Black Lightning season 3, episode 9 puts the focus on Jen and eases itself into the wider Arrowverse’s Crisis in the best possible way.
I know it’s what most fans have wanted since Black Lightning first premiered, but truthfully, I’ve always been pretty ok with the fact that the show stays firmly outside the boundaries of the Arrowverse.
In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that I think that the show is quite better off existing entirely in its own realm, able to push its own characters and storylines without having to worry about how to fit into some prescribed mold within the Arrowverse.
So I reacted with more than a little skepticism and quite a bit of trepidation when news broke that the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths Arrowverse crossover would — after three years of existing on its own — loop in Black Lightning.
It’s not that I have anything against the wider Arrowverse at large — I’m just always rather skeptical of crossovers or big events. It’s not that I don’t like them on their face; in fact, I think that when done well, big events and crossover storylines can be a lot of fun and incredibly exciting as a fan.
The problem is that so often — in whatever medium, whether it be comics, film or TV — crossover events aren’t very well told, well managed or well organized. They often come at the expense of the ongoing storylines and character arcs, as writers are forced to augment or even ignore whatever flow they already have going on to accommodate the crossover event.
And given that Black Lightning has heretofore existed completely on its own, disconnected from the shenanigans of the rest of the Arrowverse, I was nearly convinced that having it become part of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” would mean completely derailing the mostly smooth pacing and tight writing of the third season.
However, I should’ve had more faith in the writers of Black Lightning, even if I have very little faith in crossovers themselves. What the writers managed to do was have the best of all worlds — it brought the Arrowverse crossover into the world of Black Lightning as organically as possible, while also pushing the development of its own storylines and characters.
Even though I was deeply skeptical of having Black Lightning join in on Arrowverse’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event, I still recognized it as being the first such event where it could even make sense to include it.
Crisis is all about parallel universes and alternate Earths, which gives Black Lightning the perfect explanation for why it’s never been included in previous crossovers, while the fact that these worlds are now being destroyed gives the Arrowverse the perfect excuse to recruit Black Lightning and his super-powered family.
So it works out for both the wider Arrowverse at large and for Black Lightning specifically, which is impressive on its own. But what’s even more impressive is the way in which Black Lightning isn’t forced to change the flow or direction of its storyline or its character development to accommodate the Crisis storyline; instead, it uses the existence of multiple universes to explore one of the most underdeveloped yet interesting story dynamics and characters of the season — Jen.
Jen has always been one of my favorite characters on this show, even though I can admit she has been and can be a bit much. However, that’s part of her charm. I’ve been really impressed with the way the show has allowed her character to grow over the course of its three seasons, and been equally impressed with just how poised and talented of an actress China Anne McClain has been in handling the evolution of Jennifer.
And while I’ve been mostly complimentary of the way in which Black Lightning has been able to construct, balance and then consolidate all of its many different plot points and character arcs over the past eight episodes of season 3, I will have to say that the character that tends to get the short shrift in terms of story and character development has been Jen.
She’s generally been relegated to the C plotline in any given episode — if she’s included at all — despite the fact that her inner turmoil and character arc has been one of the most conflicted and interested of the season.
Luckily, this episode is largely Jen-centric, allowing Black Lightning to explore the conflict within Jen and between the ASA and the Pierce family, while also bringing the Crisis to Freeland.
Black Lightning generally relies on such a grounded and gritty storytelling, especially compared to most of the other Arrowverse shows, that it would be nearly impossible to fully explore the two different paths set out before Jen. Luckily, with the tried and true comic book conceit of alternate Earths, we’re able to just that.
When the external Crisis comes to Freeland, it allows Jen to play out the internal crisis going on within her and the show to address the ongoing personal conflict it’s built up over the course of the season. Jen basically sums it up for us in the first ten minutes or so of the episode, when the show is just pure Black Lightning, before then launching into a bit of a Sliding Doors type episode that gives us two different Jens, though both are tragic timelines in their own ways.
The first is a completely — well, I won’t say docile, because Jen is never that — powerless version of Jen, called Gen from Earth 1. She wears a power-suppressing ASA collar and spends most of her time in The Pit for flooding the Freeland water supply with the metahuman cure — which ended up curing both her father and sister.
However, you can take the powers out of Jefferson, but you can’t take out the tendency towards heroism. Despite no longer being able to be Black Lightning, Jefferson still helps run the Underground Railroad for metahumans — something that leads him to getting a bullet in the brain from Odell, which Jen and Anissa, who are completely powerless, are unable to stop.
On the flip side, Jen also sees the diabolical Jinn from Earth 2. This version of Jen embraces her powers to the point that Jefferson believes she’s addicted to them, willingly works with Odell and essentially ended the war with Markovia by committing mass murder.
On this Earth, Jinn is the one who ultimately ends up responsible not only for her father’s death — in that she literally kills him with her powers — but the deaths of her mother and sister as well.
Since she’s found out about her powers, Jen has gone back and forth between being afraid to use them and wanting to use them for the greater good.
That latter proposition has gotten further complicated this season with the introduction of Odell and the ASA, who have been expertly manipulating Jen into a rather muddled definition of just what is “the greater good.”
What this episode does so well is it brings that inner conflict to bear in the most literal way possible. We see what might happen to and around Jen if she were to forego the use of her powers completely, but we are also able to see the horrors that might unfold if she were to embrace them without any sort of real moral compass or system of honor like the one that her father provides.
At the center of both those paths is the same person who has been at the center of much of Jen’s storylines and conflict this season — Odell. Thus far, we’ve been able to watch in a sort of muted horror the way in which Odell has been able to basically successfully shape Jen into his own personal child soldier. He’s exploited her kind heart and sense of heroism, manipulated her into feeling both necessary and special and given her free reign to use her powers in a way that her parents have often limited.
It’s been a dangerous and slippery slope she’s slid down because of Odell, and I’m glad that the impending Crisis came to Freeland and was able to show Jen — in a very real, tangible way — where her path with Odell might lead and what kind of person she might become.
Freeland as we know it gets destroyed by the wave of anti-matter (I think? I haven’t been watching Crisis at all), so we’ll have to wait until January to see what lessons Jen takes from her time in the multiverse.
I’m excited to see where she ends up.