Legends of Tomorrow: The Great British Fake Off

"Existential actualization can come later."

So good. Even Paul Hollywood would approve.

Legends enters the official back half of its season strong with an incredibly well structured script that manages to neatly connect all of its disparate plot strands in a way that makes them feel like they're all part of the same organic whole. There's really only one element that feels shoehorned in, and it's the same element that's been doing that for most of the season. But we'll come back to that.

This screenplay for this one was credited to Jackie Canino, whose only prior contribution to the show was as co-writer on last year's 'Séance and Sensibility.' I mention this up front because this is an impressively disciplined script which manages to spin four or five different storylines into a cohesive story in which the cause and effect between the threads makes everything more compelling. And that's not something they pull off every week. It's even more impressive in that those two episodes of Legends of Tomorrow are currently the only two credits on Jackie's imdb page.

I'm using Jackie's proper name an awkward amount here, btw, as I have no idea if Jackie is male/female/some flavor of gender neutral or trans, and I really don't want to screw up sincere praise with mis-gendering. I apologize if it sounds awkward, but I'd rather sound stupid than be insulting, any day.

So, what were the main things that this episode needed to accomplish?

-It needed to be the 'Zari comes to terms with using her totem powers' episode as that's part of the losing Behrad grieving process and they're going to need her firing on all cylinders once the final battle starts to go down.

-It also needed to be the 'find the final plot coupon' episode so that they could get the search for the rings over with. This one actually surprised me, because I expected them to hold off on that until the penultimate or antepenultimate episode. That's the usual policy for 'final pieces' because it spares you having to find other ways to stall the big final battle. But that's not an issue now, because this also needed to be...

-The surprise midseason villain twist episode! And I have to say, they executed it flawlessly. Astra falls away as the big bad of the year as a minor character is brought forward with new information that makes them suddenly a much bigger threat. They did it better here than it was done even on Buffy season two with the surprise substitution of Angelus for Spike, which was my previous go-to as an example of that sort of thing done well. If you want an example of it done poorly, move on to Buffy season six. Lachesis was seeded properly into the season and sketched in just the right amount for this twist to work. It helps that she's fascinating and the actress has charisma to spare, because honestly Atropos is fairly dull when you get right down to it. She's Ancient Greek Terminator. That's pretty much it.

-It needed to pull off the other big shake-up of the surprise mid-season villain twist – either finding something interesting to do with the previous villain or getting rid of them altogether. Here they went with the time honored 'forge a mutually distrustful alliance with the good guys for nefarious reasons.' Again, Spike would be the archetype for this one.

-And finally, it also needed to be a satisfactory wrap up of the Encores storyline, as their storyline had now served its purpose. A task made harder by the fact that the previous three or so episodes had really muddied the water as to whether or not that story was already wrapped up.

And finally,

-It needed to set up/tease Sara's new and developing power without making the scenes of that feel like a distraction from the real story, which was precisely the problem with Mick's plotline last week.

The answer provided in the screenplay is both elegant and effective. Constantine finds a bit of phlebotinum that will find the last plot coupon, but to use it he needs everybody to hold hands so he can use their souls as energy for the spell, Matrix-style. This process triggers Sara's new ill-defined powers, which in turn causes her to fall into a coma, which in turn causes both Constantine and Zari to get magically portalled off to the ring-search part of the plot. This also has the effect of causing Ava, feeling helpless at her girlfriend having yet another coma, to get reckless and go to Hell to find Astra, since this is the only lead she can think of to find Zari and Constantine and save them from the converging remainder of the encores, who are politely gathering in one place so that they can be definitively all killed off on screen.

And why are the Encores gathering together so conveniently so that their plotline can be neatly concluded? Why, because the spell locating the ring alerted Lachesis, which caused her to make her move and betray Astra, which caused Astra to find out who Lachesis really was and choose to side with the Legends instead.

It's like particularly elegant clockwork, each plot development and reveal being clearly caused by the falling of a previous domino, all leading back to the initial inciting incident of John's battery spell. It's a difficult balance to both pull that kind of causation off and simultaneously resist the urge to overexplain each step so that you can draw attention to how clever you're being, and Jackie Canino absolutely nailed it. So much respect.

Oh, did I neglect to mention one super-important thing this episode also needed to accomplish? Prepare for a great big ensemble 'we-were-right' dance, previous Legends' comments threads. They announced pretty clearly that we weren't imagining the developing Zari/Constantine vibe. You know, in that they used the two of them finding their romantic connection as the literal solution for finding the ring. #TeamZarStantine.

We were not imagining it.

Everybody remember where we parked:

This week we started in flashback in... sometime that looked like Egypt a really, really long time ago? If they included a title card with time and place I didn't catch it, and I went back and looked a few times. Lovely use of the current team interrupting the story to ask questions to head off audience criticism, by the way. It was also a useful way to slot in some exposition about Lachesis. That was efficient.

Then Zari and Constantine ended up in John's house in Northumberland, but in 1910-ish when it was a guest house. I have to admit, the 'find the thimble' section of the Encores all searching for the ring was charming and fun.

Oh, and Ava, Gary and Mick went to Hell, where time should be fluid and weird, but is instead always the year that an episode is broadcast.

Oh Nate.  Poor Nate.
Bits and pieces:

-- The thing that struck and impressed me most about this episode was the lengths that both the show, and Nate as a character, went to let us know that he fundamentally gets that Zari Tarazi is NOT Zari Tomaz, and that he has no right to assume that this new woman automatically is his prize for figuring out the whole change to the timeline. I really liked that a lot.

-- That said, oh my sweet glittery Jesus, poor Nate. First he lost Ray, then Behrad, and now it's becoming increasingly obvious that the mystery girl he's been dreaming about is not coming back to him, but will instead be falling for his friend/co-worker. No wonder his hair seemed droopy and sad this week.

-- Speaking of hair, that hairstyle absolutely did not work for Zari. I hate to say it, but it just didn't. I was a little surprised, because I didn't think there was a look that Tala Ashe could not pull off, but here one was. Also, I thought Charlie's new hair thing looked cool, but it seemed like kind of an odd time for Charlie to make a change to her look (other than one that completely disguised who she was from her sisters). It's like she said to herself, 'Hey, my vengeful sisters are looking to kill me, and I just got one of my teammates and former lover killed... maybe a new hairdo will perk me right up.' Of course, she's a shapeshifter, so it's not like it took any time, but still.

-- The Enchantress we get here is a lot nicer than the one in the Suicide Squad film. And had better social skills. I wonder if this was a one off, or if she's going to play a role later on.

-- It was a nice touch that the Enchantress, as Mrs. Hughes, straight up told John and Zari how to find the ring but they didn't realize it at the time.

-- At the end it's justified, but in 1910, an engaged couple would absolutely not have been allowed to share a room in a boarding house. That bothered me right up until the final reveal.

-- The dialogue was a little vague on the point – did they say that the ring Clotho gave to the Enchantress was specifically Atropos' ring?

-- Sara's powers seem to be precognition, right? They're a bit vague about whether having her powers allowed her to survive the attack or that the attack brought forth her powers. Maybe both?

-- Matt Ryan and Tala Ashe continue to sparkle together. I particularly loved how they played their bickering and one-upmanship as both of them actually enjoying it. Neither of them really seemed to tire of it at any point.

-- OK, I've put it off long enough. Mick's role in all this was once again entirely shoehorned in, and most of his fighting in Hell was off screen. Based on nothing but what we've seen, I have to imagine that Dominic Purcell had some sort of major scheduling conflicts and so they had to find ways to get him into scenes without other people as much as possible.

-- Constantine just straight up broke Doctor White's neck on screen. It was to communicate to the viewer that he was an Encore, but that was still surprisingly and uncharacteristically brutal for this show.

-- Speaking of the Great British Bake Off (Or The Great British Baking Show if you're actually... you know.. British…) There exists out in the world a mug that has a cartoon of Paul Hollywood looking downward disapprovingly above the caption, 'Paul Hollywood is judging your buns.' My birthday is in early August. Just throwing those two facts out there.

The Enchantress.  
So much nicer when she's not in the body of the world's worst archaeologist
Quotes:

Zari: "You must have a thing for warrior women."
Nate: "Only if they’re from another time period and eventually will leave me, sure."

Ava: "Is this safe? It doesn’t sound safe."
John: "It isn’t. Any more questions? Good."

Dr. White: "No ring?"
Zari: "No, we’re still looking for one."
I didn't get this joke until my third viewing.

Zari: "Oh, I’m sorry, should I have let myself be serial killed so you would have five more minutes to not find the ring?"

Charlie: "Oh Mick, I thought you were taking some time off to hang out with the kid."
Mick: "She told me to go to Hell. Where are we headed?"
Gary: "The portal to Hell is ready, Captain."

Gary: "No one with an executive privacy button has good intentions."

Zari: "OK, it’s not just gonna slip our minds, so what do we do?"
John: "We drink."

I'm sorry, it's just not working.

I really, really like this episode. Rock solid structure, great character work, fantastic plot advancement for the season. The only thing remotely letting the side down is whatever is causing them to keep Mick's plot so separate from everything else.

I have five pages of notes for this episode, just over two of which actually made it into this review. That's always a sign that I really enjoyed something. Full transcript upon request.

Four and a half out of five reasons to never leave Nate and Charlie behind for tech support.

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.

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, I absolutely loved your bit about Charlie's brand new and wild hair-do. Lol. :)

Definitely an interesting episode, and I was surprised at how much I liked Zari with John Constantine. Bonnie and Clyde were fun, too.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I am really, really loving this unexpected love triangle developing with zari, nate, and Constantine!

Robin said...

I really want to try and pitch "ConAir" as the official Zari/Constantine ship name, especially now that she's bonded with the Air Totem (again).

According to one of the writers, one of the episodes this season was almost named "A Mysterious Affair at Newcastle." I'm pretty sure this is the one, especially with both "Dr. White" and "Mr. Green" as Cluedo-style names.

I love that even when he's settling into his character development, Mick's first priority is still blowing off work to catch a sporting event.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I'm down for 'ConAir'

The Cluedo thing would explain Doctor White being called that. I'm not super into Ripper-lore, but the brief research I did to see if that was an actual person suspected came up with nothing.

It would also explain the choice of Black Caesar, who seemed like an odd choice for the evil pirate, although he was a real person I discovered and fairly interesting. I just assumed he was there for the Brutus jokes

Josie Kafka said...

I come not to praise Zari's hairdo, but to explain it. I think she had to have the horrible hair on the ship to establish that she suddenly had bangs; that way, the Cleopatra hair made sense.

I can only assume the bangs will magically disappear in the next episode, since I don't think Tala Ashe has bangs. But I suppose we'll find out tonight.

(So exciting!)

I would also support "ConAir."

And speaking of Mick: I have nothing new to add, but I just don't understand what's happening there. Do the writers not know what to do with the character? Stick him in more scenes and give him a few gruff one-liners! That's all we ask!

Is there backstage drama? Does Dominic Purcell want more days off?

Mick is starting to feel like that barista (Gunther?) from Friends. He's not there all the time, and when he is there you wonder where he has been.