The last time the Legends encountered Western bounty hunter Jonah Hex, the results were mixed. While Johnathon Schaech nailed the mannerisms and overall characterization, he had do so amidst the campiest of Western cliches. Where much of the first season was overly grim, “The Magnificent Eight” at times felt like a cowboy B movie, and not always in a good way.
Ironically, “Outlaw Country” takes on a slightly more serious tone, despite season 2 intentionally being a lot more fun and lighthearted than its predecessor. Sure, Ray and Jax still get a kick out of posing as gunslingers, but the action sequences are darker, the villains are more grounded, and the costumes look a lot more convincing. It’s closer to an actual Western than a dress-up Western.
It also helps that the show never strays too far from its science-fiction roots. As much as I love “Legends”‘s constant genre dabbling, it often falls flat when it tries too hard to embody the hallmarks of said genre. Luckily, on “Outlaw Country,” what begins as a piss-and-vinegar take becomes a sci-fi yarn around the halfway point. As such, it delivers the best of both. When Jonah Hex wants retribution towards Quentin Turnbull (a jovial yet tense Jeff Fahey) for torching a church full of people back in Calvert, it’s a straightforward Western revenge story. Everyone chews the scenery with appropriate grit, and there’s even a bar fight that strikes the perfect tone between being rollicking and dangerous.
Later on though, Ray discovers that the ore Turnbull and his men have been hoarding is actually dwarf star — the same matter that Atom once used to power his suit. Turnbull wants it for much more sinister purposes: he plans to use the material to destroy the Summit Pass, thus cutting off all military supplies and creating his own country. While that’s still very much in the Western vein (we even get an approximation of “Head ’em off at the pass!”), the introduction of dwarf star keeps the episode firmly tethered to the series’ sci-fi trappings. By the end — after Nate has used his strength to derail an oncoming train packed full of the stuff — Ray uses the dwarf star to build the young historian his own suit. It looks like Nate will officially take on the mantel of Citizen Steel in no time.
There is a slight problem with his arc. Earlier on, Nate gets taken to the infirmary after getting shot by Turnbull. Even though’s able to morph into steel mode before he gets hit, the bullet is made from dwarf star, which has the power to harm him. This leads to another round of will-they-or-won’t-they save Nate, who got almost mortally wounded not too long ago. In both cases, the injuries ended up leading to an elevation of his abilities (first the powers, then the suit), but can’t the writers think of something else for him, or at least not repeat two story beats that are so similar this close together?
All in all, Nate’s shooting itself is only a minor portion of “Outlaw Country”, and there’s no denying how riveting it is to see a gleaming prototype of his armor by the episode’s end. But because the episode is already centered on a location and a guest star we’re familiar with, any repeated plot points tend to stick out.
That’s far from enough to sink “Outlaw Country.” Ultimately, this is Jonah Hex done a little better than the first time around. It’s also the birth of something (or someone) new, even if the story gets there by doing something old.