Monday, October 23, 2017

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 3, Episode 2: Freakshow

This week on Legends Of Tomorrow, the crew runs into another historical figure, in an episode that's incredibly messy, muddled and nonsensical. The cast gamely tries their best to save it with their usual winning performances, but sadly it's a lost cause.

Usually when the Legends meet an historical figure they have to protect them from some kind of harm. So when they run into PT Barnum this week, it was interesting to see that expectation reversed, as he turned out to be the ostensible villain of the episode!

Since Arthur Darvill (aka Rip Hunter) is just making occasional guest appearances again this season, it looks like the writers are grooming Agent Sharpe to be his proxy. And for the second time in as many episodes, Sharpe and White Canary ended up in an epic knock-down, drag-out fight. At this point it's pretty obvious they're gonna end up kissing before the end of the season!

SPOILERS!


The Plot:
Flashback to six months ago, as Vixen's making donuts for Steel. He laughs at her quaint 1942 ways, says nobody bakes anymore and runs out for some crappy store-bought donuts. While he's out, Vixen sees a news report about her granddaughter Mari, who's the modern day Vixen. She gets a worried look on her face. When Steel returns, Vixen's gone without so much as a note (what a dick move!).

Cut to the present day. On board the Waverider, Atom shows Jackson and Steel his newest invention— a wrist-mounted shrink ray. What a coincidence that he just happened to build it in this episode, as it's going to come in mighty handy in a few minutes.

Gideon analyzes the data she got from the Time Bureau to map out all the temporal aberrations on Earth. The Legends decide to try and clean up one, to score points with the Bureau. They pick PT Barnum's Circus in 1870 Wisconsin.

The Legends fly to the circus and blend in with the crowd. Atom, Steel and Jackson soon discover the source of the time aberration— somehow Barnum's gotten hold of a real live sabertooth tiger! For some reason, Steel unlocks the cage so Atom can use his shrink ray on it. Something goes wrong, and he accidentally causes the tiger to grow instead! It leaps out of its cage and runs off.

White Canary says there's only one person who can help catch and contain the tiger— Vixen. She then takes a shuttle and flies back to 1942 to pick her up. Or they could have just tried the shrink ray again, but no, messing up time even further is good too. Canary arrives and asks her to come with, but Vixen's reluctant, fearing it'll upset Steel. Canary say he'll be thrilled to see her.

Canary and Vixen return to the Waverider. Oddly enough, Steel is NOT thrilled to see Vixen, as he's still smarting over her walking out on him. Atom gives Canary his shrink ray, and the two women head out to hunt for the sabretooth tiger.

Meanwhile, Atom and Jackson take Steel to an 1870s saloon so he can drown his sorrows in booze. PT Barnum just happens to be in the saloon as well, with a strongman pal and a bearded lady. Barnum's upset that he's lost the tiger, his main attraction. Steel gets into a fight with a drunk and "steels" up. Barnum sees him and realizes he's just found a new star. He invites the Legends back to the circus.

Meanwhile, Canary and Vixen search the jungles of Wisconsin (!) for the sabretooth tiger. They find it, and Canary manages to shrink it and toss it in a birdcage on the ship. She could have done that herself! Why the hell'd she have to pull Vixen out of her own time?

For some reason, Steel decides to go back to the ship to talk to Vixen while Atom and Jackson meet Barnum at the circus. B'wana Beast, er, I mean the Strongman knocks them out and puts them in a cage. Um... wasn't the whole idea for Barnum to capture Steel, who he's WITNESSED using superpowers? As far as he knows, these two are ordinary humans. When Atom and Jackson wake, they try to convince Barnum that they don't have powers, but he doesn't believe them. I know, I know, none of this makes any sense, but let's just move on.

Canary and Vixen find a drunken Steel passed out in the Waverider's cargo bay. They ask where Atom and Jackson are, and he says they went to the circus without him. Canary and the others go back to the circus, and she realizes they're being tailed. She captures their observer, who turns out to be "Gary," a nerdy Time Bureau agent (who appeared briefly in last week's episode). Apparently Agent Sharpe assigned him to watch the Legends. Vixen and Steel are then captured by Barnum and tossed in a cage.

Back on the Waverider, Heat Wave accidentally lets the tiny sabretooth tiger out of its cage for no reason other than story complication purposes.

At the circus, Steel's too drunk to "steel up" and escape the cage (hey, it happens to all guys now and then). He asks Vixen to use her powers to get them out, but she says she doesn't dare. She claims she can no longer control her powers, and is afraid she'll fly into a berserker rage and kill someone. Hey, just like Wolverine! She then explains to Steel why she left him six months ago. When she saw her Mari on TV, she realized she needed to return home to Zambesi to ensure her granddaughter would be born. Amazingly, Steel accepts this explanation.

On the Waverider, Canary forces Gary to check in with Agent Sharpe and assure her that the Legends have everything under control. Sharpe doesn't buy it, and uses a portal to appear on the ship. She announces she's placing the Legends under arrest for no reason, and says Rip was wrong to think they'd be any help against "what's coming." Canary orders Professor Stein and Heat Wave to go rescue the others, and she and Sharpe have an epic hand-to-hand battle for even more no reason. They fight so long they end up taking a break in the commissary! The sabretooth kitten wanders by and grows back to normal size. It chases the two women through the ship, until Canary's able to shrink it again. Well, that was all pointless!

Stein and Heat Wave arrive at the circus, and see that Barnum's forcing Atom and Jackson to pretend to be Siamese Twins. Yes, I know the preferred term these days is "cojoined twins," but they're in 1870, when they were still called "Siamese." So deal with it. Anyway, their act is terrible and Atom and Jackson are mocked and booed by the crowd.

Stein disguises himself as a clown in order to infiltrate the circus. Backstage, Barnum threatens to shoot Vixen in order to get Steel to "steel up." Vixen finally summons the power of a bear, breaks out of her cage and chases Barnum. One of Barnum's clowns sees Stein all made up, and realizes he's not part of the show. He chases Stein, who runs into Jackson. They clasp hands and transform into Firestorm. FINALLY, some superhero action in this superhero show!

Firestorm then flies around the circus a couple times for... for some reason. He sees Vixen chasing Barnum and tries to stop her. She swats at him, knocking him right off the screen. She then corners Barnum and is about to kill him, when Steel manages to talk her down. Barnum pretends this was all part of the "Greatest Show On The Planet," and the crowd goes wild.

On the Waverider, Gideon announces that Wisconsin is now aberration-free. Canary asks Sharpe what she meant earlier when she mentioned "what's coming." Sharpe refuses to elaborate (to drag out the plotline longer) and warns that she'll be watching them as she leaves with Gary. Vixen tells the others about the Belgian soldiers she murdered last week in 1942. They're all perfectly fine with that revelation (!), and tell her they want to help. She agrees to stay onboard a few more episodes to try and sort out her control issues.

Cut to somewhere, as we see a hooded figure kneel next to a lake and recite a spell. A figure made from water rises from the lake and solidifies into a woman. The hooded figure calls the woman "Kuasa," and says as disciples of Mallus, they have work to do.

Thoughts:

• Steel's an idiot. During the flashback, his girlfriend Vixen is fixing delicious, piping hot homemade chocolate donuts, because she's from the 1940s and has apparently never heard of supermarkets (which were invented in the 1910s). He actually laughs at her, makes her stop and runs out to get some cold, crappy, chemical-laden, mass-produced store-bought donuts instead.

No wonder she left him!

• Vixen apparently has a "conversation sensitive" TV. All the time she and Steel are talking, it's barely audible in the background. The second Steel leaves, the TV suddenly cranks up the volume by itself. Not only that, it does so right as a news story relevant to Vixen begins!


To be fair, she does pick up the remote and turn up the volume, but only after the TV already did so by itself!

• This week we finally get an explanation for Vixen's sudden disappearance, and why she moved back to 1942. The reason actually made a certain amount of sense, as she found out she had to go back to ensure her granddaughter would someday be born. 

What DIDN'T make sense is why she couldn't simply tell that to Steel. Why sneak into the night without a word of explanation? Answer: for melodramatic reasons, that's why.

If she really cared that much about Steel, why not invite him back to 1942 with her? Who knows, he might be the modern Vixen's grandpappy!

• Atom takes the wrist-mounted time portal generator that Heat Wave stole from Rip last week, and somehow turns it into a shrink ray. Sure, why not? Time travel, shrinking... it's all the same thing.


Atom then says, "I was saying I reverse-engineered the Time Bureau tech that Mick stole from Rip. Now, we can locate anachronisms too!"

Um... haven't they always been able to do that? In the past Gideon was always sensing time aberrations or time quakes or something, and piloting the ship to them so the Legends could fix them. That's pretty much how every episode in Season 1 and 2 worked! Did she somehow lose that ability between seasons, and now has it back?

• Atom looks at the Aberration Map and says, "Each of these dots represents an anachronism we created by breaking time. Rip's Bureau rates them on a scale of one to ten according to their magnitude of impact and potential difficulty."

Hang on... I thought Rip and his Agents swept in last week and cleaned up all the aberrations in a matter of seconds?

By the way, Gideon's "Time Aberration Map" reminds me a bit of van Gogh's Starry Night!

• When the Legends are trying to decide which aberration to fix, Atom suggests the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912. Professor Stein hisses, "Absolutely not! I refuse to set foot on the TitanicWhoever built that ship ought to be shot!"

Of course this was a not so subtle joke by actor Victor Garber starred in James Cameron's Titanic as Thomas Andrews, the Chief Designer of the ship.


This is second time they've made a joke about Garber's Titanic role on the show. Back in the Season 1 episode Blood Ties, Atom shrinks down to microscopic size and enters Hawkgirl's bloodstream, Fantastic Voyage style. As he looks for knife fragments in her bloodstream, he and Professor Stein have the following conversation.

Atom: "Alright, where am I headed?"
Stein: "You're exiting the tracheal artery. You should see the first fragment."
Atom: "No sign of it. Did I miss it?"
Stein: "It's the size of an iceberg, it seems highly unlikely that you could miss it."
Atom: "Heh. That's probably what they said on the Titanic."
(cut to Professor Stein as he winces in exasperation)


Sadly, this will likely be the last of the Titanic jokes, since Victor Garber's leaving the show sometime this season.

 Billy Zane plays PT Barnum in the episode, and to his credit, he throws himself into the role like a real trooper. He even added a subtle little touch to the character— when he slips into his ringmaster persona, he speaks very eloquently, with no trace of an accent. When he's offstage though, he has a definite New Yawk accent. Kudos!

By the way, Zane also starred in Titanic, as the villainous Cal Hockley. This episode's a regular Titanic reunion!

• When the Waverider arrives in 1870, Gideon says, "The anachronism is located at the grounds of PT Barnum's Roving Museum of Freaks and Hypnotic Hippodrome. Although he is erroneously credited with the phrase 'There's a sucker born every minute,' in truth, Mr.
Barnum would have never belittled paying customers."

Gideon's right about the phrase, as Barnum never actually said it. She's wrong about him never belittling his customers though. Barnum gleefully promoted many famous hoaxes during his lifetime, and said his sole personal aim was "to put money in his own coffers."

• In addition to being a fraud and a conman, this episode would have us believe that Barnum wasn't above abducting people and forcing them to work in his circus. Yeah, I'm gonna say that likely never happened.

• For some reason, the tiger sounds like a kitten whenever it's shrunken. Jesus, writers, the tiger just shrank! It didn't somehow become younger!

• Wondering why Canary took a time shuttle to 1942 to pick up Vixen, instead of just flying the Waverider there? Because if she'd taken the ship, then Steel would have known Vixen was coming back. By using the shuttle, Canary could spring Vixen's surprise reappearance on Steel, making for more melodrama. 

• So Canary goes all the way to 1942 to pick up Vixen specifically so she can help catch the sabretooth tiger. Yet when they spot it, Vixen makes the lame excuse that using her animal powers would only provoke it. Dude, THAT'S THE ONLY REASON SHE BROUGHT YOU! And then you refuse to use your powers! You had one job...

 After Atom, Jackson, Vixen and Steel are all captured, Barnum says, "We're gonna need a bigger tent!" I'm assuming that was a Jaws reference?

 After Steel finally "steels up" and shifts to his metallic mode, Barnum amuses himself by shooting him several times— at pretty close range! He's lucky none of the bullets ricocheted off Steel's body and killed someone. Or even worse, lodged in his head!

 When Agent Sharpe finds out that Canary has a time portal device, she says it's stolen government property. So the Time Bureau is a government agency? That's NOT the impression I got last week.


 Speaking of the Time Bureau: last week we saw their HQ was filled with futuristic transparent flatscreen computer monitors. So why are their communicators so clunky-looking, like they were made in the 1970s?

They reminded me a bit of the Merlin game I had as a kid!

 The epic battle between Canary and Agent Sharpe goes on for so long, that the two of them end up taking a break! OK, I have to admit, that was pretty funny.

 Recognize Barnum's musclebound, costumed henchman?

He's B'wana Beast! Well, I'm not sure if he's supposed to be the actual character here, but he's definitely dressed like him. If you've never heard of him, he's pretty much Tarzan with superpowers.

B'wana Beast is probably the last superhero I ever expected to see on TV, especially in the politically correct hellscape that passes for our current society.

See, in the comics, Mike Maxwell was the pampered son of a millionaire, who decided to throw away his birthright and become a ranger in Zambesi (the fictional African country that Vixen's from— small world!). Unfortunately Maxwell's plane crashed on top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Maxwell was nursed back to health by a mutant red ape, who gave him radioactive cave water or something. This caused Maxwell to grow stronger and larger. The ape then gave him an ancient helmet it found deep inside the cave. When Maxwell put it on, he could read the mind of any animal and control it. In addition, the helmet also gave him the power to combine any two animals into a chimera (????). He then called himself B'wana Beast, and became protector of the jungle.

That all sounds pretty cool, but unfortunately B'wana Beast is an example of the "White Savior" trope. You know the one— a white person finds an exotic jungle land, and immediately begins teaching the poor, stupid black natives, eventually even saving them from some deadly threat.

For good or ill, that sh*t don't fly here in 2017, and a character like that cannot be allowed to exist. Tossing out his entire backstory and turning him into a simple henchman is probably the only way you could feature him on TV without triggering today's hyper-sensitive audience.

I should point out that this is actually B'wana Beast's first live action appearance. Back in 2009, he guest starred in six episodes of the Batman: The Brave And The Bold animated series. That version of the character had the same odd powers, but a slightly tweaked origin that played down the political incorrectness. Oddly enough, the animated B'wana Beast was dating Vixen before he was killed!

(Thanks to reader Dr. OTR for reminding me of the animated version)

 So what's up with Vixen's powers and her sudden berserker rages? It looks like the show may be adapting The Red storyline from the comics.

In DC Comics, there's a "morphogenic" field that connects all forms of life. Certain metahumans can tap into this field as the source of their powers. Vixen can access "The Red," which is the part of the field that connects all animals. There's also "The Green," which connects all plant life. Metas such as Swamp Thing and Poison Ivy are connected to The Green.

I'm betting whatever's going on with Vixen and her powers is somehow connected to The Red.

 Once again, murder doesn't seem to be a crime in the Arrowverse.

After everyone's safely back on the ship, Vixen confesses to the Legends that she killed a squad of Belgian soldiers in last week's episode. Amazingly, they're all completely unconcerned by this startling revelation. They pretty much all pat her on the back and say "There, there," as they promise to help her work through her murderous rages (!).

The same thing happened in Finish Line, the Season 3 finale of The Flash. In that episode, Iris tries to talk the evil Future Barry into being good. He says that's impossible, as he's a murderer many times over. She what does Iris do? Does she immediately call the police so they can lock up this time travelling killer? Nope! Instead she says, "And you are going to have to live with that. But we won't give up on you, OK? That is not what we do!"

Eh, no need for incarceration or a pesky trial. Just talk it through! Apparently in this world, murder's pretty much on the same level as shoplifting or jaywalking.

 Gideon announces that thanks to the Legends, 1870 Wisconsin is now aberration-free. Of course she says this seconds after the uncloaked Waverider flies right over the heads of three small boys from the 19th Century. Eh, no worries. I'm sure they'll never tell anyone or be affected by the fantastic, futuristic flying machine they just saw.

 At the end of the episode we see a mysterious hooded figure summon a watery woman called Kuasa. So who the heck are they supposed to be?


I'm assuming they're from The CW's animated Vixen series. There, Kuasa is a water elemental who turns out to be the sister of Mari McCabe, aka the present day Vixen (!). That would make her the 1942 Vixen's granddaughter as well. 

In the animated series, Kuasa was evil and tried to steal Vixen's amulet (which is the source of her powers) for herself. She eventually switched sides and worked alongside Vixen before eventually being killed (Oops! Spoilers!). Apparently Kuasa's been plucked from the timeline before that happened? Who knows?

• This Week's Best Lines:
Jackson: "You built a shrink ray." 

Atom: "I'm not particularly fond of that name. I'm calling it the hyper-molecular compressor. It's a more powerful and portable version of the tech from my suit."
Steel: "So a shrink ray?"
Atom: "Essentially."

Heat Wave: "If I see a clown, I'm outta here."
Jackson: "What? You afraid of clowns?"
Hear Wave: "No. I just don't like their stupid faces and funny shoes and razor-sharp teeth."
(apparently Heat Wave took time out from time travelling to see It!)

PT Barnum: "Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome, one and all, to the Best Show On Earth! That is a working title.
(Barnum's attempt to come up with his familiar catchphrase is a running joke throughout the episode)

Jackson: "Yo, what's that smell?"
Steel: "Oh." 
Atom: "Where there's poop, there's a prize. Check it out."
Jackson: "Well, do we have to?"
Atom: "This is definitely feline feces, but unlike any I've ever seen."
Steel: "You've studied a lot of poop, big guy?"
Atom: "As an Eagle Scout, I can interpret 175 different droppings!"
(yeah, I didn't need to know that about Atom)

Steel: (to Vixen) "But we're fine without you. Everything is running smoothly."
Heat Wave: "Is that right? Haircut here "embiggened" an extinct tiger."
(apparently Heat Wave is also a fan of The Simpsons!)

Steel: (attempting to "steel" up) "Okay. I got this. Ahem"
(he tries several times, but can't transform)
Steel: "I must be dehydrated, man. This never happened to me before, I swear."
Vixen: "Where have I heard that one before?"
Steel: "Not from me. She never heard that from me."

PT Barnum: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Greatest Show On The Planet!"
(he still doesn't get it quite right!)

PT Barnum: "Let me make it very simple for you. Become the "Man of Steel"... that is very catchy, make a note of that Or get shot."
(Barnum's quite the quip machine in this episode)

2 comments:

  1. B'wana Beast first appeared on TV several years ago, in several episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I haven't seen all of that series yet, so I don't know if they redid his origin or just ignored it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, I guess I should have said this was his first live action appearance.

    ReplyDelete

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