Previously on Legends of Tomorrow, “Shogun”
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – S2E4 – “Abominations” | Starring: Victor Garber, Caity Lotz, Arthur Darvill, Franz Drameh, Brandon Routh, Dominic Purcell, Amy Pemberton, Nick Zano, Maisie Richardson-Sellers | Written by: Marc Guggenheim and Ray Utarnachitt
When this series and its stars were first announced, I jokingly said the Legends wouldn’t be able to go back further than, say, 1970 or there would be problems for the black characters. I was only half joking. If you’re writing about time travel, there’s a good chance you’ll visit some volatile moments in history. If you’re a non-black person writing about black people traveling to the U.S. South during The Civil War, you need to do it right or not at all. I wasn’t sure LoT had built up enough trust with me to do this well, and, oddly enough, the inclusion of zombies actually made me look forward to it more. You have to be careful with too much comedy in an episode like this, but I was hopeful the zombies would offer the right amount of levity. Basically, Guggenheim and Utarnachitt had their work cut out for them. After sitting with this episode for a day, I’ve decided they pulled it off.
A time pirate crash lands in 1863 Mississippi, bringing with him a virus that turns nearby Confederate soldiers into zombies. Unaware of the zombie element, the Legends hope to make a quick stop to erase the aberration.
I knew things were off to a good start when well-meaning Stein suggests Jax stay on the ship with Ray, who’s benched due to lack of suit and any superpowers. Jax quickly and firmly informs Stein that being black makes him the expert in this situation and that there aren’t any moments in time they can go where he wouldn’t face some kind of racism. Basically, White Folks been acting up for a long-ass time.
With the time ship incinerated, the Legends prepare to leave when they notice a black man being chased by Confederate soldiers. New to time travel and some of its consequences, Amaya is unwilling to leave without helping. They save Henry Scott (Warren Belle), and learn he’s a dispatcher sent to infiltrate a party at a nearby plantation in order to steal war plans for General Ulysses S. Grant (John Churchill). The Confederate soldiers rise again (unlike the South) and become those things like start with z and rhyme with sombie, but we can’t say it because Stein is afraid of them. The undead are dealt with, but Henry Scott dies in the process. Back on the Waverider, they learn that without Scott’s mission completed, the South win the war. And you know we can’t have that shit.
Jax insists on fulfilling Scott’s duties with the help of Amaya; Nate and Sara will meet with General Grant to warn him about the zombies (Sorry, Stein); and Ray and Stein will stay behind to cure Mick, who’s been infected by the virus.
On their way to the main house, Jax and Amaya witness the plantation owner, Collins (Dean S. Jagger), whipping one of his slaves, Mary (Tintswalo Khumbuza), for burning a tablecloth. Again, Amaya wants to jump in, but Jax reminds her of the consequences of failing the mission.
Jax tries to pass himself off as the help, but quickly finds himself in Collins’ crosshairs when he innocently bumps into a white woman and touches her hand when he apologizes. He’s beaten and chained in the basement with other slaves; Collins promises to do worse later. When Stein feels Jax’s fear and anger, the show could have easily made the mistake of putting the focus on how bad Jax’s pain made Stein feel. Thankfully, it served only to remind us that they share this incredible bond, brings them even closer in the end, but never did it shift to anything other than Jax’s feelings.
When Jax speaks with the other slaves, they comment on him being named after two very famous slaveowners (shade, but the damn truth) and how his hands reveal he hasn’t had to work like them. He wonders how they’re not broken and Mary replies it’s because they know it’s what the slaveowners want. Amaya rescues Jax and he surprises her by insisting they release the slaves as well. They initially refuse, which makes a lot of sense. They don’t know these black people and they’ve seen what happens when slaves are caught trying to escape. It’s not until Mary recognizes Amaya’s Zambezi (her mother’s homeland) amulet that they agree to go. Jax and Amaya are able to obtain the plans and get them to General Grant, with Jax presenting himself as Henry Scott so he gets the proper credit throughout history.
This episode managed to strike the right balance of dealing with the very real horrors of slavery and still provide the fun and excitement we expect from Legends of Tomorrow, but without those light moments cheapening or overshadowing the serious ones. The zombie action was kept away from the planation until the very end so it wasn’t a distraction. Zombie Mick terrorizes Stein and Ray aboard the Waverider while Ray tries to administer the cure, and its scarier moments were surprisingly effective despite knowing that neither was in any real danger and Mick would not stay a zombie.
I held my breath when Collins was fighting zombies in his hallway and Jax said he’ll need to arm him and Abraham (Alex Barima) in order to survive. We’d already witnessed this man’s evil and it wouldn’t be believable that he’d set aside his racism for self-preservation. When he refused, I cheered and I cheered again when his ass got eaten by zombies. Too many times shows try to serve Slavery Lite, often in the form of a kindly slaveowner who’s just doing what’s expected. This character and moments of “sure, I’ll work with the people I’m oppressing” are included for White comfort and I’m glad LoT didn’t go there.
If you had told me a DCTV show would air a black woman slave being whipped by a white man, I wouldn’t have believed you and I damn wouldn’t think LoT had the balls. Black people are often skeptical when genre television attempts a slavery storyline, and rightfully so. We’d rather you leave it alone than get it so wrong we have to stop watching your show. This episode proves you can give the subject matter the respect it deserves, display it honestly, and do so without sacrificing any of what the audience loves about the series. On an episode of Timeless, a black man time travels to the 1930s, and when he receives looks in a bar, the white female lead suggests he go outside and try not to make eye contact with anyone. I rolled my eyes so damn hard. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. White folks weren’t racist because black people weren’t respectful. They were racist because black people are black, and that was a time when they could be openly so without fear of punishment or reprisal. I appreciate this episode didn’t give me any migraine-inducing eye roll moments.
Well, the negro spiritual. No. Just no. And we heard it twice.
Still, overall, an enjoyable episode. There’s shade from Sara about how far we still need to go for gender equality, Nate is able to further use him power to take out the remaining zombies and gain the respect and gratitude of General Grant, and Mick gives Ray Leonard Snart’s cold gun and accepts him as a new partner.
I truly think Legends of Tomorrow has become the best of the DCTV shows in just four episodes. I’m all in.
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LoT S2E4 = 8.6/10