and jump back into the series.
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You can catch Jason Brigger on the geek-centric podcast, The History of Bad Ideas, as new episodes are released every week at www.nerdly.co.uk or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcasting apps. You can listen to their latest episode right here. Jason also reviews the new series, Batwoman, right here.
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