‘Legends of Tomorrow’ Post-Show Recap: Season 2, Episode 4: ‘Abominations’
The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow follows a time-traveling team of misfits that includes historian Nate Heywood, Arrow’s Atom and White Canary, both halves of Firestorm and Flash rogue Heat Wave. Recappers Matt Wilson and Dylan Todd are on hand to deliver our Legends of Tomorrow post-show analysis, Stuff of Legends.
On this week's "Abominiations," things get out of hand in Civil War-era Mississippi when a virus hits a whole bunch of Confederate soldiers, turning them into zombies. Also, people learn important lessons about the racial history of America. It's a lot. Michael Allowitz directed the episode, which was written by Marc Guggenheim and Ray Utarnachitt.
Dylan: So this week the Legends are on a rescue mission to help locate a displaced time pirate in Mississippi 1863. The only problem is, the South keeps rising again, because they are zombies. Confederate zombies. Eat your heart out (literally), Walking Dead. How’d you like the episode, Matt?
Matt: I thought it was bad. It was a bad one. Probably not helped by it being a Halloween episode that aired three days after Halloween. And last year’s Halloween episode (bird monsters in the ‘50s!) was so good, too.
Dylan: Oh man! I had basically the opposite reaction. I thought it was a decent episode, all things considered, but we can parse where we disagree as we break the episode down.
For the A-plot, Sara and Nate are tasked with proving to our drunkest president (so far), Ulysses S. Grant, that zombies are real and that they present a very real danger to his troops as well as the time stream. Sara, as usual, is great, Nate is… not terrible, and lots of zombies get blown to bits. What did you think, Matt?
Matt: It was probably the strongest of the episode’s subplots, largely because it ended with Nate jumping on a big box of nitroglycerin and blowing it up in Citizen Steel mode, taking all those Confederate zombies with him. But aside from that, even this felt pretty weak to me. Grant felt 100% personality-free. He’s suspicious when the plot needs him to be, and he’s unbelievably kind when it needs that.
Dylan: To be fair, he’s Ulysses S. Grant, whose defining characteristic is that he was a general and also president. Dude is kind of dull. But I get what you mean. What else bugged you about the episode?
Matt: We’ll get to it in the other plots, but I think the thing that got me about Grant was him telling the freed slaves that they have “plenty of food and water” in the camp. Grant supported Reconstruction later, but he was still a white guy in the 1860s. I don’t think he’d give up his troops’ supplies for these slaves. It’s about as historically accurate as the messenger guy who dies early on saying, “Who are you guys?”
Dylan: Matt, I thought we agreed that holding this show to the rigors of being remotely historically accurate was the surest path to madness. But yeah, that part reminded me of Remember the Titans where they won a football game and solved racism forever.
I’d argue the problem is systemic in Hollywood. It’s very much a “Not All White People!” reaction when confronted with the reality of the United States’ history of oppression and racial inequality. We don’t want to believe we’d be a part of that cruel system, but the reality is that it existed for as long as it did because the majority were complicit in its sustained existence.
Matt: I do this to myself every time. And you’re right about Hollywood whitewashing. Remember The Patriot? The movie about the South Carolina plantation owner with the volunteer slaves who were happy to work for him? This wasn’t that. At least the slaves here hated being slaves. But I couldn’t help but think of it.
Dylan: Back on the spaceship the flies through time, Ray and Stein are dealing with a zombified Heat Wave, which means we get the treat of Dominic Purcell growling and grumbling while the two brains try and cure him. Also, Professor Stein is apparently deathly afraid of zombies! It’s fun, right?
Matt: Fun, if a little repetitive. Hey, Dylan, did you hear that Martin Stein was afraid of zombies in that early scene where he couldn’t even say the word? Well, don’t worry if you didn’t catch it. You will be told every time he appears in the episode from that point on, ad nauseam.
But I can’t hate on zombie Heat Wave. That was pretty good stuff.
Dylan: Kinemortophobia, or the fear of zombies, is a fairly common condition, Matt. And one of the biggest symptoms is repeating how afraid of zombies you are, to the point where sometimes you will talk out loud, to yourself, about the scary zombie movies you’ve seen. Check your privilege.
Matt: My deepest apologies.
Dylan: Meanwhile, Jax and Amaya get pulled in on a mission to get some secret troop movements from a Southern plantation to deliver to Grant, which brings them face-to-face with slavery and 19th-century racism head-on. How’d you like the Firestorm/Vixen portion of the episode, Matt?
Matt: I hated this. I described this to someone last night as, “Jax learns that slavery was bad,” and while it’s a bit of an overstatement, it’s not too far off. It’s more like “Jax learns that slavery was worse than he even could imagine,” I guess. A lot of heartfelt speeches and piano music and melodrama went into making... a point, but I’m not sure what it was. It felt like some kind of lesson was supposed to be in here, but I don’t really need Legends of Tomorrow to tell me that slavery was the great shame of our nation and people were treated inhumanely. It was on a real PBS Kids trip there.
Dylan: I get what you mean. It’s sort of Roots-lite, which is admirable, but also maybe a little too heavy for a CW show to really do justice to. And adding in Confederate zombies does sort of cheapen any lessons it’s supposed to be imparting.
Matt: For lack of a better term, it was cheap, and not in a way that this show is often endearingly cheap.
Dylan: Absolutely fair.
Matt: The feeling slipped into the Nate/Sara stuff, too, when Nate said he’d do the talking to Grant and Sara basically says, “Oh, because I’m a woman?!?” Which makes Sara look more naive than anything. Don’t you think she’d know a general in the 1860s might only listen to a dude? I don’t think it’s invalid to point out things were (and often still are) bad for people who weren’t cisgendered heterosexual white men, but the way this episode does it goes beyond beating the viewer over the head with it. It beats the characters over the heads with it.
Dylan: But Matt, that all changed once Grant saw that Sara could throw knives. Knives solve a lot of problems, societal as well as physical. Go knives!
Matt: Sara is very good at knives.
Seeing the slave owner get his face eaten by a zombie was pretty cool, at least. And Vixen beat a bunch of guys up. That was also not bad.
Dylan: At least we can agree that horrible slave owners getting et up by zombies is A-OK. All in all, I thought the episode was pretty good, even if it felt a little like somebody watched Django Unchained and a season of Walking Dead back-to-back.
Matt: Here’s something I wrote in my notes: Djaxo Unchained.
Dylan: Ha! Yeah, him watching the plantation burn did not have anywhere near the same cathartic effect that it did in Django, partially because his pivot from “we can’t interfere,” to “we have to interfere,” was very manufactured. I still felt it had some power, in an ABC After-School Special kind of way, but maybe it’s the Dr. Pepper talking.
Matt: After-School Special is right on the money.
Dylan: Like last week, the writing team did a good job of giving everybody something to do, the history portion was both fun and surprisingly emotionally satisfying, and I thought the emotional character stuff was really good, too. Sara had a little talk about leadership with Ulysses S. Grant, Jax and Stein get a little moment together to unpack the brutality Jax witnessed, and everybody’s favorite bromance got some attention when Ray and Mick had their little heart-to-heart. While I’m not sure putting them both back-to-back worked from a pacing standpoint, it was nice to see the relationships continue to progress. Overall, how’d the character stuff in the episode work for you, Matt?
Matt: I’m with you on the “everyone got something to do” point, and yeah, there was some character advancement, particularly for Sara and Ray. Their season arcs as “leader” and “guy unsure of who he is now” are moving forward. And hey! It looks like Ray got a ray (gun). And will be a new Captain Cold, perhaps?
But I don’t think the writers have the foggiest idea of what to do with Stein and Jax. Jax is over here getting the “let’s show the black guy just how bad slavery was” treatment and Stein is stammering around the ship like so much Shaggy.
Dylan: I’m sort of resigned to the fact that Jax and Stein are going to be sidelined most of the time, so for me, most of the enjoyment from them stems from seeing how the writers manage to excuse them from whipping out the fire guy whenever they get into a pickle. Sort of like watching a TV show where an actress is pregnant and admiring all the terrible ways they try and shoot around it. And every show needs a Shaggy, Matt. Tell me Game of Thrones wouldn’t be 1000% better with a perpetually hungry and perpetually terrified hippy running around Westeros.
Matt: Maybe that’s the next step in Jaime Lannister’s character arc.
Dylan: If they manage to give him an equally-terrified direwolf who speaks broken English, that would definitely have my curiosity and attention.
Nate’s a little less obnoxious and actually kind of useful. Sara is back to being great and fun after being really mishandled in the premiere. Ray is gonna be the new Captain Cold, apparently. (Until he eventually rebuilds his suit in a way where it’s more comfortable for Brandon Routh to act in, I assume.) Amaya is still sort of a cipher, but she’s got time to grow.
Matt: Yeah, I wonder what the plan for Vixen is. I will say it helped to have her as a counterpoint to Jax this episode. Where he’s walking on eggshells, she’s all like, “Yeah, I’ll beat the snot out of a slave owner.” But it’d be good for her to have more of a character than “tough lady” sometime soon.
Dylan: Agreed. Also, it’s weird that her motivation is “Gotta find the guy who killed Hourman!” but she does not seem to be in any rush to take care of that. Like at all. Abandons it within seconds of setting foot on the Waverider. I mean, given what we saw of Hourman, dude was a dink, so no big whoop if he gets it TBH --- and if I was a black warrior woman with animal totem powers in 1942, I would probably not be in a huge hurry to get back to that backward time period --- but isn’t it weird that she’s cool to just hang out with these weirdos?
Matt: I guess if there had been a little more urgency to the “space pirate going to screw up the timeline” idea, it’d have seem less weird. And it looks like we’ll be back on track next week, with the search for Hourman’s killer leading the team to... the Stranger Times of Stranger Things, the 1980s.
Dylan: Ah yes, the 80s. Better pop the collar on that pink polo and open up a Tab; things are gonna get radical.
Matt: That meme with the typography: The episode! Next week!