Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Legends of Tomorrow: Season 3, Episode 2 - Freakshow

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.




Plot

Traveling to the year 1870 in search of an anachronism, The Legends discover that the infamous P.T. Barnum has acquired a genuine saber-toothed tiger for his traveling circus.  Their accidentally releasing and enlarging the tiger in their efforts to return it to its own time turns out to be the least of their problems, after Barnum decides that some of The Legends would be fantastic additions to his freak-show.


Influences

John Ostrander's Suicide Squad (idea of Vixen losing control of her emotions when using her powers) and countless other science-fiction stories in which super-powered beings are forced into performing in a carnival.


Goofs

Gideon notes early on that P.T. Barnum's reputation as an unethical huckster is greatly exaggerated in modern times. Yet the entire plot of this episode is dependent on the idea that P.T. Barnum would hold people against their will and force them to perform in his freakshows at gun point.


Artistry

Good fight choreography on the Sara vs. Sharpe fight.


Trivia Of Tomorrow

When considering which anachronism to tackle first, the team ponders traveling to the sinking of The Titanic. Professor Stein is oddly adamant about not setting foot on the infamously doomed ship, saying that "whoever built that ship ought to be shot." This is a riff on the fact that Stein's actor - Victor Garber - played Thomas Andrews Jr, The Chief Architect of The Titanic, in the 1997 film Titanic.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1890) was an American entrepreneur and politician, who achieved fame and fortune through his management of various traveling carnivals and museums. Though primarily remembered today for his "freak shows", P.T. Barnum was a reputable manager who represented Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind as well as the midget General Tom Thumb. Indeed, he is fondly remembered in his home town of Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he served one term as mayor and two terms as a representative in the state legislature.

Barnum's crowning achievement came in 1871 when he established P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus. Or, as it was more commonly promoted, The Greatest Show on Earth. He would join forces with fellow circus owners James Bailey and James Hutchinson in 1881, forming the show that would eventually be rebranded Barum and Bailey's Greatest Show On Earth in 1887. This circus, in turn, was bought by The Ringling Brothers in 1907, who combined it with their own circus in 1919, forming a traveling circus that would last until May 21, 2017.

As Gideon notes, Barnum is often erroneously credited with the quote, "There's a sucker born every minute," and he would never have said anything to insult his patrons. This is born out by the historical record, where despite his reputation as a shameless self-promoter, Barnum was by most accounts a kindly man who preached honest business practices and practiced what he preached. One example of this comes from a less well-known Barnum quote - "Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business."

P.T. Barnum is played by actor Billy Zane. Perhaps most famous for playing the role of Cal Hockley in the 1997 film Titanic, Zane is no stranger to comic book adaptations. He famously played The Phantom in the 1996 film adaptation of the classic pulp comic and provide the voices for both Jason Blood and The Demon Etrigan in Batman: The Animated Series.

At one point, a group of acrobats can be seen in the background, practicing in red leotards with green leggings which resemble the costume of Batman's sidekick, Robin. This could be a nod to The Flying Graysons - a family of circus acrobats whose ranks included Dick Grayson - the first Robin.

The strongman in P.T. Barnum's show wears a costume that seems to have been inspired by the DC Comics hero B'wana Beast.

One of the odder creations to come out of DC Comics' Silver Age (and that is saying something!), B'wana Beast first appeared in Showcase #66 (January 1967) and was created by Bob Haney and Mike Sekowsky. Abandoning the life of the idle rich promised by his millionaire father, Michael Payson Maxwell traveled to Africa to become a park ranger on one of the animal preserves there. After his plane crashed, Mike took refuge in a cave where he became stronger by drinking the rainwater he found there. He fought a giant red ape, subdued it and the ape gave Mike a helmet which gave him the power to talk to and control animals. The ape explained that Mike had been chosen to be the champion and protector of all Africa. The helmet also gave Mike the power to merge two animals together, creating chimera - hybrid creatures with the traits of both animals.

Writer Grant Morrison would revamp the concept of B'wana Beast in his Animal Man series, noting the many, many problems with a white outsider being declared the savior of Africa and using a word which means "Master" in Swahili as part of his superhero code name. Mike would later pass his helmet on to a South African activist named Dominic Mndawe, who took up the name Freedom Beast.

Morrison also established Mike Maxwell as being employed by a nature preserve in Zambesi - the home nation of the heroine Vixen.

Mick uses the word "embiggen" to describe what Ray did to the saber-tooth tiger. Embiggen is a made-up word, first used on the Lisa The Iconoclast episode of The Simpsons. It has since then invaded the common parlance of Internet smart-asses, where it is used to describe the process of making something bigger. While not in Webster's Dictionary, many find embiggen to be a perfectly cromulent word.

P.T. Barnum refers to Nate as "The Man of Steel" and then says that phrase is very catchy.  The Man of Steel is, of course, a common nickname for Superman.

Sara identifies herself as a dog person, saying that she likes her pets dumb and loyal. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sara's actress, Caity Lotz, owns a French bulldog named Beezlee, whom frequently appears in her social media.

The idea of the wielder of The Tantu Totem lose control of their emotions while using their powers first appeared in John Ostrander's Suicide Squad. There, the Mari McCabe version of Vixen lost her temper while fighting a drug kingpin called Cujo and killed him.

Kuasa - the woman resurrected in the final scene - is a character unique to The DCTVU, who first appeared in the Vixen animated series. The older sister of Mari McCabe and granddaughter of Amaya Jibe, her battle with her sister for control of The Anansi Totem lay up the heart of the first season of the Vixen animated series. In the second season, the sisters were forced to team up when Mari returned to the land of her birth to fight Eshu - the warlord who had destroyed her home village - who was now armed with a magical Fire totem. Kuasa attempted to turn on her sister using the Water totem they had retrieved together, only to be killed by Eshu in the battle which followed. The Water totem gave Kuasa the power to transform her body into pure water and control water around her - a power she retains following her resurrection.


Technobabble

Ray reverse-engineers the Time Bureau technology that Mick stole from Rip in the previous episode. This gives The Legends the ability to detect and track anachronisms.

The hyper-molecular compressor is a more powerful and portable version of the technology that allows The ATOM suit to shrink. Essentially, it's a shrink ray.

Ray recognizes the odd feces at the carnival as being that of a feline but not a species he ever encountered before. The color and viscosity indicate a carnivorous diet but the meat was tough - perhaps elephant or rhino hide - and took a long time to pass.

The Time Bureau rate anachronisms on a 1-10 scale of severity. The saber-tooth tiger in P.T. Barnum's circus, while contained, is a Level 1. Enlarged by Ray and set loose, the severity is elevated to Level 4. When Jax and Ray are captured and forced into Barnum's freakshow, the severity increases to Level 6. It goes up to Level 8 when Amaya and Nate are captured.

Title 16, Section 3035 of The Global Treaty on Time Travel gives The Time Bureau the authority to arrest rogue time travelers who endanger the timeline. The Treaty was negotiated between The United Nations and Rip Hunter.


Dialogue Triumphs

Jax: You built a shrink ray!
Ray: I'm not particularly fond of that name. (dramatically) I'm calling it the hyper-molecular compressor! It's a more powerful and portable version of the tech from my suit.
Nate: So, a shrink ray?
Ray: Essentially.

Mick: If I see a clown, I'm out of here.
Jax: What? You afraid of clowns?
Mick: (hesitantly) No... I... just don't like their stupid faces... and funny shoes and... razor sharp teeth.

P.T. Barnum: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome, one and all, to The Best Show on Earth!
(The crowd cheers)
P.T. Barnum:
That's a working title!

(Nate tries and fails to use his powers.)
Nate: I must be dehydrated, man. This never happened to me before, I swear!
Amaya: Where have I heard that one before?
Nate: Not from me!

(Amaya explains that she left Nate to save her granddaughter's life.)
Nate: Why didn't you say anything? I hated you for what you did.
Amaya: I needed you to hate me so that you would move on. If you knew how much it hurt me...
Nate: ... I would have found you.
Amaya: I wanted to protect my granddaughter. And I wanted to protect you.
Nate: Well, no offense, Amaya, but considering we're both stuck in a rhino cage, I'd say your plan backfired.

Sara: Get Rory. You two have to save the others.
Stein: Wait - the two of us? Are you mad?!
Sara: You can do this. I have faith in you.
Stein: Why?!

P.T. Barnum: We had it all! We had action! We had romance! We had flaming things in the sky! You wait until next week's show!


Continuity

Nate and Amaya were living together in Central City 2017.

Nate's favorite food as a child was chocolate-covered donuts.

Amaya still cooks from scratch. Of all the modern conveniences she adapted to, cooking from a mix is not among them.

Amaya left Nate on his birthday, after seeing a news broadcast regarding her granddaughter, the current Vixen, who was caught on video fighting crime in Detroit.

Ray perfects the new version of his shrinking technology that he was working on while at Upswipes.

Mick Rory has a violent hatred (not fear, mind you!) of clowns.

As an Eagle Scout, Ray can interpret over 175 kinds of feces.

Ray is allergic to cats.

Sara retrieves Amaya from 1942, since nobody on the current team has experience handling animals.

Nate is shown to have an account on Upswipes.

Sara recognizes the Time Bureau agent spying on The Legends as Gary - a.k.a. the agent she slept with and stole the badge of in Starling City. His agent number is 1066.

Since The Legends involvement, the anachronism around Barnum's carnival in 1870 has grown from a Level 1 to a Level 6.  After Amaya and Nate are captured, it rises to a Level 8.

Nate cannot use his powers to transform into living steel when he is dehydrated.

Amaya didn't return to Zambesi in 1942 right away. She went to Detroit in 2017 first to watch Mari, her granddaughter, in action.

Amaya confirms that her decision to leave Nate had nothing to do with him and everything to do with making sure that her amazing granddaughter, who was saving so many people, came into being.

Rip Hunter confirmed that time had not yet solidified and that Mari would disappear if Amaya stayed in 2017 for too long.

Ava Sharpe refers to Confederate zombies (204), Quentin Turnbull's cronies (206) and speedsters (Eobard Thawne throughout Season Two) as previous menaces The Legends fought.

Ava Sharpe has been with The Time Bureau for five years and extensively studied The Legends' previous adventures.

Sharpe is able to hold her own against Sara in a fight and freely admits that Rip should have recruited her for The Time Bureau.

Sara is a dog person and thinks cats are jerks.

Sharpe lets it slip that Rip is letting The Legends run loose because he thinks they're needed to fight somebody but doesn't say who. (This is a reference to Mallus, first mentioned in 301.)

Stein knows how to make balloon animals and is a surprisingly talented clown and mime.

The director of The Time Bureau is named Bennett. Gideon is able to send reports directly to them.

Sara keeps a framed picture of herself with Laurel and Oliver in her office on The Waverider.

Amaya started having trouble controlling her temper when using her powers one month earlier, and refers to the final scene of 301, where we see her kill a team of Belgian soldiers.

Ray has a problem with returning library books on time.

Sara tells the rest of the team what she figured out about Rip hiding the existence of some great evil that is coming from them.

The final scene shows the resurrection of Kuasa - Mari McCabe's older sister and one of the villains of the Vixen animated series - by a black-robed woman, who identifies herself only as a follower of Mallus.


Locations

Central City - early 2017 (flashback to Amaya and Nate's apartment)
Wisconsin - 1870
Zambesi, M'Changa Province - 1942


Untelevised Adventures

Amaya spied on Mari in Detroit in 2017.


The Fridge Factor

Averted hard, as Sara and Amaya seem to be the only competent members of the team in this episode.


The Crisis Factor

It beggars belief that Nate, Ray and Jax would be stupid enough to use a modern smart phone in an 1870s bar, much less agree to show P.T. Barnum their powers in action.

Stein's plan to disguise himself as a clown (somehow knocking one out and stealing his clothes in the process) in order to enrage Mick into creating a distraction so he can get close to Jax may be the most insane plan in the show's history.


The Bottom Line

As P.T. Barnum says, this show had everything "action... romance... and flaming things in the sky." What it doesn't have, however, is an ounce of coherence, with Gideon noting that Barnum was not the unethical huckster legend suggests only for the episode to portray him as exactly that. The only thing that holds the episode together is the charisma of the cast and even that is sorely tested when everyone is written to be far stupider than they should be. Here's hoping next week's show is better.

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