Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thematically Complex, "Abominations" Is A Great Standalone Legends Of Tomorrow Episode!

The Good: Performances, Special effects, Dr. Stein's character arc, Plot, Theme
The Bad: Continuity in the season-long arc
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow makes an interesting blend of temporal misadventure and zombie horror in "Abominations!"

As Legends Of Tomorrow progresses, it comes under an implicit burden that fans of the DC Television Universe might not yet have recognized. The primary villain for the second season of Legends Of Tomorrow is the Reverse-Flash, an adversary who became shockingly well-defined in the first season of The Flash (reviewed here!). As such, viewers who would actually appreciate the Reverse-Flash as a decent enemy are hampered with foreknowledge of who the character is and how far Legends Of Tomorrow has to go in not screwing up the character. The Reverse-Flash on Legends Of Tomorrow is a temporal remnant from "Flashpoint" (reviewed here!), a paradoxical remnant of an individual who never existed. Legends Of Tomorrow bears the pressure - at some point - of explaining how the Reverse-Flash is now moving through time influencing events without the Time Wraiths coming after him and evolving the character to either explain how his current machinations lead to his previous primary motivation (returning home to his own time!) or moving the character beyond that motivation in a compelling way. So far on Legends Of Tomorrow, Eobard Thawne has done enough alterations to the time line to indicate that his goals might well be to rewrite time in a way that his version of the future would not exist. So, entering "Abominations," the pressure is on Legends Of Tomorrow to start making sense of Thawne and his motivations in changing history. So, naturally, Legends Of Tomorrow does an episode that does not even include Eobard Thawne.

"Abominations" is preceded by "Shogun" (reviewed here!) and given the massive character changes remaining from that episode, it is tough not to reference some of the events from "Shogun" in talking about "Abominations." After all, as "Abominations" begins, Nate Heywood is still adapting to having super powers as Steel, Vixen has joined the Legends team to try to track down the time traveler who killed Hour Man in 1942 and Ray Palmer's Atom suit has been destroyed, leaving him simply a genius without powers aboard the Waverider. The weight of those events play on the character elements included in "Abominations."

Opening with a time pirate escaping a time ship and traveling through the time vortex using his drop ship, he arrives in Mississippi in 1863. On the Waverider, Dr. Stein and Jax consider the message from Barry Allen when Lance calls them to view the message from the time pirate. After arriving in 1863, the Waverider crew destroys the crashed time ship and discovers that the time pirate infected the people he encountered with a zombie virus. In fighting the zombies, Mick Rory is wounded and infected and the Union spy Henry Scott is accidentally killed. The Waverider crew learns that because of the incursion, the Union lost the war.

Amaya and Jax take up the mission of Henry Scott to spy upon the Confederates, while Lance and Heywood get Scott's tactical plans to Ulysses S. Grant and try to warn him about the zombies. Aboard the Waverider, Palmer and Stein attempt to cure zombie Rory. Jefferson makes a social faux pas which results in him being imprisoned with the house slaves on a plantation he was infiltrating while Lance and Heywood go to war against the zombie Confederates!

"Abominations" finally includes characters addressing realistic racism by having Dr. Stein suggesting that Amaya and Jefferson remaining on the Waverider to avoid them having to interact with Confederate soldiers. This is a prudent piece of advice that is immediately swept aside, though the episode continues to address interethnic relations and sexism during the American Civil War.

While there is the potential for "Abominations" to seem pretty thematically heavyhanded on the ethnic relations front, but against the obvious horror of the zombies, the episode does a decent job of illustrating the realism of American slavery during the Civil War. The sociological horror of the setting is much more potent than the zombie storyline. In fact, it is a bit of a wonder why the producers decided to mix the two types of horror in a single episode as opposed to committing to the relevant sociological commentary of just having the exploration of how terrible conditions were for blacks during the Civil War.

As for the zombie horror aspect of "Abominations," it is adequately freakish and surprisingly graphic for a television episode set in the DC Television Universe. The make-up for the zombies is appropriately disgusting and zombie Mick Rory is well-made (especially the bite on his shoulder). Mick Rory bashing a zombie's head with a rock is handled with the event mostly out of frame.

Dr. Stein gets the most character development in "Abominations" as it turns out he has an incredible fear of zombies. Victor Garber gets the chance to play Dr. Stein as incredibly uncertain and afraid, which he has not actually done on Legends Of Tomorrow. In "Abominations," his arc of overcoming his fear is much more developed than Palmer actually reacting to losing the Atom suit.

Jefferson Jackson gets the chance to experience a horrific amount of racism in "Abominations" and Franz Drameh delivers his most emotive and complicated performance to date. Drameh illustrates range in simple reaction shots and through emoting with his eyes at some of the episode's key moments. Drameh has a good role that does not require him to simply give a physical performance in "Abominations" and that is very cool.

Ultimately, the blend of the two main storylines comes together surprisingly well . . . even if the episode has ridiculously little to do with the main thrust of the season. The story of "Abominations" is incredibly well-contained and it breaks what little momentum there was going for the Reverse-Flash to actually have a purpose of his own. The result is an episode that allows Legends Of Tomorrow to make an important statement and show off some of the talents of its cast, but has little to do with the overall narrative of the show.

For other works with Warren Belle, please visit my reviews of:
Total Recall
Max Payne
Flash Of Genius
Dark Water

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Legends Of Tomorrow - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of the time traveling hero team here!


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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