This week the Legends star in It's an Incredibly Horrible Life. Sort of.
I really loved this episode, despite the next several paragraphs. Super fun, lots of good development, and holy crap great unexpected developments at the end.
If you spend any significant amount of time watching genre television you can't help but become aware that there are a few basic ideas that any genre show is inevitably going to try their hand at. (The most recent addition to this list being 'Musical Episode.' Joss Whedon has more than a little to answer for on this issue.)
One of the time honored standbys on this list is 'Parallel universe episode.'
There are a few perfectly legitimate reasons to do this kind of thing. Setting an episode in a universe where all of our usual actors get to play slightly (or drastically) different versions of their usual characters helps to both keep the actors happy, and — when it's done well — show us something fundamental about the characters or circumstances.
Unfortunately, even when it's done well I usually find parallel universe stories incredibly tedious to get through. I struggled to even make it through "The Wish," and that gave the world Evil Bisexual Willow.*
*Those are two separate descriptors. No causation between the two should be inferred.
This is probably a personal preference issue. I'm sure there are lots of folks who really love a good parallel universe story, and power to them. I personally find that they usually bring story development to a screeching halt for the sake of character study — which is fine if you like that sort of thing, obviously. Just not my jam.
This episode worked 100% for me because it threw away everything I don't like about parallel universes and made the rest work perfectly. I loved the fact that we met the alternate versions of our characters for just long enough for them to be interesting/amusing, but not so long as to get tired of them. I love that nearly everybody gets to remember all of what happened in this episode, which means we get to advance the plot and not worry about a big reset button. And I really love that they resisted the urge to fix everybody and resolve everything. That was a huge contrast to expectations and is very much to the show's credit.
What we were expecting to happen is what almost did (because the writers are very clever and knew exactly how these things usually go.) Mick got a second chance to make his choice, and this time he got it right. He gave the spear to Amaya so she could undo the changes to the universe. Based on all previous expectations that should have been the end of the matter. Back to reality as we know it.
However, and I don't feel like Berlanti and co. get enough credit for this, these are shows with an extraordinary commitment to following through on their promises. We spent all of Arrow season one with the threat of Malcolm blowing up the Glades, and when the season finale came, Malcolm damn well blew up the Glades. Honestly, when Thawne succeeded in destroying the spear my first two thoughts were, 'Of course they followed through and destroyed the Spear, Berlanti doesn't really do brinksmanship' and, 'Holy crap, Maybe Iris isn't going to be OK...'
It's interesting to see exactly what changes the Legion made to the universe because they revealed some interesting things about the way the Legion sees things. Malcolm changed his life so his family was alive and loved him. Darhk gave himself his magic back and started hunting superheroes for sport. Thawne made himself Mayor (why does everybody want to be Mayor these days?) and kept all the power of the spear to himself (shades of Warren's orbs, anyone?).
Even more telling were the punishments they chose for the heroes. Nate, a historian, they turned into a conspiracy blogger that no one listens to. Ray, a high tech genius, they turned into a cleaner of toilets. Jax and Martin they split up and pitted against each other, shredding the bond the two of them shared. Most interestingly, they kept Amaya and Sarah working directly for them as sexy guard dogs, more or less showing that they see the women more as objects to own rather than as people to be punished. I was curious to see that Rip had just been imprisoned in his (now tiny) ship, but his mind appears to have been left alone (which means he chose baking as a coping mechanism all on his own, which is hysterical.) Was that deliberate or was there some reason they couldn't re-write his mind again, I wonder? Oh, and sending Nyssa Al-Ghul to live in the closet in the Midwest is possibly the cruelest thing they did this week.
Everybody remember where we parked:
This week the Waverider... didn't take us anywhere as it's sitting as a tiny model on a desk in Evil Samurai Hat Star Labs.
It strikes me as odd that Evil Parallel Doomworld appears to be set more or less in present day (i.e. 2017.) The Legion used the spear right after they got it in 1916, so wouldn't re-written history start there? Perhaps the Legion just couldn't bear to live without Twitter. (They are evil, after all.)
So what have we learned today?
Re-writing history apparently leaves glitches and scars. I thought Nate's surgery metaphor was a really nice way to express that, as well as justifying the memory bleed-through for both him and Ray.
How much conscious effort do we suppose went into the re-writing of history? Did the spear pull it all from their subconscious, or did they kick back with a bottle of scotch and brainstorm what would be funny? (That would explain Nate's hair...) And if they did have to consciously plan all the changes, did they have to keep spinning around the spear the whole time? Because that's a ticket directly to barf-town.
Apparently, despite being un-moored in time, the Legends celebrate Christmas. And Ray gave Mick a rat named Axle. That's kind of sweet.
Nate: "Wha.. Whoa... No. No. No."
Ray: "I think actually for it to work you have to shoot him in the head."
Nate: "Why would you say that?"
Nate: "Losers? I'll have you know in my reality you and I had sex and we both liked it very much."
Oh Nate. You romantic poet, you.
Mick: "I'm not part of anything. I just made a terrible mistake."
Thawne: "Yes, Mr. President. You know I'll be there. You know how I love receiving medals. And then golf on Sunday. And dinner at your hotel after? All right. All right. Best to Mel. Buh-bye."
You know... if we assume that evil super-villains really do have a spear of destiny in our reality, that would explain a lot... Can we possibly hope that someone might recover the spear and write us an actual competent President?
-Honestly, Rip's cakes were absolutely lovely. I particularly loved the little pocket watches on the second one. Nice fondant bows as well.
-Thawne did the evil saga sell at the beginning, followed by having the villains' icons in the titles instead of the heroes. (Yes, I am a gigantic dork who freeze-frames through the credits to see the icons each week.)
-Why was Mick surprised that he had immunity from being arrested by the police after that bank job? Snart clearly knew. Is Mick really not aware that they're in charge of the universe now, or was it just being confronted by the reality that stealing is no fun anymore that brought him down?
-Nate's Mom apparently makes sandwiches for all his guests.
-Nate's descriptions of everything Thawne had supposedly done in this world felt very 'Jonathan/Superstar' to me.
-Speaking of Nate, at one point early on I thought they were going to tell us that Nate's hemophilia was back, which made sense as it was gaining his powers that cured it. But I guess the Legion never knew he'd had it in the first place, so they didn't write it back in. That points more toward all of the changes being intentional on the Legion's part.
-Thawne already destroyed the magic instruction book that turned up out of nowhere at the end of the last episode. That was careless of Malcolm and Darhk.
-Mick likes The Passion of the Christ. Yes, it was just an excuse to explain why he'd recognize Aramaic, but I like those little unexpected character details.
-Mick let everyone punch him as they were cured with only minimal complaint. That felt like penance.
-The killing of both Felicity and Amaya were shocking in how casually they were handled.
All in all a super fun episode that completely confounded my expectations at almost every turn. If it wasn't for the fact that they share a universe with two and a bit other shows I'd be half-convinced they intended to leave the universe this way.
Three and a half out of four delicious sandwiches. I'm holding half of one back because I have some serious concerns about how it looks like they plan on resolving things, but more on that next week.
Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.