Warning: This contains spoilers.
This week’s episode was hotly anticipated amongst genre fans, promising both Western-style genre fun and the appearance of D.C.’s iconic gunslinger Jonah Hex, whose reputation is in need of a spot of rehab, after the disastrous movie version with Josh Brolin and Megan Fox. In the event, the show largely delivers on the former, but poor old Hex gets under-served by the script and the episode is further let down by some contradictory story-telling and a frustrating amount of repetition.
The plot is relatively low-key this week, and the corresponding lack of a clear objective bears some of the responsibility for why the episode feels like it’s lacking something. Intending to hide from the Hunters (who have been sent by the Time Masters to wipe them out of existence), the Legends arrive in Salvation, Dakota, in 1871, as Rip tells them that period is like a blind-spot to the time sensors. They almost immediately meet up with growly-voiced, facially scarred gunslinger Jonah Hex (Johnathon Schaech), who, it turns out, is an old friend of Rip’s – in fact, their relationship goes much deeper than that, as it turns out Jonah Hex gave Rip the coat he wears, and Rip named his son after him, but we’ll get to all that in a bit.
Despite the opportunities offered by the Wild West setting, the episode unfolds in overly familiar fashion, effectively replaying all the character beats we’ve already seen countless times in the past 10 episodes, to wit: Rip tells the crew to stay aboard the Waverider, lest they mess with the space-time continuum, but they ignore him and head out for Wild West funtimes and immediately get into an old-timey (and highly entertaining) bar-room brawl (Mick and Sara both particularly good value here, as they get involved in a drinking competition). Similarly, Kendra learns something that will threaten her future happiness with Ray (again) and the team face off against a group of enemies (the aforementioned Hunters) that are basically like three Kronoses, or whatever the plural of Kronos is. (Kroni? Kronosi? Kronoscenti?) Oh, and the show does another one of those awkward, Quantum Leap-inspired kiss-with-history moments.
On the plus side, the show does deliver what you want from an episode set in the Wild West, namely: the crew all wearing period Western garb and walking into town in slow motion; a High Noon-style gunfight in the street (allowing Ray to step up for some serious heroism, after he becomes the town’s Sheriff, giving the name “John Wayne”); and, of course, the bar-room brawl / card-playing scene, complete with panicky piano-player. The composer for the episode has a lot of fun too, throwing in a Western-sounding version of the theme tune, and the whole thing has a pleasing nostalgic feel to it that reminds you of the Wild West episode of Kirk-era Star Trek (or Red Dwarf, come to that), or Back to the Future III.
Given the popularity of the character of Jonah Hex, it’s a little odd just how little use the episode makes of him throughout the hour. In fact, other than him saving them all at the beginning (and joining in the battle at the end), he’s really only used to add some character background to Rip – most of the time, he just sort of stands around on the side-lines, engaging in a growl-off with Mick.
What’s even stranger is that, knowing how much CW shows in general love a flashback sequence (looking at you, Arrow), we don’t get a flashback to what sounds like a pretty interesting Rip and Jonah story. It turns out that Rip fell in love with the period and spent a lot of time in the Wild West, to the point where he suffered from Time Drift (remember Time Drift from Left Behind?) and almost ended up staying for good. It’s not mentioned, but this also accounts for Rip’s penchant for a laser gun that looks like a six-shooter – another nice touch.
Anyway, it turns out that the town is under threat from a gang of evil, gun-toting marauders, so of course the Legends decide to protect the townsfolk, despite Rip’s consistent warnings that they shouldn’t get involved. Similarly, Martin encounters a child with tuberculosis and decides he’s going to save his life, no matter what Rip says (“I refuse to live with the regret I see on your face right now”). Both of these things boil down to the concept of heroism – if they have the power to save lives, then shouldn’t they, as heroes, do exactly that, no matter what the consequences for history? The problem here is that after Martin saves the child’s life, he turns out to be H.G. Wells (historical accuracy be damned), which means… what? That Martin was always going to save his life and that was his destiny all along? That he was going to live anyway and Martin just accelerated his recovery a bit? Or that in saving Wells’ life Martin has created one of those time-travel paradox thingies? If the show has a clear idea here, then it doesn’t manage to convey it and the whole scene just comes across as a badly written kiss-with-history moment, rather than actually meaning anything.
A similar thing happens with the second gunfight, when the Hunters arrive. Rip spends the whole episode warning about revealing future technology to people in 1871 and as soon as the Hunters show up, the street turns into a proper free-for-all with laser blasts, Firestorm bolts, ATOM-rays (Ray-rays?) and who knows what else shooting around all over the shop, with no apparent space-time consequences whatsoever. (I don’t mind the show routinely breaking its own space-time rules, but there need to be dramatic consequences when it happens, otherwise it loses all meaning. It also doesn’t help that we’ve seen this exact same scenario play out several times already and nothing has happened to the time-stream as a result.)
Anyway, the other main subplot this week involves Kendra, who bumps into a mysterious older lady (Anna Deavere Smith) in the bar during the brawl and feels compelled to follow her to her homestead (on horseback, accompanied by Sara, allowing for a nice moment of bonding between the pair), whereupon she discovers that the woman is actually one of her previous incarnations. Unfortunately, rather than give her any useful advice about how to defeat Vandal Savage – who, thankfully, doesn’t appear this episode – Older Kendra only reiterates, from her own experience, that a relationship with any man other than Carter is always going to be doomed to failure because the pair are destined to be together. Which would be really interesting, if, um, we hadn’t already been told this on multiple previous occasions. Still, it’s a nicely acted sequence and the resemblance between Ciara Renee and Anna Deavere Smith makes the scene work, even if the information doesn’t really change anything, other than highlighting a big upcoming “Ruh-roh!” for Ray and Kendra’s relationship in future episodes.
As for Sara, she doesn’t get a whole lot to do this episode other than effortlessly win her drinking competition with Rory, kick ass in the bar and accompany Kendra, but it’s a pleasure to see her actually relaxed and enjoying herself. Kendra even points out that – gasp! – Sara is actually smiling for once. This is also nice, because it recognises the deeper bond in their relationship since they were stranded together in 1958.
All in all, this is a fun episode in terms of the gunfighting and bar-brawling, but the writing feels pretty weak throughout and it could have used a much stronger, more focussed story-line. And if this episode is an audition for Jonah Hex, the writers fail to make a convincing argument for him joining the team next season.
– Ray looks pretty damn cool in his Wyatt Earpe-style gunfighter’s outfit.
– It’s always worth Googling whenever you hear a name-drop on Legends of Tomorrow (see also: Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl). In this case, Hannibal Hawkes – who’s mentioned here by Old Kendra as one of Carter’s past lives – is the alter-ego of Jonah Hex’s fellow D.C. comics gunfighter Nighthawk.
– On a similar name-dropping note (thank you, internets), at one point there’s a brief glimpse of a sign for Kubert’s Barber Shop – this is named after Joe Kubert, who’s a key artist for both Jonah Hex and Hawkman. Say what you like about CW superhero shows, but they sure know how to lay easter eggs.
– Tune in next week when Legends of Tomorrow face The Terminat- sorry, The Pilgrim, a time-travelling assassin from the future who’s tasked with tracking them all down and killing them as children.
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Photo: © 2016 DC Comics. © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.