The prospect of DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow going back to the Wild West after last week’s return voyage to the 1980s initially had me nervous. When there’s an entire timeline to explore, why keep revisiting periods the team has already been to? One answer to that question is that return trips allow the show to develop supporting cast members in specific time periods; we got more of young Martin Stein last week, and this week reunites the Legends with Jonah Hex, whose backstory is fleshed out considerably thanks to the presence of his archnemesis Quentin Turnbull.
While much of last week’s episode felt like a retread of the team’s previous Cold War adventure, “Outlaw Country” explores new story territory in its familiar setting. There are certainly similarities between the two Wild West episodes—bar fights, gun-slinging heroes on horseback—but writers Matthew Maala and Chris Fedak give the characters a new mission with higher stakes for the future of the country. Last week I commented on how missions that significantly change the course of history on a global level can feel predictable because the consequences are so big that the heroes’ success is all but guaranteed, but tonight’s episode reminds me that the journey matters more than the destination. This is a superhero show; the heroes are going to be successful the majority of the time, and the challenge is creating a story that keeps the viewer engaged until that inevitable conclusion.
“Outlaw Country” rises to that challenge with a briskly paced script full of character development, humor, and exciting action sequences. The technical elements are more specific to more fully evoke the period—I’m especially fond of the sepia lens filter—and director Cherie Nowlan channels the look of western movies to give this episode style and swagger. Strong performances from guest stars Johnathon Schaech (Jonah Hex) and Jeff Fahey (Quentin Turnbull) add depth to the rivalry between their characters, and they’re both following Nowlan’s lead and heightening their performances to match that classic western tone.
This episode mines comedy from Nate’s attempts to project that cowboy machismo, and his failure draws extra attention to how well Schaech and Fahey depict the exaggerated attitudes of their character, with Schaech providing an extremely gritty, intense Hex that is a strong contrast to the bloviated criminal bravado of Fahey’s Turnbull. Hex is a misogynist jerk that doesn’t respect Sara Lance’s authority, but by the end of the episode he’s learned a valuable lesson about gender roles after seeing just how good Sara is as a fighter, strategist, and leader. Caity Lotz and Schaech have strong chemistry, and the scenes of Hex on board the Waverider have me wishing that the team would take him along on a few missions through time. With Amaya we’ve seen the benefit of putting a character from the past on the team, and I’d love to see how Hex’s point of view changes the team dynamic over an extended period.
Amaya and Nate are integrating nicely into the team, and they each have a distinct approach to being a superhero that enriches the group dynamic. Amaya isn’t just a superhero veteran, she’s a superhero veteran of World War II, which gives her a strong sense of discipline and fraternity. Both of those qualities come into play in her storyline with Mick this week, and after seeing his heroic spirit in “Shogun,” Amaya is convinced that Mick is more than the fiery animal he sees himself as. As someone with a mystical connection to animal life, Amaya wants to help Mick come to terms with the animalistic aspects of his personality so that he doesn’t continue down his immoral, self-destructive path.
Mick wants to see the world burn, but there’s also a part of him that wants to be consumed by those same flames, and while his boldness makes him valuable in battle, it will also bring about his premature demise if he’s not careful. Amaya doesn’t want Mick to deny the animal within, but she does want him to learn how to control it and she’s willing to teach him. I like the idea of Amaya stepping into a co-leadership role with Sara, using her experience with the JSA to help mold the Legends into a more cohesive, confident team. She may not formally share the leader title, but Amaya is already playing an instrumental role in making this group operate as a unit by helping various members overcome their insecurities so that they realize their full potential.
Nate’s evolution from bookish historian to full-fledged superhero has been a major thread of this season, and this episode continues to delve into why he’s so eager to step into the superhero role. So much of Nate’s life has been dominated by fear; he was heavily sheltered because his hemophilia made his parents afraid for his safety, and the bullying he experienced as a child filled him with a more personal fear that he hasn’t been able to abandon as an adult. He wants to believe that he’s the brave superhero he’s always dreamed of being now that he can turn his flesh to steel, but any indication of vulnerability brings that fear back to the surface, as Nate learns when he’s shot with a bullet coated in Dwarfstar, the rare mineral that Turnbull is mining.
Ray has been dealing with his own vulnerability since losing his A.T.O.M. suit, which makes him well equipped to help Nate through his own issues this week. There’s a boyishness in Nick Zano and Brandon Routh’s performances that makes their characters feel like a natural pair, and even though their pep talk is full of well-worn superhero ideas about fear and bravery, the script presents it with a sense of humor that enlivens the subject matter by tapping into the actors’ charisma. Newly emboldened by his teammate’s words, Nate puts himself in the way of a train full of explosive Dwarfstar, realizing his superhero destiny by proving that he’s more powerful than a locomotive. As a reward, Ray makes Nate a new superhero costume based on his own design, and Nate won’t have to wait long to wear it in action because 2016 just called and their friends are in trouble.
- The CW’s four-part superhero crossover event begins a week from Monday and I’m very excited about it. I’m mostly excited to see Supergirl interact with the rest of the CW heroes, but I’m also very curious to see how the creative teams of all four shows handle a project of this magnitude.
- Last week I hoped for a storyline that would put Martin’s relationship with his wife, Clarissa, in jeopardy because it’s a time-travel plot with more personal stakes, and that’s exactly what this episode sets up with Martin’s “manopause moments.” He’s getting severe headaches with accompanying flashes of a woman he doesn’t recognize but whom he loves, which leads him to conclude that his most recent interaction with his younger self changed the course of his history and created tension in the timeline. Looks like we’ll be seeing young Martin again soon!
- Wild West means bar fight, and this episode has a very fun one! Sara should always carry a whip, and Mick shooting down the chandelier is a nice touch to heighten the chaos.
- The Wild West arrangement of this show’s main theme makes me smile every time it plays. It’s the right kind of silly.
- Martin: “The energy of the Speed Force grants the speedster chronokinesis, temporal manipulation.” Rory: “English, professor.” Sara: “It means that his running really fast lets him time travel.” Rory: “I’ll be in my room.”
- Nate: “Are you chewing tobacco?” Ray: “Mm, Tootsie Roll.
- Jonah: “You do a mighty fine job bearing a burden few men could deal with.” Sara: “Good thing I’m a woman then.”