Legends of Tomorrow: 206 “Outlaw Country” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Legends of Tomorrow’s first season was an uneven run of television, but it still contained plenty of the potential that’s been capitalised upon this year, delivering a few genuinely great episodes that made good use of the show’s premise in amidst the Vandal Savage story. One of those high-points was a rare trip back to the past in The Magnificent Eight where the Legends travelled back to the Wild West and met up with notorious DC character Jonah Hex.
This week, Legends delivered a direct sequel to that episode with Outlaw Country, a reprise of the Wild West that brought back Hex for another ride. It lacks the novelty value of The Magnificent Eight, with most Western trope homages ticked off by that first trip, but it’s still a very good instalment that brings a sturdier narrative to the table with a fun villain and plenty of rewarding character development. In short, while it’s not a truly knockout episode in its own right, Outlaw Country leaves Legends in fine fettle as it heads into a fortnight’s break and the upcoming detour into crossover territory.
One marked improvement from season one’s Wild West episode is that Outlaw Country puts more effort into an engaging narrative for the Western stories that goes deeper than just functioning as a checklist of tropes. Jonah Hex, who functioned more as a plot device last time, gets a larger slice of screen-time this time around, allowing Legends to flesh out the famous outlaw’s personality and back-story to a greater extent. While Hex’s tragic backstory and vendetta are nothing new, they ground the exaggeratedly gruff persona in something more tangibly vulnerable and human, with Hex’s own weaknesses serving as the principle catalyst for his continuing problems. The parallel drawn between Hex and Sara as grudge-bearers who have almost been consumed by vengeance for a man who took everything from them is a strong and relevant one given last week’s advancements with Sara, and it allows for a fun dynamic that places Sara as the sage voice of advice to the archetypal gruff veteran, Hex. His arc of learning to bypass his biases against Sara’s gender and coming to define her as a capable leader in her own right is a nice continuation of season two’s exploration of outdated gender attitudes, fleshing Hex out as a man who recognisably belongs to the shortcomings of his time, but possesses the innate decency and respectfulness to move past them. Johnathan Schaech’s performance is a little more varied this time around, as he’s given more emotions to play with than just gruffness, and while his performance remains a little more stilted than the rest of the cast’s, it contributes to the more nuanced take on Hex that Outlaw Country delivers.
Outlaw Country also does quite well with Hex’s opposite number, Quentin Turnbull, who acts as the classic tyrannical outlaw who wishes to keep ‘the Wild West… wild’. Turnbull’s character is lifted by a really fun performance by guest star Jeff Fahey, who leans into the flamboyant and cocksure evil of Turnbull with admirable relish, creating a foe who may seem a little pantomime at times, but at least functions as a genuinely engaging screen presence. His characterisation is shallow and his motivations are mostly just stated briefly, but it’s good to see a villain who sticks in the memory rather than just dutifully filling the role of someone for the Legends to shoot at, with Fahey’s performance helping Turnbull to fit the outsize role of Hex’s arch-nemesis.
After a few episodes of strong character development tied together by consistent and intriguing themes, Outlaw Country feels a little messier and less coherent in its smattering of character stories, even if they’re mostly solid in their own right. The best story, and the one that links the most on a thematic level to the Hex plotline and Wild West setting, is the Amaya/Mick partnership. Amaya’s yet to really have an individual plotline that truly pushes her past her straightforward role as the team’s by-the-book professional as introduced in episode two, but she’s proving to be a really useful means to draw out the vulnerabilities of other characters by providing a blunt honesty regarding their conflicts. This time around, it’s Mick who gets paired up with her, and Amaya’s role as the outside perspective and confidante allows for a deeper exploration of a side of Mick’s character that’s usually just played for comedy, which is his violent and impulsive nature.
Mick’s been a lot of fun this year because of the way in which Legends has leaned into his brutish persona, so it’s effectively jarring to have those same character traits portrayed as dangerous and reckless, with Mick’s actions indicating a man who can barely bring himself to care about his own life. Dominic Purcell does an excellent job of indicating at a repressed well of vulnerability and depression lurking beneath the persona, striking up an engagingly off-beat rapport with Maisie Richardson-Sellers’ much more straightforward and honest Vixen. There’s an intriguing idea introduced here that Mick and Vixen are far more alike than expected, with Vixen’s control over the animalistic powers she possesses illustrating how she’s close to what Mick could be with greater self-control and engagement with his own weaknesses. It’s a surprisingly rewarding partnership that neatly mirrors that of Hex and Sara, and it illustrates Vixen’s value to the team as someone who brings out different sides of the Legends due to her lack of familiarity with the facades they’ve created.
After he retreated into a supporting role in the last couple of episodes, Outlaw Country returns to Nate’s continuing origin story as Citizen Steel as he grapples with the difficulties of his power. In places, it’s a slightly repetitive storyline, dealing with similar ideas of Nate overreaching himself and getting badly hurt to previous episodes, but it eventually lands upon an idea that clarifies a lot of previous developments with Nate. His powers offer him a chance to own the unique power that was deprived from him as a bullied child, and the opportunity to be Citizen Steel is a classic wish fulfilment fantasy for him, made abundantly clear by the childlike drawing of a costume that Ray finds. Nate’s arc is a fun, self-aware spin on a typical origin story that works specifically because it’s playing out in a show filled to the brim with superheroes that provide Nate with a tangible ideal that he can strive towards, and it reaches a satisfying end-point here with the money shot of Nate stopping an oncoming train, Spider-Man 2 style. It’s exactly the kind of ambitiously silly visual that this show does well, and it’s a rewarding moment of unique heroism for Nate that’s marked out as a clear turning point for the character; one where he’s earned the right to be named a true superhero. Fittingly, then, we end on the reveal of his Citizen Steel duds as a confirmation that Nate’s worked himself up to the level of selflessness and power as the other members. It’s a really neat costume design, and one that should look great in action when it’s given its test drive in the crossover.
One plotline that sits awkwardly with the others, clearly thrown in because it needed to be worked through before the crossover, is Stein’s as he experiences mysterious headaches and flashes of an unknown woman. It starts off as an intriguing mystery, but Outlaw Country tips its hand far too early by stacking up so many hints that only one answer is clear: that the woman is Stein’s daughter, created because of his imploring of young Stein last week to prioritise Clarissa over his work. That’s a really intriguing idea that lends itself to relevant themes of the consequences of meddling with time and offers Stein a rare individual storyline that only affects his inner life, but that’s for the future. All we get here is the mystery that isn’t even solved, and it’s such a predictable one that the scenes just feel like a means to dutifully string it out, mechanically setting up a reveal at the worst time possible in the crossover.
Outlaw Country ends on a stirring note as Sara reveals that the Legends have been called to action to help their friends in 2016, teeing up their involvement in the three-part Invasion! crossover in exciting style. Given how the Legends have been mostly sequestered in their own world since the start of the show, it’s going to be a lot of fun to have them brought into the wider world of this DC universe, meshing with the full line-up of the present day heroes in their fight against the Dominators. See you in two weeks…
Outlaw Country is a fun, if slightly disparate standalone instalment that makes good use of its Wild West storyline with a stronger guest appearance from Jonah Hex, while packing in a couple of rewarding character arcs that delve deep into the Legends’ vulnerabilities. It suffers from a lack of focus, with plotlines like Stein’s sitting uneasily with the others, but it still keeps up this show’s fine form, parking the main storylines effectively for the time being.