Saturday, 16 April 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E11 - 'The Magnificent Eight'

It has been a disappointingly common trend, throughout this first season of Legends of Tomorrow, that the series has often been at its most entertaining whenever it has distanced itself from the season's primary plot-line. That shouldn't really be the case, of course – but, with Vandal Savage being so poorly utilised by the series, it often feels that way. With this episode, we have yet another example of this lingering issue – another very entertaining episode which has absolutely nothing do with the team's efforts to stop Vandal Savage.

With the previous episode ending with the reveal that the Time Masters were about to send a new team of time travelling bounty hunters after them (a team who, we were led to believe, would be an even greater threat than Chronos had proved to be), Rip Hunter takes the only sensible course of action he can think of – which is, basically, to run and hide. Fortunately, it turns out that there are actually specific locations, and specific points in time, that are so chaotic, and in such a state of constant flux, that it is possible to avoid the notice of even the most seasoned Time Masters. It's not a permanent solution, of course – but, it will be enough to buy Rip, and his team, some time to plan their next move.

The chosen destination is the small town of Salvation, in the year 1871 – a classic Wild West location which, it seems, plays up just about every stereotype of the 'Western' genre that you could possibly imagine. While Rip is, initially, insistent that everyone stay on the ship while they make their plans, the team's clear desire to head out and explore eventually wins out. Ray Palmer, in particular, approaches the chance of living out his life-line Wild West fantasies with the same child-like enthusiasm that he seems to display toward, well... just about anything, really.

This goes about as well as the audience (and Rip, himself) might expect. An altercation over a game of cards at the local saloon eventually devolved into an all-out brawl that is brought to an abrupt end through the intervention of a mysterious figure called Jonah Hex (Johnathon Schaech).

Jonah, it seems, is already very familiar with the increasingly strange world that this cast of characters have found themselves in – and, is quickly able to identify them as time travellers. He even reveals a familiarity with Rip Hunter, himself.

This isn't the only complication that the team encounters, though. It turns out that one of the men killed in the earlier altercation was a member of the Stilwater gang – and, now, Jeb Stilwater (Brent Stait) is looking for revenge. With the whole town suddenly in danger, the 'legends' feel compelled to do what they can to help. But, Rip remains very reluctant to involve himself – gradually revealing the details of his past encounters with Jonah Hex as he argues against involving themselves in the events of the past.

Kendra, meanwhile, finds herself drawn off on an adventure of her own when a chance encounter leads to her coming face-to-face with one of her own previous incarnations.

For fans of DC's comic-book universe, this episode would have had an instant appeal well beyond that offered by the Wild West setting, with the inclusion of Jonah Hex – another of DC's impressively varied cast of characters. For those unfamiliar with DC's comics, though, the character may only be familiar from a disappointing film released back in 2010 – so, his presence is unlikely to have the same appeal. Here, though, Jonah Hex is a very entertaining addition to the episode. While, initially, I was somewhat worried that Johnathon Schaech's efforts to portray this gravelly-voiced anti-hero would sway much too closely to scenery-chewing over-acting for comfort, he did seem to settle into the role over the course of the episode. By the end, Hex was even allowed to become the source of some great sardonic humour, through his bemused reaction to the rest of the cast – particularly, Ray Palmer. In the end, my only real disappointment with this episode's portrayal of Jonah Hex is that he wasn't allowed to play a more pivotal role in the action.

Beyond Jonah Hex's appearance, though, there was a lot to enjoy with the basic premise of this episode. Ray Palmer gets to live out his child-hood fantasy as a Wild West sheriff, defending a small town from a gang of ruthless bandits. Leonard Snart had plenty of opportunities to further cement himself as, perhaps, the most ruthless and efficient member of the team. Mick Rory, who seems to have earned back his position on the team after revealing this existence of the Time Master's new team of bounty hunters, also had some great moments in this episode – with Dominic Purcell doing a great job of subtly portraying the changes that Mick's training, and his time as Chronos, has had on him. Even Rip, himself, is allowed to have a great moment, when he steps into the spot-light for the episode's requisite 'quick-draw' show-down.

The idea of Kendra having an encounter with herself, in one of her past lives, had quite a bit of potential. It was exactly the sort of sub-plot that Kendra needed in order to finally establish her as existing on the same level as the rest of this team of 'legends – as well as being the sort of wonderfully strange story-line that only she was even capable of having (with Carter gone, at least). They had even managed to build this previous incarnation up into a surprisingly complex figure with an impressively short amount of screen-time – with Anna Deavere Smith giving a great performance as this world-weary woman resigned to her self-imposed exile.

Rather than giving us any new insights into the season-long mission to stop Vandal Savage, though, this potentially interesting sub-plot ultimately became little more than an excuse to add further complications to Kendra's efforts to pursue a romantic relationship with Ray Palmer. The indication of some manner of convoluted curse that would, ultimately, ruin Kendra's efforts to pursue a relationship with anyone other than Carter is probably the least interesting development that could possibly have come out of this sub-plot – so, the whole thing just ended up feeling like a wasted opportunity.

Another disappointment comes in for the form of the Time Master's new team of bounty hunters, themselves. After being led to believe that these new bounty hunters were a significant enough threat to justify Rip's decision to hide away in the 1871, their actual appearance at the end of the episode came as something of an anti-climax. It's just fortunate that, despite being the catalyst that pushes the team into this Wild West adventure, the episode wasn't actually about them.

In the end, this episode's shift into classic 'Western' territory was simply a lot of fun. It might not add anything of value to the season's primary story-line but, when taken on its own, it could very well be the most purely entertaining episode we have had of Legends of Tomorrow, so far. In terms of its portrayal of Jonah Hex, too, this episode should also go some way toward wiping away any lingering disappointment fans of the character might still feel over the 2010 film. Much like with John Constantine's appearance on a recent episode of Arrow, it would be disappointing if this turns out to only be a 'one-off' appearance – so, I would definitely like to see more of him in the future.

Given how entertaining Legends of Tomorrow is capable of being whenever it moves toward what are, essentially, stand-alone episodes, it remains a constant source of disappointment for me that the primary mission to stop Vandal Savage just isn't as interesting, or as entertaining. At this point, I'm not sure what, if anything, the people behind Legends of Tomorrow can actually do to correct this lingering issue – though, I'm still hopeful that they will be able to surprise me.

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