Superhero teams are difficult to pull off, and the writers and producers of DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow are still figuring out to effectively handle a superhero team on TV. The other CW superhero shows feature ensembles that are almost like superhero teams, but a single lead character anchors those series and gives them more focus. Legends needs a stronger sense of direction, and that’s exactly what “The Justice Society Of America” provides by having the team interact with a group that is precise, professional, and in constant agreement.
As is superhero tradition, the Legends and the JSA first meet by fighting, with the JSA mistaking the Legends for Nazi spies because of their shenanigans last week. The fastest way to make a superhero team appealing is by giving it a thrilling action sequence for its introduction, and this episode gets off to a great start when Obsidian envelops the two groups in darkness for a showdown in the shadows. While it would have been nice to have the action in the light so we could get a better look at the JSA costumes, the darkness is an effective way of disorienting the viewer while giving extra impact to flashes of light like Firestorm’s emergence, Vixen activating her totem, and Stargirl using her Cosmic Staff. (It also provides an opportunity to show off Dr. Mid-Nite’s ability to see in the dark, which is pretty much the extent of his character in this episode.)
The Legends are thrown in a cell inside the JSA’s brownstone base, where they argue while the other team watches over a monitor. Rex Tyler has no recollection of travelling through time to give the Legends his warning, and their constant repetition of his name just makes him more suspicious of the time travelers. The Legends would be screwed if not for the extremely good fortune of having Nate Heywood on the team, a historian who knows about the JSA because his grandfather is a member. Nate uses the dog tag around his neck to convince Commander Steel that they are relatives (with no regard to how this information may change the course of events), and then the groups argue some more before the Legends decide to leave 1942, which is what they were doing before the JSA ambushed them.
The Legends can learn a lot from the JSA, and the team’s general messiness has only been exacerbated by the loss of its leader, Rip Hunter. Rex assumes that Martin is the leader because he’s an old white guy, and the episode immediately indicates that Martin isn’t made for that role thanks to the aggressively whimsical music when he’s named leader. Blake Neely’s score is overbearing this week, pushing specific feelings so hard that it starts to feel cartoonish. The pounding rock music of the opening sequence is intended to make the JSA appear more badass, and while it’s effective at first, the score gives off a Zack Snyder parody vibe as the scene continues. Then there’s the goofball music of that Martin scene, which bluntly telegraphs the character’s leadership failure later in the episode.
There is one excellent musical moment in this episode involving Martin Stein, but it features the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein, not Blake Neely. Writers Chris Fedak and Sarah Nicole Jones take advantage of Victor Garber’s significant musical theater experience by having Martin impersonate the famous tenor Max Lorenz when the Legends return to 1942, and he distracts the Nazis in a Parisian cabaret by singing the popular Austrian tune “Edelweiss,” which won’t be written for another 17 years. The cabaret scene has a wonderful sense of humor, and Martin singing “Edelweiss” to a group of Nazis is the kind of playful, fantastical moment I want to see more often on this series.
The serenade is followed by a bar brawl when Ray refuses to “Heil Hitler,” and these smaller action sequences are some of the best bits of this series, bringing the team together through the joys of hand-to-hand combat. Underwhelming special effects for the big superpowered villain diminish the action sequences later in the episode, and the benefits of having a hulking CGI monster don’t outweigh the crudeness of the effect and its clumsy incorporation into the action. The CW’s superhero shows have had some very impressive special effects (I’m thinking specifically about King Shark on The Flash), but the production design budget for this time-travelling series already demands so much that there’s not much left for the CGI.
I’d much rather see more care put into sets and costumes, and that’s where the attention goes in this episode. The JSA’s brownstone has a lived-in, homey atmosphere that makes it feel very different from the sleek, sterilized bases that The CW’s superheroes operate in, and the same goes for the heroes’ retro costumes. Stargirl’s costume is particularly impressive, and the theatricality of her star-spangled leotard sets her apart from the rest of the team by giving her a more youthful and dramatic look.
Nate Heywood gets the most development this week, and all it takes is one detail to give his story more layers and raise the stakes for the character: he’s a hemophiliac. He had overprotective parents that prevented him from having the exhilarating, often dangerous experience of being a kid and teenager, and he always longed for the kind of life his soldier grandfather had. Nate didn’t hesitate when he had a sudden opportunity to join a team of time travelers, and he refuses to let his medical condition get in his way, even if it means his potential death in the field. Connecting with his grandfather gives Nate the confidence to keep playing the hero, but that doesn’t go too well when they get caught in a bomb blast, causing near-fatal internal damage to Nate. The only thing that can save his life is the super-serum Ray obtained from the Nazis (given to them by Eobard “Reverse-Flash” Thawne), and Ray’s tinkering with the formula saves Nate’s life without grotesquely mutating him.
Sara realizes early on that Nate’s wounds aren’t healing and correctly diagnoses his condition, which is just one of the many reasons why she should be the Legends’ leader. She makes smart strategic choices both in and out of battle, has a strong understanding of her individual teammates’ strengths and weaknesses, and she has a natural air of authority that makes people listen when she talks. And if they don’t, she brings the pain. Putting Sara in a leadership position is the right thing to do because Caity Lotz is such a major boon to this series, and this episode gives her more opportunities to tap into the charisma that was pushed aside with all her brooding last week. As long as she doesn’t ditch the rest of the team again to hunt her sister’s killer, Sara will probably do a decent job of getting the Legends to function as a cohesive unit.
Maybe it’s because I’m still mourning the loss of Agent Carter, but I’m hoping that Legends Of Tomorrow spends more time with the JSA because it would be a shame to introduce all these cool new characters and not give them more time in the spotlight. A superhero team in 1942 with two women, two people of color, and a gay man (Obsidian, who doesn’t have much to do this week but has been confirmed to be gay by Lance Henriksen, who plays his future self) opens up all kinds of storytelling avenues, and I’d love to see an extended JSA Legends arc that tackles the prejudices of the time in addition to whatever evil threat wants to destroy the U.S. The death of Hourman at the end of this episode promises that this show isn’t done with the JSA, and given the strength of the two teams’ first meeting this week, there’s significant value in keeping the JSA around in the future.
- The preview for next week’s episode has a lot of spoilers, like the new addition to the team and a major status quo shift for another character. We will talk about those things next week!
- I am so over Ray storylines involving him feeling inferior because he’s a guy in a suit without superpowers. It looks like Maya is being set up to replace Kendra as a love interest for Ray (as much as I’d like it to be the start of a platonic friendship, I doubt that’s the case), and she wins her way into his heart by satisfying his constant need to have his heroism affirmed.
- The budget apparently only allows for one animal spirit special effect for Vixen (gorilla), but I enjoyed the lion sound cue when Maya runs across the club in Paris and pounces on some Nazis.
- I really enjoy the moment where Nate has no idea how to use the Waverider’s computer.
- What does Vixen have when her totum is taken away? A fifth-degree black belt and training in edged weapons combat, so don’t mess with her just because the jewelry’s gone.
- Obsidian’s creepy design makes me want to know more about his character.
- Vixen: “Are there any other felons on your team?” Ray: “No, no—“ Mick: “Yes. (Points at Sara.) She’s an assassin. But never convicted, right?”
- “FDR? Tell him I’m a big fan of The New Deal.”