Legends of Tomorrow: The Satanist's Apprentice

"You get me?"
"Like the clap, my lady."

The Legends serve up kind of a mixed bag. It's a hell of a good showing for Astra though.

That pun was accidental, but I don't hate it.

So, after being missing most of the season so far, we finally get an Astra-centric episode. The main goal here, obviously, is to prove that Astra is capable of being more than 'something that happened to John Constantine,' and they establish that pretty well. Unfortunately, while the parts of this episode that are good are really good, the parts that are bad are incredibly irritating.

To see what I mean, if you're one of the five or six people that occasionally checks out my notes for these things over at What was Mikey Thinking?, you'll see that about two of my four pages of notes for this are just me ranting about how much I hate the douche bag hipster stereotype that they're leaning way, way into with Bishop. I hate his stupid man-bun. I hate his pretentiously over-groomed beard that you just know reeks of some dipshit homeopathic/organic-yam-based-beard-oil. I hate the way that he ironically wears turtlenecks and performatively dances under his oh-so-not-at-all-a-statement disco ball just to prove to everyone in the area how not concerned he is about 'the discourse.'

Ugh. Gross.

Apparently we're starting with the negatives. And I apologize to any of the readership I've managed to offend with the previous paragraph. #YourBeardOilisValid.

OK, my clearly apparent issues with hipsters aside, this plot line just doesn't work. It's riddled with inconsistencies that I can neither reconcile through headcannon nor just ignore and go with the story that they're telling. So Bishop, the HD in question, claims to have created AVA corp, and by extension all of the Ava clones. Furthermore he gave each of them one defining characteristic, as if they were Smurfs. Fine. Whatever. They're diving into 'man who just sees women as literal objects' territory. That's not a bad choice. But he also says he's the last survivor of the human race destroying itself, and as a result of that he's decided to crossbreed a new breed of humanity to live its best life out in space.

OK. But... I have a lot of questions. I was irritated enough by the contradiction that I went back and checked – AVA corp was in Vancouver in 2213. Does something seriously bad go down in Canada in the 23rd century? Is everyone as surprised as I am by the thought of a global catastrophe being caused by Canada? It just seems so out of character for them. If so, I'm sure they sent out a sincerely apologetic note afterward. Does Bishop travel back in time from a man-made apocalypse far in the future? Did Bishop create the AVA clones before or after the apocalypse? Were they a trial run for the new breed of humanity, or an unrelated project? And if so, why side-quest to make a bunch of clones if your stated goal is to recreate humanity in space?

I'm probably being overly critical of the internal logic of this just because the hipster trappings irritate me so much. It is however worth noting that the episode went out of its way to show me Sara Lance violently snapping his neck, so I'm probably supposed to feel that way about him to some degree. But then of course he's suddenly alive again with no explanation as to whether what we just saw was a dream, whether he really needed/acquired the colored vials of 'Eau D'Alien,' or whether every single thing he's said has been a lie.

This whole plot-line continues to feel under-explained. In a bad way. If the actual explanation for why Sara got abducted by aliens really is that Bishop needed raw material for his cross-breeding project, the reveal of that information here feels resoundingly perfunctory and unsatisfying. It just gets thrown out there in a douchey powerpoint presentation as if it clears everything up, and it manifestly does not.

Ugh. OK, enough negativity. I'll end my thoughts on this plot-line by saying that Jes Macallan does a great job portraying different variations of 'our' Ava, despite being hampered by a slightly dodgy wig.

The parts of this episode that really, really work are the parts with Astra. I loved how positive she starts out, ready to throw herself into loving her new life, only to have the steady grind of petty indignities and casual neighborhood racism slowly wear all of that away. It's interesting to note how – for lack of a better word – 'decently' she behaves given the circumstances. She's trying to make things work by playing fairly. As soon as it becomes clear that John isn't going to be much help, she starts looking for a job so she can pay for things herself. I also love how one of the things that prevents her from getting a job is the show remembering that she's only supposed to be 15 at this point and also the way it never occurs to her to lie about her past in Hell to possible employers.

She doesn't even take the logical next step of attempting to sell John's presumably valuable stuff in order to pay what is, let's not forget, his electric bill until she's exhausted all other ethical options. And let's be honest, if their roles were reversed, John would have gotten to the thieving idea significantly earlier. Even the clearly 'bad' choices she makes are all done during moments when other people are overwhelming her. It's hard not to be on her side when the Legends are all harassing her for not being able to provide them with food and internet access after how many weeks she just went through of them not giving a shit that she had neither. And when she first swaps Alistair Crowley's soul into John's body it's as much to shut John up as anything else.

So sure, she was about to soul-murder the racist from next door to finally get herself some agency, but we've all been there. Right?

Part of the reason this all works so well is the way the camera work is used to underscore Astra's mental state, which means that this is a good moment to mention that this episode was directed by Caity Lotz. Which is why neither she nor Matt Ryan were in last week's episode. That and the convention of turning the rest of the team into household objects a la Beauty and the Beast, a reference point that is clearly deliberate, but we'll talk about that in a second. There's some fantastic shade thrown at the Legends through what object they turn into. Nate being literal cheese was delightful, and whoever had the idea that Spooner should turn into a fork is a freaking comic genius.

I hate to say it, but the animated portion doesn't really work. It comes up way too late in the episode and only hangs around for around five minutes of screen-time while feeling like it's trying to cram an entire episode's worth of 'look we're animated' semiotics in. If they were going to do an animated episode, they should have just done an animated episode. Here it feels like one nifty production flourish too many. Having said that, the entire sequence was worth it for the moment when cheese Nate turns into steel cheese Nate.

That is just not a great wig.

Everybody remember where we parked:

All the Astra stuff took place at John's house in Northumberland. One assumes 2021, but nobody at the market is wearing masks so either the DC Universe was spared COVID, or it's a bit earlier or later.

Sara, meanwhile, is off on Bishop's planet, which we assume is contemporaneous. But now that I think about it, Sara was kidnapped from the 70s. Is all of the Sara and Gary plotline taking place 50 years earlier than the rest of the Legends' plotline? My instinct says that we're just going to forget about that, but it might come up/be relevant later.

John, meanwhile is popping back and forth between his place and whichever episode the Legends are currently going through at that moment. Which was actually a really cute conceit. I wondered where John got the cigarettes in Ex Factor if they were illegal. Now we know.


Quotes:

Astra: "Oh, there you are. I have got a list of things I need you to fix, starting with punishing your racist neighbor."
John: "You’ll have to be more specific, love."

Astra: "You try getting a job when your last employers were the triumvirate of Hell! Just give me my power back, or I will have your blood drained to fill my swimming pool! Ggggahhh! I miss my blood pool."

Zari: "Am I a FLIP Phone??"

Nate: "So over being cheese. That smell was getting aggressive."



Bits and Pieces:

- John losing his magic powers at the end there is a big deal and the episode just totally threw the moment away. Still, at least they aren't doing the obvious 'John is concealing the fact that he's lost his powers' plot-line. And him using it as a bonding exercise with Astra is sweet.

- Loved the conceit of showing the passage of time/erosion of Astra's positivity via the slowly emptying closet of clothes.

- Great job by Matt Ryan of playing Alistair Crowley in John Constantine's body. He's obviously having a ball, mincing around like a little betrayal ferret. A little heavy on the queer coding, but Crowley probably would have behaved that way quite consciously. There was a bit of a vogue at the time for going out of your way to appear 'sinful and decadent' as a form of rebellion. Look, they didn't have Twitter yet.

- Super subtle meta joke there about a show figuring out what it wants to be in the second season. Although for all I know it could be true of Wynonna Earp as well, I've never seen that one. is it worth checking out? Should I begin shipping WeyHaught, whoever they are?

- They go out of their way to shoehorn in a little biography of Alistair Crowley in Astra's first exchange with him, just on the off chance any of the viewers don't know who he is. Then they mention that he was seeking something out in space called the Fountain of Imperium, so you know full well that there's zero chance we're not going to hear about that again at some point later in the season.

- I know what it is, but the empty can in the garbage labelled 'Spotted Dick' still made me giggle. It was given a pretty prominent position on the garbage pile as well, so at least one set dresser was giggling as well.

- Shout out to the makeup department for really nailing the look that straight guys think is women not wearing any makeup.

- I spent a long time wondering if the painting of John was a nod to a specific Hellblazer cover. And I'd be willing to bet that those were actual pages from Hellblazer later on in the animation montage. It really showed off how perfect Matt Ryan fits the part.

- Alistair Crowley was voiced by Matt Lucas, AKA Nardole from my favorite season of Doctor Who.

- No Mick this week. They're really getting creative and working around COVID precautions.

- So John and Zari popped in for a nooner after the meat incident. Which would also be a meat incident, I suppose.


The parts with Astra were a lot of fun, and I enjoyed them a lot. The Sara plot-line continues to be unsatisfying, but at least we're still getting scenes with her and Jes Macallan, and I never get tired of the two of them together.

Three out of five cans of spotted dick.

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.

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I haven't seen this episode yet, but I swear your review made me want to get right to it, Mikey. :)

There may be dissent here on Doux, but Wynonna Earp lost me in season two.

percysowner said...

I don't like Bishop, but I don't mind the possible retcon of the origins of the Ava Clones. At the time of the reveal, it was stated that Ava was "the perfect woman" after much research. It was unfortunate that in a multiracial and ethnic world "perfect" meant white and thin. This is really off because currently Mandrin Chinese is the largest "race" in the world, followed by people in the and native to the African subcontinent. So everyone deciding that a skinny white chick is the epitome of perfection seems... off.

However as the dream girl for a nerdy white dude, who, if he were alive now, might well be part of the incel movement or just an MRA, yeah, to THAT guy a skinny, white compliant chick is the perfect woman.

I also don't think he just wanted Sara's DNA. He made one comment about her being "the woman who can't die" and indicated they are bound in some way. I'm guessing he's going to try and piggyback on her possible immortality.

Anonymous said...

I'm ignoring mister Manbun. So dull.
Astra had a good ep, but poor girl. John should have helped her more.
I'm glad he at least owned his mistakes. Study-budies indeed.
Loved the animated stuff.
Didn't miss Mick.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Thinking about it, just assuming astra was fine is pretty on brand for John

Josie Kafka said...

Shout out to the makeup department for really nailing the look that straight guys think is women not wearing any makeup.

I love you.