Saturday, March 24, 2018

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 3, Episode 14: Amazing Grace

This week on Legends Of Tomorrow, the gang travels to 1954 to meet Elvis and save rock & roll.

Overall it's not a terrible episode, but it's not particularly good either. Making Elvis the legendary Sixth Totem bearer is just plain weird. It doesn't help that the actor they chose to play him looks nothing whatsoever like the King. And the episode's assertion that Elvis "invented" rock & roll is just plain wrong.

There's also the fact that there're no real stakes in this episode. The worst thing that happens is rock & roll is almost never invented! Big deal! Even the gaggle of ghosts that invade a church never actually do anything to the terrified congregation, other than fly around and scare them.

Oddly enough there's no actual villain in the episode either, unless you count Elvis' Uncle Lucious. Even then he's not a evil man— he's simply trying to do what's best for his nephew.

Somehow all the episodes in this back half of the season feel like outlines instead of scripts. As if the writers jotted down a few key plot points, and then never had the time to flesh 'em out.

This episode also highlights a problem the show has whenever the characters visit the past. The Legends crew is a racially diverse lot, as is the norm these days in Hollywood. That's great and all, until the team visits a less enlightened time. Like Memphis, Tennessee in 1954.

Racism was rampant in that era, but this episode completely glosses over it, as if it was never a thing. That seems misguided and wrong to me. We like to congratulate ourselves on how "woke" our current culture is, but it's silly to pretend it wasn't always so. Which is worse? Depicting racism or pretending it never existed at all?

On the positive side, Amazing Grace proves that adding Wally West to the team was one of the best things the show ever did. Keiynan Lonsdale seems to be having a blast here, and he has real comedic timing. It's great to see him finally able to put that to use.


The Plot:
In 1950 Memphis, a young man enters a pawn shop to buy his first guitar. He looks over the instruments hanging on the wall and picks one. The shop owner's startled, and says he can't sell him that particular guitar, as it's cursed. 

The teen insists, and takes the guitar down and strums a few notes. This causes the lights to flicker and the walls to shake, and the rattled shop owner tells him to take the guitar and get out. The teen thanks the man, and says one day he'll hear him singing on the radio. When the shopkeeper asks his name, the teen replies— you guessed it— Elvis Presley. Wa-wahhhh.

Onboard the Waverider, the Legends begin noticing various changes around the ship, all having to do with music. They check with Gideon, who detects a large anachronism in 1954 Memphis. Apparently Elvis Presley caused a case of mass hysteria, which landed him in an insane asylum and turned the city into a ghost town. 

This is a major change to the timeline, as with Elvis out of the picture, rock & roll never becomes a thing (eh, I'm not entirely convinced of this, but I'll let it slide for now). White Canary orders Gideon to set course for Memphis.

Cut to the Legends attending a church service where Elvis' uptight Uncle Lucious is a preacher. Elvis takes the stage and sings Onward Christian Soldiers, to the delight of a group of young girls in the front row. Steel, who's a huge Elvis fan, is practically beside himself as well at the chance of getting to see the King in action. Suddenly Zari's Totem begins glowing and she uncontrollably floats off the ground. The others hurry her out of the church.

Back on the Waverider, the Legends realize Zari's Totem reacted because there was another one in the vicinity. 
This means Elvis Presley himself is the sixth Totem bearer they've been looking for— and the mystic jewel is embedded in his magical guitar. 

Canary says their next step to get his guitar so they can study it. Wally immediately zips away and returns a second later, holding the guitar! Unfortunately this doesn't solve the anachronism, as without his guitar, Elvis never records his first single and kickstarts rock & roll. The Legends decide to fabricate an identical guitar (with a fake Totem, of course) and return it to Elvis.

Steel and Vixen visit a nightclub on the legendary Beale Street, and find Elvis inside. They return his "lost" guitar to him, and he takes the stage. Unfortunately he's unable to play, strumming a few sour notes before running offstage.

When Steel asks what's wrong, Elvis tells him about his twin brother Jesse, who died in childbirth. He says even though he never knew Jesse, he always felt his presence when he performed. He claims his guitar connected him with Jesse, but that link's now broken.

On the Waverider, Atom and Canary study the real guitar, trying to figure out how to remove the Totem from it. Suddenly the guitar begins flying all over the ship. Suddenly the ghost of Jesse Presley appears, holding the guitar. He disappears again and flies off.

Steel radios Canary and tells her he suspects the guitar's haunted by Elvis' brother. When Jesse appears again, Canary calls him by his name and says they only want to help. This causes him to drop the guitar and fly out of the ship.

Sometime later, Gideon reveals that Elvis is the bearer of the Death Totem, which, as you might expect, has the power to control the dead. Atom's happy, as they now have four of the six Totems, as opposed to the Darhks' two. Steel says they need to give the guitar back to Elvis in order to save rock & roll. Canary reluctantly agrees.

Steel returns the real guitar to Elvis at Sun Records. He records his first single, wowing everyone present. Everyone except his Uncle Lucious that is. For some reason, he enters the studio and is incensed to hear his nephew playing the "Devil's music." He grabs the record and has Elvis, Steel and Vixen arrested on the spot (?). 

Meanwhile, Heat Wave's pet rat Axe dies after drinking poison (?). Atom then arranges a funeral for Heat Wave's beloved pet. 

Zari and Wally return to the church and confront Uncle Lucious. Wally gives him a heartfelt speech about family or something, and amazingly Lucious hands the record over to him. That was easy! Wally zips it to the radio station, so the DJ can play it on air and restore history.

Lucious hears the record on the radio, and says maybe he was wrong about Elvis and his music. The song's a bit hit among the congregation as well, as they all begin dancing in the aisles.

Unfortunately Elvis' magical music is so catchy it has the power to wake the dead. Dozens of ghosts begin rising from a nearby cemetery and head for the church. They float through the walls, and Zari and Wally fight them off with their powers. 

Back at the jail, the sheriff panics as the dead rise all over town. For some reason, he lets Elvis, Steel and Vixen loose, telling them to run for their lives. They all head for the church, where Steel convinces Elvis he has the power to control the dead and send them back to their graves.

Elvis says he'll give it a go, and takes the ghost-filled church. He takes the stage and sings Amazing Grace (we have a title!), which calms the ghosts. They begin fading away, one by one. Finally there's only one left, and of course it's the ghost of Jesse. Elvis nods to his dead brother's spirit, and it fades away as well.

Back at the recording studio, Elvis thanks Steel for helping him realize he doesn't need a magic guitar to make music. He says Jesse will always be with him, and hands over the Death Totem to Steel. 

On the Waverider, Gideon says the anachronism has been dealt with, and rock & roll is safe. Atom builds a special hi-tech lockbox and places the Death Totem in it for safe keeping. Vixen tells Steel she loves him, pretty much dooming them both.

• When Elvis enters the pawn shop and tries to buy a guitar, the store owner balks and says he can't have it, as it's cursed. SO WHY THE HELL WAS IT ON THE DISPLAY WALL TO BEGIN WITH? If the owner really believed the guitar was cursed, why not hide it in the back room or dispose of it altogether?

By the way, the shop owner says the cursed guitar belonged to Robert Johnson, a blues singer from the 1930s. Johnson was actually a real person, who produced twenty nine highly influential recordings between 1936 and 1937.

According to legend, Johnson longed to become a great blues musician more than anything. He allegedly met the Devil— who took the form of a large black man— at a Mississippi crossroads at midnight. The Devil took Johnson's guitar, tuned it and returned it to him. As a result of this, Johnson then had complete mastery over the instrument. The Devil then asked for Johnson's soul in exchange for fame.

Who knows, maybe there's something to the legend after all. Johnson died extremely young, at the age of twenty seven. He never achieved during his lifetime, but became recognized as a master of the blues after his death. Which is just the sort of deal you'd expect from Satan!

• Jesus, there're ten thousand Elvis impersonators out there, but Legends Of Tomorrow went with this guy. 

Actually, Luke Bilyk does a pretty good job as a young, eager and wide-eyed Elvis. It's just that he looks about as much like him as I do. Which ain't very much. OK, so it would have been awful if they'd hired a cheesy impersonator to mimic the King, but... surely there's someone up there in Canada who looks a little bit more like Elvis?

• When Zari gives Wally the fifty cent tour of the ship, she shows him Atom's chore wheel. There's actually quite a bit of info packed into this object. 

First of all, note that Atom's already added Wally's name to it, even though he's not even been assigned permanent quarters yet!

Secondly, it gives us a list of the various rooms and areas on the ship. As regular readers know all too well, this is something I love to complain about comment on, as the relatively small Waverider seems to contain an impossible amount of interior space. 

As we can see here, the ship features a cargo bay, galley, library, dining room (which is apparently separate from the galley!), numerous air ducts, storage space, a control room, an engine room, a server room (possibly where Gideon's AI is located?), a fabrication room (where the Legends replicate their period clothing and other necessities), a lab, a GYM (which I don't think we've ever seen on the show before), a med bay and a PARLOUR (note that as always, they use the Canadian spelling here, since all the Arrowverse shows are filmed in Vancouver). 

That's a hell of a lot of rooms to fit in a ship that appears to be the size of the average house! I still say this ship is like the TARDIS, and is bigger on the inside!

• Once the anachronism occurs and Elvis no longer "invents" rock & roll (ahem...), various music-themed changes begin happening all over the ship. 

Zari's copy of Guitar Hero morphs into Trombone Hero (rating E for Everyone!). Heat Wave's beloved pet rat Ax— named after Guns N' Roses front man Axl Rose— is suddenly called Josh Groban (The horror. The horror). And worst of all, Steel's trademark moussed pompadour is now limp and flattened, since Elvis never made his stylistic mark on the world. 

Funny, but none of that makes a lick of sense. If Elvis never became a major influence on music, then how do the Legends know who he is? If time was altered in 1954, then Guitar Hero, Guns N' Roses and pompadours would never have been invented in the first place. How could they remember things that never existed?

The writers can't even hand wave this away by saying, "Well, the Waverider has a field that protects it and its inhabitants from temporal changes," because things inside the ship were being altered!

Writing internally consistent and logical time travel stories is nigh impossible, as Legends Of Tomorrow proves pretty much on a weekly basis.

• This central plot point of this episode would have us believe that Elvis invented rock & roll, and without him, the genre wouldn't exist.

Ehhhh.... that's just not true, and I disagree with it wholeheartedly. There's no doubt that Elvis was had a HUGE impact on music. He definitely popularized rock and was instrumental in introducing it to the general public. But there's no way in hell he invented the genre!

Rock's roots go all the way back to the 1940s, long before Elvis came on the scene. It grew out of the blues, and was influenced by scores of black artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. Elvis simply took elements of their music and incorporated it into his own style.

There's a VERY brief acknowledgement of the black-owned clubs on Beale Street in Memphis, but it's never expanded upon and seems like lip service at best.

There was no one person who "invented" rock & roll. Granted, the genre would be very different if Elvis had never become famous. But it would have sprang into being just fine without him. If he hadn't popularized it, someone else would have.

• Steel comments that he uses Royal Crown Pomade on his hair, which just happens to be the same brand Elvis used. I googled it, and sure enough, it's a real product.

• At one point Gideon pulls up a newspaper article from The Shelby County Examiner, which relates to the Elvis anachronism.

I checked google, and there doesn't seem to be a newspaper with that name. The only one close to that name is The Shelby Sun Times. The newspaper business has been pretty volatile the past couple of decades, so it's possible there might have been a Shelby County Examiner in the 1950s, and it either went out of business or merged with another paper.

By the way, I love all the little period-appropriate ads we see in the paper. They look really authentic— I wonder if they're real, or if the design staff mocked 'em up. If they did create them specifically for this brief scene, then kudos to The CW's graphic design department!

As Canary reads the article about how Elvis generated a panic that drove everyone out of Memphis, she pulls up this photo of him from the newspaper. Is... is this photo showcasing his brooding, smoldering good looks supposed to be his mugshot? Or did the newspaper use his publicity photo for some reason?

• The newspaper article states that Elvis saw something that made him crazy, and he was taken to Bolivar State Hospital, where he was treated for insanity. 

Sure enough, there actually was a Bolivar State Hostpital, located in— where else— Bolivar, Tennessee. It was opened in 1885, and was by all accounts a horrible, horrible place to be. The type of mental hospital you generally see in horror films. Fortunately the patient wings were abandoned in the 1980s.

• Hands down the absolute best part of the episode was the scene in which the Legends all wait for Canary to "send them off in style." When she orders the team to find Elvis in 1954, the group just stands there, looking at her in anticipation. They then have the following conversation:

Canary: What? Why are you staring at me?
Steel: "I dunno, waiting for you to do... the thing you do."
Canary: "What thing?"
Atom: "You know, you usually send us into the field with a little more... pizzazz."
(Canary rolls her eyes)
Canary: (walking off and raising her hands to the heavens) "All right, Legends, put on your Sunday best, BECAUSE WE ARE GOIN' TO CHURCH!"
Steel: "That was pretty good!"
Atom: "Amen!"

HAW! I love this scene! I never realized it until they lampshaded it in this episode, but Canary does always send them off with a patented little phrase. It's pretty funny once you see it. Thor bless Caity Lotz!

• The prologue, in which Elvis gets his cursed guitar, takes place in 1950. Yet the newspaper article says Memphis became a ghost town after a mysterious bout of mass hysteria in July, 1954. That's also the period the Legends visit.

This isn't necessarily a mistake. I figure it just took Elvis four years of practice to get good enough to cut a record and have it played on the radio.

• The Legends put on their period-appropriate attire (and makeup, where applicable) and infiltrate the Church Of Zion, filling up a pew in the back row.

Yeah, this would never have been allowed to happen. Churches were segregated in the South of the 1950s. Zari might have been able to enter by passing herself off as Italian or Greek, but there's no way in hell Vixen and Wally would have been allowed in. It's just the way things were.

Even if by some miracle they were all allowed inside, you can bet your life that Vixen and Steel's behavior wouldn't have been tolerated. All through the episode it's obvious they're a couple, as they hold hands, dance together and even kiss in public.

Nope! Such behavior wouldn't have just resulted in a startled gasp or a cluck of the tongue. They'd have been forcibly removed and arrested. Interracial relationships weren't just frowned upon, there were actual goddamned LAWS against it! 

I get that this is a wacky superhero comedy/adventure show, and they probably didn't want to get bogged down in the unpleasant realities of 1950s racial politics. But completely ignoring the situation and pretending there was no problem is even worse. It's a slap in the face to everyone who lived through the rampant discrimination and persecution of that era.

I freely admit I have no solution to this problem. If the producers don't want to deal with the objectionable beliefs of a period, they maybe don;t set an episode there.

• For the past couple weeks now, Vixen has been talking about the mysterious "Sixth Tribe Of Zambesi," and how they disappeared from the face of the Earth and all records of them have been lost.

Annnnd then suddenly in this episode Canary says she contacted John Constantine, who apparently gave her the link for the Sixth Tribe's Wikepedia entry. I guess their records weren't so lost after all!

• When the Legends realize they need to get Elvis' guitar somehow, Wally zips off and returns a second later with it.

Realistically (!), this is how every episode of The Flash should go. If Barry can run so fast that the rest of the world looks frozen in place, then each week's plot should be wrapped up in under five minutes.

This is also why the Legends writers are gonna have to figure out a way to either downplay Wally's powers or come up with a reason for him not to use them. Else every plot point that pops up can be resolved with his powers in a split second.

I'm assuming this is why Zari tells him "You can't be a chainsaw. You need to be a scalpel" when it comes to restoring history. 

By the way, I love how when Wally brings back the guitar, he's smiling like a pup who just learned how to fetch. He just looks so comically eager! He's probably just glad to finally be on a show where he actually gets to do something besides stand around in the background.

• Last week Rip Hunter erased Agent Sharpe's file from Gideon's memory, implying she had a dark secret that Canary must never discover. I sort of went off the deep end and posited that Sharpe would somehow turn out to be the mysterious Sixth Totem, which had somehow taken human form.

That would have been a fun idea, but it turns out I was completely wrong. The Sixth Totem is actually just a plain old jewel that controls the dead. Yawn.

• Elvis tells Steel and Vixen that his twin brother Jesse "passed when he was a baby."

Eh, not quite. Jesse was actually stillborn. I guess technically he died when he was a baby, but it's an odd way to put it.

• Steel, Vixen & Elvis are thrown in jail after making a scene at the church. In an effort to save rock & roll, Steel then radios Zari and says, "I need you to go back to the church, get the record from the Reverend, and bring it to WHBQ and make sure it debuts tonight."

There really is a WHBQ radio station in Memphis. And disc jockey Dewey Phillips really did play Elvis' recording of That's Alright Mama in 1954!

Unfortunately it looks like WHBQ has now become an all sports talk station. 

• In an effort to fix the timeline, Zari & Wally have to get Elvis' record back from Uncle Lucious and take it to the radio station. Unfortunately Lucious refuses to give up the record, claiming his nephew sings the "Devil's Music."

That is until Wally gives the Reverend a Patented The CW Pep Talk™, telling him how he grew up without a father and how Elvis is special and his music would mean a lot to people, but only if they have the chance to hear it. Amazingly, Wally's homilies touch a nerve in Uncle Lucious, and he actually hands over the record! Well that was easy! A little too easy, and completely out of character if you ask me.

• Credit where it's due that was a damned spooky scene when Elvis' Death Totem conjured up the ghosts and they all floated eerily toward the church! Well done!

• The ghosts then infiltrate the church and begin swarming around inside. 

I defy anyone to look at this scene and NOT think of Raiders Of The Lost Ark!

• This week's B-plot concerns the death of Heat Wave's pet rat Axl. Heat Wave's upset by this of course, but he also moans about all the recent changes onboard the ship.

This was actually a subtle bit of characterization on the part of the writers. Axl's death was the last straw for poor Heat Wave, who obviously hasn't yet dealt with the loss of Professor Stein, Jackson and even his old pal Captain Cold. Well done, writers!

• At the end of the episode, Vixen reveals she's in love with Steel, even though she knows she's eventually going to have to return to the 1940s and start a family, or risk destroying the timeline.

I'm calling it right now— she's gonna leave the series at the end of the season, and she's gonna take Steel with her. We know she has to get married and have kids, but the writers have been careful to never mention who her husband is (was?). We all assume he was probably a member of her tribe, but there's no reason he couldn't be Steel.

Of course resolving her plot thread this way would mean losing two cast members... is that something the show's willing to do right now?

• In the epilogue, we get a tribute to Axl, Heat Wave's pampered pet. Axl made his first appearance back in the Season 2 episode Turncoat.

We then get a montage featuring Axl, all of which come from the Turncoat episode. We see Axl scampering around in the Waverider's air ducts.

And there's a shot of him chasing a shrunken Atom.

And then a look at the Xmas party from Turncoat, in which Atom gifted Axl to Heat Wave.

Note that hilariously, this "touching and heartfelt" memorial is set to the music of a heavenly choir, as if a major cast member had perished. Axl's death might have carried more weight if he'd made more than two appearances in the series. Or is that the joke?

• This Week's Best Lines:
Elvis: "I'm here to buy a guitar. Now, I know it ain't much. But what do you think I can get for what I got?"

Store Owner: "Well, I'm sure we could find you something. You know, a boy picking his first guitar is a sacred moment. In fact, some say the instrument chooses you!"
(so it's like Olivander's Wand Shop)

Shop Owner: (discussing Robert Johnson and his haunted guitar) "Legend said he sold his soul to the devil to play as good as he did. Legend also says that guitar is cursed— because of it."

Elvis: "I ain't afraid of no guitar, sir."
(was... was that a Ghostbusters joke?)

Zari: "We divvy up cleaning duties by Ray's chore wheel, which uses a complex system I pretend to not understand until he eventually does my chores for me."
Wally: "Wipe down food fabricator?"

Zari: "Bet you thought time travel would be seeing Woodstock, saving Shakespeare, and having ethical debates while standing over baby Hitler."

Zari: "But if it didn't show up on the anachronism map, then..."

Steel: "Darhks. The only people evil enough to wanna kill rock and roll. Oh, and I bet you that sick bastard likes ska."

Canary: "I guess Elvis IS the King of rock and roll. One hip shake, and Z loses it."

Steel: "Yeah, tell me about it, sister."
Zari: "I didn't lose control because of Elvis' hips."
Steel: (defensively) "Yeah, me, either."

Canary: "So Elvis is the bearer of the long lost sixth totem. Consider me all shook up."

Steel: (hopeful) "So he has to join the team, right?"
Canary: "No."
Steel: "I mean, we can't defeat Mallus unless we have a full set. I mean, we could get Gideon to fabricate him a spangly jumpsuit, and he'll fit right in!"

Vixen: "What if the preacher was right, and Elvis' music literally drives Memphis insane?"

Canary: "Then we have to get it before that happens."
(Wally zooms away and comes back a second later with Elvis' guitar)
Wally: "Got it. Elvis' guitar Totem!"
Zari: "So, I'm not the only one who finds that annoying, right?"

Atom: "Mick? Mick, don't panic. You just forgot to chew again!"

Atom: (during his eulogy for Axl) "I still remember the first time I met Axl. It was in the vents. I was tiny Atom. He was a big rat. And he tried to eat me. I knew we'd laugh about it one day together."

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