Early in tonight’s episode of DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, P.T. Barnum (Billy Zane, playing a villain who would absolutely be twirling his mustache if he had one) talks about how the human spirit longs for entertainment. It longs for edification and delight, two elements at the core of superhero stories. It feels like Barnum is a mouthpiece for the writers of this series in this moment, explaining why this show opts to be as fun as possible rather than striving for more complex storytelling. There are some serious plot points in this episode, most of them concerning the return of Amaya, but in general, it’s another goofy romp that once again showcases how the Legends tend to make things much worse before they get better.
“Freakshow” sends the team to Wisconsin in 1870, where P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus currently has a sabre-toothed tiger performing for crowds. Sara wants to start with an easy mission to prove their competence to the Time Bureau, and when the Legends arrive at the circus, the threat level of the anachronism is at the lowest point. Over the course of the episode, the threat goes from level one to level nine as Barnum abducts the various members of the team to make them a part of his show, bringing the wrath of Agent Sharpe down on Sara. Everything turns out O.K. in the end, but the team has a very big problem making stupid mistakes that put the entire timeline in jeopardy.
Ray and Nate have the biggest errors this week, with Ray’s allergies causing him to use his new shrink ray to increase the sabre-toothed tiger’s size instead of miniaturize it. It’s a dumb mistake, but Ray can’t control when he sneezes. Nate, on the other hand, should know better than to drunkenly brag to P.T. Barnum that he knows a bunch of people who would put this freakshow to shame. Nate is a mess after Sara brings Amaya back to the team so they can use her animal expertise to wrangle the tiger, and the pain of Amaya abandoning him on his birthday comes rushing back when he sees her again. This is a failure in Sara’s leadership, and the obstacles of this episode would have been avoided if she talked to Nate about bringing Amaya back and prepared him for her return. But then we wouldn’t have a story.
The Legends could get better at their job, but it’s far more enjoyable when they’re always working to fix what they’ve screwed up. This episode has both a giant sabre-toothed tiger and a tiny sabre-toothed tiger, and we wouldn’t have either if this team had its shit together. As inconvenient as being captured is, it does force Nate and Amaya to talk about their issues, and Nate finally learns why Amaya left him behind. After seeing footage of her granddaughter, Mari, in action, Amaya travelled to Detroit and saw the present-day Vixen in person before turning herself in to Rip Hunter. Time hadn’t solidified yet, so there was still time for Amaya to go back to 1942 and keep the timeline intact so Mari wouldn’t be wiped from existence. She should have explained this to Nate and given him a proper farewell, which would have given the both of them some closure rather than leaving their romance hanging.
Amaya doesn’t plan on staying with the team after this mission, but when they find out that she’s struggling to control her powers, they refuse to let her go. Amaya is overwhelmed by the spirits she channels, and she’s living with the guilt of hunting down and killing the young Belgian soldiers that came to Zambesi. She rampages against Barnum when she channels a bear, but she’s able to calm down when Nate talks to her, suggesting that he might be the key to solving this problem. Could the unresolved issues of their relationship be the thing messing with Amaya’s powers? Or is there something wrong with Amaya’s totem?
The team has a hearty laugh after Agent Sharpe teases a forthcoming threat that they won’t be able to handle, and that cocky belief that they can handle anything that comes their way is at odds with their track record. Sure, they defeated Vandal Savage and the Legion of Doom, but every victory results in more damage to the timestream. This episode’s final scene features a servant of Mallus raising a woman from a lake, who we discover is named Kuasa (Tracy Ifeachor). That’s the name of Mari McCabe’s sister, who was last seen getting incinerated in the second season of the Vixen webseries, and given that she died wearing Zambesi’s water totem, it makes sense (in a superhero way) that she would be revived through water. I’m a big advocate for bringing plot points from Vixen into the live-action CW shows, and having Kuasa as a potential villain is exciting because it creates a strong conflict for Amaya, especially after this episode explores Amaya’s relationship with Kuasa’s sister.
Kevin Tancharoen is a director that does a lot with the limited budget of television, and this episode achieves a level of B-movie spectacle that fits well for the narrative. I said last week that every episode should have at least one showcase of Caity Lotz’s fight skills, and “Freakshow” delivers with a Sara/Sharpe showdown that reinforces just how formidable they are. They’re evenly matched in battle, and Tancharoen delivers an action sequence that highlights how exhausting and painful it is to fight someone you can’t beat. I’ve been impressed by the special effects this season, but the design work in the first episode was fairly bland. “Freakshow” gives the design team the opportunity to be more creative as it brings 19th-century Wisconsin and 1940s Zambesi to the screen, and locations like Amaya’s hut and the circus grounds are fully realized locations with their own distinct style. Combine that elevated design with Tancharoen’s direction and you get an episode with lots of cinematic flair.
- Kuasa rising from a lake makes me think of the Lady of the Lake, which makes me think of Arthurian legend, which makes me think about Morgaine le Fey, who is a villain in DC Comics. Could Mallus actually be Morgaine?
- Lots of shout-outs to old Victor Garber roles in this episode: Martin says that the builder of the Titanic should be shot, referencing the role Garber played in Titanic, and Martin goes undercover as a clown, which has Garber channeling the spirit of his Jesus in Godspell.
- Amaya listening to big band jazz while baking is a nice touch. I like being reminded she’s from the ’40s.
- One of the strongmen in Barnum’s circus is modeled after B’Wana Beast and now I want B’Wana Beast to actually join this team.
- Mick’s fear of clowns keeps him in the background for nearly the entire episode.
- I don’t know if Ray has ever been dorkier than in this episode. He brags about being able to identity 175 kinds of dropping, and not returning library books is his major vice.
- “Looks like we gave time acne.”
- Amaya: “I don’t blame you for going out and getting pie-eyed last night.” Nate: “That’s cool. I don’t blame you for saying ‘pie-eyed.’”
- Sara: “Wanna take a break?” Sharpe: “I could use some water.”