Legends of Tomorrow: Legends of To-Meow-Meow

"Are you real? Do you exist? Because it’s really hard to tell these days."

The Legends close out the first half of season four with an episode that's a lot of fun, and surprisingly linear, considering how many times reality gets reset over the course of an hour

Sometimes I find myself in the position of saying, 'I didn't like this as much as I wanted to.' This is the first time for me personally that the opposite has been true. I liked this episode a lot more than I wanted to like it. Because as much fun as the whole thing is, it has a gigantic, irritating flaw right smack dab in the middle of it and it's driving me crazy.

I deliberately held back from doing this review until I'd been able to see and process the 'Elseworlds' crossover, partially as to not interrupt the Berlanti love right in the middle of the big event, and partially because I had a reasonable suspicion that events of the crossover might color my feelings about this episode. And they did.

It seems undeniably clear to me that at some point Legends was going to be a part of 'Elseworlds', and then for whatever reason they decided not to have them as part of it. Except that by the point that it was decided, the Legends writers had already come up with some crazy awesome alternate realities for the Legends to appear in, and they were way too fun to just throw away, so they had to come up with another reason for the Legends to bounce between a few alternate realities.

I suspect someone had a conversation along these lines:

Writer 1 - We'll call him Tom: "Well, the mid-season finale seems like the right place to reveal what's going on with Constantine."

Writer 2 - We'll call her Peaches: "Plus we're about due for that 'new and reluctant member of the Legends has a chance to get what they want and leave, only to discover that they've become part of the team and decide to stay' thing that we really like to do. For both Constantine and Charlie, now that I think of it."

Tom: "Well, why don't we make the crazy alternate realities thing part of that? We'll have Constantine change his own personal timeline, thus allowing us to reveal all the stuff about damning Dex to Hell and the demon that's after him, and that can break time and we can have all sort of goofy, fun, alternate realities while he and Charlie try to put things back together."

Writer 3 - Bob Hoskins, but not The Bob Hoskins: "We broke time a couple years ago and that's not what it caused at all."

Peaches: "Shut up, Bob, no one likes you."

Tom: "Oh, and Zari can turn into a cat. Cats are cool."

Not Bob Hoskins: "Was that an oblique Doctor Who reference?"

Peaches: "This is why you're never invited to the Christmas party."

And so forth.

See, the essential problem is that this episode can never quite decide if it wants to be an altered timeline story or an altered reality story and tries to have it both ways. It feels obligated to have an causal explanation as to why the Legends are suddenly Charlie's Angels or The Thinly Veiled A-Team or Puppets, but the fact that they try to give a fig leaf, hand wave, logical reason for these things just draws attention to the fact that the explanations given don't make a damn bit of sense if you give them the slightest amount of scrutiny.  Sara dying in the field might make the remaining men of the team bitter and jaded, but it wouldn't give them early '80s opening credits, outfits, and non-diegetic incidental music. All those stylistic flourishes belong to 'alternate reality' storytelling, 'altered timeline' stories rely on keeping most of the elements familar to underscore the select group of things that have changed. For a more concrete example – Ava becoming depressed and listening to the Indigo Girls to cope with Sara's death is a change to the timeline. Gideon becoming human for no adequately explored reason and Sara becoming subservient to Hank freaking Heywood is a change to reality.

What it boils down to is that alternate timeline stories need to have logical causality and explanations, while alternate reality stories just need you to find an excuse to be in an alternate reality, after which point you just stand back and go, 'wheeeeee!' and this week they tried to do both. This episode either needed to make a whole lot more sense or a whole lot less, because the half measure of not really deciding what kind of story this is killed it for me.

And yet, and yet, and yet. It was all fun. The puppets being chased by a zombie was one of the best shots I've seen on television in years. I would watch the Hell out of Sirens of Space-Time if it was a real show. And the moment when Zari-cat put a comforting paw on John Constantine's arm was just an amazing beat, not least because I have no frakking idea how you get a cat to do that on cue.



So what have we learned today:

That interfering in your own personal history doesn't always make dinosaurs show up in L.A. Although to be fair John Constantine never actually encounters his past or future self face to face, which made it possible for him to surgically insert himself into Dez' timeline post breakup and repair the damage.

And I've already banged on about it above, but compare these two quotes from the episode:

Charlie: "Must be fallout from Constantine altering the timelines."
John: "Reality is fractured, but the pieces speak to each other like light."

Those two quotes in no way describe the same thing, and yet they're both presented to us as if they explain everything that;s going on at the time they're spoken.  Zari further adds to the confusion by stating that the problem is that both timelines exist in John Constantine's brain, which you'd think would have been a problem for most of the team prior to this, but apparently wasn't.

Oh episode. Your internal logic is painfully sloppy, but you're so much fun. I wish I knew how to quit you.

Everybody remember where we parked.

This week the Waverider really got around. We started with Las Vegas 1962, then Time Bureau HQ in DC 2018, then back to Woodstock in mid-August 1969, then back to DC 2018, then to New Orleans in slightly-earlier 2018. Oh, and a couple of brief stops in Salem, 1692.

I think I got them all. I might be wrong. It all got a little overwhelming, to be honest.

Quotes:

Ray: "Garima’s gonna flip when she hears we met Marilyn Monroe."
Nate: "Do you think a murderous alien queen that sprang to life from Mick’s fantasies is into Marilyn?"
Mick: "Yes."

Gideon: "You missed calls from Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, and Kara Zor-El."
Ray: "Sounds like the annual crossover."
In the background right after this you can clearly hear Ray say, "I bet this year they’re gonna swap costumes." That was a meta-aware bridge too far for me.

Charlie: "All right, Yeah, I can see that being a cat is your main concern right now.."

Zari: "Because of you… DICKS… I have been a cat For. So. Long. Do you know where this tongue has been? Places."

Ava: "I mean, I like the Indigo Girls, but they should not be a way of life."



Bits and Pieces:

-- To the surprise of no one, Dez is alive and possessed by the demon that he went to Hell with. And for some reason wants the Bureau to supply him with captured magical creatures.

-- Apparently all the effort they put into Mona's plot last week was a complete waste of time, as they couldn't be bothered to go back to that cliffhanger at all. I guess we're just supposed to assume her stomach wounds were no big deal. And as nice as the transition shot was back to the Stein puppet getting kicked, I don't know why they bothered to make that fight a cliffhanger, since that just meant that they were obligated to phone in a resolution here even though they clearly had no further interest in that plot, nor anything more to say about it.

-- Speaking of puppets, is it weird that we're at a point culturally where the moment you see puppets you just assume that they're going to sing and be educational? Like, we don't even question that assumption about puppets anymore. That's kind of weird when you think about it.

-- It's a little icky that when Mick, Nate, and Ray go rogue due to a tragic loss they become all independent and willful, whereas when Sara, Ava, and Gideon go rogue due to a tragic loss they become subservient to Hank Heywood. I get that that's just an unfortunate side-effect of the two shows they were parodying being shown side by side, but it's kind of gross, and somebody should have noticed the subtextual implications there.

-- Ava's superhero name is apparently 'Roundhouse.' Gideon's is 'Hard Drive.' Garima's is 'Garima.'

-- Why exactly was John Constantine imprisoned? They said it's because he became unstable after being found guilty of 'time crimes,' but what time crimes exactly were those? Because if that was a reference to the Time Bureau knowing he'd changed time with Desmond, they absolutely would have taken steps to fix it, since it would have been in Hank's interest to do so what with the Custodians of Chronology killing all the magical creatures that he wants to have alive and captured.

-- Zari being 'de-catted' and then 're-catted' was very Amy in 'Something Blue.' I suspect deliberately.

-- It's almost startling to realize how completely Zari has become the team's conscience and soul.

-- So why exactly can John and Charlie both speak cat now? Is it because of them being magical, or part of the timeline issues because it's Zari, or what? Neither of them seemed surprised by it.

-- The montage of memorial plaques was a nice storytelling technique. I loved that Charlie was almost OK with the timeline where only Gary died. Hank was apparently killed by garden gnomes in one of the timelines.

This episode was a lot of fun, and it was only on repeated viewings that the structural issues started to really bug me, so I can't give it less than three out of three pink cat carriers.

It did however make me actively hate the things about the previous episode that I was withholding judgement about, so I'm giving 'Hell No, Dolly' a two.

Let's average them out to give the two-parter a two and a half structural inconsistencies out of four.

And that's both me and Legends of Tomorrow until April. I'll see you all then, unless somebody else here needs a sub before then or Cloak and Dagger happens to return earlier than expected. Everybody keep warm and watch out for that escaped Kaupe.

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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Assumption is a terrible form of Hubris which tunnels ones vision. Ironic as this episode was written in response to the fact they wouldnt be in Elseworlds as they have done the Spear of destiny thing already so they just followed the theme while using their own plot and wrapping up most of the season points so far while trying to outdo or at least match the crossover shenanigans..This Legends episode was far different to what Elseworlds was I think your reading way too much into it. Sara spends 5mins as a silly riff on Charlies Angel and that means she is subservient to Hank ._Seriously._. None of Gideons human appearances made sense before as have a multitude of things on this show.
Infact for a Legends episode it was quite structured easy to follow and made more sense than many other episodes i have seen. Constantines story came at the right time as this episode was also his and Charlies real assimilation to the team which you realized yourself. They killed like 5 birds with one Stone. Charlie who if you didnt notice was also the catalyst for their changed personalities as well as whoevers deaths they were trying to avenge. Poor review from one so usually exceptional.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Hey Anon.,

First off, thanks for the 'exceptional'. That's very kind.

Couple of thoughts in response. First off, it wasn't because Sara was in a silly Charlie's Angels riff that made me say she was acting subservient to Hank, it was that she (and Ava and Gideon) were cozying up around Hank's desk to receive missions from him, in a position of subservience. Admittedly the power dynamic does depend a little on whether Hank is Charlie or Bosley in this scenario, but I think the point still stands. My real point there was that the guys were allowed to tell Hank to go to Hell and the women had to obey him. Like I said, I get that that's largely a factor of the shows that they were riffing, it just felt a little creepy to me in contrast.

I agree that it was structured in a way that was easy to follow. That was kind of my complaint. Alternate reality stories don't need internal logic to explain why those specific changes are in effect beyond 'well, it's an alternate reality, things are different here.

I guess my main point was that they were clearly doing alternate realities for the Legends but for some reason were being very coy about not calling them alternate realities and treating them as if causality was still a thing when based on their own premise of breaking reality, it shouldn't be.

Cont...

Mikey Heinrich said...

I was attempting to come up with a working theory why they should be playing things that way when it would be much easier to just own up to the fact that they were doing alternate realities. It seemed like the most obvious explanation would be that they initially WERE planning to do alternate realities but for some reason either decided not to or were told they couldn't. I freely admit that I might be wrong on that point, it just seemed like the most likely solution.

As to why I say that they were clearly doing alternate realities even thought they were for some reason refusing to call them that, it comes down to a few things. The fact that the changes to the Legends seemed wildly unlikely to have taken place in the time since the change in established history is only part of it. Mostly it comes down to the fact that they did new opening credits for each new changed scenario that they introduced.


Look (and I have no idea what your background is in these things, so if you're a PHd in film and television theory I beg your apology in advance) in televisual language (and apologies for the super-pretentious term, but the only other one I can think of is 'semiotics', which is even worse) Ahem.. In televisual language, pulling out of the narrative to show a radically changed opening credits sequence is a cue to the viewer that there's been a fundamental change in the reality of the show itself, as opposed to just a change within the narrative. That's why they did it for the Buffy episode Superstar, and that's why John Deegan did the opening speech in the other night's episode of Supergirl. It's how the people making the show tell the viewer very clearly and in no uncertain terms that they are presenting an altered reality version of the show we normally see.

cont.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I am curious where you get the information about them writing this episode because they wouldn't be in Elseworlds because they'd already done the spear of destiny thing. I hadn't heard that. The only thing that I'd read about their reasoning on not being part of Elseworlds is that they only had 16 episodes this season and so they just couldn't fit in an entire episode devoted to a crossover event. There are obviously a million possible explanations for your being better informed than me on this point (and if you're a member of the Legends writing staff you can totally let me know privately because that would completely make my day that you were reading my reviews!)


In any case, thanks for reading my stuff, and sorry we didn't entirely see this one the same. I think one thing we can agree on is that April is way too long a wait for more episodes of LoT.


Oh, and that snickerdoodles are the best cookie.


Whew. That got waaaaaay too long. Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

You have a point re Sara being submissive to Hank as an angel.In the movie reboot Demi Moore plays an angel gone rogue who says: " I don't take orders from a speaker-box anymore. I work for myself."
And she's the villian. Yet she's clearly the angel with the most agency. Go figure. or don't. I find that troubling, and so I root for her.
Otherwise very fun and Zari-cat was soo cute. I thought Dez was dead, but this gives me hope. I.e I assumed the demon was just wearing his form.
Thanks for your thoughtful review.
April is too long either way.
mazephoenix

Anonymous said...

Demi had one more great line: "I was never good, I was great.".
Also I wanted more of the Fairy Godmother-Rory teamup.
And for everyone to be seen reading Rebecca Silver from Kara to Barry.
mazephoenix

Mikey Heinrich said...

You know, it occurred to me in hindsight to wonder if your take on the Charlie's Angels thing varied depending on whether you associate with the movies or the TV show.

I personally am and always will be a Kate Jackson man. #Sabrina4Eva