Legends of Tomorrow is a fun, corny show. Sure, it can pull off some real moments of pathos, but it’s rarely deep, opting instead to offer surface-level takes on whatever real topic it’s lightly grappling with while showcasing some nifty superheroics. Who woulda thought, then, that the CW show would pull off a surprisingly moving episode starring zombified confederate soldiers — about as schlocky a horror villain as you can get.
Nothing happened in this episode, “Abominations,” that really advanced Legends’ larger season plot — except for that bit at the end, where the Atom was offered Captain Cold’s gun to replace his suit. The bulk of the hour, though, was spent attempting to halt the outbreak of a futuristic zombie virus that crash landed in the American Civil War.
The Legends’ mission doesn’t go well at first. Rory gets infected, and Ray and Dr. Stein stay back on the ship to attempt to cure him. Dr. Stein overcomes his (totally reasonable) fear of the undead, and Ray copes with the loss of his superpowered suit. But it’s Jax’s storyline where the episode really shines. Forced to go undercover to steal Confederate plans in the place of a fallen Civil War hero, Henry Scott, Jax comes face to face with some of the darkest parts of history.
It would be very easy for Legends of Tomorrow to have hand-waved the darkest parts of American slavery — after all, this is a superheroes versus zombies time-traveling show — but Jax’s interactions with the deplorable white slaveowners and commemoration with the steadfast slaves managed to hold weight without trying to be unnaturally serious. It was a difficult balance to strike, but the scenes where Dr. Stein comments on Jax’s character and the singing of a traditional spirituals gave the episode real weight.
So often when Legends drops into a time period, it’s nothing more than an excuse for a nice change of clothes and scenery. Their visit to the deadliest war in American history actually feels substantive, rather than set dressing.
Well, they’re going to the ‘80s next week, so it probably won’t be nearly as heavy.