Legends of Tomorrow: Return of the Mack

"All right. Who brought their phone?"

Ladies and gentlemen, the season long plot has arrived.

And Legends has knocked it out of the park again, but in a completely different way.

Last week I went on at great length about how the structure of the episode was what made it such a notable and admirable hour of television. This week appears to have taken that as a challenge, because it served us up an equally admirable episode, but in entirely different ways.

To be more specific, last week's episode, 'Phone Home,' was an absolute triumph because of how it engaged with that episode's theme. This week's episode, in contrast, was a masterclass in plotting. They are very different disciplines, as a comparison of this and last week's episode will show, and yet both of them are perfectly valid paths to incredible television.

To set it out up front – this week's didn't really have a theme, per-se. The closest it really got to a theme was a consistent dedication to misdirection. What it did have, however, was a near-perfect example of how to use multiple plotlines against one another – spurring action in one, echoing them in another, and above all, all working together toward a common end.

This, for the record, is a palpable rebuke to what I was criticizing in 'Zari.'  There, all of the plotlines were happening at once with no regard to one another. Here... well, let's take a look at that...

Zari is suffering from survivor's guilt, because she ran away and left her brother to die.  Now she's on a time travelling ship, so she wants to change that.  This runs up against...

Sara, who had to let her sister die.  More than that, she had to return Darhk to the timeline, thus ensuring that her sister would die.  Her discussion with Zari not only underlined that connection, it also reminded us about Darhk and his connection to their world.  This puts her in opposition to Zari.  Which is in contrast to....

Amaya, who has an amulet that is somehow connected to Zari's amulet. She hasn't told Zari that yet, until we see her accidentally connect their amulets in direct response to Zari's confrontation with Sara.  She doesn't understand how the amulet connects, nor has she really dealt with...

Nate, who loves Amaya and doesn't understand either why she left nor why she's come back.  His power is intrinsic to him and he has absolutely no conception of either amulets nor connection to family.  Which puts him directly in the path of...

Rip, who has never (as Sara correctly noted) belonged to a secret society that he didn't betray at the first moment that he needed to.  He uses Nate as bait in the path of Mallus.  Which could have been headed off by...

Ray, who is so committed here to helping Jax in his quest to separate the two halves of firestorm that he gets separated from the main thrust of the A-plot.  They're so committed to this goal that he completely misses out on the plotline where Ray (his best friend) is held captive by the enemy.  This is because he is so committed to helping...

Jax, who is so concerned with doing the right thing for Martin that he allows his own memory to be compromised if it means achieving a happy end for...

Martin, who wants desperately to be with his grandson, but equally does not want to let his team (and particularly Jax) down.  When he finds out what Jax is doing behind his back, he's furious, but quickly forgives Jax and gets on the same page in the epilogue.

You can see from the above what I'm getting at.  The plots all exist to bounce off of and further one another.  There isn't a single second of this episode that doesn't exist to further at least two other plotlines.  That is incredibly solid writing, and it's incredibly difficult to pull off.  Seriously, the writers on this show do not get enough credit for the quality of the work they do.

It's worth noting at this point that there's one glaring exception to the list above:

Mick Rory does not have a significant plotline in this one.  And that's okay.



Partially because Mick had a hell of a lot to do with the last several episodes of season two and the first episode of season three, and it's time to give somebody else a chance.  But mostly because just having him reading a book in the background and getting a few sight gags in (seriously, staking the corpse in the first act was more funny than most actors in a syndicated TV show ever dream of) was more than enough reminder of what a presence Dominic Purcell really is.

And yes, Dominic Purcell played Dracula in Blade: Trinity.  I get it. I suspect that's why they more or less benched him in this episode: to avoid the comparisons.

So, with all of these plotlines bouncing off against each other, what do we get? 

-- We've identified the season's big bad as Mallus.

-- We could have prevented Mallus' becoming if only Sara and Rip hadn't been so committed to their own goals, regardless of what the other was doing (this is what I was talking about regarding the plotline influencing one another).

-- We introduced Madame Eleanore, the consumptive psychic. (Were there any psychics in the Victorian Era not stricken by consumption?) We're all clear she's going to be Darhk's daughter, right?  I could be wrong on this.  Just a prediction.

-- Sara managed to get the Legends clear of the Time Bureau, by the expedient of being willing to allow Rip to suffer for his crimes. (Sara and Ava are no more than three episodes from sleeping together by my estimation, fyi.)

-- Darhk is back as this season's big bad.  We're all clear at how thoroughly they earned this, right?

Indeed, so much of this episode was about misdirection.

-- In the saga sell, Rip referred to a group that could save time before saying that this wasn't about that group, it was about the Legends.

-- What seemed to be Jack the Ripper in the first scene was instead Rip.  (I actually didn't get that pun until I wrote this.  How embarrassing.  Tell no one.)

-- When they went to the open grave, it wasn't a vampire that crawled out, it was Rip. (Why was Rip hiding so long in the open grave?  Did he think the Time Bureau was arriving?  Actually... that makes sense.)

-- What appeared to be Martin was his great, great grandfather.

-- It wasn't vampires, it was just a double needled syringe.

What did we learn today?

The anachronisms, when folded back along themselves and applied against the golden ratio, show a cause and effect model that more or less answer my complaints the last few weeks about how time works.  I'm genuinely impressed by that.

And it actually almost makes sense if you're willing to allow an intrinsic relationship between physics and geometry.  (Which isn't that crazy.  That's actually a fairly legitimate summation of how physics was founded.)

What we learn from this is that all of the anachronism malarkey we've been following is actually separate from two small offshoots:

-- 2042, where Kuasa messed up the timeline trying to kill Zari, and...

-- London, 1895, where vampires are apparently killing in Whitechapel.

The question this raises is, did the Legends free (or somehow enable) Mallus by breaking time and creating the anachronisms?  Or did Mallus merely take advantage of the anachronisms' existence to carry out its own plans in 2042 and 1895?  Surely it has to be one of those two options to explain why this is happening now, right?

Everybody remember where we parked:

This week, the Waverider took us to London 1895. After a bit of expository dialogue in the Time Vortex. 

Which begs the question, where and when is the Time Vortex? Why is it a tube?  Is there something outside the tube?  Probably not an important question, but to be fair I've been asking it about Doctor Who for thirty years.

Quotes:

Rip:  "That is a most impressive scream.  In another era you could have had a career alongside Vincent Price."

Jax: "The last time I got laid, Grey said to me, 'Well done, Jefferson.'  I mean... "
Ray:  "I could have done without knowing that."

Mick: "Vampires. I've waited my whole life to kill one." (He brandishes a wooden stake)
Jax: "Do you just carry that around with you?"
Mick: "My whole life."

Sara: "Victorian London.  Opium dens and low cut corsets."
Nate: "Arthur Conan Doyle and the rolling fog."
Mick: "Syphilis, whores, and vampires."
I guess everyone has their own take on history.

Rip: "A name whispered across time and in every language.  Mallus."
Nate: "The Phantom Mollusk?  An evil shellfish?"
Rip: "Mall... us."

Ray: "Ahhh..... Who wants to hold hands?"
Nate: "Ray, it's not freakin' Toy Story 3."
Mick: "Everyone shut up.  I got one page left."

Zari: "I can't believe we're in a time where women can't vote and the internet's not a thing. Savages."


Bits and Pieces:

-- We got two weeks of Halloween episodes.  Yes. Please. Halloween is the best.

-- Rip did a lot of Sherlock impressions this week.  I wonder if Arthur Darvill knows Benedict Cumberbatch?

-- Firestorm's psychic connection is separate from his nuclear connection.  Did we know that?

-- For breakfast, the crew has oatmeal, a bran muffin, and grapefruit. And a beer. That is one regular crew.  It's even more unfortunate that they only have one bathroom.

-- It does not escape my notice that Nate is increasingly used solely as comedy exposition or as a damsel in distress.  Fortunately, Nick Zano excels at both.  Plus, it's refreshing to have a show that defaults to the pretty (according to Mick) man as the one that needs rescuing.

-- Nate's cockney accent was horrendous.  So was Jax', which is notable considering Franz Drameh's lineage. I suppose it was to back up the joke.

-- Mick staking the corpse was hysterical.

-- Victorian cemeteries are actually a fascinating study if you're interested in symbology. For the sake of this episode, suffice it to say that most of what they showed was accurate.

-- We're all clear that 'Return of the Mack' was just an extended joke about re-introducing Neal McDonough, right?  I mean, the slomo fight scene to that track with him drinking while he kicked ass pretty much confirmed that.

-- It's entirely understandable that Zari would stupidly give away her amulet given that they'd only just established that she didn't really want it in the scene before and she was crippled by wanting to speak to her brother.

-- There wasn't any real reason for one of the bad guys to be Stein's great, great grandfather other than to give Victor Garber a lot of fun things to do.  Almost like they were giving him a victory lap before... no... I'm not going to think about it.

-- The bulk of this week's plot was shouldered by Amaya and Zari.  Take a moment with that. Two women of color were the main focus of the hero plot while everything else was extraneous. Honestly, god bless the Berlanti shows for their diversity.

Another fantastic episode, and more than that, an episode that was fantastic in an entirely different way.  Four out of four shrouded compasses.

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.

2 comments:

Katie Hart - Freelance Writer said...

Loved this episode! It felt very Whovian at the start, especially since the modern series has had so many great Victorian episodes (and this gets to be the second time Arthur Darvill encounters what only appears to be vampires). Loved having Rip back - even though he doesn't really fit with the dynamic of the crew anymore, it still feels like the show is missing something when he's not there.

Though I really don't understand why Rip closed off the ship to go prevent Darhk's rising with Time Bureau agents. I mean, if there's a chance of a former League of Assassins member with magic powers coming back to life, wouldn't you want your own former League of Assassins member and two women with magic totems (since he thought Zari was on the ship) to help you out? Not to mention guy that can turn to steel, Firestorm, and Atom? (I can see not wanting to bring in Mick, lol.) Especially since he's counting on the Legends to stop Mallus. It just seems stupid for him to go from working with the Legends to sidelining them without a reason.

At least Rip is consistent about being obsessive and secretive about stopping someone super evil - Mallus is his new Vandal Savage.

Great review!

Nick said...

Hey Py,

"Ray, who is so committed here to helping Jax in his quest to separate the two halves of firestorm that he gets separated from the main thrust of the A-plot. They're so committed to this goal that he completely misses out on the plotline where Ray (his best friend) is held captive by the enemy. This is because he is so committed to helping..."

Think you meant Nate(his best fried) :)