DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – Season 3 Episode 7
“Welcome to the Jungle”
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow takes the team to the time of the Vietnam War to battle a time displaced Gorilla Grodd.
This show has been onto a winner lately with a run of episodes that are both fun and character driven. They do slip into the realm of the ridiculous fairly often but it’s something that this show can get away with where the other Arrowverse shows wouldn’t be able to.
A trip to the Vietnam War isn’t exactly the best fodder for a “fun” episode in the sense of there being a lot of jokes and antics. The Vietnam War is a very sensitive subject for a lot of people so care should definitely be taken by telling a story in that era compared to the romanticism that could be associated with the first or second World Wars.
Of course it is still the characters in this show interacting with the historical setting so some hijinks will naturally ensue but this episode doesn’t quite manage to balance the tones as well as it could have. On one hand there’s a deeply personal story for Mick and on the other Martin Stein is problem solving with Marie Curie, Galileo and Isaac Newton. It doesn’t really match up and leaves the episode feeling disjointed.
Martin’s role in the episode is to once again figure out a way to separate Firestorm so that he can be with his daughter and grandchild while Jax is free to continue on with the Legends. The plan for the moment is to do this while retaining the powers in one person but despite having some of history’s greatest minds working the problem this just isn’t going to be possible. The separation is very possible but retaining the powers isn’t. This in theory leaves the characters with a choice; either Firestorm ceases to exist or they continue on and prevent Martin from being with his family. Martin doesn’t seem bothered about the prospect of losing his powers but clearly feels for Jax and wants to do everything he can to allow Firestorm to continue.
This does show how close Martin and Jax have become and builds on the father/son dynamic though the scenes themselves seem somewhat tedious. I also have to question Martin’s choices of historical minds to draw on when he has access to the greatest minds of the future as well as the past. Surely some version of Harrison Wells would come in handy here though I suspect this is being saved for next week’s crossover which may even solve the problem in some way. It’s also curious that the idea of finding someone to take Martin’s place hasn’t been suggested.
The prospect of losing his powers puts Jax in a similar situation to Ray last season. There was a small arc involving Ray trying to find his place on the team without the thing that defines him. Jax won’t immediately become useless to the Legends without his powers as he is able to repair the Waverider so if nothing else his skills as the engineer will continue to be useful. This episode explores what a depowered Jax in the field might look like. His efforts to save President Johnson (Peter Hall) from being killed by a landmine show that he’s resourceful and brave so clearly has something to offer even without powers. Framing this as a self imposed test to answer the doubts in his own mind was a clever idea too.
Outside the Waverider the bulk of the plot has most of the other characters split into two teams to investigate the same problem. Ray, Zari and Amaya pretend to be journalists while Mick and Nate pose as soldiers. Each group finds their own way to the root of the problem; a time displaced Gorilla Grodd (David Sobolov).
I’m always impressed when Grodd appears on The Flash because the visual effects team consistently outdo themselves in bringing the hulking Gorilla to life in a convincing way. This episode is economical with his appearances as it has to be considering the cost involved but the visual effects team continue to do an excellent job rendering Grodd.
Despite how good he looks the way he was used in this episode left a lot to be desired. On the surface it looked as if Grodd was setting out to do a good thing even though he was using mind control to do it. The idea of bringing together the two sides of the Vietnam War under a flag of piece and uniting them in “one nation under Grodd” was in theory a good one but the execution was sorely lacking.
The main problem was the lack of focus on it. Mind controlling people by very definition robs them of their own agency so everything he tries to do is false. We also learn that it will escalate into a nuclear conflict between America and Russia if he’s not stopped so the episode doesn’t support the idea that Grodd might be doing something for the well being of humanity which makes entertaining the notion almost pointless and removes any possibility for debate.
Apocalypse Now is mentioned by Nate as a comparison to the current situation. He mentions that the experience started like Predator and turned into Apocalypse Now. Referencing classic films is fine by me especially when it results in one of the best episodes this show has had but those references have to make sense in context. I actually thought the homage to Predator with an unseen creature ominously picking people off in the jungle was really well done but the Apocalypse Now reference fails to resonate. I can see that Grodd was supposed to be roughly analogous to the Kurtz character with Amaya taking on a similar role to Willard but beyond superficial references and some visual similarities the episode fails to capitalise on what could have been a really compelling homage.
Grodd’s appearance does allow the characters to weave their own arcs throughout the episode in different ways. Amaya is the natural choice to bond with Grodd considering her affinity for animals. She almost get through to him by offering to take him to a time period predating the appearance of Humans on Earth and allowing him to live out his life in peace. Grodd sees different opportunities arising from using time travel; namely to turn Earth into a Gorilla Planet and doing away with Humans entirely. It’s somewhat inconsistent with what Grodd seemed to want earlier in the episode and only seems to exist to add tension to the latter part of the episode.
Amaya’s bond with Grodd helps her gain some perspective on her conflict with Kuasa. Earlier in the episode she was ready to pass judgement on her and do what has to be done when encountering her again. The experience with Grodd helps her realise that there’s no such thing as a monster in the black and white sense and she decides not to pass judgement on Kuasa until she knows more about her. It’s the standard “walk a mile in their shoes argument” but is enhanced by the fact that Amaya is moved by the tragic nature of Grodd’s existence and is able to understand why he is the way he is.
Despite the unevenness to the characterisation Grodd is a very threatening antagonist who represents a layered threat to the team. He can challenge them physically and mentally so makes for a challenge and the simple camera trick of using his point of view to establish how much he towers over the team goes a long way. Having him recruited by Damien Darhk is a decent cliffhanger as well though I suspect he will be used sparingly throughout the rest of the season.
Through this plot Zari proves how heroic she is when pointing out that people shouldn’t be worshipping Grodd as a God because that doesn’t get them anywhere. Her advice is that people need a leader and that change only happens when individuals take action. The power of individual action is something she lived by in her native timeline as we saw so the words resonate on a deeper level and show how Zari’s clearly defined morality.
The real star of the episode was Mick. He rarely gets an episode to himself which is a shame as the results can be as good as this. He is forced to relive his past when he and Nate come across his father, Dick Rory (Evan Jones) who served as a Green Beret at this point in time. It has been previously established that Mick was abused when he was a child which eventually led to him burning down the house with his father in it. This isn’t an action he regrets though the lingering effects of that abuse still haunt him. Coming face to face with his father is difficult for him and he resorts to his own version of self harm by holding a lighter to his skin. He has always taken comfort in fire so it’s easy to see why he would do this to himself.
At its core Mick’s scenes are a story about the lasting effects of War. Mick only ever knew his father as an abusive drunk but this encounter lets him experience a different side to him. Dick keeps a photograph of Mick’s mother in his pocket with the names of soldiers he saw die written on the back of it. It shows the two things foremost on Dick’s mind and adds depth to the man Mick has dismissed as an awful abuser. Seeing his father in a more heroic yet damaged light is eye opening and allows Mick to deal with his feelings in a way that he couldn’t before. Of course he can’t forgive what his father did but no longer completely blames him for it after seeing the situation that contributed to it first hand.
The fact that Mick can find a way to work with him shows a greater sense of understanding and having him step in when he’s about to do harm to innocents shows a lack of fear as he is able to stand up to the man he spent so many years being afraid of. I also really liked Mick acknowledging that Dick isn’t yet the man he knew as his father. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff here and Dominic Purcell really takes the opportunity to show a different side of Mick and runs with it. Lip service is also paid to the fact that recent missions have involved the Legends encountering problems that connect to members of the team and leaving the question over whether this is more than a coincidence lingering.
Sadly the Dick character was fairly underwhelming. His role in the story was to give Mick something to react to but Evan Jones’ performance comes across as cartoonish. His attempt to copy Dominic Purcell’s unique way of speaking feels like a poor imitation rather than the progenitor of Mick. The idea of the character comes through strongly but the presence is somewhat lacking.
This episode also makes the dubious decision to bench Sara for the bulk of it. A better episode would have had the team struggling to deal with their Captain being incapacitated and scrambling to find a way to function. Sara’s leadership very much keeps them in line so it would have been good to see the team dynamic suffer somewhat as a result of her not being around. Considering how heavily the show relies on the presence of Caity Lotz as an anchor of sorts her contribution is sorely missed though her return shows how the team are very much a family.
An uneven episode that has some really good character moments but is marred by sloppy execution in places. Grodd is an intimidating and imposing villain though the episode doesn’t quite know what to do with him beyond a half baked combination of Predator and Apocalypse Now allusions that don’t really go anywhere. Using him to move Amaya forward by helping her realise not to judge Kuasa until she knows the whole story and allowing Zari to showcase her strong morality is a reasonable idea but Grodd as a character isn’t strongly handled despite how great the CGI is.
Martin’s continued efforts to separate Firestorm come up short as well as do the scenes of him brainstorming with some of history’s greatest minds. The plot isn’t really going anywhere interesting though having Jax experiment with his ability to be a hero without powers does work really well. Mick steal the show by gaining a different perspective on his father and moving on in some way. The realisation that his father was very much a victim of lingering Wartime after effects that caused him to be an abusive parent is an important one but doesn’t bring forgiveness. It’s great to see Mick in the spotlight and Dominic Purcell is more than up to the challenge.
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