Legends of Tomorrow: Welcome to the Jungle

“Haven't you heard? There are no good guys here.”

Well... that certainly got dark quickly.

Legends takes a moment to explore the ways in which we become morally or ethically compromised, and the ways in which no situation really lends itself toward one side being 'right.'

So, yes. We're going to Vietnam.

It was actually a bit of a relief to see how dark and – to use the show's own description – controversial and murky this episode was willing to get. Legends has been on a bit of a run lately with wacky romps, and the Vietnam War is a hard place in which to be wacky. It's debatable whether or not it's even appropriate to try.

So, we have two main plot threads here that dance around each other:

A: Gorilla Grodd has ended up in Vietnam at the height of the war and wants to change the course of history to start a nuclear war in order to wipe out humanity and live in peace. Although the wisdom of this is debatable, since last time I checked gorillas are not immune to nuclear radiation, but maybe his advanced psychic powers can protect him or something. Who can say. Our heroes have to find a way of preventing Grodd from doing this and returning him to captivity.

B: Mick encounters his father and has to come to terms with the man that clearly abused him as a child to the point that Mick murdered him for it.

I say that these two plots dance around each other because they both pivot on the exact same question. Namely, is Grodd/Dick Rory a monster or is he a victim?

The answer in both cases turns out to be 'yes', because even in this day and age we're still somehow surprised that the two aren't mutually exclusive, but that's kind of the point the episode is making. We want to comfortably see them as either one or the other based on our past experiences and preconceived notions. Accepting that someone is both monster and victim means that you have to reconcile sympathy for what they've suffered with horror at the things that that suffering has led them to do. Just to add to the dichotomy, In Mick's case it means having to reconcile his newfound empathy for what Dick suffered with rage at the things that suffering led him to do. Plus a healthy dollop of guilt for having murdered him for it. That's a lot to process for anyone. No wonder he took refuge in self harm.

In many ways the backdrop of the Vietnam War played off of our heroes in an interesting fashion, thanks to where each of them came from.

-- Amaya, coming from the height of WWII, immediately understands the war in terms of American soldiers good, enemy soldiers bad. To be fair, that's a lot easier to believe when you know as little about the Vietnam War as Amaya would at this point. Indeed, learning more about what actually happens on a day to day basis in war, thanks to the advent of television and its news cycle, was a big factor in why the American public responded to Vietnam the way it did. Not the only factor, certainly, but it's undeniably true that it's much easier to view a remote conflict in terms of black/white, good/evil if you're a very long way away and don't have to see footage of the atrocities. Particularly because without that footage you can comfortably pretend that the atrocities were only committed by the other side.



-- Zari comes from 2042, we should recall. Not only that, but from a fascist dystopia in 2042. She's as far removed as it's possible to be from Amaya's viewpoint of unconditional patriotism in war. For Zari, any government should be distrusted and individual 'goodness' is the only kind really relevant to evaluation. Also, and this is important enough to come back to in a moment, from 2042 the Vietnam War is capital H History. It's much, much easier to take the academic view on a war that ended 30-40 years before you were born.

-- Nate appears to take a point of view of someone from the first generation of people to whom Vietnam was an entirely historical event. To him, the war is Apocalypse Now, not a living, breathing conflict in which people you knew did horrible things. It's telling that in his mind the plot of Apocalypse Now doesn't seem any more significant than how great the soundtrack is. Until he actually has to live portions of it, that is.

-- Ray doesn't seem to have strong feelings on the issue at all, beyond a general level of sympathy toward everyone caught up in the situation and a certain level of awkwardness about the moral complications of the whole thing. Indeed, he's far more focused on trying to help Amaya with her inter-familial issues, which really is just Ray in a nutshell.

-- And then there's Mick. Before any of the revelations about Mick's father being there I thought I understood his perspective. Mick and I are roughly the same age; Assuming Mick to be the same age as Dominic Purcell. Dominic Purcell was born in February of 1970, which makes him just a hair older than I am, but it's close enough for government work. That means that he was in no danger of being sent to Vietnam himself, but was probably aware of older boys in the neighborhood who had been, and he certainly knew his father had been there even if he'd never made the connection that it had been the war that made his father into the monster he was. From the Gen-X perspective, Vietnam was a definite childhood presence; something that was in the air but which you were powerless to do anything about. In many ways, his father would have been a physical representation of the phantom threat that the war was to so many kids at the time.

Which is exactly why Mick Rory is the crossover point between the two plots.

So, with all those perspectives established, each of those characters encounters Grodd, Dick Rory, or both, and has their particular viewpoint challenged.

-- Nate we talked about a moment ago.

-- Amaya charged in to get the mission done as quickly and cleanly as possible and was confronted by Grodd's evidence not only of what the humans had done to him to make him a monster but also a dozen or so monitors' worth of what humans on both sides of the conflict had done to one another. Tellingly, once she processed that information she was willing to take Grodd to some new, third location where he could live in peace. And how nice was it that they planted that idea in her brain earlier by revealing what Zari had done for Helen in the last episode so that Amaya could grow to understand that that was a legitimate option. That's proper character development.

-- Zari, meanwhile, is put face to face with Anh – whose belief in her new god was leading her to commit terrible acts of violence in the name of peace – and was able to work her way around to the belief that individual freedoms can be used as a conduit to create the greater societal peace that Anh was looking for.

-- And Mick learns that his father was just a man who was broken by the things that had happened to him, and who went on to do terrible things because of them. Exactly like Mick himself. It's intriguing that Mick really went off the rails when he was shown both his father's list of men he couldn't save and a picture of his mother. Was it just one or the other, or was it the combination of both that destroyed the image of the father he thought he knew? My money is on the combination of the two, swiftly followed by the discovery that his father had actually wanted children. It couldn't have been clearer that Mick had always believed that he hadn't.


Major kudos to Dominic Purcell for his portrayal in this episode. When he lets Nate get clobbered and joins with his Dad, I genuinely wasn't sure which way he was going to turn. And his reading of the line, 'Now I see... I'm worse than him' was just completely devastating. He found a way to forgive his father for the things his personal damage had made him do, but couldn't see that he himself was equally deserving of that same understanding.

Meanwhile, in what we might call the C-plot, Martin is trying to figure out how to give Jax all of Firestorm's powers with the help of Isaac Newton, Galileo, and Madame Curie. See, now this is exactly what I was talking about regarding aesthetic sense versus logical sense. Logically, not a one of those three would be any help to him regarding nuclear physics and quantum entanglement because – as they pointed out only last week – scientific discovery is cumulative and there's just way too much that the three of them couldn't hope to understand about the field to be useful. Aesthetically, however, it made total sense that Martin wanted to consult a bevy of geniuses, and I loved it. Particularly the way that Madam Curie turned out to be the monster that ate Jax' mother's pie.

So, in the end Grodd was both a victim and a monster because of the things that were done to him and the things he did as a result. Just like Dick Rory. Just like Mick.

What did we learn today?

Hold onto something, because I think we actually learned something today. And it's a biggie.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a working hypothesis about the difference between aberrations and anachronisms, and why causality has seemed so optional this year.

When the headline about Russians launching nukes to start WWIII came up, Gideon referred to the fact that they couldn't be sure about the effects because time was in flux. What struck me at that moment was that we hadn't heard about time being in flux for quite a while, although it described what happened last week with Hedy Lamarr's invention.

Normally, when you make an alteration in time, time reacts; not consciously, just as a matter of cause and effect. If I went back in time and killed Hedy Lamarr, time would go into flux and her technology and all of the tech built off of the theory would cease to exist in direct response to that change. That's where we were in seasons one and two. At the end of season two however, the Legends 'broke time.' That is to say, they picked up time like an Etch-a-Sketch and gave it a big shake so that hundreds of aberrations all leaped into existence at a moment when time was essentially 'off-line.' Time, now thoroughly scrambled, continues on, but containing all of these mutually exclusive deviations from the accepted timeline. However, time simply hasn't begun to react to them because of the nature of the moment when they were created.

Think of it like a liquid, let's say water. We can add a certain amount of a solid, let's say salt, and it will be absorbed. Up to a point. Eventually the water will become saturated and the extra solid will precipitate.

But, if you heat the liquid it's possible to get it to absorb more solid than it can technically hold. This is called super-saturation. Then, once you cool the liquid down, it retains that state of super-saturation because the very precarious balance hasn't been disturbed yet. Once you tap on the glass the extra precipitate all dumps out of suspension.

What if time was exactly like that supersaturated liquid? It's holding all the anachronisms without consequences right now because the system is still balanced, however precariously. What happens then when somebody gives the universe a sharp tap from the outside?

I recognize that I've probably put a lot more thought into this than the writing staff at this point, but dammit – as an analogy it explains all of the effects we've seen this season.

Also, apologies to any actual chemists in the audience for the brutal oversimplification above. Feel free to correct me in the comments if I got any of it wronger than usual.

Everybody remember where we parked:

This week the Waverider took us to Vietnam in December of 1967. Three klicks east of the Sanh, for the geography enthusiasts among you.

Then we and Gorilla Grodd, but not the Waverider, popped back for a quick epilogue in 2017.

Quotes:

Nate: “You're hitting the bag like it's insulting your mother.”

Nate: “Your granddaughter, I mean... I'm sure she's not really that bad.”
Amaya: “You just called her a psycho water-witch.”
Nate: “Yeah, and I instantly regretted it.”

Anh: “One nation under Grodd!”

Nate: “Okay, know what? We're changing this operation. This has become Operation Tough Love. Yeah, I'm gonna go all Doctor Phil on your ass. It's time for you to man up and sort out...”
Mick: “Daddy issues.”
Nate: “I was gonna say unresolved grief, but let's go with what you're saying.”

Amaya: “What happened to men? When did you all start talking about your feelings?”
Ray: “Uh... early nineties?”

Martin: “If I die today because of a telepathic gorilla, I'm going to be very upset.”

Bits and Pieces:

-- Amaya was also struggling with trying to see her granddaughter solely as a monster so that she could fight her. Nice echo of the theme.

-- Amaya using her gorilla avatar to talk down Grodd was a great use of her powers. It was also very Black Widow/Hulk.

-- Did Martin fly the Waverider to pick up his council of geniuses? If so why was he having troubling flying the ship to escape Grodd? If not, who did? Did the rest of the team know they were there and were just cool with it?

-- Dominic Purcell sold the hell out of the speech to his father about hearing the screams forever if he crossed the line and killed his prisoners. And then he immediately flipped back to comedy with always having wanted to punch him. That was impressive.

-- I get that they're building up the plot about Jax being prepared to fight without powers after Stein leaves, but there wasn't any real reason for the scene with LBJ in the minefield. Especially since LBJ as presented was such a complete tool. I say this after complaining that they don't give Jax enough to do for months, so apparently there's no pleasing me.

For god's sake, do you want me to have a plot or not?

-- Speaking of fighting without powers, that's two weeks in a row that they've mentioned that Sara doesn't have powers. Should we be worried about her going into the crossover?

-- Speaking of Sara, did Caity Lotz have other commitments this week, or did they only sideline her so that her coma body would be available to be possessed by Grodd?

-- Speaking of Grodd, I freaking love Gorilla Grodd. Ever since the Super Friends days. He and Solomon Grundy were my favorite. I'm a happy lad this season in genre television.

-- Apparently, Grodd has now joined Damien Darhk's band of villains.  Which means I can no longer refer to them as his Army of Ladies.  Which is too bad, because I was really hoping we were building up into his having a kind of evil Charlie's Angels.

A solid episode with a lot of things to mull over and chew on after it's over.

Three out of Four delicious pecan pies

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.

4 comments:

percysowner said...

I'm pretty sure Sara will be the character who takes part in most of the crossover next week, while the other Legends are mostly or only on LOT. I think that is why she was in a coma this week, because she was shooting the other parts of the crossover.

Mikey Heinrich said...

That makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Mick was great as usual but added character development for him made a good episode great. Hopefully they touch on his time as Chronos at some point.

Being a watcher of all 4 Dc shows its been easy to spot the logistical nightmare making the crossover must have been...Barry, Sara, Kara and Oliver especially have hardly had major plots on their own shows and they have all spent way less time suited up.

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

I assume Martin just used the shuttle to pick up his council of geniuses (great callback to the council of Wells on The Flash!), like Zari did with dropping off Helen of Troy.

I usually hate Grodd episodes, but I loved this one - maybe because he was in it less? And they didn't stretch the story into a double-parter?

One BIG hint was given about the aberrations in this episode - calling attention to the fact that the team is encountering themselves or their relatives in the area surrounding the aberration. While the show has done this before, since it's a time-travel staple and creates drama, 4 times (Amara, Ray, Martin, and now Mick) in 7 episodes so far this season is a lot. Well, actually, just in the last 5. The only one that didn't have this recently was the last episode, "Helen Hunt", which you could argue was the technological equivalent of having one of the Waverider's ancestors die. Did somehow the aberrations get tied to the Legends since they were the ones to break time?