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Legends of Tomorrow: Stressed Western

"I know we’ve been through a lot, but things are finally back to normal."

I'm not going to lie. The title amused me a great deal.

Legends of Tomorrow delivers what would, in the middle of any other season, have been a better than average episode, full of good jokes, amusing premises, and solid Legends-style rompage.

Unfortunately, it comes in the middle of season six, and so we're going to have to talk about a few things that sit a little oddly.

First thing that needs to be said right off the bat. It feels weird to have a standard Legends old timey western episode without Jonah Hex appearing. He absolutely shouldn't have; the story didn't need him, I don't think they're in the right place either geographically or chronologically for him to show up, and his moral alignment would have actively undermined the story that they were telling here. It's just that he's been such a standard feature of their old timey western episodes in the past that it seemed odd not to have him there. If anything, the takeaway is probably that they've used him too frequently in the past and now we're conditioned to expect him whether it serves the story or not. But that way lies blaming previous episodes as great as 'The Good, The Bad and The Cuddly,' and we're just not going to be doing that here.

If you've been following my reviews of the season so far, and I can't honestly imagine anyone reading this who hasn't been, well... first off I apologize for the truancy of this review. Unless you're reading this in the future in which case forget I mentioned it.

Let's try that again.

If you've been following my reviews of the season so far, one consistent complaint you'll have noticed is how fractured the narrative has seemed and how much the plotline of Sara and Gary's adventures in space just has not been working for a variety of reasons. It is therefore to some benefit to this episode that we're beyond that now. The entire team is together on one mission, in one time and place, together. And the show benefits enormously as a result. I've missed the unification of the A-plot. Indeed, the whole team was basically all together here, with one major exception which we'll talk about a little later. They wisely break the plot out by defining the team in pairs and playing out simultaneously occurring micro-dramas. Let's take them in turn.

Zari and Behrad are squabbling over her interference in his romantic pursuits. This, it has to be admitted, comes completely out of nowhere and feels like it was generated out of whole cloth in order to give them a point of contention that they could argue about. Even so, it has to be observed how much Zari and Behrad feel like genuine siblings. The way they argue, the things about which they argue, their physical presence around one another. All of these read as 200% genuine 'these are two people who've been sharing a space their entire lives' sibling interactions. That's credit in equal measure to both the scripting and the performances (has Tala Ashe ever not had perfect chemistry with someone? I can't think of an instance. Not even Amaya.)

So, despite the fact that the subject of their argument really feels like it was completely pulled out of somebody's ass, I'm still willing to believe in it because the relationship feels genuine.

Then we have John and Gary. As somebody might have predicted earlier in the season, that Fountain of Imperium that Alastair Crowley kept talking about is a thing that exists and that John would very much like to find in order to get his magical powers back. Gary clearly knows more than he's willing to say about it and is terrified of the thought that John might go after it. This is actually an example of a well seeded plot-coupon finally starting to germinate (if that isn't mixing too many metaphors), and I'm down for it. Bonus points for how physically comfortable Gary and John are together during the square dance competition, which of course they would be given their past sexual history, but it's a really nice touch when a show remembers such a thing, reflects the history in physical interaction, and doesn't ruin it by making a big deal of it just to show how 'with it' they are. Honestly, I'm willing to bet the physical comfort with one another is 100% down to the actors in this case, just based on how not commented on it is either in dialogue or via camera angle.

So, an already established future plot point, responsibly remembered and built upon in the character interaction. Works for me.

Then we have Ava and Sara. Both of them are currently deeply invested in pretending that everything is just fine, thank you very much, and now that this version of Sara is back we're all hunky dory, please don't ask any follow-up questions. Now, I have to do a mea culpa here and apologize to the show. I went on record last episode as believing that they were going to go the bullshit route of having Sara hide the fact that she was a clone now and drawing out cheap drama from the team gradually realizing something was wrong for the rest of the season. I have rarely been happier to be proved wrong, when Sara spilled the beans to Ava almost immediately in their very first scene together. Simply put, Sara couldn't bring herself to have sex with Ava without first giving her the absolute truth about the situation. That's kind of huge as far as respect, consent, and fidelity are concerned, and I'm impressed as hell that the show held the mark on that point. They've fallen short on open honesty lately, but they held the line here when it really mattered, and I appreciated the crap out of it.

So, the relationship that I've repeatedly upheld as the healthiest romantic pairing ever seen on television keeps faith with the audience that believes in them, even if both of the characters involved spend the rest of the episode desperately pretending to be more okay with the situation than they really are. That's not cheap drama or hacky plotting, that's a legitimate and fair examination of how denial works in a functioning relationship, and I'm here for it.

Which leaves the final pairing of Spooner and Astra. It was a good decision for the episode to pair them together; the angry, powerful women who don't yet really consider themselves members of the team. It was a little cutesy on the nose for Nate to just go ahead and call out the trope of pairing them together as buddies so that they could work out their issues and by the end of the episode be friends, but that isn't really a deal breaker. Having them bond on their respective mommy issues was a good choice (although there is always the possibility that my own susceptibility to daddy issues is coloring my reaction on this point). And it was a really great rug pull to have Spooner being able to angry scream at the alien be the resolution, when we all were pretty much assuming Nate was luring it to eat him so he could steel punch his way out from the inside of the beast. We were all assuming that was where it was going, right?

Which is a good segue to Nate. Directly tasked with making sure Sara has a smooth first mission 'standard Legends romp' back, he finds himself confronted with an alien who's basically the big worm from Tremors, but who's attracted to negative emotional outbursts, and realizes that the best way to handle it is to deliberately lose his shit himself and finally vent about all the things about which he's upset.

Seriously, Nate so rarely gets to be anything but a six month old chocolate lab in human form, seeing him have to go out of his way to think of things to complain about and then vent about them was kind of inspired. Bonus points for the way that even in that moment he still takes the time to pause and reassure Zari 2.0 that he doesn't blame her at all for the pain he experiences because of the loss of Zari 1.0. That was just an incredibly considerate moment, and I liked it a lot.

I'm not at all sure that the central conceit of a historically bad guy finding a magic whistle that controls a Tremors-worm that eats angry people and using it to turn a violent western town into Disneyworld complete with swear jar and 'respect everybody else's feelings' rules really tracks, if you think about it logically. But the juxtaposition of the Legends entering an old timey western bar, accidentally knocking over a guy's drink, and discovering that far from starting a brawl everyone is acting what can only be called 'Canadian' about it is well worth watching. This was a lot of fun, even if it required completely ignoring all the implications of basically everything else that has happened this entire season.

OK, let's talk about it.


The Mick Rory/Dominic Purcell situation:

It can't be ignored that after including Mick in the welcome back breakfast at the beginning of this episode, Mick disappears entirely from the rest of the episode. This, after his curiously self isolated plotline all last season. After his uncomfortably misogynistic Instagram posts from a few months back. After his announcement that he won't be back next year, and the follow-up announcement that he will, but in a recurring role, or maybe not at all, or maybe the whole thing is just a joke.

It's becoming clearer and clearer to me that something is very not okay in Dominic Purcell's world. I don't know what it is. It's not my place to speculate. I genuinely want him to be okay. But it seems to be affecting the plotting of the show at this point in a way in which it feels disingenuous to just ignore.

I really, really hope he's okay.


Everybody remember where we parked:

Refreshingly, we spent the entire episode in one place this time. Specifically, the Oklahoma territory, 1891. In the town of Fist City. Fist City is also the name of a particularly amusing Loretta Lynn song if you're interested in tracking it down.

It's worth noting that Nate's history knowledge is getting suspiciously convenient. A doctoral candidate focused on JFK's presidency to the extent that it was the subject of his doctoral thesis would be unlikely to know who the main good guy and main bad guy of Fist City, 1891 were off the top of his head. I get it, it's a narrative convention in time travel shows. I'm just saying.


Quotes:

Sara: "Who wants to talk about space when we have Legends gossip to catch up on."
Ava: "Oh... hot and juicy. Ok, so Spooner’s great. Well, once she put away her real guns."
Sara: "Sounds like my kind of girl."
Ava: "Oh yes. Oh, and I was a binder. Oh, and I think I turned into a cartoon."
Sara: "That’s a new one."

Spooner: "I was raised in Texas, not Hee-Haw."

Ava: "Guys... is that a swear jar?

Behrad: "Must be our alien. Or gentrification. Either way we should stop it."

Spooner: "Are you benching us?"
Astra: "Do you even have that authority?"
Nate: "I... don’t know. It did feel weird."

Behrad: "Hey, just because she’s evil doesn’t mean she’s not into me."
Sadly, Behrad and I share a dating philosophy.

Cowboy Narrator: "There might not be a normal, but that might be okay."


Bits and Pieces:

-- Ok, let's talk about the singing cowboy narrator. I like that he was consistently somewhere between a physical character interacting with others in the story and an omniscient narrator. The vocab term for the week here is 'diegetic,' an adjective that applies to music in a performed text. This means, simply, music occurring in a television episode or movie which we can assume the characters are also hearing. As opposed to non-diegetic music, which can only be heard by the viewer and doesn't exist for the characters. In Guardians of the Galaxy, 'Come and Get Your Love' is diegetic music, because Star Lord can also hear it. 'Cherry Bomb' is non-diegetic music because it's not really being played on the ship, and Rocket Raccoon can not actually hear it while rearranging his raccoon genitals. 'Hooked on a Feeling,' interestingly, starts as a diegetic music source and then switches to non-diegetic over the course of the track. Having a character live between those two spaces shouldn't work, but they pulled it off here. I liked the singing cowboy narrator a lot.

-- Obviously they have a lot to go back and talk about regarding Sara's cloning and the legitimacy of the soul. But it felt better that I can express to just bin the whole debate for one freaking week and just enjoy ourselves.

-- It is not possible for bacon to be too crispy. I will die on this hill.

-- So, is Gary's human form a hologram or a physical transformation, or what? He complained about his arms not being able to hold up that ship component, and I'd guess John would vouch for his genitals being functional enough by human standards. But other times they've implied it was just an illusion. Which is it.

-- They straight up confirmed at the end that Zari 1.0 is able to get conjugal visits inside the totem. Well, there you are then.

-- It's a weird choice for David Ramsey's first return appearance in the Arrowverse shows that he shows up here playing a completely unrelated historical character and that the episode does almost nothing with him while he's here. Sara even lampshades the point that he looks like an already established character. Is this just a Courtney Ford/Marie Antoinette thing all over again? Did they just think he'd have fun playing an unrelated historical character as long as they had him under contract? They wasted him, if that was what they were doing. Early black sheriffs taming the west is a fascinating area to explore and they did almost nothing with it.

-- There's something endearingly unexpected about Behrad having gone through a cowboy phase and still maintaining affection for the genre. Doubly so with the explanation that his father had encouraged it to make his children 'more American' and that Behrad had just taken to it anyway.

-- Is the whole 'now that Sara's a clone she craves milkshakes' thing going to go anywhere? I don't know that I'd bet money on it at this point, they've dropped so many threads.

-- Speaking of, no mention or sight of Kayla this week. I'm going to be pissed if we never see her again.


This episode is in a strange position. It's a lot of fun, with a lot of solid material, and a lot of unspoken garbage from earlier in the season just hanging over it waiting to fall down and ruin everything again. It's wonderful in a vacuum. In context, it's a charming hour spent skipping gym class before you have to go take your physics final.

Three out of five old-timey swear jars.

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.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

A better ep than the previous. Yeah the Behrad romantic issues came out of nowhere. Still nice scene.
I don't think Purcell is okay. he's obviously hurting somehow. I hope he gets help.
Astra and Spooner bonding was nice. Let's team up the noobs.
The Ava and Sara stuff was nice. Consent is hot.

percysowner said...

I too am concerned about Dominic Purcell. It really feels as is something is wrong either with him or for him. I hope he can work through whatever it is. Until his posts, I assumed they were having trouble finding a story for him, but now I wonder if the lack of story is a result of whatever is going on with him.

It is too bad they didn't do more with David Ramsey's character. I did read that he was delighted that he didn't have to play Diggle in this episode. He pretty much said that in every other show, he was John Diggle and here he just got to have fun and play someone else for a while. I'm glad if he enjoyed himself.

Mikey Heinrich said...

'Consent is hot' might be my favorite comment ever.

Well, right after the guy that once told me if I couldn't tell the difference between standard definition and HD I should be taken behind the shed and beaten to death with a hammer. For some reason I really cherish that one. True story. :)

Percysowner - The more I think about it, the more I wonder if that isn't the draw for actors in DH's situation. 'Come do an episode of Legends! You can be somebody completely different and just play!' I can imagine the appeal of that.