Legends of Tomorrow: Seance and Sensibility

"Then you are a fool. For you shouldn't have to learn a lesson twice."

Because that Jane Austen/Bollywood mashup was just inevitably going to happen somewhere, right? Right?

Dearest reader, I feel like I have to confess something to you. I know I should have brought this up earlier, but I was just too ashamed. I hope you can find it in your heart to understand and forgive me this sin of omission.

I have never read any Jane Austen.

Not a word.

I know, I know. I swear I've been meaning to for simply ages, but I just haven't gotten around to it. As a result, I really debated whether or not I should hand off this week's review to another Agent of Doux who might be more familiar with the source material. In the end I decided that the showrunners are smart enough to know that not everyone watching will have done the background reading, and would have ensured that it was still a good episode without that extra layer of understanding.

I was mostly right. We have an enjoyable Regency era romp whose themes were well explored and were identifiable as the sort of thing that Jane Austen wrote about even if you didn't know the specific references. Coupled with this we have a super enjoyable Bollywood number, and a reasonably good tangent for the overarching season plot that had some exciting developments.

Unfortunately, we have one thing that's just awful. Just mind-bogglingly, throw-things-at-the-screen, put-your-fist-through-a-mirror, infuriating.

Look, I really love this show. I get no pleasure from lashing out at it like this. So, why don't we start with the good stuff and hold onto our positivity as long as possible.

The Jane Austen stuff is fantastic. We really dig into the theme of whether it's better to give in to your instincts and embrace love or to protect yourself, both in terms of your emotions and your future security, by repressing your feelings and never giving in to desire. Which absolutely feels like the essence of what Jane Austen is about. Again, I say that as an outsider to her catalog. The opposite sides of the argument are represented by Mona and Zari, who stand for giving in to your emotions and remaining emotionally detached, respectively.

Mona being on Team 'Give In To Your Emotions' absolutely tracks. She's consistently gone with her heart over her head all season. Also, that's essentially the whole point of werewolf mythology; i.e. giving in to your primal urges. Zari representing repressed emotions feels like a bit of a stretch, since we've never really viewed her in those terms before. She's mostly been shown as an entirely self confidant and capable person who tends to rely on her reason in times of crisis. But it's not so much of a stretch to retroactively look back at that and suppose that the reason she does so is rooted in a desire to wall herself off emotionally for self protection.

What's particularly nice about this thread is that they allow it to be resolved, and that the character that resolves it is Jane Austen herself. She corrects Mona that her books are actually about people falling in love based on mutual respect, not about losing self control, and then Mona carries that same message back to Zari, but to Zari it reads as 'you don't have to be afraid of falling in love for real, because falling in love isn't a loss of self control', which is a subtly different message. With that, both sides of the debate are brought together in a middle ground and the theme is resolved. It's nice to see that sort of thematic resolution done properly.

The Bollywood stuff, meanwhile, was just hysterical. Ridiculous, often contrived, and completely over the top. So, in other words, Bollywood. The only real complaint I have about the Bollywood number as set in Regency England is that it never really gels with the Jane Austen parts of the story. It feels like two very disparate plot items that just sort of lay next to each other and don't ever start to flavor one another, if that makes sense. It's not a crippling flaw, and the only real complaint about it is that it was completely obvious that Kamadeva the Coachman was the magical creature from the moment we saw him, but that's not too big a complaint. It was all worth it for the way Zari wasn't fooled by him at all, and used the pretense of sex to capture him. You go, girl.

Edging cautiously toward the negative stuff, this was a rare example of the direction being a little muddy. It wasn't clear, for example, that Ray and Nora's sexual tryst was a dream until much later, and the sequence illustrating who stayed at the wake and who left to go on the mission wasn't at all clear as it was happening.

OK. Let's just get to it. I am not down with the retroactive sainting of Hank Heywood. Hank was an emotionally abusive self absorbed asshole who we clearly witnessed, not once or twice but consistently, emotionally abusing his son with absolutely no concern or consideration. The whole, 'Hank was secretly building a magic creature amusement park, and was totally awesome all along, Honest!' thing is pure, unadulterated, 100% bullshit. The worst part is that I think the show really means it and that was really what Hank's plan was. I'm sorry, no. Hank was a monster, end of story.

Look, I freely acknowledge that I'm bringing a lot of my own stuff to this, but there's an insidious and repugnant thing that occasionally shows up in television or film in which a chronic abuser, whom we have watched inflict abuse and who has apparently been doing so their entire life, is suddenly shown to do one decent thing and we're supposed to take that as 'all is forgiven, they're awesome now and none of those decades of abuse counts!'. That is what Nate's Mom's eulogy for Hank is. One Mickey Mouse story and he's totally clear for a lifetime of abusing his son. That is a terrible message to put out there for survivors of abuse, and I absolutely detest it every single time I see it.

That said, it's nice that for once the show remembered that Nate had crippling Hemophilia.



So what have we learned today?

This week we're using Back to the Future rules, mostly for the sight gag of the names on Nora's shirt disappearing. That works as well as anything, I suppose.

Everybody remember where we parked.

This week the Waverider took the Lady Legends (and Ray) to Bath, England 1802. The scenes at Hank's wake were shown as being in D.C. 2019, which means that either there was a hell of a gap between Hank's murder and his wake or that we're glossing over the timescale a bit over the last couple of episodes. Probably the latter.


Quotes:

Mona: "I think my sense of smell has improved because of Wolfie. And you smell exactly like... Nate."
Zari: "No, I don't."
Mona: "It's definitely Nate. Nate and something else. Arousal?"

Zari: "We are so not passing the Bechdel test right now."

Charlie: "If you don't jump that buff coachman's bones, I will."

Bride: "I cannot marry you, Mr. Dockerty. My heart yearns for another. Our family's scullery maid! Ellen? Are you here?"
Ellen the Scullery Maid: "I am! I love you, too!"
Mr. Dockerty: "I give not one fig, Miss Sinclair, for my heart and my lower extremities yearn for... your mother!"
Mrs. Sinclair: "Get over here, gorgeous!"
Charlie: "Now this is what I call a wedding."

Charlie: "Ah, buffing the old bishop, was we? It's all right mate, no judgement here."
#ThingAmayaWasUnlikelyToSay

Jane Austen: "Shall we take a turn around the room while we converse?"
Mona: "We'd be delighted to. (to Sara) It's a Regency thing. Go with it."

Sara: "Cheer up. I mean, what does Jane Austen know?"
Mona: "How to be witty and wise and mix satire with romance."

Charlie: "Wait a sec... is this a Bollywood musical number?"
Zari: "You bet your ass it is."

Our romantic heroes, Miss Sinclair and Ellen the Scullery Maid.
Bits and Pieces:

-- Again they built up a situation where I expected Nate to have an emotional rift with the group, and again they undercut it by Nate being totally chill and understanding with Ray about Nora, and even telling him that he loved him and always would. I'm just never prepared for people to behave like rational adults on television. They get me with that one every time.

-- The image of the mirror shattering as John understands what exactly was happening with the demon Neron and Dez was a lovely visual metaphor for how he was feeling at the time. Well directed.

-- Do rich people really do open casket viewings in their own homes still?

-- It was an odd choice for Ray to hide Nora on the Waverider, but makes sense in a 'last place they'd think to look' sort of way. It does raise the question of why Gideon didn't tell on him, though.

-- Tala Ashe has a beautiful voice and rocked that dance number.

-- Mona is now referring to her were-self as Wolfie, and Wolfie refers to Nora as being weak, so it looks like we're following Hulk rules as far as the personality split goes.

-- I love how when they don't have anything for Mick to do, they just have him eat.

-- Nate/Zari/Kamadeva three way. I'm sure Tala Ashe absolutely hated filming that scene.

-- They finally found a period outfit that Caity Lotz doesn't look immaculate in. The white dress looked wonderful, but the red jacket and bonnet just didn't work for her. The lines of the Regency style are just wrong for her face in a way I can't describe.

-- I suspect that the costumes and staging of Ray and Nora's part of the dance number were a deliberate homage to Xander and Anya in 'Once More with Feeling'. They were definitely more of a book number and will never be a breakaway pop hit.

-- Still no mention of Ava, Sara's dream notwithstanding.  Looks like she's back next week.

So many good parts that all work, even if they don't entirely dovetail with one another. But then we have that great big vile millstone that is the retroactive sainthood of Hank Heywood.

I'm afraid that I can't go any higher than two out of four unaccepted proposals of marriage.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go read Pride and Prejudice.

The version that includes zombies still counts, right?

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.

9 comments:

Robin said...

Yours is the analysis I have the highest scholarly expectations for after every episode of Legends, and I've been eagerly awaiting this one!

I agree, the retroactive sainthood of Hank Heywood feels like an attempted Author's Saving Throw that doesn't quite land for me. I did have a lot of fun with this one where there was fun to be had, I admit.

My favorite bits of sound design (outside the Bollywood musical number) are definitely the little "bloop" when the Future Other Mrs. Sinclair (née Scullery Maid) pops up in the background like an gopher and the punched-up "women's shoes on wood in cavernous empty space" sound effect to emphasize how WEIRD "taking a turn about the room" must have felt. All due credit to the Foley FX team, who I imagine send e-mails subject-lined "You want us to record sound for WHAT?!" to the writer's room every week.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Thank you so much, that's a really kind thing to say :)

You're absolutely right, the Foley team really did do a great job and never get enough credit.

I really want to read those e-mails :)

Anonymous said...

While Hank was a shit father and a duplictious as hell, he never really came across as an'evil' The retcon is bad but i dont see it .
According to Tala ashe the three way scene was her favourite scene other than the full dance.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Fair enough, like I said, I freely acknowledge that I'm bringing some baggage of my own to that issue.

I'm sure that was a lot of fun to film. I had a great time just watching it seven or eighty times.

You know, purely for academic purposes :)

Lisianpeia said...

Mikey, I don't think I have ever left a comment on your reviews, so first of all: I love them! I'm usually as excited to read your analysis and insights as I am to watch the episodes! [This is also true for your American Gods reviews, especially Git Gone (1x04) and A Prayer for Mad Sweeney (1x07) - which are two episodes I also love.)

I loved this episode. I've read Jane Austen and like it - not as much as some people do - and I love musical numbers. Also, Zari's face was priceless when she said "damn it, this is definitely a dream" in the three way scene.

I also dislike the retroactive sainthood of Hank Heywood. Also, putting magical creatures in a amusement park isn't exactly nice to the magical creatures. I agree with you, there is a trend in forgiving terrible characters (including abusers) for one good deed (especially when they, because we as a society tend to do just that). This especially happens a lot with mothers/fathers/parental figures. I didn't expect this from Legends because they are usually able to handle nuanced matters.

Also, we have two heterosexual man saying they love each other without being all nervous? I know this has happened before on this show, but I'm always amazed at how they are willing to trample gender stereotypes.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Hey Lisianpeia

Thanks so much, that was a really big compliment.

I'm dying to ask someone familiar with Jane Austen - was the almost getting run down by the carriage meet cute a specific reference to something, or just the sort of thing we associate with Jane Austen? Because it really felt like a specific shout out.

Yeah, Nate and Ray's exchange of love was a really wonderful moment. I love those two.

Lisianpeia said...

I'm sorry, I don't know/remember if the carriage meet cute is a reference to something specific. IIRC, I read three of her books, but it was a while back. But I don't really associate it with Jane Austen. It seemes the sort of scene she would describe with satire. Bear in mind I might be wholy mistaken.

I actually think this is the modern idea of what a meet cute would be in Regency era.

ladydmaj said...

As someone who is a Jane Austen fan: you didn't need to know anything to enjoy this episode. Mona provided what info was needed.

Having Ray and Nora come to life under the same magical singing spell as Zari and Kamadeva did not make me think their relationship is meant to be seen as a healthy one (real life dynamic notwithstanding). Quite the opposite.

I frigging loved Ray and Nate, on the other hand. Those kisses were apparently improv, by the way.

sunbunny said...

As a certified Austen-phile I knew I had to see this episode when it came to Netflix. I was really, really confused by a lot of stuff (I don't watch anymore but I'm on Tumblr so I knew about Charlie at least) but the standalone stuff was a hoot. I haven't seen any of this season (and most of last) so I don't know what's going on with the magical creatures and Nate's dad but I trust you when you say it's awful. I hate sainting abusive parents too. It's a terrible message to send to victims of abuse. I wish they had explained why the fake Hindu love god with a thousand wives guy was in England hanging around Jane Austen and why no one picked up on his sexcapades before because he seems to have been doing this a while.

Great review!