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Legends of Tomorrow: Bay of Squids

"Here’s to long journeys."

Well that was a lot of fun. Looks like Legends of Tomorrow is back on brand.

The Legends continue their search for Sara, in a well plotted episode with a lot to like.

The recurring bugbear up front – we get no glimpse of Sara and Gary this week. This is notable because I've spent the last three reviews complaining about the fact that they keep cutting away to them with no real payoff. So you'd think I'd be happy about their absence in this one, but you'd be wrong because they finally got to the lair of Mysterious Mister Man-Bun at the end of last episode and I was really hoping we'd get some explanations at last. So of course this week they don't appear at all, which was exactly what I've been saying they should have done from the start, just to verify that there is no pleasing me.

Sigh.

It has to be said, this episode benefitted a lot from their absence. There was a much greater feeling of focus on display than we've seen so far this season, and I hadn't realized how much I'd missed it. Instead of bouncing back and forth between space and Earth we spend the entire episode in October of 1962, giving the Cuban Missile Crisis the Legends of Tomorrow treatment.

And it's a lot of fun. The thing that really makes this one work is that all of the actions we see people take are logical consequences of earlier actions in the story. You know, how plotting is supposed to work. As a result of last week's stern talking to, Mick has decided to clean up his act and get in gear with the alien chasing. Which results in his overcompensating and getting a mission started to track down the latest alien way too early in the (chronologically relative) morning, which results in everyone being too tired to realize they're going to Cuba in October 1962, which results in them accidentally stealing a nuclear missile, and so on and so forth. It's a pleasingly well structured script with great focus and almost no fat on the bone.

Just to break it down – the alien pod crashing in Cuba convinces Castro that the squid looking aliens are a US weapon sent to kill him. So that when the Legends accidentally steal a nuke from the Russians (who are supposed to have it) and mistakenly give it to the Cubans (who are not), Fidel has the means at his disposal to fight back against the 'American Squid Assassins.' Behrad manages to talk him down through the liberal usage of pot gummies and soft rock, but Ava's plotline happens by and brings an angry squid alien to Fidel's door, cementing his resolve to launch the nuke.

And uh-oh, The Legends initial fight was photographed by the Americans, who think steeled-up Nate is some sort of American super-soldier and the Waverider is a Russian fighter, so they're ready to launch nukes as well. Disaster is only averted by a previously unseen detail of Mick's plotline – he stole all the plutonium from the nuke that Fidel fired at Washington, so it only resulted in smooshing a particularly irritating military advisor to the president.

You see what I mean, that's a nicely managed series of knock on effects leading naturally from what we saw happen earlier, happening due to the logical though incorrect inferences various world leaders make based on the information they have available at the time. This is an admirably disciplined effort.

It's probably also notable that Constantine and Astra are also both also missing this week, helping to sharpen the focus even more. Astra's absence appears to still be a simple matter of the series not needing her character to be in play yet, and saving up the presumably limited number of episodes she's contracted for. Or, again, maybe she's off filming something else and just wasn't available. Who knows. The point is that there's nothing particular to be read into her absence, she's just not there yet. (It appears that next episode is a very Astra-centric, so fans of Olivia Swann don't have much longer to wait.

John Constantine's absence, however, worries me.

Look, let's just say it. John isn't around this week because they wanted to spend some time focusing on Nate and Zari Terazi spending some time together without him around to complicate things. Looked at in a vacuum, I love almost all of what we see. It's incredibly touching to me that Zari is so conscious of the way her mere existence is hurting him. I love that she was so understanding about it that she was even willing to alter her appearance to look less like 'her' and possibly ease his suffering a little. Tala Ashe and Nick Zano continue to have great chemistry, and I even enjoyed the morning wood gag.

What I really, really do not like is the growing implication that they're going to go down the 'love triangle' road with Nate, Zari, and John. Be better than that, show. You've been doing such a great job being adult about the fact that Zari Tomaz and Zari Terazi are two separate women and Nate's been so respectful about not getting all weird about her relationship with John. Don't screw it all up with Melrose Place theatrics now, I'm begging you. Don't make all the events of 'The Ex Factor' just a set up for a big melodramatic hoo-hah. Just don't.

And then there's Mick. I'm going to make the effort to just completely divorce real world events from Mick's plot at this point, because what's happening on screen is really good. Mick's clearly been pining for Sara's return. She is, after all, the only one he's really devoted to now that Ray's gone. The choices he makes here, to make a bargain with the alien instead of threatening or hurting it, are great character development and are spinning the plot off in a direction I wasn't at all expecting. Fun and interesting stuff, seasoned with the way he just randomly ditches various members of the team to get it done, showing that he is still Mick at the end of the day. In the very brief amount of screen time they had together, he and the alien woman (was that supposed to be Kayla, Gary's now ex-fiancé? I think it might have been) had a fun dynamic between them and I look forward to watching how their relationship develops now that it's just the two of them alone on the Waverider.

And I want to give a shout out to the way they handled the moment when Mick asks Spooner if it's her time of the month. We're supposed to initially think he's being an asshole dude-bro in that moment, but then it turns out that he's just super comfortable and understanding about the menstrual cycle and was being sympathetic when he thought it might be giving her a migraine. The two things that made that moment work were Spooner's momentary confusion as she had to shift emotional gears from being pissed at him to thanking him for his concern, and the way it wasn't played at all like Mick attempting to get points by demonstrating how super comfortable he is with your menstrual cycle, the way 'enlightened nice guys' occasionally try to do. He's just honestly comfortable talking about it in a way that's no big deal. That was a nice moment.

A brief word on the 'Important Men of History' angle. It was nice that they humanized Fidel Castro. They didn't let him off the hook for the clearly unacceptable things he did in real history, but they did succeed in making him feel like a real person who had done bad things but was still capable of basic humanity. Not unlike Doctor Who's treatment of Richard Nixon a few years back. On the other hand, the portrayal of JFK given by Aaron Craven just felt empty. He wasn't given a whole lot to work with, admittedly, but JFK was a big personality, and what we see here is not a big performance. He was basically a negligible presence in the room, which is a big problem when your storyline revolves around the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I have to wonder if there was a bigger component of the script at one point involving Nate finding out that JFK didn't live up to the grandiose myth that's been built up around him, and that that plotline got more or less excised from the final product. Zari has that one line about JFK starting to crack up, which felt oddly out of place, and then the idea was never returned to. I bet it was a big deal in an earlier draft.


Everybody remember where we parked:

The alien pod crashes in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, on October 16. 1962. That is indeed the first day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, so we have to assume Mick landed the Waverider that same day, just in time for it to be seen by the Soviets. After that the travel is strictly geographical, with Nate and Zari popping over to Washington DC to try to stage manage Kennedy's response to what's happening.


Bits and Pieces:

-- Shayan Sobhian can clearly play the guitar, and play it well. I don't think he was actually playing on camera of course, but his fingering while miming the guitarwork was pretty impressive. So much so that they obviously made a thing of keeping it in frame and on screen, which is something they usually try to avoid when someone is mime-guitar playing. The song was Cat Stevens' 'Peace Train,' if like me you didn't recognize it. Not really my era.

-- Whoever had the idea that the nuclear football should be used as a literal football in an impromptu skirmish between the Harvard and non-Harvard advisors with the fate of the world on the line is a freaking genius.

-- It's always nice when they remember that Nate is a historian and use that in the plot. Although part of me is a little disappointed that he did his thesis work on JFK's response to the Cuban Missile Crisis and not something a little sexier and more obscure.

-- It was a cute detail that Gideon not only made pot gummies for Behrad, but also went to the trouble of packaging and branding them as well. Gideon can be SO extra sometimes.

-- They noted that Putin remains in power in Russia until 2044. That's depressingly believable.

-- Speaking of mad genii, whoever said to the writers room, 'You know, throw a beret on Shayan Sobhian and he pretty much becomes Che Guevara. Can we use that somehow?' Should absolutely have gotten an extra cookie that day.

-- Spooner is slowly developing her own personality. Right now it can be described as 'The belligerent parts of Texas,' which is working. It was a little odd to me that the fact she can speak fluent Spanish while they were in Cuba didn't become more relevant. They did at least mention it.

-- I haven't watched the early episodes of season two in a long time. The DARPA they mentioned in this one, were they the ones responsible for the drug that gave Nate his powers way back then? Was that a clever little Easter egg?

-- It would have been nice if the advance advertising hadn't yet again ruined part of the episode by showing us weeks in advance that the nuke doesn't explode.

-- I didn't catch the first couple of times through that Zari was typing so fast using just her thumbs because she's practiced at texting. I like that they didn't overexplain that, because it was a fun detail to notice later on.


Quotes:

Zari: "Oh, you’re not used to my nighttime makeup. I mean no makeup."

Ava: "Redacted, Ousted, where are these words coming from Mick?"
Mick: "I know words."

Ava: "I take it you want to go to Washington, too."
Zari: (Pointing at hair) "Yes, I spent a lot of time on this."

Ava: "Is that a yes grunt or a no?"
Mick: (Grunt)
Ava: "That’s what I thought."

Behrad: "I’m Che’s cousin... Jay?"

Behrad: "Would you mind if I played you a song, Commandante?"
Castro: "I would have you killed if you didn’t play me a song, Jay Guevara."

Ava: "Why does Castro have a nuke?"
Spooner: "Because we gave it to him."
Mick: "You said no shooting."

Ava: "Well played, gang. How’d you manage to avoid nuclear Armageddon?"
Nate: "Sports analogies."
Behrad: "Pot gummies."
Ava: "Oh. Very on brand. Both of you."


This was probably the most straight-up enjoyable episode we've had all season. Focused, stripped down, and jokes that were properly funny. I just wish that some of its implications didn't make me so worried about where all this is going.

Four out of five bathrooms that I hope Constantine has at his house while they're all staying there.

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.

4 comments:

guerra55 said...

"The DARPA they mentioned in this one, were they the ones responsible for the drug that gave Nate his powers way back then?"
No, Nate gained powers from a serum created by Thawne that was modified by Ray to save his life as he was dying of hemophilia.
This DARPA thing seems to me like a hint of a future plot.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Interesting. Thanks for the info! I really should go back and rewatch those early ones

Anonymous said...

I really don't like the idea of a love triangle. Please don't go there show.
Behrad and Castro were a hoot.
Zari was reallt rockin the Jackie O look.
Missed Sara, but get why she wasn't there.
Next week: Astra! Finally.

Josie Kafka said...

This was fun, but I had the same thought I've had for each of this season's episodes: so many scenes feel like the writers did an SNL-style brainstorm. What if...Behrad pretended to be Che?! What if...the nuclear football was really a football?! What if...

They're funny ideas, but they feel more like "bits" or "skits" than plots to me.