Black Lightning: The Book of Occupation: Chapter One: The Birth of Blackbird


What the hell did they do to us between seasons? 

It’s been quite a while since we saw the heroes of Freeland, and things haven’t been going well for pretty much anybody. There’s a very new and different status quo for our heroes, and the bad guys seem to be ahead on almost every front. The one thing that hasn’t changed is their penchant for long titles, although the more comic book styled opening graphics make those work better. Season three starts with: Black Lightning: The Book of Occupation: Chapter One: Birth of Blackbird. Mind you, that title might have worked a bit better if Anissa hadn’t been running around as Blackbird last season, but we’ll get back to that.

After the cool new opening graphics, we see some people in what I presume is an ASA holding facility. We see a few people being interviewed by, as far as I can tell, a computer, and all asked the same questions about name, powers, and history with Green Light. The third one is Jefferson Pierce, looking much different than last we saw him, and really not good. There’s a montage of his days in captivity, and then some “man on the street” interviews. The citizens are pissed about Black Lightning’s disappearance, and the conditions in Freeland, which seem to include a barrier around the city and the ASA running what’s virtually martial law. Several people seem to think Black Lightning is dead, but are grateful Blackbird has taken his place. Lynn watches this, not looking pleased, and the reporter finishes her interviews and gets back in her car. She seems to be a small, one-woman and web-cam kind of operation. Amusingly, we eventually learn her name is Jamillah Olsen. Considering in the comics, Black Lightning started off in Metropolis, the fact that they have a media figure with a camera named J. Olsen seems like a nod to that at the very least.

In a different facility, we see kids in cages. I guess they’re still going for a lot of modern political commentary on the show. Touring the facility are a few people we don’t know, Reverend Holt, and Anissa Pierce. They all find the place disgraceful, but before there can be too much righteous indignation, it comes under attack by Ned Creegan, aka Cyclotronic. He’s got some nasty powers, and Anissa is getting ready to fight, even if it means losing her secret identity. Enter Commander Carson Williams, who mocks Cyclotronic, apparently shares history with him, and then eventually kills him, displaying some powers of his own. Williams apparently reports to Agent Odell, our old antagonist. Creegan, for what it’s worth, was a very minor DC Comics villain whose entire career isn’t too terribly much longer than this appearance. As all this goes on, Jennifer, evidently back in school, has a power flareup issue and goes to hide in the bathroom. I guess her training with Perenna is wearing off or something.

Leaving the “clinic,” a nurse named Betty decides she can’t take this anymore and quits, making them stop the van and walking off. The supervisor, a horrid woman named Ms. Reeks (really?), doesn’t seem to care and dares Anissa to quit, too. Deputy Chief Henderson also doesn’t have a good day, as Commander Williams pays a visit, makes some demands and threats, and has him physically beaten in his own office. Seriously, I get these are bad guys, but this is getting to be a bit much. Lynn gets to visit Jefferson, and her amorous advances get thwarted when Odell shows up again, cancels Jefferson’s planned release, and then tells Lynn she can’t leave, either. Odell is his usual smug, annoying self, but he does turn off Jefferson’s neutralizer collar. Pissing off one of the more powerful metahumans around and then giving them their powers back seem like a bad plan to me.

Under a great deal of duress, Henderson does the press conference, announcing a curfew and other crackdowns in Freeland. Jennifer and Anissa watch this, and we learn Anissa has her own AI, Shonda. We hear Shonda several times this episode, and I found her much more realistic than Hope over on the Supergirl premier. The girls are happy that their father is supposed to be coming home soon (they’re in for a surprise) and Anissa calls Gambi. They exchange some intel, and Gambi goes back to trying to find a hole in the ASA barrier around Freeland. For a formerly top secret agency, they’re really not being subtle if they’ve turned a city into an Under the Dome reboot. Anissa goes home, which is a really impressively nice apartment, and talks more with Gambi about her parents not being released and Gambi’s next mission for her. If the elder Pierce’s are in ASA custody, and Anissa’s got her own place, does this mean Jennifer is living on her own? If so, is that really a good idea? At all?

Anissa’s new assignment takes her to an ASA prisoner convoy, where we see her new Blackbird costume. No longer a Robbin’ Hoodie, she’s got a decent look, and stops the bus, dropping guards and freeing prisoners. Her new costume includes a voice modulator, ala early Green Arrow and Flash before they stopped bothering. Miss Olsen is interviewing the Reverend, who argues impassionedly for the kids being held prisoner, and we’re deep in thinly disguised allegory of the current political situation here. She asks about Blackbird, and we hear again that no one knows what happened to Black Lightning, or Thunder. In a development that seems odd to me, Olsen says the soldiers from the convoy are near death. That doesn’t sound like Anissa’s style to me, but no one really comments on it. Holt meets up with Blackbird in a backroom, where we see they have their own Underground Railroad operation going. They make the observation that a roomful of scared kids and metapowers aren’t a great combination.

In some tunnel somewhere, a woman we don’t know with powers we do is apparently enjoying practicing with her abilities. Waking up drowsily, Lynn tells Jefferson people are saying Black Lightning is dead. He muses it feels like it might be true, and then suddenly develops a new power. Anissa and Gambi plot their next moves, and hear some unusual cop chatter on the scanner. Anissa thinks she knows who is behind this, but it doesn’t match up for what we’ve seen of this character. Later, Anissa goes out for a drink, gets picked up by Olsen, who babbles a lot, and they have a good time. The afterglow is interrupted when Anissa gets an alert that clearly irks her.

While Jefferson goes in for another session in his prison, for lack of a better word for the place, we get a seemingly random scene of teen flirting with the woman from the tunnel. This proves to be Jennifer with a cool image disguiser from Gambi, who Anissa comes and corrals. They argue a bit, and Jennifer explains the current issues with her powers. They at least end the scene on good terms.

Jefferson ponders his new-found ability, and he and Lynn talk. I’m not sure discussing a new power in an enemy stronghold when you’re almost certain to be recorded is a good plan, but what do I know? Jefferson brings up Tobias Whale and Issa, a kid we’ve seen before with truth-compelling powers. He’s like Wonder Woman’s lasso without the bondage elements. Speaking of, Issa has been sent to Tobias to interrogate him, while Odell listens in and prompts the young meta. Tobias doesn’t look good at all, and does his best to evade Issa’s questions. Finally, under pressure from Issa, relaying for Odell, Tobias reveals some secrets I’m sure the powers that be don’t want getting out. Later, Issa and Odell have a chat, and we see the agent is cleaning up loose ends.

Later, Odell and Lynn have an argument, and he makes up stories to tell her. She’s shocked at some of the things he says. She really should know enough at this point not to fall for this, but I think she did anyway. Out in the woods, Blackbird leads a group to the way out Gambi has made, dealing with a loudmouth complainer on the way. She finally shuts him up, but they get surrounded, barely warned in time by Jennifer, using Gambi’s tech. The refugees all make it out, but Blackbird gets a big surprise. Later, Gambi has to talk Jennifer out of doing something stupid (again). Odell makes a pitch to Lynn about why she should be working with him, since that’s gone so well in the past. The show ends with someone we haven’t seen in a bit, who has something Odell very much wants.

What I liked: They did a major status quo change here, and it worked. Things are different, but we can more or less see how they got here. I liked that Gambi and Anissa are still fighting the good fight, doing everything they can with fewer and fewer resources. Holt helping them is great. I’m amused about “J. Olsen” and curious to see where that goes. The revelations from Tobias were surprising. Nurse Betty was awesome, and I hope we see more of her. I liked that Shonda the AI was, yes, amazingly advanced, but still seemed realistic, like responding to commands with the same words over and over.

What I didn’t: I get she’s frustrated and worse, but Jennifer is sliding back towards her old self. I really don’t like Williams. I feel bad for Henderson. I’m concerned about Jennifer apparently living alone.

It was a good return to Freeland, and I really am enjoying this show. I’ll give this a high 3.5 out of 5. I just hope we get to see Black Lightning in costume before the crossover.