Friday, March 2, 2018

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 3, Episode 12: The Curse Of The Earth Totem

So far this season, Legends Of Tomorrow has been giving us its own peculiar spin on various classic films, such as E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Apocalypse Now and Groundhog Day. This week they turn their attention toward the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise! Thankfully, Johnny Depp doesn't show up.

The big news this week is that Rip Hunter returns to the series after a long absence, with mixed results. 
As much as I like actor Arthur Darvill, I think it's high time to retire the character of Rip. He was always the least interesting and useful character on the show back when he was a regular, and it's just as true now that he's an occasional guest star.

Besides, his character's become redundant now that Agent Sharpe's been introduced. She performs the exact same function that Rip did in his heyday, but is way more interesting and well rounded.

I know you're all tired of hearing me say it, but this second half of the season has suffered greatly from the absence of Professor Stein, and to a lesser extent, Jackson. That's why I'm looking forward to seeing Wally West, aka Kid Flash, join the team. I'm hoping he can inject some much needed energy into the group.

Wally's treatment over on The Flash bordered on the criminal, as the writers there never had a clue as to what to do with him. He became little more than a piece of set decoration, often relegated to standing silently in the background. I honestly wondered why they bothered to add him to the show at all. Hopefully his character will receive better treatment on Legends Of Tomorrow.

Heck, after just one episode Wally's already more interesting than he ever was on The Flash. Actor Keiynan Lonsdale seems to be having a great time here, trying out his comedic chops as he plays "drunk" and sings karaoke. I'm taking that as a good sign.

This episode begins setting up Vixen's eventual season-end departure, as she laments the fact that due to her destiny, she and Steel can never be together. Hmm... the show's really been playing up their relationship the past few weeks. I wonder... are they just doing that so her goodbye will be all the more heart-wrenching? Or are they setting up Steel to leave the ship as well, and go to Zambesi with her?


The Plot:
The Bahamas, 1717. Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard orders his crew to bury his treasure on an island. Before they leave, he gifts his lover Anne Queen with a gigantic emerald amulet. Unknown to him, it turns out to be the Earth Totem, one of the six mystical relics that can defeat Mallus. Unfortunately, the second Anne puts it on, it glows green and starts causes numerous vines to wrap around her, suffocating the life out of her.

Onboard the Waverider, the Legends discuss the known Totems. Vixen 
has the Spirit Totem, while Zari has the Air one. Vixen's granddaughter Kuasa has the Water Totem. That leaves Fire and Earth. She says each of the Five Tribes Of Zambesi was gifted with a Totem, but she has no idea what the sixth one could possibly be.

Atom somehow knows the Fire Totem is currently in a museum in Detroit. The Legends decide to fly to Detroit and grab it before Damien Darhk gets ahold of it. White Canary says it sounds like a solid plan, but says she's sitting out this mission, as she has urgent business elsewhere. The other Legends see through her vague excuse, and know she has a date with Agent Sharpe in Star City. Eh, it's just the fate of the known world. I can see how a dinner & drinks would be more important.

Cut to Canary and Agent Sharpe on a date in Star City. They awkwardly chit-chat about work, until they both decide not to talk shop. Each then reveals something embarrassing about their past.

Back on the ship, we see that Atom and Steel apparently went to Detroit while we weren't looking. They return to report that Damien Darhk stole the Fire Totem from the museum and left them a mocking note. Steel says he thinks he knows where the Earth Totem is though— in 1717, onboard Blackbeard's pirate ship. Just how he figured this out is left to our imaginations. I guess he read the script.

The Legends then want to travel to 1717 and pick up the Totem before Darhk snatches up that one as well. They debate whether they should recall Canary or tell her what they're planning. In the end they decide not to spoil her date and just do it without permission.

Meanwhile, Rip Hunter confronts Wally West, who's on some kind of walkabout in China. He asks for Wally's help, but he says he's done with speedstering. Rip says he understands, then deviously offers Wally a drink.

In 1717, Vixen, Heat Wave, Atom and Steel— all dressed in outlandish pirate gear— search for Blackbeard. They enter a pirate bar and hope he shows up. Vixen's mopey because she knows that eventually she has to leave Steel, return to her village and marry someone else, or she'll never have her now-grown grandkids (time travel's confusing). She sits in a corner by herself and sulks. Sensing she needs a boost, Heat Wave starts talking about the "Dread Pirate Jiwe," aka Vixen, to whoever'll listen. Soon the whole bar is talking about what a badass pirate she is.

For some reason, Atom and Steel return to the Waverider, where Zari's standing by. Suddenly the ship begins glitching, and Gideon warns them they've parked her in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle, and the mysterious zone is interfering with her systems. It takes them an inordinately long time to think of moving the ship.

Back in the bar, Heat Wave's plan works— the patrons are all touting Vixen, saying she's a better and fiercer pirate than Blackbeard. Just then, Blackbeard enters and asks what the hell's going on. Vixen demands he tell her the location of the Earth Totem. He says he'll give it to her— for a price. Suddenly a group of British soldiers enter and surround everyone. They're commanded by Damien Darhk, who's dressed as a British Admiral.

Darhk grabs Vixen's Spirit Totem, then turns to Blackbeard and asks where the Earth one is. Blackbeard, who we realize is actually a sniveling coward, willingly draws him a map.

Back in China, Rip and Wally bond over drinks. Rip asks for a favor again, and this time Wally's only too happy to help out. They zip over to Star City, where they spot hapless Time Bureau Agent Gary Green. On Rip's orders, Wally takes Gary's "time courier" at superspeed, and for some reason decides to pants him as well (what'd Gary ever do to him?). He then steals Rip's old duster from the Time Bureau's closet.

In 1717, Darhk's men bring Vixen, Heat Wave and Blackbeard to the town square for execution. At the last second, the Legends fight back. For some reason, Darhk has returned to his ship. He sees the glitching Waverider hovering over the ocean, and begins lobbing cannonballs at it. The ship takes a ton of damage before Steel manages to time jump them out of the past.

In the present, the big date ends when Agent Sharpe excuses herself after seeing Gary wandering around the restaurant. Gary tells her his time courier's missing, and Rip's coat was stolen from storage. Sharpe realizes this means Rip's planning something. Canary then glances out the window and sees the Waverider crash land nearby. She pays the bill and exits, leaving Sharpe to deal with Gary. She finds the ship and sees it's in shambles. She orders Zari to fix it pronto, so they can rescue Vixen & Heat Wave.

In the past, Vixen & Heat Wave escape and return to the pirate bar. Heat Wave says they need a ship & a crew to help them get to Grace Island— the site where Blackbeard buried the Earth Totem. Amazingly, Blackbeard's crew decides to follow Vixen, who they still think is the "Dread Pirate Jiwe." Just then Blackbeard enters, and rather than put up a fight, decides to join her as well. They board Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, and set sail.

On the Waverider, Gideon detects a new anomaly in 1717, as the HMS Fortitude battled Blackbeard's ship near Grace Island. Canary tells them to get the ship working ASAP. Agent Sharpe then teleports onto the ship, and she and Canary get in a fight over their aborted date.

Unfortunately Damien Darhk arrives at Grace Island first, and his crew starts digging for the Earth Totem. Vixen and the others get there just in time to see him find it. Blackbeard admits to Vixen that when the Earth Totem caused the vines to envelope his lover Anne, he shot her in the head to end her suffering. Just then, a reanimated Anne pops out of the ground and attacks Darhk's men.

On the Waverider, the ship still isn't fixed. Steel reveals he somehow stole Agent Sharpe's time courier, and he and Atom use it to teleport to Grace Island. Unfortunately they leave the portal open, and Blackbeard and several of his men wander through it and into the Waverider. They attempt to claim the futuristic timeship for themselves.

Meanwhile, Zombie Anne dispatches Dahrk's men with her vines. Vixen approaches her and tries to talk her into removing the Totem. Just as she's about to do so, Darhk sneaks up behind Zombie Anne and snaps her neck. Darhk and Nora then move in to attack Vixen. Just then Atom shows up, and shoots Nora with his anti-magic nanite gun. Nora immediately collapses, and the Legends escape.

Back on the Waverider, Blackbeard and his men confront Canary and Agent Sharpe. The two women easily defeat the pirates, and Blackbeard surrenders. Canary returns them all to their proper time.

In China, Rip and Wally wake up with hangovers. Rip invites Wally to join the Legends, which is odd since he's no longer part of the team.

Canary and Sharpe make up. Vixen's distraught over losing her Totem. Atom feels guilty about shooting Nora, knowing that the nanites in her system are going to kill her. He decides to whip up a quick antidote.

Atom takes the jumpship to 1717, and approaches the Darhks. He offers Damien the cure in exchange for Vixen's Totem. Darhk throws it to Atom, and he injects Nora with the antidote. The second she's healed, she reaches up and drains the life force from Atom, knocking him unconscious.

• Sometimes it's amazing how little superhero action there is on this superhero show. I think the only person who actually used their powers this week was Wally West, and he's not even an official member of the team yet.

This happens a lot on Legends Of Tomorrow. The show has so many powerful characters that it's tough to come up with a credible threat to them. The writers have to constantly figure out ways to put the Legends in legitimate danger, which usually involves hobbling them somehow. Professor Stein and Jackson get separated from one another, so they can't form Firestorm. Atom forgets to wear his power suit. There's a dampening field that prevents Steel from armoring up. And on and on.

This week the Legends could have defeated the various pirates in about five seconds flat if they'd only used their powers. Apparently the only way the writers could get around this problem was for the Legends to all simply forget they have superpowers! In fact the characters seemed to go out of their way to NOT use their abilities!

• The past couple of episodes have been cheap-looking bottle shows, that contained little or no special effects. I theorized that the producers were trying to save money, so they could splurge on this pirate extravaganza.

And that's exactly what happened. The Curse Of The Earth Totem has notably better production values than the previous couple of episodes. Hey, it's TV. Gotta work around that tight budget any way you can!

• Encore VFX generally does an amazing job of providing near-movie quality special effects to the Arrowverse. Unfortunately, occasionally their CGI is less than convincing. The scene in which Blackbeard's gal pal Anne is strangled by vines was one of those times.

• By the way, why does the Earth Totem affect plant life? Shouldn't it allow its user to hurl rocks and dirt instead?

• As we join the Legends on the Waverider, they're trying to figure out where the five known Totems are and who has them. As you can see on their board, they know of the Spirit, air and Water Totems, which are owned by Vixen, Zari and Kuasa, respectively. They also somehow know of the Fire and Earth Totems, even though they have no idea where they are or who possesses them. 

Vixen's been talking about the existence of the Fire and Earth Totems for several weeks now. I'm still fuzzy on just how she knows they exist in the first place. Did I miss an episode somewhere where they hear about them?
Vixen does say here that, "There are only five tribes in Zambesi. Each was gifted with a Totem. And I checked; there's no record of a sixth." Is that how she knows there are two others? If so, this is the first time she's ever mentioned her tribal legends.

• Zari and Vixen are both sporting brand new 'dos in this episode. Is there a beauty parlor onboard the Waverider, along with everything else?

• Speaking of hair, that is a goddamned wig Vixen's wearing in this episode! And true to longstanding Arrowverse tradition, it's a terrible-looking goddamned wig.

Why's she suddenly wearing a wig? She didn't have one on last week. Did she try to trim her hair and suffer a disastrous clipper accident?

• Writing good time travel stories is tough. Because of the nature of the genre, it's hard to come up with a plot complication that can't be solved by simply going back in time and righting whatever went wrong.

Case in point: The Legends travel to a museum in 2018 Detroit to, er, borrow the Fire Totem. When they get there, they find Damien Darhk's already stolen it. 

Big deal! They've got a time ship! Ask Gideon to review the museum's security footage to find out just when Darhk stole it. Then simply go back the day before and grab it before he does!

• Darhk beats the Legends to the Fire Totem, and leaves them a mocking message. A couple things here.

First of all, I love the fact that a evil supervillain like Damien Darhk has his own monogrammed stationery.

Secondly, his message reminds me a lot of John McClane's "Now I have a machine gun. Ho - Ho - Ho" from Die Hard.

• This episode subverts our expectations by revealing that the feared pirate Blackbeard ia (was?) actually a bumbling coward, ala Jack Sparrow. Was that supposed to be a Pirates Of The Caribbean reference? 

Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, was actually a real person. He was an English pirate who sailed the area around the West Indies and the eastern coast of what would become America. 

Teach captured a French merchant vessel, which he renamed the Queen Anne's Revenge. He presumably named the ship after his lover, Anne Queen. He fitted the ship with forty guns and a large crew, becoming a renowned and allegedly bloodthirsty pirate.

There may be a sliver of truth in the way he's portrayed in this episode. Contrary to legend, there's no evidence that Teach ever harmed or murdered any of his captives, or mistreated his crew. As often happens, his image has been romanticized and exaggerated greatly over the years.

This episode takes place in 1717. Unfortunately for Blackbeard, he died the following year in November of 1718, when he was killed by a group of sailors sent out by Alexander Spotswood, the Governor of Virginia.

• Wally asks Rip how he managed to find him in such a remote location in China. Rip replies, "By tracking the geolocation of your MP3 player. Your playlist consists of a rather amazing number of repetitions of George Michael's Careless Whisper."

Um... I don't think the Legends writers understand how an MP3 player works. Even if Wally has a Bluetooth player, its range would be ridiculously tiny. Rip would have to be practically standing on top of him to detect it.

Secondly, why would Wally have multiple copies of the same song on his player's playlist? If he wanted to hear it over and over, just press "Repeat" and he could listen to it forever!

• For months now I've been complaining about the way The Flash writers treated the character of Wally West. They could never seem to figure out what to do with him, and after months of literally standing in the background, they finally just wrote him out altogether. 

Looks like the Legends writers agree with me! In this episode, Rip says, "Hey, your girlfriend dumped you, your team treated you like an outcastIt's no wonder you went walk-about. But the world needs Wallace West to step in from the cold."

I'm glad to see someone's acknowledged the character's been massively mistreated and underused. Hopefully Wally will be a much better fit over here on the Legends team!

• Rip decides to bond with Wally by getting him drunk, in an effort to con, er, I mean persuade him to joint his cause.

Amazingly, the writers remembered that speedsters like Wally need extra potent brews to become inebriated! Well done!

• Late in the third act, Vixen commandeers Blackbeard's ship, and sails it to Grace Island. Note that she actually steers the ship, suddenly spouting dialogue like, "All hands on deck! Secure the backstays and hoist the Jolly Roger high! There's land ahead!"

So how does a woman who grew up in the African plains have such intimate knowledge of sailing a ship? Not to mention knowing all the appropriate jargon?

• When Vixen is pretending to be the "Dread Pirate Jiwe," she suddenly sports a British accent to help sell the part. Actress Maisie Richardson-Sellars, who plays Vixen, gets to use her natural British accent in these scenes! I bet you didn't know she's really British!

For the record, a surprising number of Legends cast members are foreign-born:

Arthur Darvill, aka Rip Hunter, was obviously born in England.

Victor Garber, aka Professor Stein, was born in London, Ontario.

Franz Drameh, aka Jackson, was born in London, England (Hey, the two halves of Firestorm are both from from London! Two different Londons, but whatever).

Dominic Purcell, aka Heat Wave, was born in England but raised in Australia.

Wentworth Miller, aka Captain Cold, was born in England.

Tala Ashe, aka Zari, was born in Iran (!)

Keiynan Lonsdale, aka Kid Flash, was born in Australia.

Amy Pemberton, aka Gideon, was born in England.

• At the end of the episode, Atom feels guilty about shooting Nora with his anti-magic nanite gun, knowing it's eventually going to kill her. He then whips up an antidote and makes a deal with Damien Darhk— the Spirit Totem for Nora's life. He saves her life, but ends up getting himself captured.

When I first saw this scene it infuriated me, as it was so blatantly stupid. So Atom kills Nora Darhk? Big deal! Hasn't that been the objective all season? Kill her to prevent her & her dad from killing millions? That's how saving the world works.

But the more I think about it, the more sense it actually makes. Atom's a character who's always been defined by his innocence and unbridled optimism. As such, he really would be riddled with guilt over the idea of killing someone, and would do whatever he could to prevent that from happening.

But still... would it have killed him to wear his goddamned armor when he approached the Darhks? Then when Nora reached for him, he could have simply shrank and flown away. Walking into a lion's den like that without taking any defensive measures is just lazy writing.

This Week's Best Lines:
Vixen: (reading Darhk's note) "Dear, Legends, now I have two."
Zari: "You know, for a megalomaniac, he has very lovely penmanship." 

Wally: "Right now, I'm living my life one quarter-mile at a time."
Rip: "Was that a Buddhist koan?"
Wally: "Dom Toretto, The Fast and the Furious.

Vixen: "I want to change my granddaughter Kuasa's past, and, well, improve her future."
Heat Wave: "So, do it."
Vixen: "It's not that simple. What if I inadvertently change my other granddaughter's destiny?"
Heat Wave: "So, don't do it."

Darhk:  (eyeing her Totem) "Good evening, Ms. Jiwe. They say the third time is a charm, but this charm is the third."

Rip: "Both of my favorite prodigies conspired to have me put in prison."
Wally: "What happened?"
Rip: "Well, I lied to Sara, in addition to accidentally aiding in the resurrection of the man who killed her sister. And Ava is angry at me for sending good agents to their deaths."
Wally: "Whoa sounds like you're a bit of a douche. No no offense."
Rip: "No, none taken, no."

British Officer: (after cornering Vixen) "You're in sore need of a sword, pirate." 

Canary: "When I left, you were headed to Detroit."
Atom: "Yeah, it's a It's it's a really It's a really long story."
Steel: "Mick and Amaya are marooned in 1717, the Darhks have the Fire Totem and Blackbeard has the Earth Totem."
Atom: "I just thought it was gonna be a longer story."

Canary: (to Atom & Steel) “I don’t know who looks more ridiculous. You guys in your pirate britches or me in this stupid dress.”
Zari: “Definitely them.”
Atom: (to Darhk) "I've come for a trade: Amaya's Totem, and I will save Nora."
(Darhk immediately tosses the Earth Totem over to him) 
Atom: "I honestly thought that would be harder."

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