Legends Of Tomorrow, S2E4 – Abominations

“Abominations” is a deeply uncomfortable episode of Legends of Tomorrow, and one which will probably be debated far and wide, but it does open the door for some important conversations. The crew winds up in the middle of the Civil War due to a Time Pirate crash-landing there after a heist. Unfortunately what should have been a simple extraction turns into a zombie apocalypse, due to the crash victim spreading a virus from the future among the ranks. In order to prevent the Union from losing the war, Jax volunteers himself and Amaya to infiltrate a plantation and steal plans for an ambush while Sara and Nate go warn General Ulysses S. Grant. Meanwhile, Ray and Martin have to deal with a zombie of their own: a newly infected Mick.

Jax shines, but in awful circumstances.

The lion’s share of the episode belongs to Jax, and rightfully so as he’s been sidelined all season thus far. It’s a shame that it takes an episode about slavery to bring him to the forefront, but Franz Drameh does great work with the material he’s given. Amaya also has moments to shine, but it’s really Jax who exercises his agency in this week’s Legends of Tomorrow and who grapples with what it means to be a black man traveling through a multitude of racist times, of which this one is arguably the worst. The story line was not handled as deftly as I would like, but the good intentions are clear. Aside from acknowledging that the present still has more work to do when it comes to racial (and gender) equality, the plot provides another connection to Amaya’s totem and shows her to be a figure of inspiration.

Sara Lance knows best.

Sara Lance’s exercise in leadership continues, as she’s forced to make tough calls that she’s not sure she can live with. Between having Ray stay behind now that he lacks an Atom suit and leaving Jax and Amaya to fend for themselves when she’s up against a horde of zombies, Sara spends a lot of time doubting her decisions but never wavers from her course. By the end of the hour, she’s got Union soldiers eating out of the palm of her hand and General Grant himself speaks to her as an equal. Nate acts as more like comedic relief this time around, but he makes a great scene partner for Sara and they play off each other well.

Legends of Tomorrow doesn’t deal with nuance, so the Union soldiers are portrayed as heroes with no sign of the racism that would likely have plagued many of them despite their abolitionist stance. But if forcing Jax and Amaya to endure the injustices of the time period already felt like too much, it’s probably for the best that they didn’t delve further.

Back on the Waverider, Ray feels adrift as the comms operator that none of the other Legends want to listen to. It’s not until Mick is infected with the zombie virus and brought on board that Ray starts to find his purpose again. He immediately gets to work on an antidote, cementing himself as the scientist of the team. Martin Stein is his partner in this endeavor, which is too bad because the professor is deathly afraid of zombies. This leads to plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, such as Stein’s glib “If you are dead, please stay dead.” But it also provides some touching bits, too. Once Ray’s antidote takes effect and Mick is back to normal, he presents the former Atom with Leonard Snart’s cold gun. Ray is a hero with or without traditional powers, but he may as well be of as much use as possible.

Though it’s lost in the later chaos and pain, Jax and Stein do bring up Barry Allen’s message from 2056 once again. We learn that “a war is coming,” but they still don’t want to tell the rest of the team. It sounds like a reference to the upcoming alien invasion crossover, but the episode contains no other hints of an overarching plot for the season.

Legends of Tomorrow has been very strong this season, but last night’s episode wasn’t one of its best outings. It’s refreshing to see characters have frank discussions about racism without resorting to jokes, but hopefully future episodes can have important discussions about these topics without resorting to extreme depictions of human suffering. And hopefully Jax has more major story lines that don’t just relate back to race, because he has a lot more to offer the show.