Legends of Tomorrow: Dancing Queen

"My name’s not really Rayge. In fact, it’s nothing anger related."

Ah, we've reached the third episode of the season and its traditional 'structural adjustments to the basic show setup at the expense of this particular episode's plotline' plotline.

But, damn that was a clever and enjoyable final act.

I want to say straight up at the beginning that I really, really liked most of this episode, particularly where everything ended up. I just want that to be clear, because I suspect I'm about to criticize aspects of it in a way that might seem like I don't think it was any good, and that is very much not true. Also, the spoiler parade begins here, because it's pretty difficult to say anything about this episode without spoiling parts of it.

In a lot of ways this episode echoes two key episodes from last season. The first of which is 'Zari.' This is probably an unsurprising comparison, since both episodes are fundamentally exercises in introducing a new team member in what might be described as their 'natural habitat.'  So, whereas last season we got to meet Zari in 2042, this year we get to meet Charlie in 1977. Nicely played, by the way. I was aware that Maisie Richardson-Sellers was going to be playing a new character named 'Charlie', but I completely missed the fact that the leader of Smell introduced herself by that name, and the possibility of shapeshifters certainly never entered my head.

So, a few thoughts on our new Legend in waiting. Firstly, I don't think any of us has ever given Berlanti and company enough credit for how clever they are at keeping actors around in new characters. Yes, the whole evil parallel universe Laurel thing was a little weak, but their handling of the infinite variations of Tom Cavanagh has been a consistent masterstroke over on The Flash. So, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, whose name I will henceforth abbreviate to MRS, is back on the ship and can now speak with her natural accent, MRS having been born in London. Honestly, the whole thing is giving me echoes of Illyria, what with the 'actress gets to show her range and play a totally different part, but first we have to take away most of her new character's powers until she learns to play nice with her new friends' vibe. We are all clear that they'll find a way to give Charlie back her powers once they put her through whatever character development they have planned to get her to want to be part of the team, aren't we?

Which is a nice segue into the other episode from last season which was echoes this week. Specifically, 'Here I Go Again,' in which Zari really became part of the team. This time around it's John Constantine who's doing the 'alienated outsider discovers an emotional connection to their new group of friends and in doing so really becomes one of them' dance number. The really nice thing about how they handled it here is the way that Zari has become the emotional core of the team, and the way that that allows her to connect with Constantine on a really subtle and touching level. Great final scene between the two of them. Well acted, well written, just great all around.

And of course, the big reason that 'Here I Go Again' is relevant this week is that the events of the away team's mission in that one become relevant in a huge way here, essentially outing Ray(ge) as not being as punk as he was pretending to be by simply showing a photo of the events of that other episode. That's just really well handled continuity. It's very rare for a show about time travel to remember that they've already visited a particular year or era on a previous story, let alone make that fact a crucial plot point to provide the third act twist and use it to justify your nearby shape-shifter to inadvertently get stuck looking exactly like the actress that you wanted to keep around despite having satisfactorily written her character out in the previous season's finale. And the thing that makes it work is that you absolutely don't have to know a damn thing about 'Here I Go Again' for it to work. This is a show about people who travel in time. The poster reveals that they've been to 1977 before and wore ridiculous outfits. That's all the relevant information a casual viewer needs, and it simultaneously causes long term viewers and reviewers to immediately drop everything and re-watch 'Here I Go Again,' which totally still holds up, btw. Just fantastic structure to an extent that's almost unheard of.

Then there's a structural issue that I've been less fond of. Specifically, for the second week in a row they've shoehorned a completely unrelated and unnecessary B-plot, or C-plot, depending on your point of view, with Nate, Gary and Ava. I spent most of this installment mildly irritated with their continued insistence on splitting Nate off from the rest of the Legends, as amusing as he and Gary's recreation of Little Shop of Horrors was. Side note: I kind of wish the prop department hadn't been quite so on the nose with the design of that magical plant. It kind of blew the gag too early. But I digress. Just as I was starting to seriously worry about the show's long term structural plans regarding Nate, it became overwhelmingly clear why they have him shoehorned off from the team for the moment. They needed Nate to not be on the Waverider for a little while, because they're about to bring in a snarky punk shape-shifter who looks just like Amaya and they need to build up to the emotional beat of him discovering her existence once Charlie's more installed as part of the group. Probably around sweeps week.

That makes perfect sense, and totally explains the way Nate's developed a deep and abiding need to be in 2018 DC. However, and this is the part I'm struggling with, the fact that it makes complete sense now that we have more information doesn't make the last week and a half's worth of Nate plotline's any more interesting or relevant to the episodes that were going on at the time. It just makes logistic sense once you understand the behind the scenes dynamics. So, does that make it good television that we just didn't appreciate at the time, or mediocre television that's at least partially redeemed retroactively? Your answer is as good as mine on that issue.

The main thing about having Nate away from the group this week, however, is that it underscores a concern that I have about Charlie as a character. Sara more or less spells it out; with the exception of Ray, the entire rest of the team are punks. They're all slightly different assorted flavors of snarky punk goodness, but I'm deeply concerned about the fundamental balance of the team being thrown too far into the snarky ironic detachment zone. It makes me miss the variety of vibes the team used to have, what with Martin being all full of intellectual curiosity and acerbic caution, and Amaya's goodness and spirituality, and Jax' straight-shooter everyman heroism. I'll reserve judgement for the moment, I suppose, until we see where this is all going, but I'm a little worried that the combination of Zari and Constantine and Charlie are going to push the Waverider towards being one never-ending Smiths concert, and that would be a shame. It might even put my Girlfriend in a Coma.

I'm so sorry for that last line.

Other things that worked less well for me; the Constantine/Mick fighting still feels very forced, although it was really just included here as a vehicle to make Ray the Legend that ended up as the inside man in the punk band, and that whole dynamic was solid, unfettered awesome from beginning to end. And God bless Charlie for calling bullshit on her band's 'Punk Purity Police' routine. I 100% unabashedly love the punk scene and everything about it, but it's undeniable that there's way too much of that 'punkier than thou' attitude, and I couldn't have been happier that the show shot it down for the poseur crap it is. 'Declan's not even Irish,' indeed. Oh, and this is the third episode in a row where they've used Gary's desperate desire to fit in with the group to manipulate him into putting himself in danger, and that's just not cool. I very much hope they get called on that at some point.



So, what have we learned today?

Apparently, removing the magical demon-plant from the Pleistocene cleared up the magical anachronism there and just moved it forward to 2018, where Nate cheerfully killed it with the torn off blade of a paper cutter. My biggest question there? Why does a modern office in 2018 have a paper cutter laying around? I'm choosing to just read it as a loving tribute to Tromeo and Juliet.

Apparently, and there's never been a reason to suspect this but it's nice to get a clear answer, the Team's adventures are just written into the timeline as they clear things up, and aren't magically swiffered away by the forces of causality. Which means that if they land in 1977 London, it's possible to run into someone who saw them perform in NYC earlier that year. That was nicely handled, and this is probably the earliest in the show's run that they could have successfully pulled that off.

Charlie was in a magical prison for some undisclosed amount of time, prior to getting released by last season's finale. I want to know more about this magical prison. The general sense I get is that it's sort of timeless.

Everybody remember where we parked:

This week the Waverider made one refreshingly straightforward trip to London, 1977. No specifics on time of year, but it didn't appear to be getting dark too early, so maybe late summer? Nate and Gary, meanwhile, take a quick trip to the Pleistocene, specifically 768,000 BC, a curious period in which sabre tooth tigers looked like curiously poor CGI.

London, 1977, turns out to be prior to John Constantine's conception, as he seems to seriously believe that kicking his own father in the balls hard enough will prevent himself from ever being born. I spent a lot of my formative years with a vaguely understood crush on John Constantine, so the revelation that I'm now at least six years older than him is complicated and upsetting.


Quotes:

Nate: "Now I understand how Mr. Mix-a-lot got his knighthood."

Sara: "And then there were five."
Zari: "Shorter bathroom lines."
Ray: "Yeah, but no one to watch Patrick Swayze movies with."

Zari: "S-Sorry, are you being serious or racist?"
John: "Both, love."

Gary: "Buckle up Nate, it’s Taco Monday."
Nate: "Instead of Taco Tuesday?"
Gary: "Oh, we dare to defy."

Declan: "Mate... are you trying the leprechaun test on me? Do you know how hurtful you’re being right now?"

Zari: "That brooding, anti-hero crap must be a real panty-dropper, huh? Did you tell her you have four room-mates and sleep on the couch?"
John: "No I didn’t, she’s my mum."
Zari: "I’m really wishing I had not said 'panty-dropper.'"

Mick: "Too late. He’s got a tattoo."
Zari: "Oh, please let it be a tramp stamp."

Bits and Pieces:

-- 'Ball kick paradox'! I eagerly await the relevant episode of Doctor Who.

-- I want every episode to feature a montage set to 'No Future.'

-- Apparently they melted down Zari's totem last week just so Ray could convert it into a mystical Fit-bit. Which I suppose is much more comfortable for Tala Ashe, so that's all well and good, I guess. Ray reminded me strongly of The Doctor, not knowing when to stop adding apps to the new tech.

-- I appreciated the reference to Mucous Membrane. It would have been strange for John Constantine to end up in 1977 punk London and not mention them. Of course, seeing as John is now born in, let's say, 1978, his band at the age of 16 would have been much more likely to be one of those grunge outfits desperately trying to sound like Pearl Jam that used to be all over the place.

-- Caity Lotz continues to look stunning in any period garb they throw at her. Tala Ashe's hair this week, however, looked just awful. Punk styling... it ain't for everyone.

-- Ramona Young, who plays Mona this week, had a small recurring role on Santa Clarita Diet that just kept getting funnier and funnier. I'm happy to see that Mona is listed in a lot of episodes this season. I'm assuming she's a love interest for Gary, which would add Gary to the bisexual club we have forming here. That's nice, bisexuality doesn't get a lot of representation.

-- Loved Mick and Sara's brief 'QB or wetwork' discussion. He really is a solid lieutenant for her, and I like it.

-- When you reflect on it, John's ball kick paradox moment was really him attempting suicide in order to avoid whatever it is that's chasing after him. That makes the moment much less whimsically fun.

-- Really well handled twist with Ray not really being Ray in the final confrontation. But it does make me wonder how Charlie got into the A.T.O.M. armor.

-- One positive of Nate not being around – lots more Mick/Ray bonding time. Shippers, start your engines.

This episode feels like it's more fun and hangs together better than it really deserves to, once you look at how much of it is just here to do a job of taking the team from point A to point B. But dammit, it's fun and it hangs together.

Three out of three corgi with Mohawk tattoos.

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:

Anonymous said...

I quite liked Charlie. Guess we know now why Nate is stuck in a desk job. Soo Gary was dumped by John after he helped him lose his virginity? I hope so it will make dating Mona..even more awkward I guess. or not.
Rayge was so funny as was Audrey the flower.
Shipping Mick and John now. Come on, show.
Really good review for a priceless ep.
mazephoenix

Anonymous said...

Romona Young was announced as a series regular and is in the main cast, so presumably she'll be getting more to do.

An Honest Fangirl said...

I really, really enjoyed this one. It was a lot of fun, and as a relatively casual viewer who hasn't seen every episode, I appreciated how the disco adventure was handled. I got to see that the cast had to put on a disco performance for whatever reason, meaning that they were already in this time period once before. I didn't need to know anything more than that, and I wasn't punished for not knowing more than that. Good writing and good continuity.

Also, Constantine gave a far too significant look at his cigarette when talking about past actions coming back to haunt him. We're totally doing Dangerous Habits.

The one thing that made me uncomfortable was the ease at which Constantine just totally ripped a major piece of Charlie's self away from her. Permanently. (Or so he says. She might get her powers back later, not the point atm). I know that John often does things that are not moral good or pure, that's one of the reasons why I love him, but that one struck me as very violating and a bit too far.