Monday, April 18, 2016

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 1, Episode 11: The Magnificent Eight

This week on Legends Of Tomorrow the cast gets to play Back To The Future III as they travel back in time to the Old West.

I was very much looking forward to this episode the minute I heard it would feature Jonah Hex. For some reason I've always liked the character, and hoped the show would do a better job with him than the dreadful 2010 movie of the same name. Fortunately this version of Hex was much better, and actor Jonathon Schaech did a pretty darned good job (even if it did 
seem like he was trying to out-gravel Heat Wave in the vocal department). In fact I wouldn't mind if Hex became a regular part of the Waverider crew next season. He's already aware of time travel, and it might be fun to have a Legend who's not from the same period as the others.

On the original Star Trek, whenever the crew travelled back in time they would do everything in their power to avoid changing history. Not Legends Of Tomorrow, baby! This series has completely dispensed with the notion of protecting the timeline, as every character consistently stomps all over history and grinds it right into the rug. Even worse, time travel "expert" Rip Hunter seemed powerless to stop them, offering only token objections to his team's history-altering actions.

Last week the Legends got into a moral argument over whether it was right to kill a child destined to become the next Hitler. They ended up letting him live and he grew up and killed millions of innocent people. This week Hunter thinks nothing of gunning down the leader of a gang that threatens a tiny western town. So letting a kid grow up to murder millions is just fine, but an outlaw who kills forty or fifty people must be stopped at all costs. Got it. 

Brandon Routh continues to impress me as Ray Palmer, aka the Atom. He gives the character a sense of decency and earnestness not unlike that of Superman. That's not really surprising as he played him in 2006's Superman Returns. It wasn't Routh's fault that the movie stunk on ice, as he was easily the best part of it. I thought he was a worthy successor to Christopher Reeve, and it's too bad he didn't get another shot at the character. Fortunately he's been given a second chance at playing a superhero here.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
The Waverider travels to the Old West town of Salvation in 1871. According to Rip Hunter, Salvation is a "temporal blind spot," which will allow them to hide from the Hunters until they figure out what to do. Naturally the Legends don't want to stay put in the ship and pass up an opportunity to screw up the timeline. Against Hunter's objections, they venture out of the ship to explore the Old West.

Their first stop is a saloon, or course. Hawkgirl runs into an older woman who seems familiar to her. Professor Stein surprises everyone by playing poker with a few rough looking locals. He manages to piss them off by consistently winning. When one of the toughs pulls a gun, Captain Cold shoots him dead. A barroom brawl then breaks out (of course) between the Legends and the townsfolk. It's broken up by Jonah Hex, ex-Confederate soldier and cowboy.

Hex turns out to be much smarter than he looks, and figures out the Legends are time travelers. He surprises them further when he says he needs to talk to Hunter. The Legends take him back to the Waverider. There Hex greets Hunter, and says his old jacket looks good on him, implying the two are old friends. Hex tells Hunter that Cold killed a member of the Stillwater Gang and they'll be sure to take out their revenge on Salvation. Atom, who turns out to be quite the fan of Westerns, volunteers to stop the Stillwaters.

Meanwhile, Hawkgirl decides to ride off and find the mysterious woman she met in the saloon. White Canary goes along with her. Atom and Hex go to the jail, to discuss the Stillwater situation with the Sheriff. Inside they find he's abandoning his post, as he hands his badge to Atom (!). Eh, I'm sure something like that couldn't possibly change history, Atom! Stein returns to the saloon to get info on the Stillwater Gang. While there he sees a woman crying, and she tells him that her young son Bertie is dying. Stein goes with her to visit Bertie, who has consumption. Naturally Stein vows to help them, which again, couldn't possibly alter the timeline.

Jeb Stillwater and his gang enter Salvation. Atom tells them to leave, and when Jeb pulls his gun, Cold shoots it out of his hand. The Stillwaters leave, as the townspeople cheer. Again, more potential history changing there. Hex warns them that they Stillwaters will be back, and the Legends won't always be there to protect them. He tells  Hunter that Salvation could become another "Calvert." Curious, Stein looks up Calvert and finds it was a small town in Oklahoma. Hunter once stayed there after becoming a fan of the Old West. He protected the town for a while, but as soon as he left it was attacked by outlaws, and all the inhabitants were slaughtered. Pretty much the same situation as Salvation.

Stein throws temporal caution to the wind and has Gideon synthesize medicine for Bertie. He injects him with the drug, which seemingly cures him in minutes. Um... that's not how medicine works.

Hawkgirl and Canary find the mysterious woman's cabin. She's none too happy to see them, threatening them at gunpoint. Hawkgirl realizes that the woman is really a previous incarnation of... herself! Old Hawkgirl relents and tells Young Hawkgirl about herself. She says in this particular life she met Hawkman in 1830, but he was killed by Vandal Savage some time later. She says she tried to find love again, but could never get over Hawkman. She warns Young Hawkgirl to not even try hooking up with anyone else. Uh-oh! That doesn't bode well for her relationship with Atom.

Meanwhile Hex tells Atom he knows where the Stillwater Gang's camp is. Atom and his posse, which consists of Cold, Heat Wave, Jackson and Hex, ride into the camp and capture Jeb Stillwater. As they ride out, one of the Stillwater boys captures Jackson. Atom and the others are forced to leave him behind.

Back on the Waverider the Legends try to figure out how to get Jackson back without returning Jeb. Hex suggests a duel with Jeb. Amazingly Hunter volunteers. I guess he figures at this point the timeline is irreversibly hosed, and killing a guy a few decades earlier won't make any difference.

Hunter and Jeb Stillwater face off at high noon. Both men draw, but Hunter's a little quicker, and kills Jeb. Now leaderless, the Stillwater Gang slinks away. Just then the Hunters arrive. You know, those dreaded living weapons of the Time Masters. They fire on the Legends, who use their powers to attack and... completely destroy them in the space of about thirty seconds. That was easy! Before dying, one of the Hunters says the Time Masters are through dicking around, and are sending The Pilgrim after the Legends.

With the treat of the Hunters gone, the Legends can leave the temporal blind spot. Hunter says goodbye to Hex, while Bertie thanks Stein for saving his life. Stein discovers Bertie's real name is Herbert George Wells. Oy.

On the Waverider, Hunter warns the others about The Pilgrim, who specializes in going back in time and assassinating her targets when they're kids. We see her appear in 1990 and apparently kill a young Heat Wave...

Thoughts:
• The comic book version of Jonah Hex first appeared in DC's All-Star Western #10 in 1972. He was created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga.

Hex was raised by Apaches and was eventually rescued by the American cavalry. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Confederate army. Eventually he decided he didn't care for slavery, and surrendered to the North. The Northern Commander tried to get him to betray his Confederate comrades, but he refused. He escaped custody and tried to warn his friends, but the Northern Commander followed him and slaughtered Hex's former Confederate outfit.

Later he went back to his former Apache tribe, and was challenged to a tomahawk duel by a jealous rival. Hex was accused of cheating, and the Apache chief branded his face with the "mark of the demon" as punishment. After that he became a bounty hunter.

Even though Hex disagreed with the Confederate army's philosophy, he must have liked their uniforms, as he incorporated elements of them into his personal look.

Amazingly in the 1980s, Hex was briefly transported to a post apocalyptic future and became a Mad Max-style hero. Man, the coke must have been flowing freely during the Me Decade…

• In this episode we find out that Jonah Hex and Rip Hunter have a history (heh) together. Hunter's even wearing one of Hex's old coats! This probably also explains why Hunter's weapon of choice is a ray gun that looks for all the world like a six shooter. 

• Jonah Hex is always drawn with a trademark strip of skin stretched over his mouth, the result of an enemy maiming him.

Doesn't it seem like his injury would look about a hundred percent less horrific if he just snipped that hunk of skin in half and trimmed it back a bit?

• In the saloon, Professor Stein plays poker with a couple of rough looking cowpokes. He wins several hands, which surprises Cold. Stein explains that his father was a gambler and a hustler, and taught him a few tricks on how to win at cards. 

Note that he says all this at normal volume as he's sitting directly across from the increasingly angry and disgruntled cowboys. There's no possible way they can't hear his smug boasting. Does this seem like a good idea?

• Heat Wave must be the world's biggest lightweight when it comes to alcohol. In the saloon, Canary tells him she could drink him under the table any day. He growls, "Line 'em up." Naturally a fight breaks out in the saloon, and literally two minutes later (I counted!) we see him passed out on the bar, dead to the world. That was quick!

• Ugh. During the brawl a man's thrown over the bar, and we hear him utter the infamous Wilhelm Scream. As I've said before, it was a fun little Easter egg or in-joke the first 47,000 times it was used, but its expiration date ran out on it long, long ago. 

If Donald Trump promised to outlaw the Wilhelm Scream in movies and TV shows, he'd have my vote. That's how much I'm starting to hate the Wilhelm Scream.

• Suddenly in this episode ALL the Legends are expert marksmen. Even Jackson, who I have to imagine has never fired a pistol in his life, manages to shoot a gun out of the hand of one of the Stillwater gang. Impressive!

• Atom introduces himself to Salvation's Sheriff as "John Wayne." I'm betting this was a shoutout to Back To The Future III, in which Marty McFly adopts the name "Clint Eastwood."

• There's a business on Salvation's main street called Kubert's Barber Shop. That's no doubt a nod to legendary comic book artist Joe Kubert. He drew a series of covers for one of Hex's various comics.

• Stein meets a woman named Sarah Neal, whose son "Bertie" is bedridden with consumption, aka tuberculosis. This entire sequence is a goldmine of illogic, poor writing and historical inaccuracy.

First of all, Sarah tells Stein that the boy's doctors have given him only a day or two to live. Note that they discuss this just a few feet from Bertie's bed, while he lies listening to them. Once again, Stein's got a big mouth!

Stein refuses to let the boy die, and has Gideon synthesize streptomycin to cure his TB. He brushes aside Hunter's very legitimate concerns that he's polluting the timeline by curing a child with a medicine that's not from this era. 

Stein then injects Bertie with the drug. Literally a few minutes later the kid's out of bed and even eating! I don't know a lot about tuberculosis, but I'm betting it takes more than ten minutes to cure it.

At the end of the episode, Sarah and Bertie thank Stein again for his help. Bertie reveals his name is really Herbert George Wells. Yep, that H.G. Wells, author of The War Of The Worlds and many other early masterpieces of sci-fi literature. Wah-wahhhh.

It's supposed to be a cutesy scene, but as you might expect by now from this show, much of it is woefully inaccurate. H.G. Wells was born in England in 1866, which would make him only five years old when the episode takes place in 1871. His father, Joseph Wells, was a shopkeeper and profession cricket player, and struggled throughout his life to support his family. It's unlikely they would have been able to afford to send Bertie to the U.S. just because he "always wanted to see the American West." In fact there's no evidence that Wells ever visited America as a child, and he certainly never had TB.

They did get a couple things right though— Wells' mother was really named Sarah Neal, and she did call him Bertie. 

By the way, I'm not some Wells scholar— I found out all this info with about thirty seconds of googling.

• By the way, the subplot of Stein traveling back in time and interacting with a famous author is VERY similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Time's Arrow. In that episode Data's accidentally sent back to 1893 and meets Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain.

• The creators of this show really need to decide how they feel about altering the timeline and stick with it. All through this episode Rip Hunter grouses at the other Legends, warning them that their careless, history-changing actions will have dire consequences. He especially butts heads with Professor Stein, who refuses to let a young boy die when he has the power to save him.

But it turns out Stein was right. If he'd listened to Hunter and let history take its course, then H.G. Wells would never have grown up to write his influential novels, and the world would be a much different place.

Changing history's either good or bad, guys. Pick a side and go with it.

• 1870s Hawkgirl says that her version of Hawkman went by the name of "Hannibal Hawkes."

There was a Western hero in DC comics called Nighthawk, whose real name was Hannibal Hawkes. Supposedly Nighthawk was the reincarnation of Prince Khufu, aka Hawkman! 

Nighthawk had a female partner called Cinnamonwho was the reincarnation of Princess Shayera, aka Hawkgirl. 

On the left is the comic book version of Cinnamon. On the right is what I have to assume is supposed to be the TV series' version of the same character. Um... apparently life in the Old West is very hard on the human body.

The writers on this show many not know how to google Bill Gates or H.G. Wells, but by god they know their DC comic history!

• Welp, the Hunters sure turned out to be a huge fizzle! 

Last week Heat Wave ominously warned the Legends that the Time Masters were dispatching the Hunters, their most ruthless and unstoppable assassins, and the only sane thing to do was run.

This week they show up and the Legends kill all three of them in the space of sixty seconds! That was certainly anticlimactic!

It didn't help matters that the Hunters all looked like really bad cosplayers.

• Heat Wave says the Time Masters are through screwing around, and have activated the Omega Protocol. This means they're sending The Pilgrim after them, and she aims to kill them all in the past, before the became Legends.

At the end of the episode we see The Pilgrim sneak up behind a boy mesmerized by a house fire. So... did The Pilgrim just kill Heat Wave? How many times can this show almost kill him?

• As usual, Captain Cold wins the Line Of The Week Award.

In the saloon, one of the cowboys accuses Stein of cheating and pulls a gun on him. Luckily Cold shoots the cowboy dead first. Stein says, "You... killed him." Cold replies, "You're welcome!"

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