Legends of Tomorrow: Zari

"Do we really want to be the people who put her back in a meta-prison? Is that who we are?"

Well, a lot of stuff certainly happened. It's just a shame that so much of it happened for no reason other than 'the rest of the season's plot needs this set up.'

The short version

After the last two episodes put in the leg work of establishing how our heroes Legends fit into this newly shredded timeline, "Zari" (the episode, not the character) has a clear remit to start sketching in the beginnings of this season's actual plot.

I just wish so much of it didn't feel so perfunctory.

The (slightly) longer version

You can see clearly what the goals of this episode are and how they were laid out when the writers were breaking this season. Establish Kuasa as a significant threat to the team (although she appears to fall more into the category of 'hench-person' when you spend any time thinking about what we've seen so far) and establish Zari as a competent if inexperienced new member of Our Team of Heroes.

As far as it goes, the episode manages to do both of those things. Kuasa does indeed seem to be a genuine threat, although I'm left with about a million questions about her which I'll get to in a moment. Zari absolutely comes across as competent (she's tech savvy in an interestingly different way than Ray or Jax for instance), she's just naughty enough to be roguishly charming, and even though it's the obvious thing to note about her, let's just take a moment to appreciate the inclusion of a Muslim woman as one of our main hero characters.

(Seriously, I don't think the Berlantiverse gets nearly enough credit for how clearly committed they are to inclusion. Just take a moment to observe that the main spaceship showdown later in the episode takes place between two female captains, and it doesn't seem even remotely notable. I can guarantee you that even ten years ago that would have stood out.)

((Note to self: maybe positive change in the world is actually possible. Try not to get carried away with optimism on the subject however.))

At the risk of getting back on topic, let's take a look at all of the different story threads vying for space here as a way of illustrating what I mean when I say that the plot development on show here feels perfunctory. In this single episode, we have:

-- A story about Sara learning to stand up to the Time Bureau and reclaim her autonomous power

-- A story about Amaya, through a vision quest, learning to accept that her powers aren't out of control, they're simply increasing, and the key to learning to control them again is accepting that she can't control them and just letting them be what they are... or something.

-- An origin story about how the super heroine that we are absolutely never going to call Isis on screen got her powers.

-- A story about Jax finding a society where mutants sorry, metahumans, are locked up simply for who they are and deciding to free them.

-- A heist story (not at all like "Players") where our heroes are tricked into assisting a stranger to steal a valuable doo-dad under the guise of rescuing someone.


That's a hell of a lot of plots for one episode to juggle, and the problem is that none of them really gel with one another. The 'free the metahumans' plot, for example, was not a metaphor for freeing Amaya from her self-limiting fear of her totem (although it easily could have been.) They're just plots that both happen to be going on simultaneously and don't really have anything to do with one another. And once we leave the Evil Future ARGUS detention facility, that plotline basically gets dropped and forgotten, outside of a cursory mention regarding Zari's fate.

Looking at the list, it seems clear that it's the Time Bureau plot that should have been the first to get the axe. As much as I'm enjoying Ava and Sara's interactions this season (and I really, really am. I confidently predict they'll be sleeping together by episode eleven), and as much as I love Agent Gary (and I do. I really, really love Agent Gary) the inclusion of the Big Time Bureau Time Ship added exactly nothing to the story at hand. It didn't stop the characters we wanted to be at the showdown with Kuasa from getting there (the jumpship just got away with Gideon mentioning that the TB hadn't noticed it? That is profoundly lazy plotting.) I suppose it escalated the Ava/Sara feud to its new 'Next time I see you I'll kill you' level, but again, I can only come up with the word 'perfunctory.' They needed Sara and Ava to be madder so they shoehorned it in in a truly workmanlike fashion.

Another example of what I mean when I say that the plotlines didn't gel at all -- exactly whose story was it to discover their own strength and stand up ultimately to Kuasa? Because the episode seemed to think that it was both Amaya and Zari whose plotline was building to that. They could almost have made that work thematically -- almost -- if the two women had fought her together, but they didn't. They just restaged the exact same 'I've discovered confidence in my powers and I'm standing up to you' moment twice, one after the other.

In a way, this all stems from an initial problem that even the script seems aware of -- namely, why on Earth are the Legends involved with this in the first place? At least three times during the episode various characters ask that exact question: Why are we doing this? The answer given is variations on, 'we're good guys, we help people,' but let's look at the fundamental unanswered question that could have cleared the whole issue up:

Is the history we see in Seattle, 2042 right, or is it wrong?

Is the crappiness of this society the Legends' fault? Is it the result of them breaking history? Or is this just a crappy period of time that isn't their problem? Sure, Jax says that fixing the police state there is on the teams to-do list, but that's clearly presented as his saving face with Zari, and it still doesn't answer the question of whether it's actually their mess to clean up. If they'd just taken a moment to establish early on that the situation was the result of the Legends' actions in breaking history, they could have cleaned up so much of the plotting.

Which brings me to... things that bug me about Kuasa

So, when Kuasa morphs into water form, her clothes morph into water. So, are her clothes part of her biological matter? If Ray swallowed some of her substance, would part of her leather jacket be missing when she morphed back? Or would her body mass just be fractionally smaller when she resumed her clothed form? Gary referred to her as controlling water. Does she generate new water when she makes that shield, or did she just burn off a layer of thigh muscle or something spraying it out like she did?

If she can drown people by forcing herself down their throats (just don't think too much about it) why doesn't she just do that all the time? It's a far more effective way of killing people than hitting them.

Why was she trying to kill Zari in the first place? The later scenes indicated that she was just trying to get the totem, but Zari didn't have it then -- it was locked up at Evil Future Argus. Did Zari have bad intel? Was she (or her boss) just assuming that Zari would have it because she has it later? If that's the case, how did Kuasa know that Zari was in that van being arrested? She'd been caught trying to steal that same totem, so any route of information for Kuasa to know she was locked up should really have also known that she didn't have the totem with her in the van. And how on Earth did Zari get out of the van in the first place while Kuasa was killing the guards?

Does the show assume that we knew that Kuasa is Amaya's granddaughter? (I didn't. Her comment about 'I'd kill you but I'd only be killing myself' was completely bewildering to me until I did a little research.)

Missing: Gray-haired man in center
And a tangential note about Kuasa. Firestorm could have transmuted her into steam and ended the entire problem in less than a second. Leaving Martin behind on the ship while Jax went to the final confrontation was stupid to the point of insanity. And it's symptomatic of a larger Victor Garber problem in this episode: namely, he kept disappearing. Gideon mentions casually that he's off helping Amaya at one point and then he vanishes entirely until the end of the episode. He's been notably absent for vast swathes of the last couple of episodes. I assume that he's busy prepping Hello Dolly on Broadway, and I'm very afraid that he'll become rather more prominent in about five or six episodes... no, no, I'm sorry, I'm not going to think about that. No spoilers, just a very, very bad feeling about things.

What did we learn today?

Nothing. We learned nothing today.

Seriously, they keep saying how time is broken, and yet everything is completely stable everywhere our team goes. Is there no such thing as cause and effect anymore? Is that what they mean by time being broken? Because it's starting to feel like you could pretty much go back and shoot baby Abe Lincoln in the face and there'd be absolutely no consequences.

Everybody remember where we parked:

This week, the Waverider took us to Seattle, 2042 with a brief game of chicken in the time vortex.

It would, as mentioned earlier, have been nice if they clarified whether this was Proper History 2042, or messed up broken history 2042.

Is it still breaking history when you've messed up events in our relative future?

Quotes:

Mick: "For some reason my boss has a bee in her bonnet for protecting you from that water bitch. (to the waitress) Not you, sweetheart."
God bless Mick for how loyal he is to Sara these days. He didn't hesitate to surrender when she told him to, and his idea of creating a diversion for her was priceless.

Zari: "Really? You saved the world?"
Ray: "Twice!"
Zari: "Then why does it still suck?"

Zari: "Come on, Ray, she's too much for us. We gotta move."
Ray: "And she tastes terrible."

Sara: "We intercepted a distress call from one of Rip's Time Bureau agents."
Mick: "Why? Actually, forget it.  I don't care."
Sara: "It's the dweebie one. Gary."
Mick: "Still don't care."

Actually, that brings up a point. Did they go on the rescue mission solely because they have a history with Gary and possibly kind of like him? I don't know that they'd have gone for another agent.

Sara: "Hey. How are you feeling?"
Amaya: "Like I just understood what you meant by the term 'mansplaining'."

Bits and pieces:

-- Why do wacky comedy hallucinations last longer than vision quest serious ones? Nate should have come down before Amaya.

-- Seriously though, high Nate was hysterical. The sight gag with the Cheeto made me actually pause my DVR until I could stop laughing.

-- That much water in the nose and throat would absolutely have killed Ray.

-- Steel wasn't wearing his helmet when they went to get Zari. Which made me realize that if you turn to steel you have absolutely no reason to wear a helmet.

-- How did the drone recognize Ray with his helmet on? Is his secret identity made public at some point in the future?

-- Zari is initially presented as much more focused and competent than the Legends. That's the exact same trick they used when they introduced Amaya.

-- I liked that the woman Amaya met in her vision was all of her ancestors. That was a twist on the vision quest ancestor that I'd never seen before.

-- Mick's final exchange with Zari ('I'm not a superhero.' 'Neither am I') was just about the most charming thing a human being can safely view without being literally killed by the level of charming involved. Seriously. There have been studies.

-- Mick referring to cops as 'pigs' made me very uncomfortable. That's all I want to say about that issue.

-- Mick's Prison Break reference earlier makes two weeks in a row for the meta reference joke.

I like a lot of what it accomplished, but I felt like it was sloppy about the way it did it.

One and a half interlinked totems out of four.

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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The problem with this episode is that it tried to give each member of the main cast something to do

Technically the TB are based in 2017. So unless an event in the past up to 2017 requires someone in 2042 to go a certain way, it's not part of the TB's jurisdiction. The TB could have been cut out of the episode and maybe five, ten minutes could have been spent on the morality of locking up meta humans instead.

The problems with Stein, and Firestorm, are that Firestorm is a big CGI expense and a quick way of resolving the plot. Thus the contrived ways to split Stein and Jax up to prevent both. If this could be used creatively, exploring their connection like one of the Flash episodes, it wouldn't be so glaring, Firstorm turned an alien bomb into water in the Invasion crossover. The only time he pulls off such a feat.

If the show can find a way to change up the Firestorm design to something more achievable (practical costume, or something like Ghost Rider on Agents of Shield) and lower his powerset, the show might not have to jump through hoops to do what it's doing

Anonymous said...

The Irony of this review nitpicking things that are prevalent in nearly every episode since this show was conceived...

''If she can drown people by forcing herself down their throats (just don't think too much about it...) why doesn't she just do that all the time? It's a far more effective way of killing people than hitting them''

Those water effects cost money. The same way they find ways to keep Firestorm apart...and had to get rid of Wally on Flash...SFX =$$$$

Mikey Heinrich said...

Fair comments, all. I get that the effects cost money, I just feel like the lengths they've gone to to sideline Martin so far this season seem a little glaring. It probably only really bothers me because I'm sad about the Victor Garber situation.

Although to be fair, there are plenty of ways they could use practical effects and camera angle to suggest the use of water powers without having to go full cgi all the time. They do that sort of thing with Mick's fire gun from time to time. Just throwing that out there.

ladydmaj said...

Man, the people making this show better get down on one knee and pray they don't lose Dominic Purcell. They'd lose about 50% of what's making them awesome right now. It'd be a worse blow than losing Wentworth Miller.

I didn't mind this episode as a set up episode. Those are always a little clunky in almost any genre, so I think I'm just as happy they threw all of the set ups in there at once. At least Zari seems to fit the team well and has been conceived as a full character, which was my biggest question going into this season.

I think some of the questions you pose are addressed in Episode 4 - speaking of which, cannot WAIT for your review of that one!