Legends of Tomorrow: Witch Hunt

Sara: "Constantine is..."
John: "Tired, hung over, and in need of a stiff one. Dealer's choice as to what that's a euphemism for."

Legends of Tomorrow invokes Billie's 8th rule of television and delivers an episode that doesn't exactly suck, but does feel pretty workmanlike and ruins its best joke in the trailers.

Tala Ashe is awesome. Zari is also awesome. So why does it seem to be that Zari-focused episodes just aren't particularly good? This is know in the industry as The Krevlorneswath Conundrum.

To be fair, there's a lot of this episode that is good, and some of it is even great. But competing plotlines that aren't really balanced against one another in any meaningful way leave it with the underwhelming feeling that it exists primarily to accomplish a few in-universe course corrections and little else.

It's probably most useful this week to look at this in terms of what worked and what didn't. So, attempting to be relentlessly positive, lets start with what worked:

-Jes Macallan. Any doubts that I had lingering about whether she really should be a series regular were dispelled with her reaction to Gary bringing up magic in their presentation to the government funding team. Jes is just fun, and her character has a very pleasant 'everyman' vibe that nobody else on the show really brings. The decision to keep her firmly anchored in DC as the team's 'home base' is a good one and the clearly expensive new set for the DC branch of the Time Bureau is a really nice piece of work that they haven't yet really had the chance to show off properly. I have no doubt that at some point this season we're going to have an episode about them being stuck inside it so that they can really show it off.

-John Constantine's integration into the team. This, I'll admit, happened a little quicker than I was expecting. After last week's extensive 'I'd rather cop myself that join your team' buildup, we open to find that it really only took one good demonic ass-kicking to get John packed and raring to get on board. To be fair, that kind of quick pivot to running isn't out of character for Constantine at all, and it spared us the dragged out Martha Jones will he join or won't he dance that I was expecting. I suspect that Nate not being on hand to 'Natesplain' was at least in small part to make room for us to get used to John explaining the magical stuff in the places that Nate would handle the history explanations.

-The subtle invocation of John's tragic backstory. For the second episode in a row we see John put in a position in which he might inadvertently be responsible for sending an innocent soul to Hell. This is, of course, the essence of his backstory with Astra, as seen in both the NBC series and the comics. For those who haven't seen either, the short version is that cocky young John Constantine took his incredibly unprepared mates to do an exorcism on a little girl and it ended up with the girl getting her arm torn off and dragged to Hell for eternal torment. This happened in Newcastle, and the word 'Newcastle' is in itself shorthand for the event whenever John mentions it. I'll be shocked if the word Newcastle isn't in the dialogue within the next couple of weeks. Last week it was Gary in the line of fire, literally. This week it's Prudence who's threatened with undeserved damnation. Two might be a coincidence, but if it happens again next week it's absolutely intentional, can we all agree on that?

-Zari's super over-identification with Prudence and her mom. That whole exchange of dialog between Zari and Jane was first class scripting. Everybody's point of view was both clear and totally understandable, and Tala Ashe just knocked it out of the park in the way she made it clear which mother she was really thinking of. It wasn't subtle, but it didn't need to be. Interestingly, this scene had the exact same tone that I complained about in last episode's Zari scene, but it worked here because it was balanced in the episode in a way that last week's scene just wasn't. Also, I really appreciated that Zari didn't lie when she was asked if people get better in the future.

Things that didn't work as well:

-Nate and Hank's entire plotline. I'm sorry, but everything about Nate and Hank's father/son conflict still feels incredibly surface level and forced. Part of me takes solace in remembering that we haven't really heard any of Hank's side of things, and so maybe there's a layer or two to the dynamic that will make it ring more true, but right now it just feels like lazy plotting. Both actors are doing their best with what they're given, but it's all very after school special. Some of my significant problems with it, in no particular order – graduate degrees in historical study are in no way a soft option and are fairly highly regarded. And Nate has at least one doctorate in them. If anything, Hank's complaint should be that Nate doesn't publish enough because he's too busy being a time travelling superhero to worry about tenure. And yet Hank repeatedly mentions Nate's field of study as if he'd dropped out of Harvard to professionally play Magic: The Gathering. This is just accentuated if you remember that, as far as Hank knows, Nate still has crippling hemophilia. He should be desperately grateful that Nate found a nice safe academic discipline like history which might theoretically be more conducive to his, you know, not bleeding to death sometime next week. And if Nate has been so desperate to win Hank's approval in the past that he's lied about doing impressive things than it makes absolutely zero sense that he wouldn't be sprinting into that meeting to prove that he's doing so now. Especially as we're clearly shown that he has incontrovertible evidence to back up his claims.

-The implication that Nate is about to stop traveling on the ship so that he can work at the Time Bureau directly with Ava. No. Just no, I love Nate and Ava together, I think they have a great dynamic. I do not want him split away from the rest of the team.

-The slightly forced conflict between Mick and Constantine. It was a little gratuitous the lengths the show went to to have the two of them remain behind on the ship together, and while the montage of their getting on each other's nerves was cute, it felt like they could have developed an antagonism between them a million times more naturally while still dealing with an actual plotline. I will, of course, completely revoke this statement if it turns out that this is their 'meet cute', and they end up as a couple by the end of the season.

-The reveal of the very Once Upon a Time fairy godmother as this week's villain. It's a straight up repeat of last weeks 'magical thing you thought was cute is really terrifying', which would be fine except that every single preview for the episode totally blew the reveal and so the whole moment ended up feeling tedious. Also, I'm so very sick of the 'they start to sing. Someone else yells at them to stop.' gag. I actually thought they were going to let the Fairy Godmother do the whole song and was in the process of issuing the show tons of credit for that when Mick stopped her after letting the gag go on slightly longer than shows usually do. Honestly, either do the whole song, or stop it quicker. Or better yet, do a joke we haven't seen so many times before.



So, what have we learned today?

The reveal of the great Salem fire was done in almost the exact same way as last week's reveal of the Woodstock massacre. Still no hard evidence as to the malleability of time, either on the show or in reality. Sara does refer to the original version of events in the timeline as 'canon', which is a very media-studies way of looking at it, but does at least imply that there is a single, correct, universally true version of what history is supposed to be. Some days on this show you couldn't swear that that was the case.

The most interesting thing we learned is that the government funding body has apparently been instantly forgetting the timeline aberrations as they get fixed. Which begs the question as to why they've been funding the Time Bureau if they can't remember the problems that they're funding the Time Bureau to fix. That doesn't feel like how the government would react in that situation.

Everybody remember where we parked.

This week the Waverider took us to Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. I kind of like that they went with the most obvious place in history for magic for John Constantine's first trip, although I expect that there were plenty of people who didn't. Nate, meanwhile, remained behind in 2018 to attempt to bond with his dad, making only one quick time courier jump to grab Pig-Ray. And speaking of Pig-Ray, How on Earth did Nate understand Pig-Ray's Pig-Talk? I am absolutely not going to make a pig Latin joke here. I'm just not.


Quotes:

Zari: "Well, there are definitely monsters in Salem."

Ava: "Nate? What the hell are you doing here. And why aren't you wearing pants?"
Nate: "I can explain. And thank you for not mentioning the shower cap."
Ava: "Pretend I did."
Nate: "Coconut oil. Makes my hair more buoyant."
Ava: "Really? I should try that."

Prudence: "I've seen many wonders these past days. And I believe you, like Godmother, were sent by the Lord. The answer to our prayers."
Mick: "Here. It's a doughnut."
Beebo Blox game: "I la-la-love you."
Prudence: "Many wonders indeed."

Zari: "What about your daughter's suffering? Her powers? Think about how your actions are going to affect her?"
Jane: "She is the only one of whom I think. I made her swear to me that she would never use her power henceforth. As long as she heeds my command, my Prudence will live."
Zari: "But what kind of life is it gonna be? Where you died and she couldn't protect you? That guilt is gonna follow her her whole life. She'll end up mad at herself and mad at the world."

Gary: "Here's proof. A unicorn... ate... my nipple!"

Ray: "Despite the gothic association, the American crow is actually a very... never mind."

Bits and Pieces:

-- The integration of technology with John's magic-finding knucklebones looked surprisingly easy.

-- We got confirmation that the Legends aren't paid at all by the Time Bureau. Which begs the question of how Nate got a credit card.

-- Credit cards which were not store specific came into being in the early '50s with the Diner's Club. I had to look that up to see if it was feasible for Nate to have a card that expired in the '50s. Thanks for the fun new knowledge, show.

-- John likes Marmite. Marmite, if you're unfamiliar, is an incredibly idiomatically useful foodstuff. Either you really love it, or you really hate it, and thus it's a useful shorthand for subjects on which there is no middle ground.

-- The collective noun for crows is indeed a "murder."  The name for a group of ravens is an "unkindness."

-- With Nate's basis in Academia, he absolutely would be good at schmoozing.

-- John made the obligatory 'Dear Prudence' reference.

-- The Fairy Godmother said she was imprisoned for a thousand years. That doesn't quite line up, since most Germanic fairytales tend to skew roughly fourteenth century-ish. Either she was rounding up or engaging in hyperbole. Not a huge deal, but I'm pedantic enough to feel obligated to mention it.

-- A government department that fights fairy tales actually sounds like a hell of a pitch for a show. I hope that's what we get this year.

-- One of the things this episode clearly was designed to accomplish was to get the stone out of Zari's amulet. That's all well and good, and I'm curious to see why they wanted that done. However, I feel obligated to point out that the temperature of that bonfire, assuming it's just the sticks we see and they don't have access to any anachronistic accelerants, would be somewhere around 500-600 degrees Fahrenheit. Wood can burn hotter than that, but not under the circumstances we see, and certainly not right away after the fire has been lit and before anything has a chance to start off-gassing. Gold, assuming that's what the amulet was made out of, melts at around 1850 degrees Fahrenheit. So, either the amulet is made out of some other metal with a lower melting point – say, lead with a friendly melting point of the low three hundreds, although that would bring up a whole host of other questions – or it's some special future-alloy with a much lower melting point. Now I understand how Billie feels when they get things fundamentally wrong about libraries.

-- Still no sign of Nora or Maisie Richardson-Sellers.

Not a terrible episode, but at the end of the day it feels like it was designed to accomplish a couple things and didn't have much ambition beyond doing so.

Two out of four crumpets with marmite.

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:

Billie Doux said...

Yeah, spot on, Mikey. This one didn't quite work. The fairy godmother should have been funny until she was scary, and she wasn't. The pigs on board didn't make me laugh, either. It just felt like it could have been terrific but it wasn't.

Now I understand how Billie feels when they get things fundamentally wrong about libraries. lol. :)

Anonymous said...

Great review. I enjoyed reading it.

I liked the ep, but also thought it could have been better.

The government fighting fairy tales does sound like a good pitch. On that note, though not quite the same, have you ever seen Grimm? It's a good show.

I don't remember if it said where the fairy godmother was imprisoned, but maybe time moved differently wherever she was. A different dimension? But I also like your idea of hyperbole. I'm still thinking about this one.