[This is a review of Legends of Tomorrow season 2, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
The beginning episodes of Legends of Tomorrow season 2 have mainly focused on establishing the new normal of the show. After the end of season 1 featured a major shake-up in the team's roster, season 2 has introduced new players, like Nate Heywood (Nick Dano) and Amaya Jiwe aka Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). The new members of the Legends have offered fresh dynamics for those aboard the Waverider, and with Rip Hunter lost to them, Sara Lance has additionally needed to step up as their leader.
Last week, Nate's newly acquired superpowers -- turning him into the DC hero known as Citizen Steel -- accidentally landed the Legends in Feudal Japan. The mission to retrieve Nate and Ray offer Sara a chance to stretch her legs as the leader, and deal with Amaya who stowed away on the Waverider hunting for Rex Tyler's killer. However, though the new Legends team seemed to become more solid, their time in Japan also ended with Nate destroying Ray's Atom suit.
In this week's episode, 'Abominations' -- written by Marc Guggenheim and Ray Utarnachitt and directed by Michael Allowitz -- Legends of Tomorrow heads to the American Civil War in 1863. However, they face Confederate soldiers who have seemingly been turned into zombies. Meanwhile, Sara struggles with her role as captain and Ray comes to terms with his new role on the team without his suit.
Civil War Zombies
The concept of zombies in the Civil War is introduced to Legends of Tomorrow by way of a time pirate crash landing in 1863 with what is later explained to be a bioweapon -- one that causes zombie-like symptoms though those infected aren't actually dead (yet). The time pirate sends up a temporal beacon that draws the attention of the Legends and, in trying to not alter history, learn that the bioweapon was unleashed on Civil War Mississippi, turning the tide toward the Confederates.
'Abominations' essentially splits the zombie plot into three separate challenges, with the team broken up between them and no chance of helping each other. While Sara and Nate head toward the Union soldiers led by General Ulysses S. Grant to warn them of the impending Confederate zombies, Jax and Amaya sneak into a Confederate home to steal battle plans, and Ray and Stein stay on the ship to concoct an antidote for the bioweapon's effects -- which has hit home since Rory was bitten by a zombie.
While the storyline focused on Ray and Stein features the most horror influence -- the pair are stalked and chased through the ship by a zombified Rory whose actions more resemble the villain in an '80s slasher movie -- it still features plenty of cheeseball comedy typical to Legends of Tomorrow. However, the storyline itself doesn't make much sense, playing fast and loose with the science (though that's also fairly typical of Legends of Tomorrow). When Ray injects his antidote into Rory, it triggers the zombie characteristics, but when Stein delivers the same antidote via a fire extinguisher, it cures Rory -- though no reason is given why this works.
Outside the Waverider ship, Sara and Nate are forced to help Grant and his troops fight off a wave of Confederate zombies without using too much ammo since they need to ration it for a later -- and more important -- standoff. Their plan turns out to be Nate drawing the zombies away from camp by using a flare, leading them into an explosion that he survives through the use of his newfound, and still not-quite-mastered, ability. But, of course, he comes through and saves the day.
Jax, meanwhile, heads into a party thrown in the home of a slaveowner in order to retrieve battle plans that will ensure the Union's victory in the war. When he brings Amaya along and she witnesses a slave being whipped, he explains to her that she can't do anything to alter history because even the smallest changes can have huge consequences. However, when forced to confront and endure the brutality of white slaveowners in Civil War America himself, Jax has a change of heart; he and Amaya free the slaves of the house, recover the plans, and are ironically unable to save the man of the house from zombies after he refuses to give Jax a weapon.
Unlike season 1's 'Night of the Hawk', 'Abominations' confronts racism head-on, but not simply for the specific time period in which the episode takes place. When Stein attempts to stop Jax from venturing into 1863 because he's worried for Jax's safety, Jax makes the statement that, as a Black man, he would face some kind of racism in almost any period of time. The arc of 'Abominations' -- while still relatively rushed to make room for the other storylines of the episode and not necessarily too deeply explored -- does handle the topic of slavery with compelling emotion.
"A War is Coming"
Since the Legends travel to the Civil War era on a mission entirely separate from the overarching stories of season 2 -- discovering Rex Tyler's murderer, learning Rip Hunter's whereabouts, and tracking down the evil time travelers -- the episode doesn't tie into the larger picture. That said, there is one extra clue to a puzzle since Jax and Stein listen to a little more of Barry Allen's message from 2056; in it, he says, "A war is coming." It's still unclear how this ties into the other narratives, if any, but it certainly presents the possibility of an upcoming crossover with The CW's other superhero series (one that wouldn't affect their timelines).
Certainly, after season 1 laid out a clear path from the get-go, the meandering of season 2 feels much more refreshing -- and much more established given the Legends' role as "time cops." Since it's their duty to protect history from aberrations, the premise of the series provides more leeway. Still, there's only so many side adventures Legends of Tomorrow can feature before the show begins to feel like it's spinning its wheels.
With the exception of hearing a little more of Barry Allen's message, though, 'Abominations' is part-horror slasher, part-goofball zombie comedy, part-compelling slavery narrative. Although the separate aspects and arcs may feel somewhat disjointed given their different tones, Legends of Tomorrow does manage to infuse each storyline with humor and heart -- while offering the show's typical superhero entertainment.
Legends of Tomorrow continues Thursday, November 10 with ‘Compromised’ at 8pm on The CW.