Episode 1: The Book of Occupation (Chapter One) – Birth of the Blackbird
Directed / Written By: Salim Akil
Complete with an all-new swift comic book panel–styled opening, series developer Salim Akil returns to write and direct the first episode of season three and it shows. Under a drastically different status quo, both Freeland and the Pierce family grapple with the heavy influence of the government-backed ASA, who has been haunting this series since its inception, as their nefarious grip grows ever tighter. It’s been a month; with Jefferson Peirce/Black Lightning (Cress Williams) imprisoned in solitary confinement at the containment site, Freeland feels helpless and defenseless with an MIA Black Lightning and Thunder. This is compounded by the fact that all the metahumans unleashed at the conclusion of last season have been illegally “detained” for “quarantine” like prisoners in Gitmo.
There are so many overt allegories of current events in “Birth of the Blackbird”, but it does not become heavy-handed and maintains its sincerity throughout. This I can only attribute to Akil’s well-crafted writing and his intimate familiarity with the story. From the way how the system of law inherently and heavily prejudices those citizens who are underprivileged or minorities, to the unlawful detainment and treatment of Mexicans…I mean, metahuman. Yes, it can be a bit too much on the nose.
Then there is the blatant occupation and seizure of the city by the ASA under the guise of national security and the Markovian threat. The more they talk about the Markovian menace, the less I believe it; this enemy is nothing more than a propaganda scapegoat. While I’m not one to jump onto conspiracy theories, I wouldn’t be surprised if season two was a set up orchestrated by the ASA higher-ups. All of this plays into an undercurrent theme of despondency, distrust and disillusionment felt in Black communities with the obnoxiously bias Anglo-Saxon infrastructure of the American system and government.
In regards to the Pierces, Jefferson and Lynn (Christine Adams) are sidelined for plot convenience. Episode one mainly focuses on Anissa (Nafessa Williams) taking over the mantle of Freeland’s super-powered vigilante as the titular “Blackbird”, a second alter-ego adopted in season two. As mentioned before, this is very much in the same vein as Dick Grayson transitioned from sidekick Robin to independent Nightwing. What I found interesting is her ultra-modern and high-tech bachelorette pad, complete with Jarvis-esque all-purpose A.I.
Fortunately enough, Anissa takes up this new responsibility and added burden like a pro – orchestrating her own underground railroad movement. On a side note, Anissa may now have legitimate competition with CW’s new rival lesbian crime fighter “Batwoman” whose series premiered the day before. Jennifer (China Anne McClain) still struggles with her powers, and with all that had transpired last season, it is reasonable to see why she is in this nebulous limbo of self-discovery again. Lastly, Gambi (James Remar) is always a treasure to watch with his loving and fatherly support with the two girls, who now don’t have their parents.
In regards to the main antagonists this time around, the hostile militant takeover is spearheaded by Commander Carson Williams (Christopher B Duncan), a patriotic military metahuman. His unabashed singlemindedness in his “mission” straddles the line of being the stereotypical violent-prone army zealot. Hopefully, he would not degrade into cartoonish villainy as so many others have fallen prey to in the past.
Meanwhile, the veil of the quietly menacing Agent Odell (Bill Duke) is finally lifted. Unlike his predecessors, this male Amanda Waller could easily become a dangerous enough adversary to even make Jefferson and Tobias join forces to take him down. This is no more personified in his handling of tertiary character Issa Williams (Myles Truitt) whose metahuman powers are an (almost) invaluable asset to Odell’s goals of making America a super-powered superpower.
As “Book of Occupation” progresses, the nominal occupation will definitely set the tone for the rest of the season. “Birth of the Blackbird” may seem like a hopeless starting point at first glance, but the resolve of its people and heroes, along with their adaptability prove otherwise, even against such imposing odds. Added to my delight is an old favorite who makes a welcomed resurgence at the very end of this episode.
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.