Legends of Tomorrow: I, Ava

"No. No, you guys can't break up. I was shipping you so hard."

Legends continues to set the pieces up for its finale by finally giving us most of the secret backstory of Ava Sharpe. Unfortunately, contrary to what the title might have led you to believe, it does not involve an abusive mother and competitive figure-skating.

I can't have been the only one hoping for that, can I?

That was a lot of fun, but I'm just going to say what we're all thinking – dammit, Canada, even your future dystopias are pleasant and friendly. Honestly, you're just making the rest of us look bad.

The theme this week is family, and the Legends took a couple of interesting side tracks to explore it. Primarily, as referenced in the title, we're looking into the family history of Ava Sharpe, and to our mild surprise discover that she doesn't really have one. Okay, let's be honest, we weren't really surprised about that. It was pretty much an even toss up between clone and robot, and the fact that she's been having sex with Sara for a little while seemed to contraindicate robot. Although sex with robots isn't nearly as uncommon as people think, or so I've been told.

There's been an interesting undercurrent this season about the people that we interact with making up the substance of our lives, whether it's memories of dead love ones keeping them connected to us or a baby dominator teaching us to keep believing in the power of positivity. In fact, the totems themselves are a nice visual metaphor for the connections between people having the power to defeat evil. Speaking of, before we get too carried away with discussing the episode at hand, remember all that stuff earlier in the year about how coincidental it was that they all kept running into relatives in different points of history? That's still a thing that's going somewhere, isn't it? They haven't mentioned it in a while, even when the same exact thing happened to Damien Darhk, which you think would have been a great time to remind us about it. I have faith that it will still pay off, but it seems oddly forgotten for the moment.

In two out of the three plotlines this week the connections-between-people thread translated into finding strength through your connections to your family, but interestingly enough it didn't do so in the case of the A plot. It's probably not a coincidence that the theme of family and its importance was so prominent in the other two plot threads this week, because it consistently bounced off the Ava plot in interesting ways and ultimately begged the question of who exactly Ava's family is.

Clearly we were intended to spend the first half-ish of the episode wondering if Ava was going to be revealed as having been evil this whole time, specifically because of this apparent lack of family. Her parents are shown to be an elaborate front, and there's this mysterious ban on going to the time and place of her origin, suggesting nefarious goings-on. Sara is clearly eager to jump onto this particular band-wagon and very quickly embraces the thought that Ava's been lying to them all. Obviously, this is because she feels guilty about hurting Ava by breaking up with her – it would be terribly convenient for her if Ava was revealed to be evil at this point. Who among us hasn't looked for reasons to demonize an ex? Full credit to Sara then that not only did she quickly realize that Ava had no idea about her own past, but immediately began trying to keep Ava from finding out in order to spare her the pain of knowing about it. As I've mentioned more than a couple of times, it's insanely refreshing to see adult characters on television behaving like adults. That's consistently been my favorite thing about Sara and Ava together. See also Ava's revelation about going to Vegas and creating an Upswipz profile. 'Even though we're not together anymore it felt important to be honest with you.' That's just light years more mature and more interesting than most relationships you see on television. Of course, it was also kind of a cheap plot device to make her behavior seem suspicious earlier in the episode. I honestly can't see Ava leaving the Bureau to do a long Vegas weekend without letting anybody know. She's probably have her time off paperwork finished in triplicate and her hours coded in HR before she'd even think of heading to the airport. Not a huge deal, but it was a little out of character.


Which brings me to Sara's speech to Ava about her past not being who she was. There was so much love in that short speech, and a very welcome subtext. Contrasted as prominently and deliberately as it was with Kuasa finding strength in family and Zari sharing her connections to family and tradition with Mick, this seemed to be a deliberate acknowledgement that 'family' can be a flexible concept. Bluntly, some people's birth families are horrible. Some people don't have any connection to their birth family for whatever reason. Some people don't know who any of their birth family members are, and some people wish that they didn't. Having an episode with the theme 'your family is your source of strength,' can get problematic if you don't recognize that to many people their family is not necessarily the people you're related to. To quote Joss Whedon, 'Your family are the people who treat you like family,' and to quote Sara Lance, 'This is where you are from, but this is not who you are.' The implication rather strongly here is that Ava's family is Sara. And Ray. And Gary. Those are the people she is connected to.

Honestly, I came away from this episode thinking, 'Okay, Ava's a clone. Whatev's.' It genuinely didn't change my feelings about her character the slightest bit, and I would have expected that it would. I'm guessing that this is for the same reason that I never for a second believed that Ava was evil, and that's because Jes Macallan has really made her an insanely likeable character. Ever since she called to express her condolences for Martin's death she's just gone from strength to strength as a believable person that you genuinely root for. If/when season four is announced I would love to see her bumped up to regular status. We'll have to see how many spots are available –it all depends on if they kill Nate, or Amaya, or both.

On that topic, it really struck home when Sara left Amaya in charge and Ray said he'd expected it would be him that Sara, Ray and Mick are all that's left of the original lineup. They've really established a nice level of turnover, keeping the lineup fresh but not making it feel like a revolving door. It made me look at who among the team I consider deal-breakers, as far as my being unwilling to accept them leaving under any circumstances. Honestly, I'm down to Sara and Mick. I would hate to lose Ray, as Brandon Routh really does something special and very specific with that part that there simply isn't anyone else doing anywhere on television, but I'd get over it. For the record, I felt the same about Victor Garber. Amaya – at some point they're going to have to resolve the time paradox plot concerning her return to Zambesi – I'm guessing in the finale. I like Nate a lot, but I suspect his CG costs are a bit higher than everyone elses, and it would be way to easy to write him out with Amaya. Additionally, he's kind of a midpoint between Wally and Ray, personality-wise, so it wouldn't affect the balance too much. Zari's too new – plus everything they're doing with her is working really well.

Speaking of Nate and Amaya, we have the B-plot.

So Nate and Wally head off to Detroit to check in on Mari – who for the record has still never appeared on this show, which always feels strange to me. I like the twist that Kuasa was also there to protect Mari and not to hurt her. It tied in nicely with the family theme, and it provided the final impetus for Kuasa's redemption and death. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was absolutely convinced that Kuasa was playing Nate and Wally and would immediately betray them. Particularly when she injected what appeared to be Windex, but was apparently saltpeter, into Nate so he couldn't get hard. Ahem. How on Earth was Darhk going to know at a glance if Nate was capable of steeling up or not? But apparently I was wrong, because it became clear that Kuasa only betrayed Nate after hearing he and Amaya tell each other that they loved one other. This was a really well done plot development, because when you think about it Kuasa is living Back to the Future where Marty is the villain. That's a heck of a thing to get your head around while deciding if you're rooting for her or not. Excellently plotted, show.

And on the subject of Kuasa, her redemption arc was that rarest of things – an ongoing television plotline that neither ran on too long nor ended too quickly. Kudos for that, it felt exactly the right length of episodes for her views to develop the way they did and for her to end up sacrificing herself for family. More specifically, she sacrificed herself for a man whose very existence might erase her whole family tree from history. Again, interesting and complicated. Very well done. All things considered, the only thing I didn't like about Kuasa's arc this season was her choice of eye shadow.

Oh, and Darhk and Nate bonding over their shared 'safe space' fake torture was absolutely priceless. The little happy fist bump alone made me totally forgive everything I said in my review of 'No Country for Old Dads.'  Neal McDonough is just non-stop delightful. Also, he's missing his daughter now that she's turned into Dark Willow, and you just know that's going to be a factor into how all this plays out.

And finally the C-plot. Amaya, not wanting to be an active participant in any of the plotlines this week, leaves Zari to train Mick in the ways of the totem bearer. Honestly, I could have watched an entire episode of this. Possibly an entire season. I loved that they based at least part of the squabbling between them on the fact that Mick apparently doesn't know anything about Islam and has forgotten that Zari is a Muslim. I can't praise highly enough how the show is handling her religious beliefs. They don't come up particularly often, but they do come up once in a while, in exactly the way people's religious beliefs do in the real world. I like that they haven't forgotten that she's a Muslim, and I like the idea that if you're in a timeship you have to schedule your religious observances as best you can.

The moment when Zari finally snapped due to Mick's behavior is now officially my favorite ever use of the 'dolly zoom,' a.k.a. that film technique where everything in the foreground gets closer but everything in the background gets further away. I didn't know it had a name either, I looked it up this evening solely because I liked how they used it here.

Beyond that, everything between Mick and Zari was pure gold. Zari whipping him around in a tornado (although fire tornadoes are a real thing and nothing to mess with. On another fire service note this week, Nate mentions that the Detroit Fire Department can handle things themselves. The Detroit Fire department is a whole series of essays in and of itself, but the documentary Burn is a good place to start if you never want to feel good about anything ever again). I really thought Dominic Purcell sold the Hell out of the moment where he and Zari feel the connection of Kuasa's death in an impressively subtle way, and her sharing her family's traditional meal with him was transcendentally beautiful in a million small ways. I don't think Mick would have hung out and eaten that meal with just anyone.

Oh, and a special shout out for the fake Pam and Randy Sharpe. On first viewing they clearly feel off, but watching the scene knowing what's going on they absolutely nail improvisers trying to carry off 'married couple.' Look specifically at the way 'Randy' oversells almost everything he says. It was also nice to see how they seeded the info about Ava's 15th birthday party back in 'Curse of the Earth Totem' to pay off here. That was a nice little detail. Also, fake 'Pam' made snickerdoodles, which means she is a fundamentally good person. Snickerdoodles are the cookie that all other cookies wish that they could be. I am willing to fight on this point.

So what did we learn today?

The time vortex looks like it's continuing to degrade, and it sounds from the dialog like it's actually degrading on its own now, so it's now a question of fixing it rather than just preventing additional damage to it.

They referred to Ava as an anachronism a couple of times, seeing as she's a clone from Future Dystopian Canada, but technically isn't she just a time traveler? Potato/Potatoe I suppose, but it felt like the dialog trying to treat her like an 'it' instead of as a 'her.' Perhaps that was the intended point. After all, Sara yells at Gary for that exact thing.

Not strictly about the nature of Time, but the sheer number of times we've had Beebo and Upswipz mentioned this season on all the Berlanti shows makes me hope they're going to play a part in somebody's finale.

Looks like Amaya's headed to Zambesi, 1992 next week, Which I think is when the local warlords kill her and destroy her village, so the smart money is on us dealing with her whole time paradox thing there and then. Also, that was my sophomore year of college, and if Amaya could take a moment to pass a note on to the girl I was dating at the time it could spare everybody a lot of awkward trouble in the long run.

Everybody remember where we parked:

Honestly, the time courier wristbands have really been a godsend for these multiple plotline stories.

Stop me if I get any of this wrong, because it got a little confusing – This week the Waverider took Sara, Ray and Gary to Time Bureau. I think that was in Central City 2018, but I'm not sure and the screen frustratingly only labels it as 'Time Bureau.' The Waverider then zipped over to Detroit in the same year to drop off Nate and Wally, I think. The sequence of those events is a little unclear, since Wally and Nate seem to be in Detroit first. The other option is that Sara, Ray and Gary took the jumpship from Detroit to Central City (or wherever) but if so it's not clear when the jumpship gets back to the Waverider. It seems that the Waverider is in Detroit for the remainder of the episode, as Wally and Kuasa walk back to it from the hospital, but as Wally's a speedster that isn't as helpful a clue as it might be, since he could have carried Kuasa just about anywhere. Hey, speaking of, wasn't it refreshing that Kuasa didn't know the phrase 'speedster' when describing Wally? It's always a nice detail when not everybody in the universe has the exact same pool of knowledge.

Sara, Ray and Gary get to Fresno somehow, so perhaps the easiest solution is that they had the jump ship the entire time, then steal the ominously titled 'Mothership' to get to Vancouver, 2213 after returning from Fresno to what is possibly Central City. Ava follows them to Vancouver 2213 via Time Courier, thus begging the question of exactly how 'blocked off' that time and place is if she can just go there with no fuss, but then she is the director now so that might not be a problem.

Sara, Ray, Gary and Ava then presumably take the Mothership back to what may or may not be Central City, pick up the jump ship, and head over to Detroit. Or maybe the Waverider comes back from Detroit to pick them up. In any case, they and the jump ship are clearly back in place by the end of the episode.

And all of this speculation matters not one tiny little damn. This was a fun story that clipped right along and juggled a bunch of threads quite deftly, and if at any point your enjoyment of it was lessened by stopping to wonder what ship they took where then I'm forced to conclude that the problem was you, not the show.



Quotes:

Amaya: "Training. Do you remember? We spoke about learning to harness the powers of the totem."
Mick: "Huh. Got a new trick. Pull my finger."
Amaya: "What?"
Mick: "Pull my finger."
Zari: "Do not pull his finger. Let's just say that hot dogs aren't the only thing he's learned to light on fire."

Gary: "Now we know where director Sharpe gets her perfect bone structure."

Sara: "I don't want a snickerdoodle, Ray."
Fool!

'Pam Sharpe': "Do you know how hard it is to get an acting job in Fresno?"

Mick: "Trying to lose some fat, huh?"
Zari: "No, I love my body. I'm trying to observe Ramadan."

Gary: "When I was a kid I told my friends my dad was an orthodontist. It sounded much cooler than dentist."
Every single thing about this sentence is sad.

Gary: "I had a dream like this once."
Sara: "Yeah, me too. But mine involved less clothing."
Gary: "Mine too!"
Ray: "Okay."

Wally: "What I am is the fastest man alive, thanks."
Nate: "Second fastest."
Wally: "She didn't need to know that."
Didn't they establish on Flash that Wally was faster?

Nate: "Damien, this is deep stuff, man. Let's just keep digging. Let's keep digging."

Ray: "This is the second worst Attack of the Clones I've seen."


Bits and Pieces:

-- Okay, seriously. What's going on with Amaya's hair? I swear it's styled completely differently in every episode. Sometimes in every scene. Is Maisie Richardson-Sellers filming like a million different things at the moment? It always looks fabulous, but it keeps changing and it's freaking me out.

-- So Mari is injured because she doesn't have the totem anymore because Amaya lost it a few weeks ago and decades before she was born. Okay, so is that time solidified like the old rules used to be? I'm guessing not.

-- Gary was suspiciously ready with that wig and pantsuit plan. Probably best to not ask any follow-up questions.

-- I really like the art behind Ava's desk. Had we seen it before?

-- Wally is still doing his run in first, think later thing. That's going to get him into trouble.

-- Ava's parents were set up by Rip four years earlier on the off chance Ava came to visit. Good lord, I can't imagine how bored 'Pam' and 'Randy' must be by now. That tracks with how long it's been since Rip set up the Bureau, as far as I remember.

-- I can't believe I'd never stopped to think how Kuasa felt about seeing Nora wear the Spirit Totem. Should that have been a bigger deal?

-- It was clever that when Gary and team first got to Future Dystopian Canada that he only called out to the clones as 'Director Sharpe,' which of course they wouldn't recognize. One assumes they're all named Ava. It does make you wonder how Rip decided on 'Sharpe', always assuming it was him that named her.

-- Apparently 2213 ties in with Boosted Gold, somehow, but I'm not really up on the details.

-- Would a huge cloning establishment like that really only have one model available? They said she was made from all the best genes in the world, but surely the best genes can be made in more than one combination? It's also almost certainly unintentional, but it feels a little dodgy claiming that they'd cooked up the absolutely perfect person and came up with more than a little Aryan Ava.

-- It's also very thoughtful for Advanced Variant Automation to have installed that one thick bar at exactly boob height to maintain the newly forming clone's modesty.

-- Nora just handing the totem over to Kuasa because she didn't need it felt like stupid and lazy plotting. Particularly as her stated plan was to have all the totems brought to her. Wouldn't she be keeping the one she already had as close as possible?

-- So the current score is Nora Darhk, 1 Water Totem, The Legends, the other five. Right? The Death Totem has chosen Sara, while the Earth Totem friend-zoned Nate. Two more episodes for it all to sort out.

-- I type up notes as I prep for these. This week my notes contain the following - 'Did Darhk just cattle-prod Nate in the dick?' This is exactly what my mother was hoping for when she paid for my undergraduate liberal arts degree.

Another cracking installment that has my simultaneously super-excited about for the finale and sad that the finale is so close.

Three and a half out of four snickerdoodles.

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.

3 comments:

ladydmaj said...

Regarding Ava being an Aryan dream: I think that's why, after finding out she's made with the "best" genes in the world, Ray snarks that personally he thinks she's a little pale.

I could have watched Zari spin Mick right round (baby, right round, like a record, baby, right round round) for possibly forever. What a rich pairing. I really need to see the two of them tag-teaming Ray mercilessly at some point in the future (all with great affection, of course).

Two episodes left. I'm really losing hope that I might get my group hug this season.

Billie Doux said...

Unfortunately, contrary to what the title might have led you to believe, it does not involve an abusive mother and competitive figure-skating. Lol, Mikey. Actually, the title led me to believe Ava had to be a robot, because Asimov.

I don't want Amaya to return to Zambesi. I was holding out hope that maybe Nate was going to be the father of Amaya's daughter, but Kuasa finally answered that particular question.

Loved Damien this time. His non-torturing Nate scene was one of his absolute best, and that's saying a lot.

Patryk said...

Legends are now so consitently funny and entertaining that it's my current favorite of the Arrowverse shows. Too bad it's also the one with the least episodes per season.

The 2213 Vancouver scenes felt like the G-rated version of Altered Carbon. :)

Constantine needs a slot on the waverider so I guess Amaya and Nate have to go, but how will they handle it. Can't wait for the next episode.