This week’s episode of LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, “Abominations” featured two of America’s favorite things: zombies and racism.
I knew it would come. I knew that the Legends would eventually end up in the Civil War era, but I’d hoped that they wouldn’t present a tired, stereotypical, and boring interpretation of the story. Man, I’d hoped. But I was dumb to think that, ya’ll, especially after last week where it became clear that the writers of Legends are less concerned with research and discovering new angles to tell stories, and more concerned with using the most “interesting” parts of history to give the Legends something to do.
I guess I should just be grateful they finally gave Jax the chance to get off the ship. I only wish his involvement in the story wasn’t due to the fact that they needed a black person to help blend in with the slaves. But okay (*whispers to self: at least he got screen time, at least he got screen time).
This week, the Legends respond to a beacon sent out by a time pirate, who crash-landed in 1863 Mississippi holding a special “zombie” serum. Once the Legends realize which era they’re going to, the team tries to prevent Jax from exiting the ship, afraid he won’t be safe as a black man. Jax corrects them, letting them know that regardless of the era he’s in, he’s always going to face racism. Astute observation my guy.
Once landed, the team encounters a “dispatcher”, a freeman who works as a spy for General Ulysses Grant – one of the good guys from the Union war – being chased by zombified Confederate soldiers. Sadly, the dispatcher does not make it out alive. The team obliterates the zombies, destroys the pirate’s ship so it doesn’t cause any “riffs”, and escapes back to the Wave Runner. It’s then that the team notices that since their departure, history has changed, and the Confederates have gone down in history as the winners of the Civil War. They return back to earth to fix things.
Let’s speed this up so I can get into how this episode made me side-eye so hard my eyes fell out.
The team splits up into three. Jax and Vixen infiltrate a Confederate house party to steal the plans that the dispatcher was supposed to get to General Grant; Sara and Heywood head to Grant’s camp to help him thwart off Confederate zombies; and (my favorite storyline) Dr. Palmer (stuck on the ship with no suit) and Dr. Stein are trapped on the ship with Mick, who’d been bitten by a zombie during the first mission, and must hunt him down and try to return him to normal.
After Jax gets caught and chained up in a basement with other slaves, he’s saved by Vixen. The two of them free the other chained slaves, grab the Confederate plans, and fight through Confederate zombies to escape the house. Meanwhile, Sara and Heywood use Heywood’s newly found Steel powers to lure the massive hoard of zombies away from General Grant’s camp, and quickly destroys them all. My favorite storyline ends with Stein and Heywood in their own personal horror film on the ship, before Stein gets over his fear of zombies and blasts Mick with the zombie antidote and brings him back to normal.
Like I said before, I should have realized after last week’s reductive Feudal Japan episode (that relied on cheap stereotypes and tired tropes) that an episode based in the Civil War era would not get any better. I mean, here in 2016, we’re all aware that slaves and freed men and women were an insurmountable part of the union victory. On top of that, hopefully most of us are aware that the enslaved Africans weren’t just sitting around waiting for “massa” to free them, but secretly teaching themselves to read/write a language that they were not allowed to learn, finding ways to communicate important messages with each other that had to be hidden from the slave owners, and – hell –plotting slave rebellions!
So with that in mind, WHY did the writers choose General Grant to be the “savior” of the day and WHY were the enslaved Africans portrayed as weak, unorganized? That’s not how it went down. Enslaved Africans actively worked towards things getting better — the slaves in this episode were waiting on their savior, in this case General Grant. Hell, the writers could’ve done a story on Harriet Tubman if they didn’t feel like doing much research.
To accent my point, may I direct you to a scene in this episode in which Jax, who’s gone in to infiltrate the Confederate party, gets locked in the basement for insubordination. He’s met with a group of other slaves in the basement who have also been chained up. Once down there, he tells them he plans on getting them all out, and the slaves collapse in a state of fear, stating how there’s no way out of there and that they shouldn’t move. They tell Jax that instead of worrying about fighting, they rely on hope. And then ya’ll…. they start singing. Follow the Drinking Gourd. Off-key.
First off, “Follow the Drinking Gourd” was the song EVERYBODY and they mama knows was used to pass on the escape route to slaves wishing to escape, telling them to follow the Big Dipper. With that in mind, the slaves bursting into song (complete with old, slave timbre) had absolutely no purpose, except to demonstrate that the writers were relying on stereotypical, unsearched, textbook images of enslaved Africans, and I’m not here for it. Also, if they were going to burst into song, why would they pick, “Follow the Damn Drinking Gourd”? I’m so confused, and if I had the option, I would’ve turned off the TV at that very moment. That’s foolishness.
I could actually continue and go much, much deeper. However, it’s in my best interest to chalk up this bad episode to poor/non-existent research, and lazy stereotypes. Sigh.
I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the zombies in this episode. Confederate zombies are the stuff of nightmares, and as someone who’s favorite genre is horror, I loved the dark, eerie threat of this week’s episode. What’s more, I enjoyed zombie Mick. Dr. Palmer and Stein being stuck in the dark Wave Runner with zombie Mick was reminiscent of a horror film, and it was awesome. I know the show’s aiming for a lighter feel, but I think peppering in moments like this really spice up the show, and I was completely invested.
That’s all I’ve got in compliments. Seriously, if Legends is going to do an era of the week, they have got to do research and spend more time investigating new ways and new voices to bring us these stories. They’ve proven that it can be done. Look at their first episode. Albert Einstein is tired, so they showed us that his wife – something that requires RESEARCH to know, built his success. I can’t speak to the Japan episode, but it also gave me serious un-researched, stereotyped vibes. The show needs to do better; I don’t want to watch a bunch of episodes that insult a whole people’s history. We’ll see.
Season 02, Episode 4 (S02E04)
Legends of Tomorrow airs Thursdays at 8PM on The CW
Writer based in LA. Just trying to write good stuff while deep conditioning my hair.
Keep up with all of Vanessa’s reviews here.
Vanessa Jay | Contributor