Warning: This contains spoilers.
After name-dropping the Justice Society of America in the Season 1 cliffhanger, we finally get to meet them properly on the show, with the two teams confronting each other in 1942 New York. In time-honoured comics tradition, the Legends and the JSA immediately get into a fight, which ends badly for our heroes, as they’re not quite the co-ordinated fighting force they think they are.
With the Legends cooling their heels in the JSA’s custom-made jail, we get a proper look at the team, as they decide what to do with their captives. Aside from leader Rex Tyler / Hourman (Patrick J. Adams), the team includes Commander Steel (Matthew MacCaull), Doctor Mid-Nite (Kwesi Ameyaw), Obsidian (Dan Payne), Stargirl (Sarah Grey), and Amaya / Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), who’s the grandmother of the original Vixen, who made an appearance on Arrow last season.
Things get complicated when the Legends realise that this Rex Tyler has no knowledge of having visited them in the future. However, when the Legends realise that there’s a time anomaly that directly affects the JSA, the two teams join together for some good old Nazi-bashing. This is given an extra wrinkle by the appearance of a super-serum (given to the Nazis by Reverse-Flash), which transforms one of them into a poorly CGI-ed Nazi Hulk. That’s not something you see every day.
The episode uses that relatively simple plotline as the basis for a number of effective character moments, as well as the usual doses of humour and action. The first sub-plot out of the gate involves the team’s leadership issue. Their easy defeat by the JSA proves that, without Rip, the team is in desperate need of a bit of leadership. Sara nominates Martin (the JSA immediately assume he’s the leader by virtue of his being an old, white guy, but let’s not get into that right now), but the comedy music that accompanies his acceptance of the position makes it immediately clear that he won’t be leader for long. Sure enough, Martin cracks under the pressure of all the tough decision-making and Sara is duly installed as leader by the end of the episode.
This is a smart decision for the show, as it gives Sara more focus as a character and plays to her strengths – we’ve already seen that she’s an authoritative figure capable of making tough decisions, plus Caity Lotz manages to generate strong chemistry with every one of her fellow cast members.
The second sub-plot revolves around the show’s newest character, time historian Nate Heywood, who gets all emotional when he realises that Commander Steel is his grandfather. He quickly informs Steel of their connection (showing remarkably little concern for the timeline, considering his job), but doesn’t receive the reaction he expected – at least, not until he saves Steel’s life later on.
However, Nate has bigger problems to contend with, as Sara figures out that he’s hiding the fact that he’s a haemophiliac. Nate confesses that his over-protective parents ensured he was never at risk because of his condition and that he had always longed for a life of adventure, which perhaps explains his willingness to take up with a bunch of time-travellers he’d only just met. He proves his bravery, when he saves Steel’s life at great risk to his own, but he’s caught in an explosion as a result and receives life-threatening injuries. Fortunately, Ray manages to tinker with the Nazi super-serum and uses it to save Nate’s life (without turning him into a Nazi Hulk in the process), which will presumably result in Nate gaining his comics-ordained super-power next week.
This is another welcome development, as it gives Nate some much needed character depth, while handing actor Nick Zano something more to play with than boyish enthusiasm, which was all he was given last week. Also, his confession scene with Sara is further evidence that Caity Lotz has palpable chemistry with pretty much everyone.
Jax and Mick are rather side-lined in this episode, other than Jax getting in a few comments about being a black man in a room full of Nazis, but Ray gets what amounts to the week’s third sub-plot as he’s put on the spot by Vixen, when she accuses him of not having any super-powers other than his suit and ends up fretting about his place on the team. Frankly, Vixen’s got a bit of a cheek seeing as a) she’s only just met Ray, and b) she’s only super-powered because of her mystic amulet, while most of her fellow Justice Society members seem to derive their powers from objects or suits in a similar way to Ray.
This is all a little frustrating, as Ray spent most of last season moping as it is, and now here we are again. Even worse, the writers don’t seem to have learned their lesson about giving Ray a love interest, assuming that’s where they’re going with the back-and-forth between Ray and Vixen. Don’t do it, writers!
The action scenes are pretty good, although the initial fight between the teams isn’t as well choreographed and edited as some of the show’s fights have been in the past (think back to Marooned, still the show’s high point). In particular, it’s often difficult to work out which character has which power, especially in the moments involving Doctor Mid-Nite (can see in the dark) and Obsidian (can make everything dark).
The episode’s undisputed highlight is the scene in the Parisian cabaret, where Martin poses as the famous (real-life) tenor Max Lorenz and distracts the Nazis by singing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Edelweiss (actually written 17 years later). This is followed by a terrific bar fight sequence that kicks off after Ray tries to maintain his cover but fails because he can’t bring himself to say “Heil, Hitler”. The whole thing is a terrific scene that plays to the strengths of the actors (Victor Garber is a veteran of musical theatre, so here’s hoping we get to hear him sing again this season) and has a strong Indiana Jones vibe. Hell, they even slip in a cheeky Back to the Future reference, with Stein’s “Watch me for the changes and try to keep up” line to the band.
The main issue with this week’s episode (dodgy CGI Nazi Hulk aside) is that, despite the promise of the title, we don’t actually get to know the JSA all that well. Stargirl, Obsidian and Doctor Mid-Nite are particularly short-changed in this regard, and if Commander Steel and Hourman are meant to have specific powers, then they aren’t made at all clear during the course of the hour. Vixen fares slightly better, because she’s set to become a fully-fledged member of the Legends line-up next week, and, admittedly, there are a large number of characters to juggle, but it still seems like a wasted opportunity. Here’s hoping the team will make a further appearance later on in the season, so their characters get fleshed out a little more.
That said, if the JSA are due to come back, it presumably won’t be with Rex Tyler, as Hourman gets murdered by Reverse-Flash for plot reasons in the episode’s cliffhanger. Let’s not think about how Hourman’s death before he time travels ought to mean that the Legends were never alerted to the JSA’s existence – I’m sure the writers have that all worked out, yeah? Come back next week as the Legends head to… um… ancient Japan!
Footnotes of Tomorrow
– This isn’t the JSA’s first appearance on a CW show. A three-person version of the team (without any of the same characters) featured in a Smallville two-parter in Season 9.
– The entire bar scene was great, but the bit that made me laugh out loud was Vixen’s off-screen invocation of her lion powers, followed by a roar, as she pounced on Nazis from across the room in the background of a scene. Lovely bit of direction, that.
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