“The Magnificent Eight” is the episode of Legends Of Tomorrow I’ve been most excited about, and as a big fan of DC Comics’ western characters, I was thrilled to learn that this series would be traveling to the time of gunslinging heroes like Jonah Hex, Nighthawk, and Cinnamon. Hex is the only one of these characters to appear in this episode (although Nighthawk’s civilian identity, Hannibal Hawkes, is mentioned as one of Carter Hall’s past lives), and the script gives him a strong connection to Rip Hunter as a way of exploring, once again, the ramifications of interfering with the timeline.

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This isn’t Rip’s first time in the Old West, and over the course of the episode we learn why he’s reluctant to leave the Waverider and engage with the period he left behind years ago. Like Ray, Kendra, and Sara in 1952, Rip fell victim to time drift when he first came to Hex’s time and was compelled to break Time Master protocol when he saw all the opportunities for heroism in this era. Rip eventually managed to fight the time drift and flee the past before he did anything that would cost him his Time Master status, but his return has brought all the painful memories of that prior experience flooding back, making him a big grump that doesn’t want to let anyone have cowboy fun.

The costumes and sets are different in “The Magnificent Eight,” but the plot covers a lot of familiar ground. Rip Hunter tells the gang not to interfere in the past, they convince him to let them leave the Waverider, and then they immediately start trouble with a bar fight. They become enemies of a local gang, who takes one of their own captive, and at the end of the episode they face off against the Time Masters’ Hunters, who are basically three modified versions of Chronos. Meanwhile, Kendra continues to deal with her past lives and what they mean for her relationship with Ray, and chooses to defy her destiny to be with the new man she loves. There’s even an overly convenient historical coincidence a lá Ray’s Bill Gates moment when Martin uses Rip’s medicine to heal the tuberculosis of a young H.G. Wells, a groan-worthy button on an otherwise solid subplot.

Despite the repetition in Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim’s story, the episode is still quite fun, especially the opening scenes introducing the team to the time period. As cliché and campy as it is, the slow motion sequence of the cast walking into town in their period garb while a western-inspired version of the show’s theme plays in the background puts a giant smile on my face, and that grin just gets bigger when the bar brawl breaks out. The action on this series tends to be better when the characters are in a past time rather than a future one, and the fights are much cleaner in this episode than they were in last week’s.

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A low-tech period like the late 19th century means that the action has to be more grounded, so there’s less reliance on computer-generated effects and greater emphasis on shootouts and hand-to-hand combat. The final fight between Rip’s team and The Hunters features a rush of superhero fantasy, but it still looks much better than last week’s action, which was too overambitious and ended up looking cheap and fake as a result. My one major quibble with the action in “The Magnificent Eight” is that the characters are very quick to accept the “kill or be kill” mentality of the Old West, and the heroes end up killing quite a few people during their trip. It’s a bit unnerving how easy it is for Rip’s team to become killers when their survival is at risk, and it would be nice to see the group put in a little effort to try and keep the casualties to a minimum.

In terms of performances, Johnathon Schaech could use much more intensity in his portrayal of Jonah Hex, and it’s hard to believe this man is as hard as his facial scars suggest. The prosthetic is wearing Schaech instead of the other way around, and there’s room for the actor to go much bigger with his characterization, which primarily evokes Hex’s severe personality with a gruff tone of voice. The role demands a larger presence than what Schaech brings to it, but I think he could have gotten there with more forceful direction and dialogue. He’s not completely miscast like, say, Casper Crump as Vandal Savage (who thankfully doesn’t appear in this episode), but Schaech could definitely deliver more with his Jonah Hex.

This episode’s other big guest star doesn’t have that problem, and Anna Deavere Smith gives a passionate performance as Kendra’s past self in this time period. I was surprised to see an actress of Smith’s renown step into this relatively small part, but it’s an excellent casting choice. Smith shares a striking resemblance to Ciara Renée, but more importantly, she’s able to imbue her exposition-heavy dialogue with legitimate gravitas. Older Kendra details the loss of her reincarnated soulmate and her discover that fate refuses to let her truly love another man, and Smith fully captures her character’s pain and frustration as she warns her younger self about the inescapable influence of their destiny.

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Cycles play a big part in this series, but that doesn’t make it acceptable for the writers to recycle plot points over and over the way they have all season, offering slightly different variations on the same general ideas. It makes the overarching narrative feel very stale, and even though there are strong elements in tonight’s episode, there’s a sense of “been there, done that” with the script. The storytelling possibilities are endless with this show’s time-traveling concept, and the writers need to start taking advantage of these creative opportunities instead of retreading material they’ve already covered.

Stray observations

  • This series addressed racial issues in “Night Of The Hawk,” so I was expecting some commentary on the racial politics of the time period in this episode, but there is none. Suffice to say, Ray and the rest of the team should know way better than to leave Jax as a prisoner for a gang of white guys in 1871.
  • I’m enjoying the development of Sara and Kendra’s relationship, which has become much deeper since their bonding in the ’50s.
  • Next week’s episode is a riff on Terminator as the team tries to stop the Time Hunters’ latest agent from killing their past selves and erasing them from the timeline. Hopefully it won’t be too straightforward of a pastiche and the writers will take the idea in a different direction, although I wouldn’t place any bets on that.
  • Ray: “We might have gotten into a bar room brawl back in town.” Rip: “Well that was entirely predictable.”
  • “This town’s seen a lot of interesting. Suppose you got one of those doohickies that erases people’s memories or something?”

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