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Legends of Tomorrow: The Ex-Factor

"DJ, drop that beat!"

What exactly do you make of an episode when its narrative fig leaf is so much more fun than its narrative wang?

Yes, that's the metaphor I'm going with.

The narrative fig leaf, or at least what I mean by the expression, is the justification given in the plot of the episode that allows them to tell whatever story that they want to tell. To pick an example from the Legends' past, Elvis having the Death Totem was the narrative fig leaf that allowed them to do an episode about the team going to meet Elvis while talking about the process of grieving. They got a fun romp with Elvis and a thematic discussion about coping with loss, and all it cost them was the effort of finding a plot justification to do so. That's not in the least a criticism, by the way. 'Amazing Grace' was a fantastic episode.

This week, the narrative fig leaf – provided by the season's over-arcing plotline as they tend to be on this show – was a particularly amusing alien warlord altering the timeline by becoming the favored contestant on this season of The Voice. Sorry, Da Throne.

So what did this NF allow them to do, plot, theme, or character wise? Well, there were three main focuses. One of them, clearly the primary one they wanted to focus on this week, was fine. Kind of perfunctory, relying on stupid, cheap tricks to rev up drama, but... fine. One of them would actually have been really quite touching if real world events completely outside of the show's control hadn't rendered it toxic. And the third has absolutely no relation to the narrative fig leaf, and is easily the worst of the three. So why don't we start by talking about that one.

I'm talking of course about 'Sara and Gary's Pointless Adventure,' or 'Dude... Where's my Plotline?'

I'll start off by saying something nice about it. It was a nice little touch that Mr. Mysterious Manbun was apparently playing the 'Space Girl' song we saw David Bowie start to write in the season premiere. Despite the fact that a Bowie song written in 1977 wouldn't have sounded anything like that. OK, I'm letting that go now. Similarly, the 'Did you think I wouldn't recognize my own Ava' moment was sweet. Also, when Sara needed to persuade Gary to eat the oncoming horde, she very cleverly used his investment in her and Ava's relationship in a subtle and effective way to get him to do what she wanted.

Now that we have the positives out of the way, let's just say that the Sara and Gary plotline, such as it is, just isn't working so far this season. Almost nothing has happened in it, the few things that have happened have received neither any explanation nor any sign that we're going to get one, and despite having spent a good chunk of screen time with them this season it's all felt so pointless that I'm starting to resent when we cut to them. Maybe things are about to get better now that Sara has reached the lair of Mysterious Mr. Manbun, whom I shall be referring to as 3M from now on despite the fact that IMDb identifies him as 'Bishop' because it's funny if you're from Minnesota.

I'm starting to think that they would have been better off not showing Sara at all until her plot reconnects with the team and then done one of those 'Here's the entire season from Sara's perspective episodes a la 'We Interrupt this Program' over on WandaVision. Because right now they've thrown out and left  hanging: who hired Kayla to kidnap dangerous creatures and why, where the dog came from, why it had a bandana, what exactly was Amelia Earhart and why did she have super speed powers and a poison tongue stinger, how did a cadre of Ava clones get to this planet from a hundred and fifty odd years in the future on Earth, and what is 3M doing in his literal man-cave listening to Bowie.

That's a lot of meandering and seemingly unconnected plot viscera to just throw around and then ignore.

The second, and theoretically good plot focus, is of course Mick Rory. I really love that they're addressing the fact that he's the last of the original team left. And sure, it's a little cliched to fall into the 'Tough guy pretends he doesn't care about something he clearly has feelings about' thing. But it's sweet that the only ones he specifically mentions are Ray and Sara, a.k.a. the ones that he both liked and respected. Mick lashing out in unhealthy ways, nearly causing an alien invasion out of sheer frustration that the plot wasn't moving along fast enough, all of that is really interesting territory for them. Unfortunately, I don't think I can even accurately judge how well they handled the material, because every time Mick speaks, all I can hear are Dominic Purcell's Instagram comments on how TV can't be good anymore because of 'Me Too,' which makes it hard to sympathize with his emotional struggle on the show in a really ironic way.

I will say that I don't think they stuck the landing hard enough on his coming around to support Ava. Their hallway come-to-Jesus was good, but while I felt like it was a breakthrough for Ava, I didn't get the sense that it had emotionally reached Mick where it needed to. Again, that might just be the outside world stuff coloring my perceptions. I also wish he hadn't straight up murdered tiny Lord Knoxicrillion after we'd gotten to know him a little, but that was at least in character.

And finally, what the episode really wanted to talk about; John and Zari coming to terms with their feelings for one another and their developing relationship. Again, this was... fine. I guess. It was super trope-y, and a large part of it relied on that irritating plot device of one character overhearing something that upsets them and then not talking about it like a reasonable adult until they've wrung all the cheap drama out of it that they can. But, whatever. It was fine. It accomplished what they wanted to do as far as getting John and Zari to admit that they have feelings for one another. The 'I'm afraid to be vulnerable and so I'm resisting our relationship' stuff was about as un-subtle as that theme can get, and it's nothing we haven't seen in a hundred other shows. But It all worked well enough, hung together, and closed with a pretty good musical number.

Oh, and somebody really wanted us to know that they were cool enough to listen to the Buzzcocks back in the day. I feel obligated to call it out, because it's exactly the sort of thing I would have done; see: all my pretentious discussion of what Bowie was doing in 1977 a couple episodes back.

Those are the plotlines. And none of them are even a thousandth bit as entertaining as every single moment Lord Knoxicrillion is on the screen. Which is a problem, because Lord Knoxicrillion disappears for a very long chunk of the middle of this episode. That's what fig leaves do. They get the main plot in the door, then politely vanish until they show up to be resolved at the end. And Lord Knoxicrillion is just way too much fun to be gone that long. I'm not 100% sure if they ever confirmed Knox' pronouns on screen, but they did rather delightfully confirm that they were gender non-binary, so I'm going to go with they/them to be on the side of caution.

They were the absolute perfect level of cliché. They were the essence of  'Everything we understand bombastic alien conquerors to be' in exactly the right way, right down to their name. 'Lord Knoxicrillion' (not Mister Knoxicrillion, meatbag.) Absolutely perfect and ripe for skewering. An alien invader who comes to Earth to fight its leader in single combat as a method of conquering, that we've seen. An alien invader who comes to Earth to fight its leader and is told, 'Yeah... we actually do our fighting in the form of song and dance battles.' and who responds by essentially saying, 'Hell YES, I am going to crush you in song and dance battle!' and closes with a gender-flipped empowerment anthem/diss track, that – and I apologize in advance for the swearing but it feels necessary in the circumstances – that is a work of fucking genius.

Lord Knoxicrillion should have been the entire episode. Lord Knoxicrillion should be next season's recurring villain. There might be a case for them to be the entire basis of next year's Arrowverse crossover.

OK, that's going too far. But he definitely should have been the main focus of this episode.



So what have we learned today?

Hey, it's the return of that section I used to do when I thought they were going to have explicable time travel rules.

I bring it back this one time to point out a couple unaddressed weird side effects of setting this one in 2045. The big one is that Les-lay calls Zari in after DJ S'more Money has been brutally killed on live television. The Legends then go to the time before it happens and prevent him from being killed (although John setting his head on fire should absolutely have killed him anyway.) Which means that he was never killed, so Les-lay would never have called, so the Legends would never have known about it, so they wouldn't have come to save him, so he would have been killed, etc. etc. The show deals with this paradox by politely ignoring it until it wanders away to the refreshment table, but I felt like it deserved a mention.

Also, there's a weird thing happening where they're acting as if one day passing for the Legends equals one day passing with her being missing in 2045. A lot of hay is made in this one about where Zari has been during her disappearance, but surely the Waverider could just drop her and Behrad off the moment after they left at any time, couldn't it? Particularly if time paradoxes are things we're not really worried about. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that both Zari and Behrad are keeping in phone contact, thereby creating contiguous time between the zones.

That last sentence there is what forty years of obsessing about Doctor Who will do to you. Treat it as a cautionary tale.

Everybody remember where we parked:

Lord Knoxicrillion first arrives in Palm Springs, 2045 before heading to LA and taking the plot with him. John and Zari are hanging out at his house in Northumberland in 2021, where there's more than one bathroom and privacy for sexy-time. Which begs the question of where Astra is. Again.

I would absolutely go to this concert


Bits and Pieces:

-- I've actually never seen an episode of reality show singing competition. This isn't a weird-flex – if you enjoy them, power to you. I only mention it because I probably missed some jokes. For example, when Nate stops everything to mention that the song Saucéy was singing was catchy – was that a reference to something, or just a weird moment? And is it wrong that I really like Saucéy?

-- A clever merchandising department might notice the developing trend of 'Famous songs the Legends inspired which never existed in our timeline' and put out a CD of them at some point. So far we have Bowie's 'Space Girl' and Janis Joplin's 'Little Robot Man.' I'd buy it.

-- John's being unreasonable about Zari's focus on her business. Everything she's doing here are the actions of a responsible business owner/face of the brand doing what they have to in order to keep paying their employees.

-- Ava goes and says it out loud a little later on, but how great is it to see Zari 2.0 using her skills as a social media influencer to help the team, without shame or hesitation. Good for her. She knows where she's strong and she doesn't hesitate to use it.

-- The running joke of Les-lay appearing out of nowhere was actually pretty funny.

-- Matt Ryan and Tala Ashe sounded pretty good there at the end. Their voices blended in an interesting way.

-- I'm almost positive Matt Ryan's chest hair received its own listing in the credits.

-- The big reveal this week was that the MCU explicitly exists in the DC universe, and Nate has seen Thor: Ragnarok.

-- The edible cups were a cute detail reminding us we were in the future.

-- Can we please be done with DJ S'more Money now? Please?


Quotes:

Nate: "I don’t know what’s more surprising, an alien attacking Zari’s ex-boyfriend, or the fact that network TV still exists."

Behrad: "Last year, president Dwane Johnson showed up. And for an old guy? He can still get down."
Nate: "The Rock’s the President? Please tell me John Cena is his Chief of Staff."

Spooner: "I guess I’d be pissy too if I was the last OG."

Ava: "Excuse me, Mister Knoxicrillion."
Lord Knoxicrillion: "It is LORD, Fleshbag."

DJ S’More Money: "Help Help Help Help Help. Ah, help me, help me! Come on, come on, come on, come on, No, no, no, no, no, no! My S’more Money brand vodka! That’s an accelerant!"

Ava: "Uh, we’re kind of a Swiss army knife operation. Every Legend has a utility. So when you’ve got a social influencer from the future, you go with it. And you hope that being a triple threat is still a thing."

Spooner: "Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take your truck, and your virginity."

Mick: "If you were the one kidnapped by aliens, Sara woulda found you by now!"

Knox: "I am your humble servant Queen Z."
Zari: "OK."



This is ultimately a situation where I liked the box a lot more than the present inside, which is too bad because an episode more focused on Lord K could have been a lot of fun.

Two out of five narrative wangs.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

7 comments:

Mikey Heinrich said...

For the third week in a row I've forgotten to mention -

DC actually has a pretty strong precedent for 'Alien on Earth whose entire disguise revolves around putting on a pair of glasses.' Maybe Gary's just an elaborate in-joke about that?

Anonymous said...

Dont think that John was bothered by Zari's focus on her business more so that he thinks so highly of her that he does not understand why she needs all the negative aspects of the lifestyle. What he found it is that Zari is strong enough to handle all that and differentiate while also being actually talented. I don't mind them together, I like them far more than Nate and Zari. Then again I thought Les-Lay and her appearances had alot of Chemistry with John.

Mikey Heinrich said...

That's a very kind take on why John was bothered. I like that a lot. I like John and Zari together too. I'm so glad they didn't make a big love triangle out of them and Nate.

Personally, I found Les-lay kind of terrifying

Billie Doux said...

This show is insane. Mikey, I'm glad you're reviewing it instead of me because I wouldn't have a clue what to say about this episode.

Samantha M. Quinn said...

Mikey, you made me laugh at least three times out loud. I just binged most of Season 4 and all of Season 5 just a few weeks ago to catch up before this season. The biggest strength of Legends is how well it flows together. I mean seriously, I never realized how serial this show was before binging it. That being said, because it is so serial there are episodes that just don't entirely work on their own. While this was a stand alone episode, it was also kind of a filler episode bridging between plot points. Getting character to certain places, and it was kind of meandering as well.

I am getting on board with the Zari/John ship, about as slowly as Constantine as a character has grown on me. I am also hoping we do not see S'more head anymore, although I loved he is now toasted.

As for Lord K, I absolutely loved the entire character, and the MIB reference at the end was perfect. Having Rory smush them at the end was laugh out loud funny, and kind of expected.

As for Sara and Gary, see my comment above about continuity. You may be right that it might've been better to do it all at once, but Sara is the lead and leaving her out entirely is not really an option. Plus, see my comment above, it'll probably work as a solid story strung together.

Thank you again for the wonderful review!

Anonymous said...

Maybe Caity's contract states she has to be in all the eps so they can't exclude her? And maybe Astra doesn't have to be in all the eps according to hers. Might be something like that.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Billie - Yeah, it was hard to know how to even approach talking about this one. My local CW fee actually cut out on the night of broadcast after the last commercial break, so the episode ended with Zari saying 'We've lost', followed by ten minutes of black screen, and it kind of felt right. Like, the entire broadcasting mechanism just gave up at that point.

Samantha - I'm sure you're right, it'll probably all hang together beautifully when all is said and done. It just feels like they aren't nailing the 'watching night of/bingeing them all later' balance just at the moment. And it should probably be acknowledged that if they just hadn't shown Sara at all yet I'd be one of the one's complaining loudest about it, so apparently there's just no pleasing me.

Anon. - I suspect, and this is just a guess, that her contract states that she gets paid $x per episode regardless of whether she's in it or not. I think that's pretty standard for regular cast members on these things. Which means that from the network's perspective, you're already paying her so you may as well get her in there.

Astra - and again this is just a guess - I think you're probably right. She was announced as a regular later on, which makes me wonder if Olivia Swann's contract is for a lower number of episodes this season and so they're holding off on bringing her in until they need her for the storyline. Either that or she's busy filming something else. Or both. Maybe she's just lounging around in fabulous designer outfits with amazing shoes while watching Doctor Who. That is, after all, how I generally picture her.