Saturday, November 5, 2016

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 2, Episode 4: Abominations

This week's Legends Of Tomorrow is all about horror— the fictitious kind (zombies and the undead) as well as the all-too-real kind (slavery and the dark side of humanity). 

The episode makes a powerful statement about the evil that men do, as Jackson goes through quite an traumatic character arc. He starts out the episode with a cocky sense of hubris, as he's sure he can easily handle anything the era can throw at him. By the end the scales have fallen from his eyes as he experiences the terrors of slavery firsthand.

Unfortunately this slavery subplot was marred by a couple of issues. For one thing it isn't given nearly enough time to develop, and it has to literally kick and shove for air space in an already crowded episode. A serious topic like this deserved more time. Think how much more powerful it would have been if Jackson, Vixen and the plight of the slaves had been the sole focus of the episode, to give the story time to naturally unfold.

Jackson's intro to slavery was also diminished somewhat by the episode's odd mixture of tone. His ultra-serious scenes were juxtaposed with the wacky hi-jinx of Atom & Professor Stein, as the comedy duo was chased around the Waverider by a zombified Heat Wave. All that was missing was a great dane, and their entire sequence could have been a scene from Scooby-Doo.

Kudos to the series thought for at least attempting to show that time travelers of color would have a hard time in certain eras. Compare this to Doctor Who, which rarely if ever examines the topic. In the episode The Shakespeare Code, the Doctor's companion Martha Jones (who's black) is reluctant to step out of the TARDIS in the Elizabethan era. She tells the Doctor she's afraid the minute she's seen she'll be made a slave. He completely blows off her concerns, saying, "Eh, I think you'll be OK," and sure enough, she is! No one even seems to notice she's black. Somehow I doubt it would be that easy.

I've said before that this series seems like it was written by a ten year old, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It completely embraces the insanity of Silver Age comic books, which I think is great. That sensibility is front and center this week, as we get Civil War zombies, straight out of an old E.C. horror comic! How awesome is that?

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
As the episode opens, a generic time pirate— who's infected with an unknown virus flees his spaceship in a small escape shuttle. He crash lands on Earth in Mississippi, in 1863 near the end of the end of the Civil War. He sends out a distress signal, activates a locator beacon and then promptly dies. A squad of Confederate soldiers find the pod and investigate. The pod opens and the time pirate, who's now become a zombie, attacks them. Yep, we're doing Civil War zombies this week!

On the Waverider, the team receives the pirate's message. White Canary decides to rescue the him before he damages the timeline too much. They land in 1863, and Canary tells Atom, who no longer has his suit, to stay onboard for his own safety. This makes Atom feel sad and worthless, and is apparently the only thing the writers can think of to do with him.

Professor Stein tells Jackson he should sit out the mission as well, because his race will put him in danger in the Civil War era. Jackson confidently dismisses the idea, saying he's dealt with racism his entire life and is used to it. Hmm... I believe we were just introduced to this week's main plot line!

The Legends exit the ship and quickly locate the escape pod, but there's no sign of the time pirate. Heat Wave incinerates the pod so no one from the past will find it. Just then they see a black man come running by. He introduces himself as Henry Scott, and says he's being chased by a horde of monsters. Sure enough, a squad of Confederate solider zombies appear and attack. 

The Legends make quick work of the zombies. Unfortunately they see Henry's been seriously wounded. He tells Jackson he's a spy for the Union Army, and was on a mission to steal the Confederacy's upcoming battle plans from a nearby plantation. Henry infodumps all this exposition to Jackson dies.

They return to the ship, and Gideon informs them that Henry Scott's mission was a vital one. Without the plans, the North will lose the war, altering history. Jackson insists on completing Henry's mission. Just then Heat Wave passes out, and they see he was bitten by one of the zombies. If not treated soon, he'll become one.

Atom and Stein stay onboard the Waverider to try and come up with a cure for Heat Wave. White Canary and Dr. Heywood look for General Grant's camp, to warn them about the zombie army. Jackson and Vixen head for the Collins plantation, to steal the war plans and complete Henry Scott's mission.

Atom somehow comes up with a vaccine he believes will cure Heat Wave. He injects him, but unfortunately he isn't cured. Heat Wave apparently dies and becomes a zombie. He breaks free of his restraints, and Atom and Stein (who has an irrational fear of zombies) escape the medbay and lock him inside. 

Atom theorizes that if they could administer the vaccine another way say through the air it just might work. That makes absolutely no sense, but let's just go with it. They fill a fire extinguisher with the vaccine, and go zombie hunting. Heat Wave attacks and knocks out Atom, leaving the petrified Stein to spray the vaccine in Zombie Heat Wave's face. He attacks Stein and tries to bite him, but fortunately at the last second the vaccine works and cures him.

Canary and Heywood find Grant's camp, and warn him of the approaching undead horde. Grant doesn't believe a word they say, until Canary leaves and returns with a still-moving decapitated zombie head as proof. Yikes! The zombie horde attacks, and Grant's men do their best to hold them back, but their ammo begins running low. Heywood sees a convenient stockpile of nitroglycerin in Grant's tent (?) and comes up with a plan. He has the soldiers set up the nitro in a field, then uses a torch to lure all the zombies after him. When he's thoroughly surrounded by them, he turns into his Citizen Steel form and detonates the nitro, obliterating all the zombies.

Meanwhile, Jackson and Vixen make it to the Collins plantation. They see the owner whipping a female slave for accidentally burning a tablecloth. Vixen wants to save the woman, but Jackson says they can't risk altering history (like that's ever stopped this team before). 

Jackson pretends to be one of the slave staff and sneaks inside to find the secret plans. Ignorant of this society's rules, he accidentally touches a white woman, which is a huge mistake. The plantation owner chains him in a barn with several other disobedient slaves, intending to punish and torture them later. 

Jackson asks the other slaves how they can stand being treated like animals. They tell him that their owners are trying to drive them mad, so they have to endure the treatment in defiance. Fortunately Vixen sneaks into the barn and frees Jackson. He tells her he's changed his mind about altering history, and frees the other slaves as well. One of the slaves tells Jackson he knows where the secret plans are hidden in the mansion. Well that was a lucky break!

They exit the barn, just as another zombie horde approaches. Vixen gets the slaves to safety, while Jackson and the slave fight their way to the mansion. They find the plans just as the zombies break into the house. The plantation owner tries to fight them off by himself. Jackson tells him to toss him a weapon, saying if they work together they can overcome the zombies. The owner refuses, and is immediately eaten alive by the zombies. Hey, he asked for it! The slave ignites a lamp that burns down the mansion, along with all the zombies inside it, thus ending the undead breakout.

Jackson, pretending to be Henry Scott, delivers the plans to General Grant, who says they now have a chance to win the war. 

Back on the Waverider, Atom's moping again about no longer having a suit (so maybe he should build a new one?). Heat Wave solemnly gives him the late Captain Cold's old freeze gun, and says he can be his new partner. Atom looks at the gun and of course says, "Cool!"

Thoughts: 
• Professor Stein does the opening narration again this week.

• In this episode we find out that Professor Stein has an irrational fear of zombies, which I'm sure comes up in his daily life all the time. In fact he's so scared of them that he won't even allow anyone to even utter the word "zombie."

I have a feeling this is a reference to the unwritten rule in virtually every modern zombie movie that states no one can ever say the dreaded "Z" word.

• When the Legends find the time pirate's crashed ship, Heat Wave give it a blast and sets in on fire. I'm assuming they destroyed it to prevent it from being discovered, and altering the past. 

Is just setting it on fire going to be enough to completely obliterate it? I would think a small space ship like this would be designed to withstand the heat of reentry, so burning it probably wouldn't have much of an effect. Does Heat Wave's flamethrower really get hot enough to completely melt every last trace of a space ship?

• So Heat Wave is bitten by a zombie, and of course later turns into one. 

A zombie is a dead body that's been reanimated, right? So that must mean Heat Wave actually died this week. It also means that Atom's vaccine brought him back to life, with no ill effects. Oddly enough, no one seems to realize this or even make mention of it, as the episode quickly rushes past this issue.

• Here's some really hardcore nitpicking for you, from a graphic designer who typesets things for a living. At one point in the episode, Gideon displays a newspaper from 1863, announcing a high school's being named after Henry Scott, in honor of his heroism.

Let's ignore for a moment the fact that high schools weren't really a thing in the Civil War era, and institutions usually aren't dedicated to public figures immediately after their heroic deed. Instead let's talk about the design of the newspaper, and the font choice.

First of all, there's WAY too much space around the main headline. Headline fonts tend to be condensed, so the editor can cram as many words as possible into the available space. There's no way a real newspaper would have all that white space on either side of the headline.

Secondly the main headline font looks a lot like Trajan. I'm not 100% sure though. I used to be able to identify fonts on sight, but that was back in the old days when there weren't so damned many of them. With the rise of the internet, everyone and their dog is out there creating fonts, and there must be hundreds of thousands of them by now. Anyway, it looks like Trajan to me, and that's a problem, since that particular font was created in 1989. Whoops!

The secondary headline ("Scott Aids Grant To Win...") is even worse. Once again, there's way, way too much white space around the text. And no newspaper anywhere in the world ever typeset a headline in a staggered style like that.

Additionally, the secondary headline is set in the Copperplate Gothic font. I know this because it's one of my favorite fonts, and I use it quite often. I also know it was invented in 1901, almost forty years after this episode takes place. Whoops again!

Hey, I told you it was hardcore nitpicking.

I'm sure the art department had to whip up this newspaper in a hurry, but it's woefully inaccurate and anachronistic. They should have called me. I could have whipped up a period-accurate prop for them in no time flat.

• I'm confused by Atom's anti-zombie antidote. He injects it into Heat Wave's bloodstream, but instead of curing him, it seems to accelerate his transformation into a zombie. A few minutes later Atom and Stein decide that using a fire extinguisher to spray the antidote onto Heat Wave will cure him. Oddly enough, doing so actually cures him.

This makes little or no sense. I don't understand why the antidote worsens his condition the first time it's administered, but cures it the second. It's almost like a couple of scenes are missing.

• As I watched this episode, I started wondering if it was directed by someone from The Walking Dead. Eh, not quite. It was directed by Michael A. Allowitz, who worked on The Vampire Diaries

• Vixen needs some new animal powers. I'm tired of seeing her channel the strength of a gorilla.

• Like many of the people the Legends run into, Henry Scott was a real person. He was a half-white son of a slave, who escaped his plight and was befriended by a Union Army sergeant named Loring Muzzey. Scott learned to read and right, and became Muzzey's aide. There's no evidence that Scott was a spy, or that he stole vital war plans from the Confederate Army.

As you might expect, he was not killed in 1863 by a Confederate zombie. After the war he became a bookstore owner, and later became involved in civil rights. He died in 1909 at age 62, leaving behind a wife and several sons. So even though Jackson impersonated Henry Scott at the end of the episode, it ultimately didn't matter, as history was already altered.

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