Legends of Tomorrow: Here I Go Again

"Trust is something that grows over time between friends. As far as I'm concerned, we are still acquaintances."

The Legends tackle one of the hoariest of genre clich├ęs, the time loop episode – and come away with something pretty special.

Last week I spent what might be called an unreasonable amount of time discussing how "Daddy Darhkest" had too much plot for one episode, and really should have been two or three. While that may have been at least partially an excuse to once again complain about the Powers That Be not giving Legends a full 22 episode season, I'm happy to report that they seem to have taken the advice on board as this week they have the exact right amount of plot for what they set out to do.

Now, it should be taken as read that every single genre TV show is contractually obligated to do a time loop episode at some point in its run. Much in the same way that they're all legally required to feature Mark Sheppard and Summer Glau, either individually or as a unit – so there's that to look forward to.

This makes sense for a number of reasons. It's a nice money saver, as it lends itself to limiting your number of sets and speaking parts. It's an easy way to disguise the absence of a major character, since you can dial them back in whatever events are being replayed ad infinitum, allowing them to go off and film something else/be sick/go to rehab/whatever. And above all it's a really convenient excuse to focus in on one particular character and grill the hell out of whatever character development or background revelation you want to explore.

'Here I Go Again' is firmly in that last camp. Unless there's something going on in Dominic Purcell's personal life that I am unaware of.

So what I'm getting to is that this week was fundamentally all about new girl Zari. It had one goal, which was not even subtext, as Gideon stated it explicitly and in no uncertain terms. This week was about making Zari not just one of the team, but one of the group of friends, both within the story and meta-textually as part of the plot of the season.

One of the things that's always struck me as interesting about Zari is how, even though she comes from the early 2040s, the decade she most seems to echo is about 50 years earlier. She is the quintessence of what the '90s would have thought of as cool. She's detached, ironic, she comments on the narrative traditions of whatever story is going on around her, and she hides a sentimental nature under a thick crust of detached cultural awareness. If the show was filmed in 1991, she would absolutely be played by Winona Ryder.

I suppose it's entirely possible that in Zari's time the 1990s are just fashionable at that moment. If we ever go back to that time period we should absolutely check to see if everyone is super into Moby and ironically enjoying swing dancing. I suspect however that it's more intentional and deeper than that. And that the '90s connection is no coincidence.

A little background to clarify what I mean – and that means it's time to talk briefly about postmodernism.

Zari is, in many, many ways, a terribly post-modern character. A little background to show what I mean. Modernism, as a viewpoint and as an architectural style, was rooted in the premise that there is one, definitive, 'best' answer for every question. Everything along the history of designing, say, a two bedroom rambler was all a series of steps inevitably leading to the one, true, definitive two bedroom rambler. The trick was finding out what that definitive final form of two bedroom rambler was.

This was then applied to a variety of schools of thought (and to be fair had always been bubbling under any attempt at figuring out 'universal truths'), and led to a lot of unfortunate things in the 50s along the lines of suburban shopping malls, brutalism construction design, and gay bashing.

This is of course a horrific oversimplification, and I apologize to any architects or theoretical philologians among you, I'm merely trying to illustrate a point here.

Eventually, Modernism gave way to Post-Modernism, which for our discussion can best be summed up as, 'No, I'm going to make my two bedroom rambler any Gorram way I feel like, and who are you to tell me that's less "right" than your version?'

It's all about different routes, different viewpoints, and different solutions to the same problems being equally valid, objectively. That's the whole point of it.

Notice how all season long Zari has been proposing alternate routes. Yes, go warn Martin he's going to die. No, I will not take Helen back to her oppressive time no matter what history says. Yes, I'm going to install a program to specifically find alternate time loopholes, despite the fact that the entire plot of the season is about reunifying history to one cohesive, proper and most 'right' form.

Of course, the only real way to explore alternative options to what modernism tells you is the one proper path is to identify what that one proper path is and then have a meaningful discussion about it. This shows up in drama by essentially having the characters say something along the lines of 'Usually in this kind of story we would do this kind of thing. Should we do that kind of thing, or something else.' And then they talk about what those other options are.

Unfortunately for both the '90s and the greater world, the movie Scream happened, and we all forgot about everything except the 'constantly comment on how the structure of your metanarrative works' part, which is why we now are inundated with movies and shows who think it's intrinsically clever to say things like, 'If this was a movie we'd all split up right now.' I liked Scream as much as anybody at the time, but Kevin Williamson has more than a few things to answer for.

So, to make a long story short (too late), when I say that Zari is both quintessentially post-modern and quintessentially '90s in outlook, this is what I'm talking about. She knows how things generally work and is very into discussing other equally valid options. Look at the way she describes her goof-off time with Nate as the 'Fun Montage', exactly as someone who watched it, either here or in any of the countless other time loop episodes out there, would do.

Which is what makes having her as the focus character of a time loop story almost perverse. The entire point of time loop stories, generally, is that they're fundamentally modern. There is one 'right' way for things to be and the character can't move forward with their life until they recognize and align themselves 'correctly'.  Buffy has to find another way to get the customer a mummy hand. Mulder has to recognize that the real victim of the bank robbery is the robber's girlfriend. The Doctor has to... punch his way through a conceptual diamond wall... look, 'Heaven Sent' is a whole different discussion, let's forget that one right now.

Usually aligning that character to that 'right outlook' is a key point toward whatever the larger season plot is — here's a reason they keep making this kind of episode. The interesting thing about 'Here I Go Again', and Zari's place in the story, is that that's not what's going on here at all. The Zari at the end of this episode is fundamentally the exact same character as she was at the start. She hasn't learned to not keep secrets from her crew – Zari has never wasted time with that sort of thing. She hasn't learned not to try to save her brother despite the danger to history – if anything she's more determined than ever to do so at the end and has brought Sara around to helping her to do so. Instead of being about making sure Zari learned a specific lesson, Gideon set up the loop scenario for the journey, not for the destination. That is to say, the whole point was the infinite options and possibilities was for her to experience them all, and become friends with the rest of the crew through the process.

The proper way to describe that is 'discovering truth through the exploration of mutually exclusive but equally valid options', and that's what post-modernism is fundamentally about. Only Zari could have made that point clear here, and that is a hell of a lot deeper than your average genre show digs when they plan the 'cheapie' episode of the season.

It's also worth noting here that most of what we see happen is only possible because of Nate's awareness of media shorthand. If Groundhog Day wasn't available as a quick (and funny) way to get Nate on board quickly each time they looped around we would have had to spend a lot more time on exposition. It's equally fun that Ray's media shorthand was 'Cause and Effect,' and almost wasted time arguing about the relative validity of the reference. Personally, my first reference point was The X-Files, 'Monday.'  Your mileage may vary.

Nice discipline structurally here as well, I might add. Typically the main character's reaction to their situation runs in identifiable phases. First bewilderment, then find an ally/get task oriented, then despair over the situation, then emotional breakthrough and closure. These four phases were neatly outlined by the commercial breaks, with an intro and coda on either end. Nicely structured, Legends' writers.


And I would be remiss not to mention prominently – the outfits. Oh sweet tingly Jesus, the outfits. I want desperately to know exactly what went down with Napoleon and Abba, although the broad strokes were sketched in clearly enough. More than that, I want to know exactly what was going on with Ray's outfit. Were those overalls? A halter top? What? Props to him, not every man can pull off a scarf like that.

What did we learn today?

Apparently, do not mess with the blue-green goo. It wasn't entirely clear how it was killing Zari, but it was clear enough to make its point. Props to the show – when Zari first got sprayed I thought the goo would be important, but then on the next loop she moved the tube and dodged it, so I assumed it was just a visual gag, like Ray's falling off his platform shoes.

On that note, has anyone else noticed that they always feel obligated to start a time loop with a strong sight gag, as if we might not recognize the scene and dialogue without someone falling over amusingly? I find that mildly insulting. Probably just me.

Also, Gideon is indeed both awesome and terrifying. And has a great sense of humor – the line about including Gary because she thought it would be funny almost made me wet myself. Also, Amy Pemberton is stunning, and it's nice that they're finding ways to feature her periodically. Between this and her teasing Sara about Ava last week it definitely feels like they're making an effort to make Gideon a proper character and not a plot device. Good on them.


Everybody remember where we parked:

This week we were entirely in the cost saving device time vortex.

I appreciate how they avoided making things too repetitious by having everyone in different areas of the ship doing lots of different things. One of the pitfalls of these time loop episodes is how everything can start to feel same-y, and they did well avoiding that here.

Quotes:

Zari: "Deep breath. No one's going crazy."

Mick: "What's up with her?"
Ray: "Working theory? Cabin fever. (Time loop) Working theory? Space madness. (Time loop) Acute entropic dimensia. (Time loop) Too many donuts."
This just made me laugh. But it didn't really make sense for Zari to have developed resistance to the meds if she's just repeating the same hour. Probably just a narrative convention on Gideon's part.

Zari: "Nate."
Nate: "Oh, hi. Amaya and I were just.. uh.."
Zari: "Groundhog Day. One hour. Ship explodes."
Nice visual holding up the watch.

Nate: "Why would we flash each other after having sex?"
Zari: "Focus, Nate."
Nate: "Right. Ship. Exploding. Got it."
Zari: "Lets go find Rory."
Nate: "She probably wants to forget how awesome it was."
Zari: "Or how short."

Ray: "HO-ly Toledo. Where did you guys come from? Are you spying on me? Of course you are. I shouldn't say anything. OK, I'll tell you everything. Constantine told me to kill Sara if Mallus ever takes control of her again."
Nate: "Wow. Dude. That's heavy."

Ray: "Mick."
Nate: "He's clean."
Zari: "Unlike his literary erotica."
I really want to read that book.

Zari: "I can't do this anymore. I'm losing my mind."
Nate: "Wait, did you do the... uh.."
Zari: "Fun montage? Yeah. Thanks for that. You're a good friend."
You could see in her reaction that this was the moment she realized she had friends. Honestly, Tala Ashe really knocked this episode out of the park.

Gary: "Did you have a meaningful message for me?"
Sara: "Not now, Gary!"


Bits and Pieces:

— I loved seeing John Constantine. Even just in the opening flashbacks. Please bring him back.

— Zari in red flannel versus the rest of the crew in white was a nice visual.

— Although, why was Mick dressed as one of Napoleon's soldiers while the rest went disco? Seriously, I want to hear this story. Although they can leave out Nate and Amaya's portion.

— So Zari's the ship mechanic now? Did Jax give her a quick tutorial? Does this mean Jax really isn't coming back? I miss Jax.

— Ray should always wear that disco outfit.

— Loved the way this episode furthered the main plotlines by having Zari just reveal everyone's secrets. Such a Zari thing to do, and so not the way these things usually operate. I also liked that Sara was so understanding of Constantine's advice to kill her and that they didn't save that secret as some stupid manufactured rift in the crew later on.

— I get why they did it, but it was a little out of character for Sara to completely dismiss Zari's warning and have her drugged at first after everything they've been through.

— Can Mick always wear that blue onesie? Can they make them commercially available so that I can always wear Mick's blue onesie?

— The sequence of Nate being Zari's deathtrap canary was priceless. Although I feel like Mick might have been overreacting to protecting his book if he was willing to kill everybody else who might stumble onto it. Maybe that part was just Gideon being funny.

— Everything about Sara and Ava. Just everything about them. Can they stay in this stage of adorable crush love forever? It's so much cuter than the messy real stuff.

— Can Tala Ashe actually play the violin? I wasn't sure. Haunting ending, and it confirmed that Gideon really had put her through the whole experience and was just being coy about it.

— Wally West, I like that you're joining the show, but the man-bun? No. Just no.

What should really have been just a standard template episode of sci-fi standard plot 43 was instead something really special and in parts profoundly moving. 3 and 1/2 out of 4 platform shoes. I'm deducting 1/2 for the last lines before exploding being a little too on the nose... If every episode was this good I would seriously ramp up my campaign to get them a full 22 episode season.

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.

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

It was a terrific Groundhog Day episode. Loved it. I really liked the thing with ABBA and Napoleon and the costumes, Mick's hidden novel featuring Buck's glistening biceps, the visit from Gideon, and how much it made me care about Zari for the first time. Well done, Legends.

I never once thought "postmodernism," but maybe that's just me. :)

Anonymous said...

Great episode...Very creative spin on the time loop. I already liked Zari's quiet presence so this one just made me hope that she is around for another season at least.
I also loved how they nearly had a good Mick and Amaya scene..I find her and Nate incredibly annoying (not hawk level bad) and it annoyed me that they killed her budding friendship with Mick for the most obvious romance.
There where so many laugh out loud moments but i particularly liked the cue card gag with Zari, Ray and Mick.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I may have gotten a little deep in the weeds, academically speaking, this week :) But I really, really loved this episode

The cue card gag was brilliant! And Ray is right about washing things inside out, btw. I meant to mention that.

I also meant to mention how much I loved Zari's feedback on Mick's novel, and how her observation about Us really just wanting to see Buck embrace his new family after being so isolated was really all about her. It's very true that we all tend find the themes in what we read that echo things in ourselves.

Patryk said...

Another time-loop episode that was very good. It seems you can;t go wrong with the format. Also the 3rd I saw this season (Dark Matter and Star Trek Discovery), but I still think the Discovery episode was the best of the Groundhog Day Episodes this year.

I guess Jax is not coming back because just like on the Walking Dead You can only have one black guy on an ensamble show that's a major character and we now have Wally.

Mikey Heinrich said...

That thought has been sadly nagging at me as well.

I like Wally West as an addition, I think he's an interesting fit as a character and I like him better on Legends than Flash because too many speedsters.

But.... And I have a huge but....

It does feel inescapably like they're moving him over to Legends now to fill the diversity void left by Franz' departure, which feels uncomfortable.

Anybody else struggling with this issue?

Patryk said...

Yeah that basically what I wrote above. It does feel like they are restoring the token minority balance.

Billie Doux said...

Well, to give them a little credit, two of the three current female characters are women of color. And Wally West was fun on The Flash but redundant, so it makes sense to move him over.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Sorry Patryk, I should have been clearer - I was totally agreeing with you.

On the other hand, Billie's right too. That's why I'm having a hard time with the situation. In a way, their usual admirable job with representation makes this moment stand out and feel stranger.

Lesley Perry said...

Tala Ashe posted on twitter (and shared photos) that she actually does play violin. I liked the episode. The cue card gag was awesome.