Near the halfway point of “The Magnificent Eight,” Sara Lance and Kendra Saunders pause to take in their surroundings as they ride horses in an open field while searching for a mysterious woman in the Old West. Befitting her loner instincts, Sara takes solace in the beauty and simplicity of a time of open fields, open air and untold adventures waiting to be had over the next hill. She might as well be speaking for the writers of the show, though, because “Magnificent Eight” is but the latest example in the ever-mounting case that Legends of Tomorrow is infinitely more entertaining when it simply drops all of that nonsense with the gigantic buzzkill that is Vandal Savage. When everyone involved is freed up to just play this as a barely semi-serious time travel show the end result is still the emptiest of empty calories among TV’s current superhero shows but it goes down so much easier this way.
“Magnificient Eight” is their western episode, and everyone appears to be having the time of their lives. The team lands in an 1871 town called Salvation to evade the bounty hunters sent after them by the Time Masters. Of course, they end up being sucked into the good vs. bad saga playing out in Salvation. Duh. How could our so-called legends possibly resist the temptation of getting involved when the nearby town happens to be named after what they’re all ultimately looking for: salvation. I see what you did there, LoT writers.
It’s all an excuse to see everyone decked out in Old West gear. My personal favorite was the Calamity Jane outfit they threw on Sara. In town, our heroes gambling, engage in drinking contests and incite a bar brawl, which seems to follow Sara and Mick around wherever they go. Ray accidentally becomes sheriff, and stands up to a no good gang. Martin acts as doctor to a dying child who turns out to be H.G. Wells, in a kiss with history straight out of Quantum Leap. There’s a climactic dual and shootout, and Jonah Hex (Johnathan Schaech) is around doing his best low, scary voice.
There’s also no real effort to use the realities of the time period to make any kind of commentary on racism or sexism. Hey, they already did that in their 50s episode. This is their western episode. Come on. Keep up.
Actually, that sells “Magnificent Eight” short. This was also their “time ethics” episode since through Jonah Hex we discover that Rip spent a lot of time in the Old West of the 1860s but ultimately left and changed nothing despite knowing the town he temporarily called home was destined to be destroyed. Now Salvation faces a similar fate, and Rip again has to deal with the ethical ramifications of doing nothing except this time
Dudley Do Right Ray Palmer is around to speechify about heroism. Furthermore, the episode doubles down on this theme by layering Martin’s kiss with history into the debate. Is it somehow more okay for Ray to intervene if he only uses period-specific methods and technology than it is for Martin to cure a young boy using medicine, which though immensely simplified, still won’t be around for another 70 years? Moreover, there is an interesting intimation that Ray is compelled to help through altruism and a nostalgic love for the Old West while Martin is attempting to excise some demons from his rough childhood.
Yes, yes, and yes to all of that. Keep doing more of this, Legends of Tomorrow. In fact, why did you go to such extremes to change your setting and costumes to the Old West for one week and then skip straight out of town? Why not make this a two-parter? Or are we saving for that for the inevitable moment when Jonah Hex joins the cast next season? I’ll give you a pass, especially since next week’s episode about a bounty hunter hunting the team’s younger selves is instantly more interesting than Vandal … heck, I don’t even know what to type his last name anymore..
On the other side of the episode, though, um, please stop already with Kendra’s fate vs. free will conundrum. Haven’t you effectively covered this with her already? “Magnificent Eight” at least included a conceptually clever twist with her running into a past version of her self who lost Carter and grew much older without ever finding another soulmate, experiencing repeated heartbreak everytime she tried. Unfortunately, there is so little commonality of appearance and behavior between Kendra and the actress they cast to play her past self that it’s difficult to buy them as playing the same character, albeit ones with difference life experiences. We need more of the Kendra who stood up to Vandal in the 50s and kicked his ass, and fought Sara to save her soul from the League of Assassins, less of her consistent romantic turmoil and weird, messy time travel version of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Legends of Tomorrow turned a western episode into one of the best uses of their built-in premise, and introduced a new villain who at least in theory already appears more interesting than Vandal. Plus, Jonah Hex grows on you after a while, and Mick’s recent Mopey McMoperson act was perfectly undercut with a drinking game with Sara.
1. Nipticks: The world wouldn’t be changed by that orgy of future tech witnessed by the entire town of Salvation?
2. Rip Hunter – World’s Worst Captain?: He’s this show’s Oliver Queen, at least with the amount of helpful information about his past he consistently declines to share with the team until forced to do so.
3. Arthur Darville – World’s Worst At Playing Anguished Captain?: Well, I don’t actually mean that. I’m just re-using the “world’s worst” phrase for symmetry purposes. However, I am consistently amused by find Darville’s melodramatic acting, constant hunched over stance and delivery of every other line as if he believes the show has just reached a cliffhanger/commercial break/excuse for a flashback.
4. We Didn’t Know That About You, Did We?: Martin’s dad was a gambler and criminal. Huh. That’s new information, right?