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Legends of Tomorrow: This is Gus

"It wasn’t trying to appeal to everyone. But it meant a lot to me."

There's a surprising amount of thoughtful discussion going on here for an episode with this many pot jokes.

Let's talk about what all this is really about. As I said in the cold open, there's a surprising amount of nuanced discussion going on here just below the surface. So why don't we start with the surface and work our way down. The latest Legends mission takes them to Canada in the near future, where one of this season's rogue aliens is about to disrupt the filming of Behrad's favorite sitcom. Through the incredibly overplayed trope of 'everyone forgetting one of the characters' birthday (Behrad in this case) and that person assuming that everyone is just planning a big surprise for them' we end up at the taping for an episode of Bud Stuy, Behrad's go-to show for late night binge watching.

To be fair, the show doesn't let this wacky misunderstanding last more than a couple of minutes and even calls itself out directly in the dialogue for being 'a little trope-y,' so it's a forgivable lapse from a show that's usually above that kind of thing. It does however bring one minor problem that the episode has into sharp focus. Specifically, this episode (and the season thus far as a whole if we're being honest) has leaned a little too far into the 'too-cute-by-half-meta-call-outs.' In this episode alone we get the 'little trope-y' comment, Nate asking if his audition is for The CW, and the entire writers' room sequence which you just know somebody on the writing staff really, really enjoyed getting in there. Okay show, it's cute. We get it. You're meta-aware of your own existence as a TV show. Dial it back.

So while Zari, Behrad, Astra and Nate go to the taping, Spooner and Sara get paired off to track down the alien and take a brief stroll down Time Travel Trope #2 – 'Accidentally become the cause of the problem you're there to stop from happening.' Although to again be fair, it's buried pretty low in the mix and nobody's overly concerned about it. In trying to shoot down the incoming alien pod, Spooner instead just knocks it off course and it crashes right in the middle of the currently taping Bud Stuy episode. Fortunately, the cast just kind of goes with it and the producer loves it, so instead of the low profile oddball stoner show that meant so much to Behrad, Bud Stuy is set on course to becoming a show about a cute little baby alien. We pause for some winking jokes about the quality of the spaceship 'special effect.'  See previous paragraph.

This re-writes Behrad's past, turning him into a business bro douchebag who's more concerned with marketing and vertical integration than friends and protecting the timeline. In order to change the show back, Nate gets cast as the landlord in the quickest audition cycle the world has ever seen, Behrad leads Astra on a golf cart chase through the studio lot, and the course of history is saved by the judicious application of pot gummies for the second time this season. The End, not including some side stuff with Mick that we'll get to in a minute.

So, yeah. A fun romp through sit-com tropes and production in-gags. But look at what the episode is really talking about without actually saying it out loud. Broadly speaking, there are three interrelated discussions going on.

1: Artistic integrity v. pandering.

First and most obviously there's a discussion going on about 'selling out,' i.e., whether it's better to produce a highly individual show (no pun intended) that will only appeal to a niche audience and probably won't last long or one with broader appeal that has much less individuality but will be accepted by a larger audience who would otherwise be put off by the more individual stuff. It's a good choice that the star of the show and what appears to be the show's producer are brothers and represent the respective sides. And more impressively, while this episode is pretty clearly coming down on the side of 'more individual with smaller audience' argument, it also makes a point of never really saying that the other choice is intrinsically bad. It's just the wrong call for this situation. Which leads us to the second conversation that the episode is hiding in plain sight:

2: Representation.

It's only obliquely referenced in the conversation between the brothers, but the strong implication is that it isn't the drug humor that Kam the producer is worried about people being turned off by. It's the Muslim representation. Which isn't to say that Kam is anti-Muslim, as he's clearly not; he's very clearly Muslim himself. But he's also a television producer and knows what mainstream audiences are likely to shy away from, and it's very apparent that this isn't the first time that Kam has pushed his brother to make things 'less Muslim' for the sake of getting the show a wider audience.

This is absolutely a real thing that's guiding discussions and production decisions all the time, and it doesn't make Kam the villain. At worst it makes him less brave, but then we get into the discussion of whether it's worth betraying your own values for the sake of having a place at the metaphorical table where maybe, just maybe you might be able to make some positive changes or whether you're better off staying true to your beliefs and being silenced and therefore have no hope of being heard. And that way lay no easy answers, so let's just applaud them for acknowledging the issue. Because that one leads directly to:

3: Respectability Politics.

I don't know what it's like to be a Muslim in the entertainment field, and I wouldn't dream of trying to speak for anyone who is. But I have been professionally gay for a few decades now, so I feel pretty comfortable making a few general observations about the pressure of being a member of a minority and knowing that everything you put out there is going to be viewed as a statement about every single member of your community.

The conversation that Zari and Kam had about Muslim representation in the Bud Stuy really laid it out baldly. Is this kind of representation helping the Muslim community? Is it worth having representation of people like you on television if that representation is showing a member of your minority community in a flawed or unflattering light? Framing it through my own lens, if I were to write a gay character into a TV show or film, do I have to make sure to portray them as perfectly flawless in every way just to avoid being accused of making some insulting statement about the gay community as a whole?

Those three conversations underpin literally everything that works about this episode, and they do so in a way that acknowledges the legitimacy of both sides of all three arguments while keeping it all just unspoken enough to avoid coming across as didactic. That's a delicate touch for some topics that they could have easily just never mentioned, and I respect the hell out of the show for exploring them.



Meanwhile, in Mick's Plot:

Look, if the show is going to keep sectioning him off, I might as well do the same.

Mick and the Waverider here have pulled what in Doctor Who terms we might call a 'Season One Rose' and popped a year and a bit into the future, meaning Mick has missed a year and a bit of Lita's life. Lita is understandably ticked off and also very pregnant. This all pretty much works. It serves as a smooth segue into the revelation that Mick is pregnant with Kayla's brood, and the rug pull that Mick is bonding with Lita's baby-daddy Niko and thanks him for taking care of his daughter.

I'm not a huge fan of the ever slightly cliched take they have on Lita at the moment, but then it's not as if I don't know any Vegan Intersectionalism and Feminist Studies majors with strong feelings on global issues, and they're usually good people, if a little exhausting from time to time.




Everybody remember where we parked:

This week we're in Vancouver, British Columbia, 2023. It looks like fall and college is in session, but we don't get a specific date.

Well, most of us are. There's no sign of John Constantine anywhere, nor is he even mentioned, so presumably he's off speaking with the painting of Crowley about that Fountain of Imperium thingee. Or they changed the timeline so badly that the show's forgotten he exists. One of those.

Gary, meanwhile, kind of appears out of nowhere just at the point in the episode where some alien stuff needs explaining. Lord only knows where we was prior to that.

Quotes:

Ava: "All right everybody, put on your toques and Canada goose because we are going to the third largest metropolitan area in Canada!"
Sara: "Oh, ‘Raincouver’ babe. It was right there."

Lita: "‘Got myself knocked up’?? What do you call what you did with mom in my high school gym’s supply closet?"
Mick: "Conceiving!"

Behrad: "So, this ‘surprise’ is really starting to give off an ‘improvised lie that backfired’ vibe.’"

Spooner: "I think I’m gonna need a smaller gun."

Zari: "Of course. Even though she’s stuck in mystical limbo, she didn’t forget his birthday."

Zari: "I knew you had ‘leading man hair’ in you. All Terazis have the gene."

Zari: "Finally, a win for straight white men."

Gary: "So there were tentacles involved."
Mick: "Yeah. Lots. It was mind blowing."




Bits and Pieces:

-- Speaking of representation earlier, it's worth noting what an amazing job Legends has been doing with all the details about Muslim life that come up in conversation with or about Zari and Behrad. They've been doing it a lot this season and it's impressively well handled. They don't provide them as an educational moment. They don't use more conventional terms that non-Muslims would use to not alienate the viewers. Zari mentions what Behrad was likely to do on an Eid, because that's the term she would genuinely use and she's not particularly interested in translating for those at home. Which means I was compelled to go look up what it meant and now I know what an Eid is. I love that.

-- I should mention, there are two things that might be relevant to this episode with which I have little to no experience. Marijuana, and the television show This is Us. The two great tastes that taste great together. That's not some sort of weird flex, as regards pot. I have no problem with pot at all. It's definitely less destructive than alcohol, and if you enjoy smoking/edibling, you go for it with my full support. I've smoked it a few times and it just makes me chatty. Which, you know, consider the source.

-- As far as watching This is Us goes, if you made a big list of all the problems I have in my life, 'Not having enough things to cry about' would not feature prominently. But again, if it's your thing, you do you. I only mention either of these things on the off chance that there's some significance in the episode regarding either/or that I missed.

-- Gus looked too much like Beebo. It was distracting.

-- Astra's delivery of 'Damn' after the Zari-burn early on was just everything. I'm so stanning Olivia Swann. Did I use that right?

-- I'm not at all sure that the changes to Behrad's personal timeline make sense. How on earth did he get a car with vanity plates on scene? If he never joined the Legends would he even be in Vancouver? But who cares. I don't think we've ever seen a timeline change gradually transform a member of the team as it was happening before. The closest I can think of is Zari becoming Behrad and Ray accidentally being dead after the 80s that one time.

-- Speaking of Zari, Yes! I'm not a huge fan of the way they seem to be treating the totems as a literal physical space like the inside of the bottle in I Dream of Jeannie, but if it means we get Zari 1.0 back half of the time, I could not care less. SO glad to see her back!

-- Also, Zari Terazi's speech to Zari Tomaz about recognizing what Behrad meant to Zari Tomaz was just beautiful.

-- There's a lovely little thread through this about how the little things define who we become that was nicely handled.

-- God help me, they're actually selling me on Behrad and Astra as a potential couple. They have kind of a Scott Free/Big Barda vibe.




An episode pretending to be light and fluffy and which gives in to its own worst impulses on several occasions. But which also contains a beautifully understated and nuanced discussion of a lot of big issues without easy answers. I'm terribly fond of it, despite its flaws.

Three and a half out of five magic coffee carts.

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.

6 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, I always enjoy reading your reviews and this one was particularly fun. You found so much interesting stuff to discuss in this episode. I tend to float through Legends, but you always help me see what's there.

The sectioned off Mick plots are getting way too obvious. It's a little disturbing.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Aw, thank you Billie, that's very kind of you to say.

Anonymous said...

A better ep than the last ones. Very nice and thoughtful review.
I love that both mick and his daughter are pregnant. only on this show.
Big barda and scott-yay-my fave couple. Well one of them.
I'm sure John will be back.

Mikey Heinrich said...

God as my witness I've never understood why Scott Free and Big Barda aren't more widely known and beloved. They're just the greatest.

Yes, this is leading me into my regular pitch for them to give us a Mister Miracle show starring Matt Bomer.

Trousers said...

To be fair to the writers with the whole forgotten birthday thing, I think they knew precisely how tropey it was and that's why they went with it. It's a classic sitcom plot for the sitcom episode.

I'm not sure how well it actually worked as a bit but I can see what they were trying to do

Josie Kafka said...

"Gus looked too much like Beebo. It was distracting."

Yes. I got that they were headed for a sort of Baby Yoda joke, but it all felt so much like a Beebo joke that I almost died from the knottiness of the metaness.

I liked this episode quite a bit.