Legends of Tomorrow: Ground Control to Sara Lance

"The universe exists for one reason. To kill you."

The Legends of Tomorrow are back at last. And I have a lot of feelings.

After an extended off-season, Legends of Tomorrow is finally back with the season six opener. The highs they are high, and the other parts are... spoilery, so I'm going to hold off on them for just a moment so that anyone who hasn't seen the episode yet doesn't accidentally see something they aren't ready to know. To fill the space, let's talk about a minor section of the episode that contained both its highest high and its most irritating irritation.

I want to talk about David Bowie.

That sentence is actually never not true.

We join our heroes exactly where we left them, give or take a few hours for afterparties, hook-ups, and proto-hangovers. Specifically London, 1977. While out trying to round up all of the crew, we learn that Nate has met David Bowie at an afterparty and the two of them are hanging out talking through Nate's personal life and the woes therein.

Now, I love me some David Bowie. When the first mention was made of 'Starman', I wondered vaguely if we were going to meet another horror along the lines of M.C. S'more Money, because I'd forgotten when they were. Once the penny finally dropped and John Constantine confirmed we were talking about the actual David Bowie you could hear my jaw hit the floor two cities away and my delight could not be overstated. Here, on Legends of Tomorrow, we were actually watching Nate hang out with David Freaking Bowie. And it was good. Thomas Nicholson gave a solid performance as Bowie, totally believable, voice and all. I didn't get a good enough look to see if they'd given him the trademark one blue eye and one that looks green (and is not technically heterochromia – it's an optical trick caused by one of his pupils being frozen open.) They did however have Zari make an allusion to it, so pedantry was satisfied. This was awesome!

But then it all came crashing down for me, and pedantry is to blame as much as anything. See, 1977 was kind of a big year for Bowie. And by big I mean 'insanely well documented'. He'd left LA the year before with Iggy Pop to move to Berlin to try to get sober. Which was a good thing, as he was only recently before that at the 'storing jars of your own urine in the basement' stage of cocaine abuse.

January of 1977 saw the release of the album Low, which is where the version of Bowie we see here's hairstyle comes from (wonderfully well re-created, btw. Serious hats off to the makeup and hair department.) At the end of the year he released the album Heroes. I want to say November, but I don't recall for certain and I don't want to stop and look it up right now.

The point of the story is that there's just no possible way that Bowie was hanging out in late night club afterparties at any point during that year, what with the struggle to gain his sobriety. And even if he had found a way to do so, the Bowie we see here is not 1977 Bowie, he is 100% pure 1972 Hunky Dory Bowie. 1977 Bowie was early in his Thin White Duke phase, which was a very, very different vibe. If nothing else, the song he was writing about Sara's disappearance would have sounded completely different.

This is all, you might fairly argue, a 'me' problem. And it absolutely is. I mention it to illustrate my issue with this episode as a whole. The things that fill me with crazy monkey-love for what they're doing are inextricably tied in with things that completely prevent me from enjoying them as much as I want to.

And now that we've filled a nice chunk of scrollable space, let's get to the real issue.

The Alienation of Gary Green.

For the sake of space I'm going to take it as read that we're all familiar with the concept of a 'retcon'. There's nothing intrinsically bad with them in and of themselves. The Doctor's ability to regenerate was a total retcon, just to pick one example of it working out pretty well. So believe me when I tell you that the fact that I hate every single thing about the retconning of Gary here is not just me indulging a broader hatred of retcons in general. I specifically hate this one.

Which is super frustrating, because the execution of how they used 'Gary has secretly been an alien all this time' to set up the basic framework for the season was basically flawless. Sara, it turns out, was abducted at the end of last season because Gary has secretly been an alien in disguise all along who was tasked by his superiors with finding and abducting the ultimate human being. Or something along those lines. He'd been dragging his feet on it because after spending a little time on Earth he'd realized he kinda liked humanity in general and the Legends specifically. But his time was finally up and he chose Sara to run off with. She gets Gary back on her side, boots Gary's mean alien boss/fiancée out of the airlock in classic, Sigourney Weaver approved fashion, and all was well.

Except, oops. Part of the escape plan is opening a portal back into the temporal zone since that's where the Waverider is, and wouldn't you know it, when she booted the mean alien out of the airlock she accidentally ejected a non-specified number of aliens out with her who have now all fallen into the timestream and are thus scattered throughout history causing mischief. Basic premise for the season established. Boom.

That's really solid setup material. It all tracks. It fits what we know of Sara. It's just enough of a variation on the standard season premises we've seen before that it feels new, but follows enough of the basic pattern that basically know how the whole thing works and they don't have to waste any more time explaining it in future episodes. Aberrations, anachronisms, and magical creatures walked so that time displaced aliens can fly.

But making it all work relies on us buying that Gary has secretly been an alien all this time, with only his special glasses making him appear to be human. And that's just stupid, frustrating, and frustratingly stupid all at the same time. I don't know if it's just because they play it in exactly the same 'whah whah whah, look what a loveable screwup Gary is, isn't it charming? Isn't it?? Isn't it?!??' And no, it's not.

I don't want to get bogged down here in pointless nitpicking about whether we've seen Gary without his glasses on before (although we have), or how little sense it makes for him to have been recruited to the Time Bureau given this backstory (although it's very little.) I'm not even going to question what, if not a human nipple, got bitten off by the unicorn during last season's premiere (although it does beg the question of what exactly Neron thought was going on). Tonally, 'Gary was an alien all along' feels stupid. The fact that the rest of the Legends figured it out at the exact same time that Sara was finding out just so we don't have to revisit it as a 'big reveal' later on plainly shows what a crass and cheap move it is.

It's a cheap and crass move that allows for a solid season opener, told really well, structured impeccably, which perfectly establishes where the season is going. Goddamn it.

In other plotlines, the introduction of Lisseth Chavez as Esperanza "Spooner" Cruz shows a lot of promise. Tying her to the alien shenanigans in 1977 and then popping forward to her adult life to pick her up properly was a great decision, structurally, and the reveal that there wasn't ever any alien tech in her head was a great twist. Bonus points for how enthusiastic Gideon was about the possibility of removing and dicing her brain. Amy Pemberton almost never gets to play dark comedy, so it's a treat when she does.

And just to bring it back full circle to my happy place, whoever made the decision to structure the first act entirely around the Legends having to regroup after a hard night partying so that David Bowie can tell them that the season is going to be all about space aliens is a freaking genius. It just felt so right.



Everybody remember where we parked:

The Waverider started off in 1977, pretty thoroughly trashed by punks in the season five afterparty. I confess I was a little confused about where the Waverider ended up after the end of last season. Did we see it arrive in 1977, or did we just cut to the Legends at the bar? I can't remember.

Mick and Behrad then pop forward to pick up Spooner in the hope that her connection to the aliens will help lead them to Sara's abductors. Now, I may be mistaken, but I don't think we got a title card for that one. We did see a Texas flag outside of her compound, so let's assume one of the less populated bits of Texas, 2021 until we get clarification otherwise.

After that we split our time between The TZ, John's place, and somewhere in deep space. It was a fairly scattered team this week, now I think about it.


Bits and Pieces:

-- Mick's clearly devastated to have lost Sara. That was sweet.

-- Behrad seems to be much more of a stoner stereotype this season. I'm hoping it's just a case of broad characterization for the premiere, because he had a lot more depth than that last season.

-- Ava clearly goes into hyper-organization mode as her way of dealing with stress. Her checklist accurately outlining how the team would react to the crisis was hysterical.

-- Zari and John are making no effort to conceal their relationship, which is refreshing. I don't think even John seriously believed himself when he claimed it was just a fling.

-- At the end of last season it felt like they were definitively writing Astra out of the show, but now they seem to have reversed that decision and are finding a way to keep her around. They even lampshaded the fact in the dialog. I have this horrible worry that they kept her on because Maisie Richardson-Selllers was leaving and they wanted Olivia Swann to fill the 'woman of color' void that that left. And I hate thinking that, because Olivia Swann is doing great stuff, they're letting Astra grow beyond being just a motivating factor in John Constantine's story, and more representation is always a good thing. I just hope they weren't doing it for the sake of tokenism. I think I have enough faith in this production crew to believe they weren't, but I do worry about it.

-- Sara's running joke about not 'Avenging' was kind of cute. As was Spartacus. Woof. And then he turned out to be a self centered douche, which just confirms that I continue to have a 'type'.

-- Very clever maneuver sidelining the DEO from over on Supergirl. The fact that we're dealing with altered timelines that need to be corrected means that they can safely justify the Legends not doing the logical thing and consulting the actual organization that exists specifically to deal with this sort of thing, since they're currently destroyed in this timeline. That's very tidy.

-- Sara gleefully telling David Bowie that she's going to propose to Ava was just a wonderful moment, and so well scripted and staged. That's going to hang over the rest of the season in a wonderful way.

-- Oh my God, it just occurred to me to wonder if David Bowie wrote the song 'Heroes' about the Legends. Well, that's just head canon from now on, isn't it.


Quotes:

Ava: "She is not lost. She is pre-found."

Mick: "It isn’t going to work. This whole thing isn’t going to work. Nothing works without Sara."

Ava: "We’re going to call the experts. The DEO."
Nate: "Good idea….eesh…."
Ava: "What?"
Nate: "Is it going to get weird between you and Alex Danvers because she and Sara had a fling..."
Ava: "Swing a dead cat."

Ava: "Nate, if I trusted the team I wouldn’t have made an entire binder to get rid of them."

Sara: "You want to join the Preventers, Sparty?"

Ava: "This is why we don’t talk about emotions during the mission."

Spooner: "I found the alien. A lot dweebier than I thought."



A really fun season opener which was a good story in its own right and whose bedrock rests upon a really, really irritating plot trick. Three out of five excuses to add that Lodger is the best David Bowie album.

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.

12 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Legends, and Mikey's Legends reviews, are back! Yay!

Okay, and you thought I was going to insist on Ziggy Stardust and actually, I do insist that it's Ziggy Stardust, but I also have great fondness for Station to Station because of certain memories.

I mentioned that Ziggy is my favorite album ever in my second to last review. :)

https://www.douxreviews.com/2021/05/the-handmaids-tale-nightshade.html

I sort of like what they did to Gary because I dislike the character so much and it feels like they finally did something interesting with him.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Station to station is the third of the 'Berlin trilogy' after low and heroes, so now is a perfect time to celebrate it :)

I get what you're saying about Gary. Maybe I'm just being too reactionary about it. It does explain his social awkwardness I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I love Legends more than all the other Arrowverse shows and its generally one of my fav shows but the Bowie and Gary examples are exactly why this show annoys me in a unique way to other shows. Because it is so fun and random it can get away with stuff like that where other shows cant, the show has almost made itself critic proof. If anything narratively does not make sense or something is just plain stupid ''its Legends'' or ''this fucking show man'' (my personal responses) followed by something hilarious is usually the answer and we are off to the next random hilarious occurrence.

I like Gary in certain episodes and hate him in others. Completely on the fence with him and this new development.

Imagine if Spartacus was competent. Not that we needed to know Sara is still the Goat Queen but its getting pretty galling seeing them make the male characters unbelievably stupid, incompetent and impotent to prop the ladies up. Who dont need it because they are fab and being surrounded by competent dudes wouldn't take that away from them infact it would elevate them.

Samantha M. Quinn said...

I won't get into my personal frustration keeping the lead separated from the group (see Supergirl this season as well). I'm kinda 50/50 with the Gary development. Like you, I thought using that reveal of him as an Alien as a platform for the season plot was well executed. However, Gary is now a new kind of awful (what a fugly creature design). Maybe this will lead to character development. Maybe this version of Gary is a change in the time line from Crisis (my personal hope in fact to address this bizarre retcon).

Personally I just think the writers went:

Head Writer: "There are some major plot holes using Gary like this?"
Staff Writer: "Um, everyone hates him anyway. Does it matter?"
Head Writer: "Good point, screw it leave it in, plot holes be damned. It's Legends, like it makes sense anyway."

I say this, because I'm now finally invested in the show after dropping it for almost two years. Anyway, glad it's back.

Great review Mikey!

One more thing, while it may not have fit into his actual timeline very well, adding Bowie just made me smile. Space Oddity is my favorite song of all time, and I can practically recite the lyrics to Ziggy... Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly, and the Spiders from Mars, he played it left hand...

Anonymous said...

Okay so I'll be that person and remark that John has been intimate with Gary.. but John is rarely phased by weird things soo..
I love Bowie.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Billie - There are worse songs to murder to than Suffragette City :)

Me - Hey me from last night, you should clarify that Station to Station is actually the first album of that trilogy. The way you phrased it makes it look like you think it come out last. Consider yourself retroactively Bowie-shamed. Love, you from the future.

Anon. - My read is that Spartacus was just there for eye candy and for Sara to have someone to talk to. I want to believe that everyone involved knows that Sara needs no hyping up. You could of course be right though.

Samantha - you know, the Crisis explanation actually just made me so much more OK with this. Thank you!

Also Anonymous - Yeah, I was thinking that too. But then I remembered that Matt Ryan's John Constantine has canonically bottomed for King Shark, so all bets are pretty much off :)

OK, I'm going to say something blasphemous - with the codicil that I also love Ziggy Stardust...

Hunky Dory is a better album than Ziggy Stardust.

There, I said it.

Please don't hate me.

RandallJosephSmith said...

I really like the Crisis theory for the retcon of Gary being an alien. Never thought about that. But honestly the Legends alter the timeline so much that any one of their missions could have also caused this alteration in my mind and they just never realized it.

I’m pretty excited for the aliens released into the timeline as well. Unlike the encores of last season, they can be vastly different in appearance, as well as physical and mental abilities.

Thinking about it now, I actually find it weird Spartacus just charged in to fight two aliens without thinking after being afraid to fight one earlier.

I can’t believe Gary was engaged. Especially to such a powerful and no nonsense alien.

Anonymous said...

Mikey-anon here. Yes I recall the King Shark thing-John loves danger doesn't he? Plus, yeah Crisis changed things like Gary I guesss. It makes sense. Kinda.

RandallJosephSmith said...

I just had an awesome idea. One of the seasons should focus on the Legends facing dark mirrors of themselves. Either another misfit band of time travelers who happen to be evil, or actual alternate universe counterparts of themselves that intentionally mess up the timeline. They could even slightly change the lineup saying that in the alternate timeline some members of the team left, stayed, died, or lived that never did. I think this idea would work particularly well for the last season. Their villainous counterparts could interrogate whether they’ve actually done as much good as they thought they have. Reveal various alternate timelines the legends have (supposedly) created, most of which are bad. Make them question whether they’re doing any good since each time they fix one mess in the timeline it seems to cause another, equally bad mess. The evil Legends could tire of losing friends and family after losing one too many in their last fight. Now they want to bend time to their own will or simply cause as much wanton chaos as possible and bring down all of time/reality. There are tons of possibilities! Sorry if this seems a bit random but this idea just hit me after watching the episode last night and I wanted to share it with some fellow fans haha.

Samantha M. Quinn said...

Randall, that sounds like fun. Especially if it brings back some favorites we have lost like Snart or Rip. But even a mirror of the current cast could be interesting.

Josie Kafka said...

Mikey, how deep is your Bowie passion? Have you seen his son's movie Mute? Have you read this scathing review of that movie: https://www.avclub.com/mute-is-a-flabbergasting-futuristic-dud-from-the-direct-1823219985

I saw someone speculate that Gary is only an alien now, in a post-Crisis world. I'm not sure that makes sense, but I think it might more sense than the idea that he was an alien all along.

Behrad seems to be much more of a stoner stereotype this season. I'm hoping it's just a case of broad characterization for the premiere, because he had a lot more depth than that last season.

I nod vigorously in agreement.

This episode was fine, but it felt rushed. Rather, it felt like they had to cut about 10 minutes in order to fit within the prescribed time, and so some of the emotional beats didn't feel totally earned. #ReleaseTheLongerCut

Mikey Heinrich said...

My Bowie passion runs deep, but for some reason has never really transferred to his son's films. I hear the one about the sun was quite good. Warcraft less so.

I'll check out that review.