Legends of Tomorrow: Daddy Darhkest

"Oh, There's always more crap to endure."

The Legends are finally back after an incredibly long break, and they've brought a heck of a lot of plot along with them.

It's interesting to note though that while it's been just shy of two months for the rest of us since we last saw our heroes, for them it's only been moments since John Constantine showed up in their entry bay at the end of 'Beebo'. This has a curious knock on effect that while we've all had a little while to come to terms with Stein's death and Jax' exit, the Legends themselves have not. It's not dwelt on extensively, but it does give an odd feeling to the moment in the lab when Zari and Ray mention Firestorm's absence.

But all things considered it's for the best that we don't spend a lot of time on reminiscing, because there's about four hundred other things this episode needs to get to and only 42 minutes in which to get to them. Which is the problem with this episode in general, really, and ultimately there's no choice but to blame whoever has decreed that Legends doesn't get to have twenty-two episodes in a season like its Berlanti Brethren (and Sistren?). We'll get to details in a moment, but this really needed to be at least two and preferably three episodes for everything it needed to accomplish.

Honestly, let's take a look at the laundry list of things that needed to get set up here:

--Get Rip out of prison and loose as a wild card.

--Introduce the concept of 'The Six' i.e. the six totems that will apparently defeat Mallus.

--Seed redemption arcs for both Kuasa and Nora.

--Say goodbye to Leo.

--Show how powerful Mallus is by showing his early possession of Nora, thereby also filling in her character background.

--Forward Sara and Ava as a couple who are clearly in the early flirting stage. Ava's hair flip alone spoke volumes.

and

--Set up Sara as potentially dangerous and compromised by Mallus.

Let's take first things first and start with what we were expecting this episode to be about. Going by all the pre-airing publicity this looked like it was going to be your standard 'girl possessed by demon in spooky asylum' plot. If there is a 'standard' of such a thing. That was indeed a lot of what we got, but the way it tied into the ongoing story was a pleasant surprise. Then those tie-ins tied in to other aspects of the ongoing story, which tied in to others, and in the end we were left with the sense that this episode was mostly about setting up a significant number of 'other shoes' that we can expect to drop later in the season.

To illustrate – the twist that the girl in the asylum who was possessed was none other than Nora Darhk was brilliant. I don't know if other viewers knew it in advance, but it came as a complete surprise to me. I realize in hindsight that the episode title was a huge giveaway, but I totally missed it. I also missed the clue in the opening title card that we were starting out in Star City, 2017, when we'd left our heroes in Central City. It seems like an odd switch of location until the reveal of Nora at which point it seems blindingly obvious that Nora wouldn't have been moved to a different city after being put in protective services.

Except... wouldn't she have been? If they went to the effort of changing her name and giving her a new identity, wouldn't a new city have been exactly the sort of thing they'd do? And why wasn't she checked into the asylum as 'Emily', but apparently as 'Nora', if she was in the 'My Dad is a murdered super-villain' witness protection program? And why is she in the asylum anyway? It would seem that she's there because of her possession by Mallus, but it's also implied that the possession has been arranged by the mysterious 'order' that works in the asylum, so which came first? It's entirely possible that Mallus possessed her on its own recognizance, and that the Order found her and brought her into their controlled environment once they recognized this, but then Damien shows up at the end and makes it pretty clear that the whole thing is just a massive exercise in plot-bookkeeping to make sure that Nora ends up belonging to Mallus so that she grows up and goes back to 1897 and re-animates her dad so that he's alive in 2017 to come to the asylum to make sure that she ends up belonging to Mallus so that... and so on and so on.

Clearly that's why Kuasa is on the scene. In fact, she directly says so. She's there to 'protect the moment that she (Nora) becomes his (Mallus'). That's your standard issue 'making sure time continues on the course it was meant to take' plot that's usually the purview of the heroes in this sort of show. And there's no reason to believe that Damien's sending Nora to people who will raise her to work with Mallus at the end isn't the exact same sort of 'ensuring future events' move.

Those are some massive temporal shenanigans for the audience to wrap their heads around, but they aren't given time to breathe here because we simultaneously also have to set up sending Sara, Leo, and Constantine back to 1969, and have a semi-reconciliation between Kuasa and Amaya with Nate getting in the way.

Honestly, this episode in a microcosm can be shown in the scene in which Ray and Zari worry about the away team's disappearance while Nate and Amaya argue about Kuasa while Mick tries to watch football. All the pieces totally work individually, but they're all fighting for space to develop. And if we look at it honestly, it's clearly the Amaya/Kuasa plot that should have been bumped back to its own episode. As it stands it works all right – and it makes a nice mirror of Ray and Zari's attempt to save Nora, which gives us a nice 'defeat your enemies by making them your friends' motif. However, Kuasa's has an absolutely legitimate point that having the ability to help others and not doing so is arguably wrong, and that debate is surely worth more than a four minute scene. That should have been an amazing episode all of its own, and it makes me sad that we didn't get to see it.

There really isn't room for our plot this week.,
Meanwhile, John Constantine...

Matt Ryan just simply is the definitive John Constantine at this point. His look, his accent, and his entire manner just breathe John Constantine in the exact same way that everything about Keanu Reeves doesn't.

It's worth noting at this point that the way the CW is currently using Constantine is exactly the way the comics used him initially – as an enigmatic, cynical magician that periodically showed up and did magic things in other people's titles (usually Swamp Thing) while acting like a charming jackass. When DC announced that they were giving him his own title it seemed like a strange risk to take this mysterious secondary character and build whole stories about him. How wrong we were. While part of me still holds on to hope that the CW will give him his own show again, I'm equally happy if the good people at Berlantico have returned him to his original status as recurring guest star in everybody else's stories.

(That said, if and when they do give John his own series again – and there are at least two solid reason to think that someone at the CW is hoping to do so – can we please cut to the chase and call it Hellblazer like it should have properly been in the first place?)

Let's be clear, it was great to see them firmly establish Constantine as bisexual early on. Unfortunately, they lose a point or two from the fact that they seem to have been very clear about John's bisexuality in order to make his liaison with Sara more palatable.

Look, it's an unfortunate truth about the LGBT community that the L and G don't have a great history with respecting the B. Typically they tend to get looked at as either gay men afraid to completely commit to being gay, or fantasy figure women for straight men. That said, when a female character who is bisexual has sex with a man, there's an unfortunate tendency to view that as some sort of 'betrayal' of what we might broadly refer to as that character's 'Queerness'.

**There's an entire interesting discussion to be had about the reclaiming of the word 'Queer' and the generational implications of how it's used, but this isn't really the time or place for that discussion. For the moment let's just acknowledge that I use the term respectfully.

So, when I say that it feels like they made such a to-do of John's bisexuality in order to make his tryst with Sara more palatable, what I'm really saying is that by making him bi they could effectively head off criticism of Sara getting down with a dude by making it hypocritical to criticize her for it when John is in the exact same position. Literally.

I don't want to make too big a thing out of this, because Berlanti and crew really do go out of their way to be LGBT inclusive in a way no other group of shows really does, and at the end of the day sexuality politics can be just exhaustively complicated.

Also, I hope to God that they didn't maneuver John and Sara into having sex so that they could do a 'Sara's pregnant with a magic baby' storyline. Seriously, Showrunners – please just don't.

And finally, a note about (American) Football:

Mick says he's watching 'Week Sixteen. Division Titles.'  In the National Football League, week Sixteen is the second to last week of regular play, as there are Seventeen weeks in the season. Each team plays Sixteen games with one 'bye' week during the season where they get a week off. The intention seems to be that Mick is watching the Divisional Playoffs, which are post-season, and in our reality were played on the 13th and 14th of January. If he had been watching the Viking/Saints game he definitely would have been entitled to complain about missing the ending, as the last play of the game was amazing, and is now referred to as 'The Minnesota Miracle.'

By pausing we can see that he is instead watching the BCG v. BVS game. BVS appears to be the Blue Valley Somethings. The screen cuts off before we read the mascots name. They appear to be tied at 20 each with 3:38 left in the 3rd Quarter – hardly a nail-biting game, regardless of how Mick is acting. Although 20 is a curious number for each of them to have, since it implies they each either missed an extra point or got two field goals.

Who says you can't be a fan of both genre television and professional sports?

What did we learn today?

Apparently anyone possessed by Mallus has their true soul sent to a grey void dimension where time has no meaning so that someone possessed in 2017 can have a nice chat with someone possessed in 1969. This actually makes perfect sense for a demon with Mallus' relationship to time, and recalls Doctor Who dream rules.

Not relevant to how time works in the show, but on the subject of time, I was wrong-footed by having forgotten that Nora was just a child when we saw her in Arrow. She looked to be around the 13-14 mark here (I might be off a bit, I'm terrible at estimating ages.) This made me wonder about what future point her adult self comes from. She doesn't appear to be old enough to be from Zari's time, but she's clearly at least 10-12 years away from being done cooking in our timeline. I hope they answer that at some point, although it's not strictly relevant.

Everybody remember where we parked:

This week the Waverider never left Central City, 2017. Although as mentioned, Sara, Leo and Constantine took a sigil-trip to 1969. I'm still wrestling with what the point of time-displacing them was. It was either to establish the sigil so we'll recognize it later, to get Sara and John to have sex so that she can have a magic baby (please don't be this one), or so that we'll recognize Evil Dr. Pearls younger self later on.

Note: she's listed officially as Dr. Ellen Moore, but I'll be referring to her as Evil Doctor Pearls as often as possible.

"All will bow to the power of my pearls!"
Quotes:

Mick: "I thought we gave the Englishman to the Time Pigs?"
Sara: "That was Rip. This is John Constantine."
Mick: "Skinny Brit in a trench coat. Same difference."

Constantine: "I'm also a Taurus for those of you taking notes."
His wink at Leo was epic at this point, but I really wish it had been at Mick. Just saying.

Sara: "If you're looking for luck you're on the wrong timeship."

Sara: (picking herself up off the floor) "Any ideas?"
Constantine: "Those were my ideas."

Ray: "Guys, be careful. You're in an asylum with a demon. That's a two-fer of terror."

Orderly: "I'm sorry, who are you?"
Sara: "I'm Doctor... Yeah, I'm not doing this." (Punch.)

Leo: "Take it."
Nate: "How do I use it?"
Leo: "You Pull the Trigger."
That line was all about Wentworth Miller's delivery. He'll be missed.

Amaya: "I refuse to accept that my granddaughter is pure evil."
Nate: "Fine. She's 89 percent evil."

Mick: "Quiet! Haircut, you take the new girl, find Blondie, Fake Snart and Trenchcoat.  Amaya, the Med-Bay. Pretty, the library. Water Bitch stays in the Freezer."
Ray: "You know Mick, you're really showing some management potential."
Mick: "Get out!"

Evil Doctor Pearls: "So, you're a time traveler."
Leo: "Would you believe I'm also from an alternative Earth?"
Evil Doctor Pearls: "Of course you are."

Constantine: "Room 237. Allons-Y, Alonso."
This specific Doctor Who quote was said by David Tennant to one Midshipman Alonso Frame, who was played by Russell Tovey, who now plays Leo's soon to be husband, The Ray. It really does get incestuous quickly, doesn't it?

And the quote of the week:

Leo: "I hope no one was trying to seduce anyone while I was about to be lobotomized."
Honestly, you're just not going to get that sort of quote on just any show.

Bits and pieces:

-- Some of the 'Previously on Legends of Tomorrow' was actually previously on Arrow.

-- The use of current events on Arrow to show the clip of him killing Darhk so that that could be the trigger that causes Nora to give in to Mallus is exactly the sort of cross-show continuity that lesser shows dream of.

-- Notice that the episode started with Constantine putting out a cigarette and ended with him lighting one, with him being allowed no cigarettes in between the two. Networks are very touchy about glamorizing smoking. This was undercut slightly by Ray saying, 'That guy's so cool!' seconds after Constantine lit up at the end.

-- Constantine said at the beginning that he'd found Emily 'again.' I wonder what happened at the first meeting?

-- Seriously, no magic baby plots. I'm not kidding.

-- So the six totems are Spirit, Water, Wind, Earth, Fire and... we don't know. Please don't have it turn out to be love. Honestly, I'd rather it turned out to be Boron – at least that's actually the fifth element.

-- Episode Twelve is called 'Curse of the Earth Totem', so I'm guessing we'll be dealing with the Earth Totem in that one. Can I hope that the Fire Totem involves bringing Jax/Firestorm back?

-- Since you asked earlier, the two solid reasons to think that someone wants to bring back the Constantine series are A: The sheer number of references to Newcastle/Astra/Him being damned that were thrown out in this episode – that's all foundational Constantine stuff and any new show would build on it. And B: They prominently showed commercials for the existing episodes on CW Seed during this broadcast. Almost as if they were trying to stir the coals of the fanbase. Well, I can hope.

-- No. Magic. Babies.

-- Everyone on the ship including Gideon confirmed my early belief that Ava is Sara's romantic interest for the season. Leo was right, they are both hot. Like Leo, I am also gay, not blind.

-- It's hard not to see the final scene between Mick and Leo as anything but Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller saying goodbye to working together. Very well done.

-- Between Mick's football obsession, the fact that the away team was sent to January 16th, 1969, and the fact that Ray's next secret word was 'Eli Manning', I'm pretty sure they originally intended this episode to air mid-January. I wonder what happened.

Everything in this episode was great, I just wish there had been less stuffed into it so that the remaining parts had more room to breathe.

Three out of Four totally-not-happening-magic-babies

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:

An Honest Fangirl said...

So, I may or may not have watched this episode solely for John Constantine. I didn’t quite understand everything that was going on, but it was still a fun ride. This has been a good week for me in regards to returning favorite characters.

I really, really hope that you’re right and that they’re seeding the return of a full blown Constantine show. I remember a lot of excitement around the possibility when he first showed up on ‘Arrow.’ One can hope.

Anonymous said...

Very astute comment about bisexuality. I'm sad at how apt it is. Also, NO MAGIC BABY..ever. I hated that Angel did it twice to ..spoiler person.
Sara deserves better.
Very good ep, but the Sara/John hookup felt..forced.
Sad to see Leo go, but aww..of course he can't leave his Ray forever.

Patryk said...

All I could think about is that Zari and Ray took Nora to a coffee shop that was 100% a repurposed Jitters set from the Flash. :)

Mikey Heinrich said...

I thought that exact same thing!

I looked it up- apparently it's called the Grind and Jolt and had appeared at least once before

Also, am I the only one who thinks that Grind and Jolt sounds like some kind of weird hybrid coffee house/strip club?