At one point early in “Shogun,” Nate Heywood, invigorated by the new discovery of his superpowers, excitedly tells his fellow Legends about how he used to play Justice Society Of America vs. Nazis with his action figures. That’s what this TV show feels like most of the time: writers playing with toys, putting superheroes in different environments and time periods with stories that are only slightly varied from week to week. Season 2 isn’t changing up the formula, but it is expanding the range of time periods, and with the exception of the quick flashes to prehistoric and medieval times in the premiere, this week’s trip to Japan, 1641, is the show’s earliest adventure.
The action figures get new costumes and weapons this week, but the narrative hits many of the same beats we’ve already seen on this show. Like “The Magnificent Eight,” this episode has the Legends fighting a group of villains terrorizing a local village, and we also get rehashes of Ray feeling inferior because he doesn’t have superpowers and a teammate trying to convince Mick that there’s a hero underneath his gruff thug exterior. There are some new developments in this episode: Vixen joins the Legends when she stows away on the Waverider to hunt down the time traveler that killed Rex Tyler, and her takedown of the team comes to an abrupt end when Nate knocks her out with his new steel form.
The addition of Vixen livens up the team dynamics in this episode, and I’m especially excited about seeing her develop a relationship with Sara. Unlike Sara’s last female teammate, Kendra, Amaya is already a trained superhero and formidable fighter when she joins the crew, and having that warrior spirit within her gives Amaya an immediate connection to Sara. Amaya opens up to Sara about her past and the history of her tribe and the mystical totem that protects it, and this backstory gets Amaya invested in defending the Japanese village because she’s no longer around to defend her home village in Zambesi. Maisie Richardson-Sellers has a commanding presence appropriate for a character that is part of a global peacekeeping force, and the team could use a more authoritative figure after the loss of Rip and the addition of Nate, who brings a very bro-y energy to the group.
Ray’s super-serum gives Nate the ability to turn his skin (perhaps his entire body) into an alloy 100 times stronger than steel, but he doesn’t understand his new strength and ends up busting a hole in the Waverider that sends him floating through the timestream. As established last week, Nate is overeager about this whole superhero thing because he was denied a life of excitement for most of his life, and he’s even more eager now that he has superpowers. The white savior bug bites him hard when he meets a young woman engaged to the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, a real-world figure who went to great lengths to de-Westernize Japan (hence his hatred of foreigners in this episode), and Nate makes all sorts of foolish decisions because he wants to be the hero and get the girl. Luckily for the village, the rest of the Legends appear to save it; if it was just Nate on his own, everyone would probably be dead.
While the rest of the team is fighting samurai, Jax and Martin have the far less exciting task of repairing the damage done to the Waverider, and they discover that Rip Hunter has been keeping a heavy-duty arsenal in a secret compartment the rest of the team didn’t know about. They also find a message from Barry Allen in the year 2056, the contents of which are kept a secret from the viewers because the writers are trying to inject some intrigue into the overarching narrative. Given that this series will be crossing over with the other CW superhero shows for a story based on DC Comics’ Invasion! miniseries, I predict that Barry’s message has something to do with the forthcoming arrival of the alien Dominators, which would explain the arsenal and Jax and Martin’s anxiety after hearing the message.
Director Kevin Tancharoen has worked on almost all of the network TV superhero series (everything on The CW plus Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is executive produced by his sister, Maurissa), and his dynamic camerawork makes him a great fit for the action-heavy superhero genre. It’s nice to see Legends reach out an Asian-American director for an episode set in Japan, and while I don’t know enough about Japanese culture in the Edo period to gauge how well Tancharoen captures it on camera, he has a clear appreciation for the visual style of samurai films and seeks to replicate it on a limited TV budget.
There’s more attention given to shot composition in “Shogun” than we normally see on this show, like the romantic long shot of Nate and Masako walking down a path while cherry blossom rain down in the foreground, and the action sequences have a forceful energy that makes them especially fun to watch. Sara is the highlight during the fight sequences, and Tancharoen takes advantage of Caity Lotz doing her own stunts to make the action even more spectacular. I’m all for retreading familiar ground when it means giving Sara Lance another chance to kick some ass, but hopefully this series will find some narrative inspiration in future episodes to make the events around the action more imaginative and engaging.
- The A.T.O.M. suit is destroyed, and even though this episode tries to convince him that he’s a hero without the suit, I have the feeling we’re in for more whining from Ray about his place on the team.
- Vixen gets a new lion spirit animation this week to go with the gorilla, which makes another appearance in this episode.
- Do you think Sara has a League Of Assassins Class Of ’09 yearbook? I hope so.
- The secret hatch made me immediately think of Lost, so kudos to the writers for having Jax throw in a Lost reference right there.
- Was “meathead” common slang in the ’40s? Amaya using it to describe Mick feels strange.
- “If this is about me taking all the mayonnaise, you may be slightly overreacting.”
- “I am only giving you a bath because you are dirty. And injured.”
- “This master Yoda is very wise.”