[Review] Legends of Tomorrow Episode 4×02: “Witch Hunt”

written by Kate Spencer

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

This week, a fairy godmother is done making carriages out of pumpkins, so she’s punishing some superstitious and sexist Puritans.

…this is our villain of the week?

Ray manages to integrate Constantine’s divining knucklebones to give the timequake detector a magical upgrade, which will allow them to track the magic fugitives. I might have complained about the implausibility of that back in Season One, but…I mean, everything has happened since then. Before Sara can break the bad news that Constantine refused to join the team, he staggers in hungover with a bag and a steamer trunk. He reasons that the Legends are doomed without him, so he’s offering his services as a consultant as long as he gets benefits, two weeks’ paid vacation, and he doesn’t have to wear a costume.

The time quake detector has a hit on a fugitive. Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. That’s one year before Sara was going to be hanged for “corrupting” the ladies of the village. Constantine is not thrilled about being taken to the Salem Witch Trials.

SARA: “Well, I hope you’re feeling morally superior, because we are getting our Puritan purit-on! *finger pistols* …That was too much, right?”

Oh honey, you tried.

Meanwhile, Nate is having dinner with Biff Tannen. Look, I know he’s Hank Heywood, but I’m going to keep thinking of him as Biff. Dinner doesn’t go well, since they don’t really have anything in common. Nate can’t discuss his work because time-traveling superhero, and Hank can’t discuss his job because he works for the Department of Defense. If you see where this is going, have a cookie.

Maybe it’s just because I don’t have the greatest relationship with my dad either, but I really like this subplot and I hope they keep it up. Whenever Nate talked about his family, it was mostly in the context of his grandfather. In Season Two, he hoped that saving his grandfather might make his dad’s childhood better and make him a better father. We never got the full context for that until now. Hank isn’t physically abusive, but he doesn’t understand his son so he’s kind of got resting disappointed face. That can have a pretty big impact on a child.

Zari, Ray, and Sara investigate Salem and find a witch arrest in progress. Jane Hawthorne stands accused of witchcraft by a man whose advances she’s apparently spurned repeatedly, and that’s just one example of fuck-all changing in the past 326 years. As Jane is being dragged off, a murder of crows attempts to…uh…do a murder. The Legends take this as a sign of magic and not, y’know, karmic retribution.

After checking timeline, they find out Jane was executed for witchcraft and then everyone in the town spontaneously combusted, revealing magic to the masses. Constantine adds that Jane couldn’t have summoned the crows because she was bound and gagged, and spells need a verbal component. The next likely suspect is Jane’s daughter, Prudence. Constantine suspects a demon has latched itself onto her.

They confront Prudence in the woods and call out her demonic benefactor…who is actually just a fairy godmother. She’s protecting Prudence and granting her every wish. Constantine is at a loss, but figures sending her to Hell will work. Fairy Godmother warns John that she’s linked to Prudence, so if he sends her to Hell, the little girl goes with her. Prudence wants them to go away, so Fairy Godmother sings a song and summons more crows. Prudence stops her when the Legends offer to help her mother. They bring her back to the ship, where Mick introduces her to doughnuts and mobile games. Now I want an actual Beebo Blox game. Make it happen, CW!

Back in 2018, Nate is staying at the Time Bureau since Legends don’t get paid. Ava has money troubles, too – or rather, the Time Bureau does. She needs to present her case for further funding to the DoD. Nate is all for helping until he sees his dad there and ducks out for fear of making things worse. Good call. Ava has Gary join her instead. Bad call. Hank doesn’t believe the story about magical fugitives and decides to shut the Time Bureau down altogether.

Constantine does some research and finds that Fairy Godmother was telling the truth, so he can’t send her to Hell. Prudence has to reject the power. Zari sees a solution – save Jane. Sara tells her they can’t because even in the original timeline, Jane was executed as a witch. Zari draws comparisons to her own timeline where people scapegoat and persecute others because they’re different. When she doesn’t get anywhere with Sara, Zari tries to break Jane out of jail. Jane refuses to go, since others like her daughter would be targeted instead.

I’m going to be honest; this episode is difficult to talk about for several reasons. It’s a good episode, and Tala Ashe in particular gives a fantastic performance. The themes are what make this episode good but also very difficult to review. We’re not hanging witches today, but we’re not doing much better. In America alone, migrant families – including children – are locked up in camps along our southern border. Trans people are threatened with being defined out of existence by the Federal government. Muslims are vilified for the acts of a few and refused entry into the country. Jewish people just trying to worship in peace were shot by a guy who bought into absurd conspiracy theories. America isn’t burning and hanging witches when we have a bad harvest, but there’s plenty of hate and blame going out to minorities for other imagined reasons.

Zari comes from a world where government-sponsored and enforced persecution has led to her friends and family being killed or put into prisons for no crime other than being who they are. Last episode, she saw her mother in the past and felt utterly helpless knowing that in a few short years, all of that would kick off and her mom would be dead. So we know exactly why she goes into the witch trial, totem out, and attacks the the man leading it.

ZARI: “Why can’t you idiots see what he’s doing? He’s convincing you to kill your neighbors for imaginary crimes!”

She’s accused of being a witch too, and she’s forced to use her totem to defend herself and Jane in a way she hasn’t before: by stealing the air from the lungs of the preacher and the men who try to grab her. After seeing the reactions of the people around her, Zari is horrified by what she’s doing and stops. She’s taken into custody and her totem is taken away by the preacher.

I can’t go through this scene by scene. Last week I said that it’s not hard to see the beginnings of a dystopian future like Zari’s in the current political climate. Now I’m reviewing an episode that relies heavily on lessons of the past as allegory for the present and I just do not have it in me. This episode is well written and very well acted, and in any other climate or maybe a different week I could say that yeah, the lesson of this episode is a good one. Be better than them, lest we become the monsters. I hate that I’ve lost that. I once thought writers going for “gritty realism” were tanking hopeful superhero stories where the good guys are always heroic and save the day at the end. It was never realistic, but you could read a comic like that and escape into its fantasy.

Now…now I see a fairy godmother who wants to burn a town full of superstitious people who hang their own neighbors, friends, even family for made-up reasons, and I want to root for the fairy godmother.

Speaking of the fairy godmother, she convinces Prudence that the Legends aren’t going to save her mother. They escape the Waverider together after magically removing Constantine’s mouth and turning Ray and Mick into pigs…well, turning Ray into a pig. Kind of a lateral move for Mick. Nate, who can apparently speak pig – and no, that’s not explained, but I think it could just be the Waverider translating – takes Ray back to 2018 with him in hopes that the enchantment will wear off in time to convince Hank that magic exists.

In Salem, Zari and Jane are about to be burned alive. Sara intervenes, but Zari’s totem is thrown onto the pyre. Prudence has the fairy godmother rescue Zari and Jane from the fire and put the preacher there instead. Zari tries to stop them, but Fairy Godmother makes a damn good point about how Zari is from the future and she can’t tell Prudence that things have gotten better.

ZARI: “People always fear what they don’t understand, and that fear turns them into monsters. But we can’t let it turn us into monsters, too. We have to be better than them.”

What gets through to Prudence is when Zari tells her that her mother wouldn’t want her to have blood on her hands. Prudence releases the fairy godmother, which undoes all of her magic and leaves her powerless because she can only act through the wishes of others. Zari recovers her totem, which is now reduced to just the stone. It still works, though, and she extinguishes the flames.

Ray changes back and we’re treated to a steeled-up Nate holding a naked Ray in his arms…which I’m sure is already in a ton of fanfics, so now they have a canon image. Hank is not only convinced, he’s willing to give the Bureau 4.2 billion dollars a year. For what? The Legends do all of the heavy lifting and it’s not like they can buy most of their technology since it’s all future tech. Hank also gets a brief synopsis of Nate’s adventures to date and the term “Voltron Beebo” comes up, which makes me smile. Ava offers Nate a job at the Time Bureau and he accepts to spend more time with his dad.

Constantine takes the fairy godmother out into the woods to banish her to Hell, but he offers her a deal – he’ll be her new “host” if she works a little magic for him. She declines his offer, saying she knows he’s on the run, knows who’s coming for him, and doesn’t want to piss “him” off. She’d rather go to Hell. Constantine sends her there.

Sara consoles Zari, saying that she shares her anger over not being able to save family, and offers a friendly ear. They both agree that Zari can’t let the anger control her.

Oof. Big oof. This hit too close to home during a really bad week/month/two years. As I keep saying, the episode was good, but I have a hard time stomaching its lessons. Yes, Zari was in the wrong to lash out like she did, but in the end the village and the preacher are just left to continue doing what they’ve been doing. Jane and Prudence are safe, but how many more are going to die? Well, we actually have numbers. Twenty people were found guilty of witchcraft and hanged or pressed to death. At least five others died in jail. Those are the records they actually kept, and that’s just from Salem. Witch hunts went on for years in Europe and America.

So the Legends banished a disgruntled fairy godmother to Hell for trying to punish evil people on behalf of a young girl trying to save her mom. Yay team?

The humor offset some of the dreary stuff. Nate with Pig!Ray was pretty funny, as was Hank’s reaction to that whole ordeal. Gary is ever-delightful and when Hank asked for (parking) validation, Gary told him he was doing a great job. During a conversation with Constantine, the fairy godmother complains about past charges being “all take, take, take” and asking for extravagant things like fancy dresses and glass slippers. So yeah, in Legends of Tomorrow canon, the fairy godmother from Cinderella turned into a bitter, disgruntled, vengeful woman who eventually got sent to Hell by a boozy Englishman. Actually, that kind of tracks with the Brothers Grimm version.

I think I forgot to mention this last week, but Wally has left the Legends to travel a bit. So with Nate leaving (if temporarily) and Amaya back in the ’40s, the team is going to need to do some recruiting soon.

Next time: The Legends hit up the 1970s London rock scene. Oh please let Constantine be mistaken for Sting.

Legends Of Tomorrow airs Mondays on the CW at 9 ET/8 CT. Kate can be reached on Twitter @WearyKatie.

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