Legends of Tomorrow: ‘Abominations’ Review
By Mitchell Sigal
Welcome to Mississippi 1863 and the height of the Civil War! This week’s episode is a surprisingly successful mix of some of the darkest parts of the history of the United States with some rather amusing zombie-movie send-ups as the team faces challenging situations, with many of them also facing uncertainties about who they are and what their roles are. And Jax is finally give a storyline with real emotional weight! Yay!
Jax’s place in the second tier on this show isn’t a secret; he’s rarely gotten an A-plot, and when he has, it’s generally been fairly weak. This week, however, gets right into some very heavy and personal stuff. The character isn’t all that well-developed — his backstory is brief, and only partly because he’s the youngest regular on the show. It’s often felt that the writers don’t quite know what to do with him. Seeing him get a chance to break away from the team and not simply be the other half of Firestorm. In this episode, Jax not only sees just how horrible slavery truly was, but gets to play an essential role in helping to end it. It speaks to the heroic part of him that we’ve seen before, that he’s a team player who won’t let his teammates down when they need him, but here’s he pushed to a whole new level, and sees the kind of hope and bravery in action that he himself embodies often without thinking about it (as Stein points out to him later). That never-stop-fighting attitude is one of his strengths certainly; in the Season 1 finale, after all, he did whatever he had to to return to the team and help them after being sent back to 2016. But Jax has never personally suffered like these slaves have, and even an evening of that effects him deeply.
I will say this was a…rather light-handed treatment of slavery. The woman being whipped is obviously awful, and the description of what was done to the runaway slaves is as well, but we never see the atrocities or their aftermath firsthand, nor does Jax (or Amaya) experience more than a punch to the face and some demeaning words. These things are still bad, don’t get me wrong, but I think we’re all aware how much worse it could be, and that there were almost certainly some inaccuracies here — such as what Jax and Amaya got away with being able to do and say when pretending to be slaves (Amaya especially), and also being able to just walk in through the front door. The degree to which they delve into the true horrors of slavery is about as deep as I would’ve expected for this show — a little more than I expected, actually. So while it only showed a glimpse, overall I think it treated the topic with respect, as well as those who suffered through it. Finally, it’s come up a few times before that Jax’s experience in certain time periods is not and will not be the same as everyone else’s, which the show acknowledges without letting it overpower the storylines. I liked how he confronted Stein bluntly about it here, in one of the worst time periods for him to be going outside the ship, and that he didn’t shrink from it for even a moment. Overall, I really feel Jax has gained some maturity from this experience both in his own eyes and ours.
To provide some levity in contrast to the slavery plot line, we had two flavors of zombie action movie! Nate got to flex his history muscles and Sarah her leadership and strategy ones as they helped General Grant hold off a zombie horde. Their plotline was enjoyable, but was the one with the least development going on; and that’s fine, Nate and Sarah have both had a lot to do in the last few episodes. Nate continues to be an endearing nerd and Sarah continues to grow more comfortable with her new role. The words of encouragement from Grant about not needing to regret anything if she believes in her team and what they’re doing were a nice touch, though.
Back on the ship, however, there was more going on in a few layers. Mick’s role here was basically that of plot device; he hasn’t much to do lately, so I hope the development at the end of the episode will lead to something of weight for him soon. But Stein’s irrational fear and stubborn egoism yet again get in the way of him being helpful for a while, but he does conquer it when need be. I’m not sure how much this will stick, as it felt like the comic relief portion of the episode, but Garber once again sells what’s given even when it’s kind of silly. Ray’s position of trying to figure out what his role on the team will be is the more interesting character arc here, and he proves he’s still a force to be reckoned with both physically and mentally — his vaccine work only proves his genius yet again, and he holds his own against zombie Mick for most of the episode. I am confused as to why Mick didn’t try to infect or eat him after knocking him out, however. There’s really no reason given for that whatsoever, despite that we see how the other zombies are all eager to chow down. But that’s where this plot and the one in the field are echoing different kinds of zombies and horror tropes, really. Regardless, this storyline did some fun things playing with the style of shooting, lighting, and framing the encounters that really did echo a creepy space horror movie, and I’d have enjoyed it for that alone!
The biggest development to come out of this, however, is when Ray opens up to Mick about his concerns and Mick in turn offers him Snart’s cold gun, inviting Ray to be a outsider alongside him. His partner, even! This is a huge step and builds on their relationship having evened out since they were first introduced to each other last season. Ray and Mick are pretty much the polar opposites on this team, criminal and boy scout, but they did develop a mutual respect over time. Snart certainly gelled with the team more than Mick ever did, but in the wake of his sacrifice, it’s good to see Mick sticking with these guys and honoring what Snart wanted in his own way. I do think this development could’ve been foreshadowed better, by having more of Mick and Ray working together directly in the last few episodes, but either way, I look forward to seeing where this goes.
– A list of things that sure were convenient!
— Ray’s vaccine not only cured the zombie virus, it cleaned up the blood pouring out of Mick’s eye sockets, too!
— Amaya’s amulet is recognized by a slave woman, who vouches for her being a warrior so the others will believe it! Good thing no white slave owners noticed that amulet and asked how she came by such finery!
— Nick’s steel skin apparently makes his clothing impervious to damage too!
— After being accused of being a Confederate spy, Sarah is allowed to just walk out of camp with a weapon so she can prove zombies exist, and no one tries to stop her!
— Time traveling space ship stranded in the 1860s will be destroyed by fire sufficiently enough to never come up in the history books!
– Enough of that. Speaking of time travel pirates, I’m curious who that guy was working for that he’s stealing a zombie virus and trying to bring it elsewhere in time! Is this connected to Reverse Flash? Or just this week’s MacGuffin, never to be referenced again? Because I really think the team ought to also be wondering about that.
– We learn that future Flash’s message to Rip mentions that a war is coming; Jax and Stein are still sitting on this one, though.