Legends of Tomorrow: Necromancing the Stone

"Dungeons and Dragons doesn't count, Gary."

This week we watch The Last Temptation of Sara Lance, in what feels like a big, sprawling episode despite the fact that it's clearly been designed as a budget saver before the big finale in a few weeks.

Stop me if you've heard this one, but there's a proud tradition in broadcast television known as the 'bottle show.' The name originates from the basic concept that the episode in question has a limited number of speaking roles, usually only one or two more than the regular cast, and the entire thing is contained in one location, e.g trapped inside a 'bottle.' Hence the name. Another popular name for this kind of episode is, 'Holy crap, we've just run the numbers on the effects budget for the season finale.'

Different shows have different levels of success with this. The X-Files, for example, usually did quite well with this setup and used it to produce some genuine classics. And 'Dod Kalm,' but still, law of averages. One of the more historically notable of these stories is 'Edge of Destruction,' one of the early Doctor Who's in which they spend two episodes inside the TARDIS waiting to see if the show gets cancelled or not.

Interestingly, this is the second money saver since we came back from the winter break. 'Here I Go Again' pulled off much the same thing with a different gimmick. This gives me hope that they have something really amazing in store for the finale.

So, having said that how does 'Necromancing the Stone' do?

Really, really well, actually. So well that it wasn't until I finished watching it the first time that I realized it had even been a bottle show. We used almost entirely established sets, thanks to the conceit of having Sara put the Waverider on extra-steampunk lockdown. Inside the ship the only new set was Sara's bedroom. Had we ever seen anyone's bedroom before? I think Zari was playing videogames in hers, and I suppose Mick was in his when he was writing his steamy novel. In any case, throw a bed into a section of existing Waverider walls and you've got that covered. Other than that all we had was a grey foggy area, a minimalist and oh-so-budget-friendly doorframe for Sara's assassin memory, and Constantine's room, which seemed to me to have been repurposed from the Asylum in 'Daddy Darhkest,' although I haven't gone back over that footage to double check it. As far as additional cast goes we have Sara's victim, his daughter, and the chicken woman. Constantine was even polite enough to invite Gary's D&D group to his place for the final scene. But the pacing and the intensity of what was happening kept me from noticing any of that until after the fact.

Typically the trade-off in these things is that you can really focus in on character development, thanks to the limited character count and enclosed space. They did that here, but they also tie it nicely to advancing the plot of the season in a way that isn't always easy to accomplish.

And here is the moment where I do a little 'I was right' dance that I have prepared, because a lot of that character development involved matching members of the Legends to individual totems to be their bearers. Sadly, any high ground I might claim by having guessed this in last week's review is immediately lost when you notice that I claimed in the very same sentence that there were currently six members of the team, because I apparently had forgotten that Wally existed. Dangit.


So, to the surprise of no one, Mick has been chosen as the bearer of the Fire Totem. This not only makes sense thematically, but it also times out nicely for him, as Evil-Sara had only just broken his flame gun. Speaking of which, who fixes that gun when it's broken? Does Mick do it? Does Ray do it for him? Will Mick get to keep his new flame powers beyond the season finale? I honestly don't know if I'm hoping he does or not. I kind of like Mick just the way he is. And what was up with Mick flat out refusing to go on a mission when Sara ordered him to? That felt wildly out of character, and didn't really seem to serve any purpose other than getting Sara alone on the ship, which they could have done easily anyway. It was kind of played as a dislike for Russians, but it was one of two moments this week that felt incredibly forced.

Next we have Zari, who uses her Air Totem to successfully beat back Sara, albeit only temporarily. Speaking of which, did it strike anyone else as odd that possessed Sara neither killed Zari (or Wally for that matter) nor took the Air Totem while Zari was knocked out? I mean, maybe she couldn't have gotten it off the ship in any case, but it felt odd that the question wasn't even addressed. And what was the plan for Evil Sara if Sara had surrendered to the darkness and joined the Darhkness? Could they have teleported her off with their time stones, or was Mallus just assuming he could kill everyone through Sara and be done with it?

Ray didn't get a lot to do this week other than solve cold fusion, which is admittedly kind of a big deal. So he's officially repaired the Fire Totem, or to quote Mick, 'Haircut nuked the rock.' Mick should always give the plot recaps in that fashion.

Nate looked like he was getting paired up to wield the Earth Totem, but it's notable that he never actually activated it – which seemed to happen automatically for Mick and the Fire Totem. To me that seems to say that Nate is not meant to be the bearer.  At least not of the Earth Totem.  If we continue on the assumption that the Totems are going to be wielded by the Legends, that leaves either Ray or Wally, doesn't it?

Or what about Amaya?  She's a totem bearer, but I've been more than a little surprised by how little hurry the series is in getting the Spirit Totem back to her. Indeed, Nora was wearing it quite comfortably in the Mallus dimension, and seems to have fully bonded with it. Could Amaya be destined to take up another Totem in its place? Somehow that seems more fitting than Wally or Ray.

And speaking of Wally, we had a very touching speech to Not-Jesse Quick about how he loved her but he's moved on, and can we please take this mean that we're moving on and we can all go back to not caring about Jesse Quick? And while we're talking about Jesse, it was jarring that Evil Sara was able to conjure Jesse, as everyone else she invoked was dead – which makes sense as she's wielding power over the dead. Last I checked, Jesse Quick was not dead, however much I might hope.

Okay, that was too harsh. Jesse Quick has had some decent moments and I'm sure that the actress who plays her is kind to children and small animals. But her story was done about seven mentions ago, and if Wally being over her at last means that we can stop having to include scenes from The Flash on the 'previously on' montage, I'm all for it.

Which brings me to the episode's real focus, Sara. Sara really had two main plots to juggle this week. Her relationship with the Death Totem, and her relationship with Ava. First, let's give the show credit for the way that Ava and Sara continue to be actual functioning adults and don't keep stupid contrived secrets for no reason other than generating false drama. By which I mean that I hugely appreciated Sara being up front almost immediately with Ava about sleeping with John Constantine, and when it happened, and for Ava being mature enough that she could admit both to herself and John Constantine that she was jealous about it. A lesser show would have wasted time having Ava refuse to contact John simply out of jealousy, and thank you writers for avoiding that as well.

That said, having Sara break up with Ava because she loves her too much to risk hurting her felt amazingly lazy and forced, and I'm deeply disappointed with the show that they took that route. I'm fully prepared to revise this statement after I see next weeks episode, as that appears to be pretty Ava-centric, but as things stand now it felt beneath them, no matter how adorable the 'reserved for the girlfriend of Sara Lance' note was. Although, dammit, that was heartbreakingly adorable. Also adorable, how charmingly supportive John Constantine was of both of them. He clearly likes both women very much – although I was a little unsettled at how casual he was about having told Ray to kill Sara.

It occurs to me to wonder if Ava is bisexual or gay. If she's strictly for the ladies, as they say, then it invests a lot of interesting subtext into how she deals with Sara having slept with John Constantine. Same-sex relationships in which only one of the two parties is bisexual can be challenging, and really need a lot of open communication. Reassuringly, Sara and Ava seem particularly strong on open communication, so I'm holding out hope for them after they fix this week's forced nonsensical breakup. Of course, there's still whatever Rip's secret about Ava is lurking out there... Dammit, I hate getting over-invested in fictional relationships.

In Sara's other plotline, she gives in and claims the Death Totem, only to be turned into The First Evil in its nicest Killer Frost cosplay.


I was actually really rooting for Sara to claim the totem, because I thought they were going to use it to explore Death as a fundamental element of the universe that gets a rough reputation just because we're scared of it. Plus it made sense that Sara would be tempted to try to use it to bring Laurel back to life, and so I expected Mallus to use that possibility somehow.

But they didn't go with either of those things, and instead re-demonized Death as having been the one tribe that chose the 'dark side' for lack of a better term, and were thus wiped off the map and out of history. That's disappointing, honestly. Particularly after last week's Harry Potter motif about remembering and letting go. I'm willing to revise this also after I see how it all plays out, because it's entirely possible that they're pulling a fake-out and will come back to that, but for right now I'm disappointed that they went with a 'death = evil' line. It's simplistic and cheap.

A quick side note about Laika the Dog

Laika, as mentioned in this episode, was a Soviet dog – a Samoyed – who was part of the Soviet space program. That's putting the nicest possible spin on it. The less nice spin is that at the age of 3 Laika was shot into space to see if she would survive, and she died of overheating because a sustainer rocket failed to separate from the craft. In any case the Soviets had no plan for retrieving her and claimed that they'd euthanized her remotely after takeoff. For what it's worth, the US did just as horrifying things to animals, this isn't an anti-Soviet thing, this is a pro-dog thing. What I'm getting at is that Mick is absolutely right, Nate did that dog no favors at all, and should have left her free. Jonathan Coulton wrote a surprisingly touching song about it from her point of view that you can find here, although I should warn you that you'll probably need Kleenex.

So what did we learn today?

About the nature of time, nothing in particular. It looks like Wally's repair job on the time vortex in 'No Country for Old Dads' isn't holding up particularly well.

Ray describes the consequences if the timeline collapses more or less like the current anachronisms thrown in a blender and set to 11, if that's not mixing metaphors too badly.

Everybody remember where we parked:

The Waverider stays exclusively in the Time Vortex this week thanks to Sara activating something called the Nostromo Sequence. This is either a reference to the ship in Alien or the Joseph Conrad novel from 1904. Given Rip's time in the '70s film scene last year, and that it was probably Rip that set it up, it's a safe bet that it's the former. Although Ridley Scott named his ship after the novel, so it amounts to the same either way. The Nostromo Sequence appears to amount to the ship encasing itself in solid shielding and powering down. It also, for some reason, results in pink neon triangles being projected onto all the screens on the bridge. Perhaps part of the protocol is establishing a particularly sinister gay bar. In which case he was definitely referencing 70s Hollywood.

Ava and Gary, meanwhile, take a jaunt to pick up John Constantine in New York City, 2018. And what a refreshing change to not have everyone based in either Star or Central City.

Quotes:

Nate: "Morning Cap'n. Where's Mrs. Cap'n?"

Wally: "So, worse than Flashpoint?"
Ray: "Uh... is that what we're calling the thing that Barry did?"
Wally: "Mm."
Ray: "I think it's something similar."

Sara: "No snazzy send off. Momma's got a headache."
Nate: "Even when you don't try you still got it."

Nate: "Rory, where were you when Ray was getting the crap beat out of him, day drinking again?"
Mick: "Better than kidnapping a dog."
Nate: "We rescued the dog, Mick!"
No Nate.  No you didn't.

Nate: "If I'm not back in five minutes..."
Zari: "Just wait longer?"
Nate: "No, come rescue me."

John: "My business card says Master of the Dark Arts, not Doctor Ruddy What's-his-face."
Ava: "Who?"

Bits and Pieces:

-- It was smart structuring Sara's plot around the mysterious little girl. And it makes total sense that Sara would be haunted by the girl and not the father. That said, haven't we resolved both Sara's 'I have darkness in me' and Mick's 'I'm no hero' character arcs at least twice before?  I guess it works for the totem storyline, but come on, people.

-- Mick sleeps naked. I get why Wally dressed him in the robe to bring him out, but why exactly did he put on the gloves? Also, why did he have to put on the robe? Sigh.

-- Wally refers to Mick as 'Heatwave' which made me realize how we never hear the Legends referred to by their superhero names.

-- So, is Einstein still stuck in the ice age then if Sara didn't go rescue him? And is that before or after all the stuff Stein and Einstein did together? Because that's going to have an effect on the Legends personal past. Just sayin'.

-- Leonardo Da Vinci apparently enjoyed drag. This isn't in itself that surprising, but can American shows please learn that referring to him as Da Vinci is incorrect and start calling him Leonardo? We're making ourselves seem uneducated enough to the rest of the world without adding to it.

-- It makes sense that Amaya, as a totem bearer, would be able to get her voice through to Sara.

-- Ava conveniently knows, and shares, all the relevant info about John Constantine's traumatic backstory in Newcastle. This is a little startling, but I suppose they needed to get it out there for the demon's offer later on.

-- John Constantine is not above playing a nice game of Dungeons and Dragons, which I found charming.

-- And speaking of – They announced that John Constantine is getting brought on as a regular character for season 4! If they get renewed for a season 4! Please get renewed for a season 4!

-- Apologies for the lateness this week. I've been miserably sick and full of a surprising amount of Nyquil, which also accounts for the slightly less – let's be polite and say 'linear' – nature of this weeks review.

A solid and engaging episode that kept me tuned in enough to not notice its shortcomings until after the fact.  Three out of four adorable girlfriend notes.

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:

ladydmaj said...

Re. Mick's nkt wanting to rescue the dog: I wrote a longish piece on Reddit about his guilt in this episode, in which I pointed out Nate's mission was to go rescue an animal and Mick lost his pet last week. No way did he want to do anything that would remind him of that and how emotional he is over it.

Supporting that is the fact Ray almost immediately tells Sara he could use Mick in the lab instead. Ray is the one who's been interpreting Mick's emotional state and carefully arranging orchestrating things so as to help him process it as best as he can. Does anyone honestly think Dr. Ray Palmer required Mick Rory on a scientific project of this kind? Absolutely not. He was protecting his buddy's heart.

Consider this together with Mick getting fed up with Ray's Rayness and leaving him alone in the lab: Mick is wracked with guilt this episode. That's why he's being a dickhead to everybody and going back on his "I'm no hero" schtick - he takes one lousy nap....

One thing this episode did was make me care about the peripheral characters: Constantine, Ava and Gary. I want them all back next year. Gary's face after Constantine kissed him was GLORIOUS.

Patryk said...

Bottle episodes sometimes are better then normal ones. But it was a bit strange that noone died again. Maybe we need to wait for the finale, someone has to make room for Constantine after all.