Black Lightning S3: EP16 / The Book of War (Chapter Three) – Liberation
Directed By: Salim Akil
Written By: Charles D Holland
“Liberation” best summates the entirety of Black Lightning’s junior season; ripe with a lot of tantalizing potential, it cannot seem to fully exploit the elements that make the series great and endearing. Instead, we’re left with another lukewarm entry, where everyone making an appearance, to cap things off. Disappointingly, nearly all of the many segments are too short, leaving them underdeveloped to an egregious degree, with mostly pantomime performances by the cast.
Taking place right after the last episode ended, we’re presented with a street-level beat down between Gravedigger (Wayne Brady) and Black Lightning (Cress Williams) with a few power moves thrown in to spice up this otherwise pedestrian fisticuffs. While physically imposing, Cress has shown that he is not fit at physicality like his more athletic contemporaries here and in the wider Arrowverse. Nevertheless, you can tell he gives his all against Brady’s character.
Jennifer (China Anne McClain) is almost immediately kidnapped, leading to Jefferson having to (conveniently) recruit Brandon (Jahking Guillory) to help rescue her. The rescue mission is pulled off very quickly, in just a single scene no less and without a hitch. This begs the question “why go through the trouble of kidnapping Jennifer in the first place if not for leverage, bait as a trap or as a distraction?”
The best parts of “Liberation” are once again those involving Khalil/Painkiller (Jordan Calloway), as he seems to be the only one with an arc during the auto-pilot acting from most of the cast. We see him finally gain the upper hand over his cybernetic alter ego, but at the same time, the trauma of it all has greatly changed and affected Khalil’s perspective and outlook, turning our troubled teen war machine into a fledgling anti-hero in the process. The internal struggle is played out exceptionally well with his stunt double, as both personas duke it out for control over his body. The excellent use of suspended physics, well-choreographed transitions and use of a variety of weapons to pull off a fantastic fight is nothing short of gratifying. Jordan is not shy showing off his well-toned physique here either, to the delight of those so inclined.
We also get a short shootout between the Markovian militia and the Freeland PD, with Lala (Will Catkett) and his posse coming in as the Calvary, but only as a wisp of a cameo. It was a nice snippet to show that in this dire moment of distress, that police and gangsters would lay down their feud to pool together to fight a mutual invasion of their community.
As the episode continues, a handful of tertiary characters meet their end. But it all happens so briefly and so suddenly, that it is hard to even get invested in their deaths, even though we may never have gotten that involved in them in the first place. To put it bluntly, a lot of them go out like punks. However, some may find their (deserved) demise apt. The only exception was Bill Henderson (Damon Gupton), who was rumored to not be returning for another season. This perhaps is the only truly emotional scene in the entire episode, as Henderson, faced with his death, is tearfully consoled and reconciled with Jefferson. His character’s passing will be the biggest void leading into a potential season four.
The final fight comes as Gravedigger infiltrates the Pit (the ASA’s metahuman covert research facility) sort of bringing the season full circle. With his amalgamation of powers, Gravedigger makes short work of his adversaries, until Dr Lynn (Christine Adams) enacts her plan with science and a shotgun (*I caught that “Avengers: Infinity War” reference). What glaringly stood out for me at the ending showdown was that the heroes had no contingency against Sykes’ innate top tier power of audible suggestion (ala Jessica Jones’ “Purple Man”), which was criminally underutilized throughout the episode. Had he readily applied it without the heroes having a countermeasure, they would have easily lost the battle in an instant. I would have figured that would have been top priority for Gambi (James Remar) and TC (Christopher A’mmanuel) to come up with a solution, rather than have the entire Pierce family go up against this walking killing machine unprotected. A conspicuous oversight that ruins the whole thing, that writer Charles D Howard did not consider, or omitted for script’s sake to get us to the finish line.
When the dust settled and we enter the episode’s (and season’s) conclusion, the cat is out of the bag in terms of what happened in Freeland while under ASA quarantine, as well as the clandestine US government experimentation on African-Americans that dates back a hundred years. The epilogue seems too tidy and naïve at best, and uninspired at worst. Some characters are gone or out of commission (how much so will have to be seen), while others are in the wind, teasing their return next season. All in all “Liberation” regrettably does nothing to motivate me for another tour of Freeland. If you were hyped for the finale, prepare to be let down.
Hailing from the eastern-most Caribbean island of Barbados, Fabian Wood has long since been fascinated by the power of storytelling to inspire and invoke emotions – whether in film, comics or video games. No longer content to be just an avid comic book reader and video gamer, he’s eager to exercise his literary acumen as an aspiring writer and reviewer.