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Legends of Tomorrow: Bad Blood

"One day you might be positively gagging for the stuff."

Well, that went dark.

John Constantine comes down with a serious case of the Buffy Season Sixes.

This was a well constructed episode with a lot of positives going for it. I have no idea whether or not I liked it.

One thing up front. Why is Gus Gus the adorable baby alien still hanging around and in this one? He provides exactly one minor tangible threat which is easily disposed of and one song cue to underscore a metaphorical point, and that's it. There's genuinely no reason to have him still on the ship.

I suppose it comes down to expectations regarding shows that are released once a week and ones that are released all in one go for bingeing. In a bingeable show you want to lean in to plot and character carryover from one episode to the next because that makes it harder for people to identify a clear breaking point where you can stop watching for the evening. Blurring the lines between discrete episodes makes the entirety a more cohesive unit, if that isn't too pretentious a way to say it.

But on a series released on a weekly basis, you absolutely don't want to waste any screen time on carryover characters from the previous episode unless you have a damn good reason, because the general assumption is that most of the audience will either have forgotten any one off characters or lost any attachment to them that they might have had during the intervening week.

And yet here we have Gus as a baby in the opening of the episode, receiving an absolutely adorable lullaby solely for the sake of Spooner remembering the lyrics at the end of the episode as a way to underscore the fairly pedantic point that in Constantine's take on magic the words spoken in the 'spell' are completely arbitrary and really only serve as a focus for the mind. The words themselves don't matter, they only serve as something to focus your mind on to allow the magic to flow. That's interesting enough, in an esoteric kind of way, but it doesn't really have anything to do with either the plot or themes of the rest of the episode and so it ultimately feels like, 'Really? That was worth five minutes of screen time to you?' and that's not a great look.

On the practical plot side of the equation, Gus is still hanging around to provide an obstacle for them to overcome in order to get Mick to sick bay. Which again is fine, except that he's an obstacle that they overcome inside of fifteen seconds and we find out almost immediately upon getting to sickbay that Mick didn't even need to be there because he's not in labor yet. It genuinely feels like Gus is still there solely to give the rest of the Legends something to occupy themselves with while John and Spooner are off handling the actual storyline.

Meanwhile, in the good parts of the episode.

I'm just going to say it. Spooner has never felt more likable or real as a human being as she feels when she's alone with John Constantine. I can't put my finger on why, but the two of them together just work. Not in an 'I feel romantic chemistry' kind of way like Zari 2.0 and John did back in 'Romeo v. Juliet', but in a 'these two really humanize each other just by the way they interact' kind of way that I really enjoyed.

Which of course made John's betrayal at the end that much more painful. But we'll get to that in a moment. Because I'm not ready to talk about it yet.

So, John gum-tortures the painting of Crowley into telling him that the Fountain of Imperium map dates to 1939 and is currently being held by vampire-bankers (if that's not a redundant term). He gets the map off of the traveling vampire bank clerk in a way that's simultaneously the most John Constantine trick ever and enormously reminiscent of the better bits of Supernatural. She – the vampire bank clerk – takes that moment to seed into the plot the existence of supercharged magic blood that when consumed basically acts as Magical Power Steroids which John of course initially condemns but then later makes the pragmatic choice to drink himself when all else fails and he has to save himself and Spooner from Spanish fascists.

And damnit, we've already talked ourselves around to the thing I was stalling about.

OK, so John drinks the magic blood, juicing himself to get magic powers again because he literally has no other option to save everyone at that moment. That is literally the most John Constantine move ever. Then we find out that he's ordered an entire new shipment for the vampire bankers in order to keep his magic, which really also is the most Constantine move ever. I have no problem accepting either of those as something that John would absolutely do. Hell, for all I know he has done it in the comics. I've been out of the loop for quite some time.

So why have I spent over two weeks hating it?

I think I've finally figured it out. It's because making the bastard choice, doing the unthinkable in order to do what must be done, is 100% Constantine's wheelhouse and always has been. That tracks. But do you know what else had always been in his wheelhouse? Being 100% up front and open with literally everyone that he's made the bastard's choice and accepting the fallout/lost friendships/hatred of those he loves most. John Constantine owns the wreckage and pain he creates in his own life. But here he essentially mind-rapes (a highly loaded, destructive, and hurtful term for which I apologize but could not think of an alternative) Spooner solely to cover up what he's done, and I hate that choice for his character.

I get why they went that way. It's not an invalid choice for the story that they're telling. It just felt like a violation of the character to me. I hate the entire concept of 'character assassination' because it feels like a crystallization of fandom entitlement to me, and I don't think at all that that's what they're doing here, but if I was OK with the term, it might be a term I'd use here.

So, generally the stuff in Spain, 1939 is fantastic. John realizing that he needed to go to Spain 1939 and immediately popping over to get Spooner because she speaks Spanish might be the first really good usage of her character of the season. And again, she and John just really humanize each other in a way I can't quite describe. At first I was a little dismissive of the fact that Spooner knew absolutely nothing about the Spanish Civil War, but then I remembered that she had gone through the American public school system. In Texas. After that I was mostly just impressed that she could identify Spain on a map.



Since we're doing this every week, what about John Constantine's long game?

It was Spooner threatening to tell Zari 2.0 what John had done that drove him to mind control her to cover his tracks. It's hard not to observe that this happened at the same time as Zari 1.0 returning to hang with Nate and the news (spoilers here) that Matt Ryan would still be on the show but playing a different character from John Constantine next season.

So what do we make of this? Clearly they're heading down the dark tragedy path with John/Zari 2.0. Will Warren shoot her from the garden through the upstairs window? I really cannot imagine the show without John C. at this point. At least we'll still have Matt R.


Everybody remember where we parked:

This week, John Constantine and Spooner took a jump ship to Albaceta, Spain, 1939. We know they took a jump ship because we saw it fly across screen. Why didn't they take a time courier? Because shut up, that's why. The rest of the team stayed on the ship, knowing that John and Spooner were going to Spain for no reason. Apparently supporting your co-workers isn't a thing anymore.

Gus Gus, after getting set on fire, was time couriered to god knows where and abandoned forever. Apparently after you're no longer cute, you're worthless.


Quotes:

Zari: "Superhero, a totem bearer, and an alien named Gary become singing mannies. Did I just invent our spinoff?"

John: "And don’t even get me started on the devious little role of the Catholic church."
Spooner: "I’m Catholic, John."
John: "Yeah, well then you’ll understand my attitude toward priests."

El Gato: "In the village over, there is a donkey. With great big… how do you say..."
John: "Udders."
El Gato: "Ah. Si. Magical udders."

Zari: "Terazi siblings."
Behrad: "Activate."

John: "What is it you see in Herr Hitler? Is it that he’s a pissant with one ball?"

John: "You know what happened in the Spanish civil war, right? The moral side, it didn’t win."

John: "You know, where I’m from, being normal is being crushed by the boot of Capitalism and then blaming it on anyone with brown skin. It’s being told that only degenerates can fancy men and women. It’s your old man coming home drunk every night and beating you to a pulp because that’s what his old man did to him. But magic, Spooner, the ability to break the rules, to stick it to the rich and the powerful, that’s who I am. And I’m nothing without it, Spooner. Nothing."

Bits and Pieces:

-- Really great twist that it was Fernando bringing his uncle back to life over and over again.

-- Nice little detail that Behrad is a good cook who gave Astra the first piece of dinner.

-- I loved that Spooner wasn't irritated by fake-priest Constantine describing her as a virgin. She was clearly highly amused by it.

-- I really don't love the echoes of Dark Willow going on here.

-- I can't imagine how Mick will survive 48 alien squid babies bursting from his head.

-- When did Lita get this likable? Her immediate default to faking labor to get Mick into sick bay was awesome.

-- In universe, Sara and Ava were absent looking at wedding venues. I wonder what the real reason for their absence was.

-- For the love of God, dial back Nick Zano's eye makeup. He's 43. He looks great for his age. Just stop overcompensating with the makeup.

-- I still want Kayla to come back.

-- Are they seeding for Spooner's mom to return?



This is a really solidly structured and plotted episode, and I don't like where the John Constantine stuff is going. That's not really a valid criticism of the show.


Four out of five failures of the American school system.

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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The John stuff is absolutely something he would do, sadly. Mind-rape is an okay phrase for what he did to poor Spooner. Just like Willow did to Tara in Buffy s 6.
Don't like it but I know what's coming. Or do I?
Poor Gus-Gus.
Mick won't survive those babies, so let's hope John can magic them into being born safely.
Lita is an MVP.

guerra55 said...

I don't understand what you wanted them to do with Gus? thrown off a cliff?
The last episode ended with Gus on the ship with no way to send him back, so of course he would still be on the ship unless you really wanted them to throw him off the cliff.
The argument that the show cannot cover facts from previous episodes because viewers will have forgotten what happened is stupid and is asking writers to treat audiences like idiots. They can and should address unresolved facts in previous episodes if people don't remember what happened then they rewatch.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I guess that's kind of my point. They did just randomly throw him off a cliff in this one, they just invested a lot of screen time on him before doing it in a way that didn't seem to pay off in any particular fashion. He went from 'cute little baby we're all cooing over' to 'set him on fire and boot him off to who knows where' without it really meaning anything.

Which is fine, it just felt like all the screen time with him could have been better used on other stuff if it wasn't being used for any particular storytelling purpose in the Gus related sequences.

After all, shows just let us assume characters are still around somewhere just not being part of the story being told right now all the time.

Mikey Heinrich said...

The more I think about this the more I think this was a huge missed opportunity for them. If the betrayal of cute little Gus had seemed to mean anything to them they could have used it to underscore the whole 'Someone you love and trust suddenly turning dangerous and betraying you' theme. It would have played against John's plot quite well.

Josie Kafka said...

Mikey, this is a great review!

I also am not a fan of Constantine's heel turn. His appeal is that he's a badass who won't actually mess with "us" (in this case, the show's protagonists). He messes with those in power, like the fascists. Now he's on the dark side and it's really disturbing.

I wasn't surprised that Spooner didn't know much about Spain, because everything I learned about Spain in this era was definitely in my own time, never in school. I was impressed with how much Constantine knew about it, and I chalk that up to his political beliefs.

John: "And don’t even get me started on the devious little role of the Catholic church."
Spooner: "I’m Catholic, John."
John: "Yeah, well then you’ll understand my attitude toward priests."


This is one of the greatest exchanges ever put on screen.

However, I thought it was sort of hilarious that Spooner's quote from her mom came on the heels of that conversation. "We are saved by faith alone" is, like, the most Protestant thing a person can say.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I just assumed that English schools do a better job covering the Spanish Civil War.

Anybody out there able to verify whether or not that's true?

Trousers said...

Hey, I'm Welsh rather than English, but can confirm that we learnt absolutely nothing about the Spanish Civil war in school.

While we're on the topics of the Legends and school, my wife was in the same class as Matt Ryan, John Constantine's actor. She finds it fairly odd seeing him in this.