Legends of Tomorrow: Helen Hunt

"Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

Best. Title. Ever.

The above quote, BTW, is not from Legends of Tomorrow The line as spoken in the episode was, "Any girl can look glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid."

The quote at the top of the page, on the other hand, is a direct quote from the actual Hedy Lamarr. A serious and resounding assortment of props to the writers for not only getting the line into the script as a line of believable dialogue, and making it thematically relevant to the issues the episode was exploring. Typically when a writer finds a way to insert a favorite quote into a historical figure's dialogue, you can spot it a mile off. Here, however, I would never have realized it if I hadn't stumbled across a selection of quotes from Hedy Lamarr while researching her.

I should be candid about something at this point. While I would love to claim that I regularly do a rigorous course of background research before writing these reviews, modesty forbids such a claim. The truth is that I am far, far too lazy for that level of prep work. I feel better having gotten that out in the open. This week however, after watching this episode a few times, I realized that I had actually become genuinely interested in Hedy Lamarr, and was curious to learn more about her. (I highly recommend this, BTW. This episode wasn't wrong, she's absolutely fascinating. Tip of the iceberg: Martin was not wrong in his estimation of how much of modern technology owes to her work.) It's not strictly necessary for good television to inspire you to go out after you watch it and learn more about a particular subject, but it really is a nice plus when it happens.

The reason the quote works thematically is that this episode is very much concerned with discussing woman and empowerment v. objectification. Helen's one notable characteristic, as far as any of the men we see this week, is that she's super, super, super hot. That alone is enough to cause armies to go to war over her, for movie studios to open fire on one another to possess her, and for Mick to openly stare at her behind, because Mick.

But what do we actually learn about Helen as a person other than that everyone with a Y chromosome apparently wants to have sex with her? Well, when we're actually paying attention to who she is rather than what she looks like (e.g. when she's in scenes with Sara, Amaya, and Zari, and not the guys) we're shown rather clearly that she's actually admirably clever, adapts quickly to new information and surroundings, and is quick to understand the implications of the things that happen around her. One imagines that this would be a survival skill you'd develop if literally every man you encountered went nuts and started a fistfight over you; you'd need to be constantly aware of your surroundings if for no other reason than knowing when to duck.

So, finding herself a little over three thousand years into the future in a totally alien society, just being able to identify that it is a different society with its own rules and mores is astonishing. But Helen has already proceeded on from that to reason that it's a society where she's better off than she was in Troy, and begun to acclimate enough to competently discuss the necessity of having an agent. This is not, by any stretch, a stupid woman.

Which makes it a bit of a shame that the episode seems to be implying that Hedy Lamarr, as a woman of science and invention, was the more intellectually admirable. Yes, Hedy Lamarr was unquestionably brilliant, but the Helen we see portrayed here is equally so. The fact that her mental skills were applied to survival rather than signal switching electronics doesn't make her intelligence less worthy of respect than Hedy's. It's a disturbing undercurrent of academic elitism that I personally find a little distasteful. It's worth noting here because in an episode about the objectification of women, we are in a small way being encouraged to look down on her as well for not being 'as smart as Hedy.' I recognize that it might just be a personal sore point for me, but it undercuts the rest of the episodes' efforts to show us the harm that that sort of objectification causes, and it doesn't feel like it was included intentionally.

But the main problem the episode has with its theme is that it's saying one thing and doing another. Specifically, we have several admirable lines (mostly from Zari and Amaya) about how Helen isn't to blame for the things men do in her name. But at the same time, Helen's effect on the men around her isn't presented as her simply being very, very attractive – it's presented as either magic or a meta-human ability. It's an important distinction, because if it is either of those, then the things men do while affected by it are Helen's fault, and we're back to blaming the woman for the things done in her name in exactly the same way the episode's dialogue keeps telling us not to.

When I say that Helen's effect on men is presented as magic, I mean specifically two things:

1. Helen's beauty seems to affect all men. Now, I might just be hyper aware of this because of my own romantic inclinations, but there's approximately 10% of men that really shouldn't care less about the hot chick in the Grecian dress. In that we're in Hollywood, that might shoot up as high as 60-70%. And it's not as if the show has forgotten that gays exist: Hedy mistakenly thinks that Martin-in-Jax is gay so we know we're not in some fictional heterosexuals-only Hollywood.

2. You know who isn't affected by Helen's beauty? Sara. Sara Lance. The show rarely passes up a chance to refer to Sara's sexuality, so having her not affected by Helen seems either like a serious omission or a strong clue that it ain't just a pretty face affecting the men around her.

Irritatingly, I suspect that this all could have been avoided if it wasn't for someone wanting to include a huge number of pratfalls and sight gags of the men in Helen's presence. Or they were just trying to make the case that all men are fundamentally stupid, which... okay, fair enough.

Meanwhile, in the B-plot, Martin and Jax switch bodies for a bit, which was a lot of fun. I went into the episode fully prepared to rave about how good Victor Garber was in impersonating Franz Drameh. And yes, he absolutely was. Particularly in the moments where you could see him relishing the bawdy dialog. Nasty in the past-y, indeed. What I was not in any prepared for was how amazing Franz Drameh's Victor Garber impersonation was. He absolutely nailed it – particularly the very specific way Victor Garber has of breathing in rhythm with his sentence pauses. Seriously, go back and watch it again; his detail work was absolutely on point.

This confirms my long held suspicion that the problem with Jax on this show is that they simply do not give him enough to do. Sadly, I think that that is about to change in a couple of episodes, but... no, I'm still not ready to think about it.

What I will say here is that this subplot was clearly – like the mustachioed great grandfather the week before – a chance to give Victor Garber every fun and different thing they can think of for him to do at the moment. I can't imagine how much fun he had getting to be the face of Firestorm this time around. Also, his speech early on about closing one chapter of his life absolutely did not make me tear up because I'm super manly and would never get choked up about that kind of thing and shut up, you're crying.

My favorite part about the B-plot was the was the entire team just rolled with it with absolutely no problem. Zari's entire response to the situation? 'Cool.'

Connecting these plots we had the reappearance of Damien Darhk and his daughter, who we're now calling Nora instead of Lady Eleanor, which is good because it's significantly less typing so I'm on board with it. We don't get any real idea of what Darhk is doing here or why he wants the anachronisms to remain, but in contrast to some of my complaints earlier in the season it seems pretty clear that we're not supposed to know yet. What I can say at this point is that I'm really enjoying 'Damien Darhk and his Army of Ladies' as a supervillain crew. I think Neal McDonough was genuinely laughing so hard he needed a moment to continue the scene during his confrontation with Martin-in-Jax.

What did we learn today?

Apparently causality is a thing that happens again now. The elimination of Hedy Lamarr's career and through that her invention has the knock on effect that most of the Waverider's equipment no longer exists.

This is fine, but doesn't really square with what we've seen the rest of this season, wherein Caesar can head off to Aruba and dinosaurs can roam L.A. with absolutely no knock on effects to anything else on the timeline. Admittedly there was no discussion about history solidifying into its new pattern the way we used to do. It didn't ruin the episode for me, but it did make me go, 'Huh. Cause and effect is making a guest appearance again.'

Apparently Helen disappeared halfway through the Trojan War and relocated to a major film franchise. It's admittedly been a good thirty some years since I've read The Iliad, but I don't remember if that's a real thing or not. Either way, the show is right: her disappearance after the war was started would have had absolutely no influence on anything. And that's if you assume she existed in the first place. Regardless, this raises one significant point – namely, does the greater good of history justify knowingly torturing one individual? Zari neatly finds a way to avoid the dilemma, but that's a question that whole schools of philosophy have wrestled with for a very long time.

Everybody remember where we parked:

This week the Waverider took us to Hollywood, 1937 AD and Themyscira, 1253 BC.

And let's appreciate how well they handled that reveal: first the familiar coastline, then a description of a 'different place' filled with warrior women, then the name card reveal. Just immaculately handled.

Quotes:

Martin: "A little too much 'should' and 'hoping' for my comfort, but then what is science if not the exploration of the unknown."
Jax: "Ray. I'm telling you right now – If you kill me I'm going to haunt you forever."

Martin-in-Jax and Jax-in-Martin: "You're me, and... I'm you?"
Ray: "Oh, pancakes."

Zari: "Can we please go back in time and murder whoever invented stockings?"

Jax: "Hedy Lamarr. The most beautiful woman in the world. Not only is she a talented actress, but... she is a genius. Brilliant and beautiful."
Mick: "I'd do her."
Oh, Mick... Never change.

Sara: "We didn't have time to get into his evil agenda."

Sara: "I need you and the Professor to figure out why our coms aren't working."
Jax-in-Martin: "You mean me and the Professor."
Sara: "Whatever."

Guard: "Oh, you mean his prize whores!"
Zari: "Did he just call us..."
Amaya: "Yeah."
As God as my witness, I have no idea how they got away with this joke.

Bits and Pieces:

-- I absolutely loved the olde-timey title cards.

-- We got not one but two jokes identifying this as Tuesday. Can we all agree to retire that joke now?

-- The studio executive with the gun was standing beside a sign that said, 'shooting in progress.' That made me laugh, and then it made me feel bad about laughing at it given the current climate in the U.S. vis-à-vis guns. Cultural context can be a real mother sometimes.

-- I wish they hadn't felt it necessary for Nate to spell out the metaphor of Helen leaving one man to run off with another.

-- For some reason I've never noticed Franz' tattoo before. I like it.

-- Was Cecil B. DeMille hitting on Ray?

-- Sara's hair looked absolutely gorgeous in this one. I'm going to have to accept that I've developed a massive girl-crush on Caity Lotz.


-- We got the whole Kuasa as Amaya's granddaughter thing cleared up.  I still have no idea if we were supposed to know that in advance or not though.

-- Yes, I laughed at the 'I don't enjoy being in you anymore than you enjoy being in me' joke. A lot.

-- We now have a hero that controls fire, another that controls air, and a villain that controls water. My sense of symmetry demands we have an earth-controller show up soon.

Another strong episode, albeit one that doesn't seem to believe its own argument. I am absolutely loving everything about this season.

Three out of four prize horses.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

3 comments:

Shari Houtman said...

I'm glad to see I'm not alone in thinking they've never really known what to do with Jax.

I too, found myself Googling Hedy Lamarr after watching this episode. She was amazing. But now I feel very lazy.

Great Review!

Anonymous said...

Far superior to Flash's attempt a few weeks ago.
I don't think the show was trying to imply that Hedy Lamarr was a 'better' woman than Helen..I just think it showed two vastly different women displaying strength in different ways..It reminded me of the conversation Brienne had with Catelyn in Game of Thrones.

''Irritatingly, I suspect that this all could have been avoided if it wasn't for someone wanting to include a huge number of pratfalls and sight gags of the men in Helen's presence''.

Pretty much..Its been that way the whole season and its been extra exaggerated...I mean they have doubled down on making Ray and Nate the idiot fratboys this season and Sara (who has been my fav since Arrow s2) can do no wrong.

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

Yeah, Helen did seem to have meta powers that effected only men. I agree that Sara's lack of a reaction stood out, but her flirting with Helen would have destroyed the trust she was trying to build. So it seemed more the "Sara can do no wrong" angle, if it wasn't implying Helen had special powers.

But the whole affecting only men brought to mind (switching from DC to Marvel here) the villain Lorelei in Agents of SHIELD, the first season episode with Lady Sif. I went back and read the review and comments - wow, so long ago and so much has changed! Yet, that episode aired right after the last Thor movie, which we just got the sequel to. If you watch the show, go back and read the "Yes Men" review comments - hilarious!

I agree Anonymous - I didn't feel like comments about Hedy or the episode itself was putting down Helen.

The dinosaurs were fixed quickly by the Time Bureau, so we didn't have a chance to see the causality. Caesar's absence for that brief period was a part of history already. Helen's appearance pushed Hedy's life in a completely different trajectory, so this is the same cause and effect we got with Ray's death as a boy. I'm guessing they didn't use the solidifying explanation because we'd assume that - obviously the Waverider needs to work again!