Legends of Tomorrow: A Head of Her Time

"Yaaas Queen."

Having trouble deciding between watching a spooky ghost story or a bawdy French farce? Legends has you covered.

Back in the 80s, Marvel Comics published a book called Strange Tales. In it were always two separate stories, one with Doctor Strange, and one with Cloak and Dagger. In hindsight I suspect that they just thought that neither audience could support a monthly book on its own, but at the time I thought it was fantastic. This episode reminded me a lot of that book, in that it didn't so much have an A and B plot as an A and A-but-in-a-different-font plot.

This should not have worked. Not so much because they had two unrelated plots running, shows get away with that all the time. No, what shouldn't have worked is that not only did the plotlines have bugger all to do with each other, they were both in entirely different genres. And seeing as how one of the best features of Legends is the way they grab a genre and commit to it, the Haunted House ghost story of John, Charlie and Gary and the French Farce hijinks of everyone else should have created enough tonal whiplash to kill a herd of elephants.

It shouldn't have worked, and yet it worked really well. That should be the official byline for this series.

Thinking about it, I think the reason that they got away with it is as simple as that they really nailed both genres. And while it's easy enough to do 'ghost story' badly, farce as a genre is incredibly difficult to do well because it requires by its very nature that you look like you're not trying. Which makes it thematically a good choice for this story, since that's the exact point Zari was trying to tell Ava about how to be 'cool.'

So let's talk about the Marie Antoinette plot first. Clearly this plotline was the by now traditional 'new team member gets a situation ideally suited to their skill set so they can validate why they deserve to be on the team.' This is essentially a subgenre all on its own by this point, and it's certainly not limited to this show, but it can be excruciating when it's done in a ham handed way. That's another reason why farce was a good choice for this plot, since another key feature of that genre is a sort of 'elaborate artifice' about the way situations are set up. They rely on the audience being 'in' on the joke that the setups are very surface level and presented as such. By using that, they made 'party girl' Zari is presented with a situation requiring the most 'party girl' solution ever a feature of the genre instead of a flaw in the episode. That's a very thoughtful choice, and it kind of underscores what I mean about farce requiring you to work really hard while you look like you're not trying at all.

Which, now that we mention it, is exactly the point the show was making about influencers in general and this new version of Zari specifically. I like that they're putting the effort in to show us that this new Zari isn't really shallow and/or vapid at all, and that fundamentally she's still the same Zari we already knew, minus a couple decades of suffering. I was kind of devastated at losing the old version of her at the end of last season, and have been really hoping that would find a way to undo it and return her to us. But then they went and made me like Behrad, the bastards, and now they're making me like the way they're gradually softening this new version back toward a sort of hybrid of who she used to be and who she is now. So much so that I was actually relieved when eating that donut didn't magically make her her old self again, something I really thought was happening for a moment.

Side note: Was anyone else startled by just how many clips of Zari eating pastry they had on hand to put into that montage?

So I'll just accept it. They've sold me on the new Zari/Behrad paradigm. I'm sure she'll get more of her memory back, but I like the dynamic that's developing and I'm happy to see it continue. Zari and Ava is an unexpected friendship, but it worked well, the two have great chemistry together, and the themes about confidence and finding your place resonated well between the two.

Meanwhile, in Newcastle. I should be up front about something. My knowledge of what happened in Hellblazer peters out around 1992. Which means I knew all about Newcastle and Astra and all that, but have no idea if all the business with her Mum, Natalie, is from the books or if new ground is being broken here. Whichever the case – and obviously you shouldn't have to know the source material to enjoy the show – it worked. Ghost stories sort of exist to be extended metaphors about the characters' psychological states, so using one to break down what exactly John is guilty about and why fit very well.

I particularly enjoyed the conceit of 'ghost as lie detector' that they were using here. John being slowly and deliberately forced to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth via spectral tantrum was both effective and visually enjoyable. I don't think I've ever seen that particular narrative trick before, although feel free to mention in the comments if I'm just not thinking of an obvious one. Also, their timing in when exactly they got around to explaining who the kids in creepy masks were was quite well structured.

And in among the character work we get seeded an interesting new plot point. Apparently sometime very, very long ago, Charlie dismantled something called 'The Loom of Fate'. Exactly how powerful was Charlie before she got depowered by John? Because that seems like a big ask of a shapeshifter. Unfortunately we don't find out much else about it just now because they've decided to dive directly into the 'Dangerous Habits' storyline. Ok. Fine. Everybody loves that one, and for some reason every iteration of John Constantine is obsessed with restaging it, so let's just see where it goes. At least they jumped directly to the interesting parts.

And one last thought on this plotline; I don't know if I've mentioned before, but John and Charlie really work well together as characters. Their shared glance in appreciation of the Natalie's punk music was probably my favorite moment of the episode. Nice little reminder of the better parts of 'Dancing Queen.'



Everybody remember where we parked:

John, Charlie and Gary started in Newcastle, hung out in Newcastle, and remained in Newcastle. I don't recall if they explicitly said it last episode, but it's probably 2020. We're told that the Waverider went to the Bastille, Paris, 1793, but nothing more specific. In the real world, if such a thing exists, Marie was executed on October 16 of that year. It didn't look particularly autumnal to me, but perhaps that was a mild year. I still have questions about the turnaround time for the encores to get back to Earth after their death.

Zari then popped back (forward) to New York City, 2044 for a perfume launch, and to really ram home the comparison/contrast between herself and Marie Antoinette. We also saw some news footage from 2045 about the fallout effect from Dragonesque, so the destruction of people's olfactory systems seems to take a little while. Good news for Ava, Behrad, Nate, and indeed Zari herself.

It's a curious thing, but thanks to the Zari changed her timeline storyline, her 2044 feels real and immediate as the present day in a way that the future episodes of Arrow didn't really manage.



Bits and Pieces:

-- It worked because of all the stuff about farce that I went on about earlier, but Marie Antoinette probably wasn't a particularly evil person. It seems unfair to lump her in with Rasputin, Bugsy, and generic slasher guy. At worst she was probably spoiled and insulated from anyone outside her class. That's hardly unique to her.

-- Anyone else think of Xander Harris when Zari spilled the magic popularity perfume?

-- Caity Lotz was absent most of this episode because she was off prepping for directing next week's episode, if you were wondering. They made a real 'lemons into lemonade' decision to use that to establish Ava's relationship with the rest of the team outside of 'Sara's girlfriend', which was fantastic. When they covered for her to Sara at the end about how the mission had gone I actually got a little misty.

-- Astra apparently handed out magical parting gifts to all the encores on their way out of Hell. I wonder why Rasputin didn't get one.

-- We all thought the magic was going to be in the cake, right?

-- Also, we're all clear that Marie Antoinette looked exactly like Nora for some reason that we'll find out later in the season, right? It can't just have been to get Courtney Ford out of the blue dress.

-- So many questions about the woman Astra is bargaining with. Is that a pawn shop? What's her deal? Who is she? The character is just listed as 'Coin Maker' in the credits. I hope we see lots more of her, because Sarah Strange has charisma to burn.

-- Behrad explained that Gideon basically does everything for them. This made me sigh nostalgically for Ray's chore wheel. Of course, creating a wheel for chores that they didn't actually have to do is totally on brand for Ray.

-- Speaking of Ray, how adorable that his first response to the decapitated body was to sigh and helpfully pick it up.

-- Headless body wielding a flamethrower. You ain't getting that on This is Us.

-- I'm actually warming to the credits.

-- I liked the implied detail that Zari is observant enough Muslim to not drink and be shocked that Behrad was.

-- Speaking of, and I expect that this is a cultural-linguistic thing that I just don't know about, why has Zari's last name apparently changed from Tomaz to Tarazi?

Quotes:

Sara: "I miss you already, Captain Pantsuit."

Zari: "Sad. What a waste of a good head of hair."

Mick: "My stomach hurts. I can't eat. I can't drink. I think Ali gave me an STD back at the reunion."
Ray: "Those are not symptoms. Those are feelings."
Please don't be setting the stage to write out Mick. Then I would have feelings.

Gideon: "The results of my body scan do in fact indicate that you 'like' like her."

Zari: "Jean-Paul, my purse isn't gonna walk in by itself."

Zari: "And you let me come in this because...?"
Nate: "I'm a sucker for a corset and an up-do."

Behrad: "Uh. I can't believe I tried the drink."
Ray: "I can't believe I ate all that gluten-filled cake."
Nate: "I can't believe how heavy that head is."

Zari: "'Lady in cheap pantsuit ruins party.'"

This episode is the rare beast in which I really liked it when watching it, but have grown to like it much more the longer I've spent thinking and writing about it. It's gone up at least a half a point just while I've been typing.

Let's go with three and a half out of four unfairly maligned French monarchs.

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.

4 comments:

Robin said...

Great review as always, Mikey!

My thoughts, in no particular order:

* Rasputin did have the hypnotizing bauble in the season premiere; I think they deliberately left ambiguous at the time whether that was a parting gift from Astra or just how Griggy rolled the first time around, but I think it's safe to say by now that it was probably the former.

* I would absolutely agree that Marie Antoinette is nowhere near as evil as most of the other people Astra's set free. My theory is that, because Astra established two weeks ago that the souls of those corrupted or killed by the Encores go to Astra's bank account, she chose Marie Antoinette because she could, by her partying nature, corrupt way more people into being hell-worthy.

* According to exec interviews, in the original timeline, Zari's family changed their name when they went into hiding from ARGUS. Now that the future dystopia has been overwritten, that name change was no longer necessary. I actually went on a mad Wikipedia dive a few weeks ago to try and figure out if there was something I was missing about Persian surname inheritance, but apparently it was as simple as that.

* I saw a really interesting fan theory on Reddit that Mick is demiromantic (only able to have romantic feelings for someone with whom they share a romantic connection). While I don't know that this is what the writers intended, the Redditor made a fairly convincing argument that Mick's experience resembles that described by demiromantic people. Thought that was kinda neat.

* I fear for the well-being of the communal Waverider bathroom following Ray's gluten binge.

What were your thoughts about the S'more-headed DJ with dollar signs for eyes?

Mikey Heinrich said...

*I'd completely forgotten about the bauble. I should really go back and check these things before posting them

*I'm willing to go with that explanation. Although it didn't speak well of Marie that she appeared to be attempting to murder everybody there by making them party to death

*I made the same assumption about Persian surnames maybe being the explanation. Thank you for that answer, it was driving me crazy.

*I'd never heard of demiromantic. That's interesting, I'll have to read up on that. I myself am the exact opposite. I'm only capable of developing romantic feelings for people who have no interest in me. :)

*I'm more worried about the increase in communal bathroom hookups

*Ah, Internationally renowned DJ S'More Money. Here's a fun fact. When I prep for these I usually end up with three to four pages of notes about the episode. Of these, typically a page or so worth of them don't end up making it into the review just for reasons of length. My note on S'more money was 'DJ S'More Money makes me sad.' He's just way too believable as somebody that could easily exist out there right now. My notes on this one also contain the line 'Nate's under-eye frosting lines are the best.'

I really loved your comments :)

Robin said...

Akoiromanticism, the romantic orientation of feeling romantic attraction but having that attraction stop once that attraction is reciprocated?

I regret to inform you, sir: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshmello

*Reposted to un-mobilize the Wikipedia link

Anonymous said...

Robin and Mikey, thank you for questioning and answering Zari's last name! It's been driving me crazy for episodes now, so I'm happy that there's an actual answer.

I guess it helps with referring to her, too: Zari Tomaz is someone different from Zari Tarazi.

(I also love how close Zari Tarazi feels to an anagram.)

~Josie