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Legends of Tomorrow: Bored on Board Onboard

"It’s all about the first kill."

About 80-85% of this episode is the best thing ever.

Why'd they have to go and ruin it there at the end?

Let's be very clear about one thing from the onset. Agatha Christie is one of my favorite things on the entire planet. The moment a thunderstorm hits, my first thought is, 'OK, which version of And Then There Were None am I going to watch?' When I can't sleep at night I often run a statistical analysis of what percentage of her murders are committed through what various methods in my head just for fun. If you'd like to have an in depth discussion about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the three significant film adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express, I'm your man. And most particularly, if you want to hear at great length how criminally under-rated the 2017 film adaptation of Crooked House featuring Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close and Terrence Stamp is, by all means feel free to ask.

Which is a long winded and self indulgent way of saying that when it comes to Agatha Christie pastiche, I am the easiest lay imaginable.

I beg your pardon for the crassness of the term. I spend a lot of time among firemen and iron workers.

The point of mentioning this is that there's a significant chance that my love of the ur-text might be skewing my opinion of the murder mystery portion of this episode upward. I don't think it is, but I acknowledge the possibility. This concludes this week's grain of salt.

We pick up this week almost exactly where we left off at the end of 'The Final Frame,' with the team returning from their fun night out at the bowling alley. Which is a good choice, because the jumping off point for this episode is that John's actions in the previous adventure have damaged the ship, which means that they can't just jump-drive home. They'll have to take the long route through normal space, which Gideon is calculating as a little over three weeks.

This is a deceptively clever little piece of set-up, because it's simultaneously establishing the conditions that cause our heroes to end up playing board games which leads to this week's adventure, while also very subtly reminding us that Constantine is currently recklessly overpowered. The damage to the jump drive is a minor inconvenience, but it taints the very idea of John's magic with the indelible impression that it leaves damage in its wake.

That's going to be a bit of a theme here, and it's nice how they planted the seed of it while pretending to be doing something else.

Another great example of that sort of scripting cleverness comes a bit later, when John explains that the murder mystery is taking place in what appears to be his house because his subconscious (he says 'imagination,' but they're clearly implying that his subconscious did most of the heavy lifting) filled in 'the gaps.' In the moment that reads as the show cleverly justifying re-using the set for John's house as the murder mystery setting. It's almost pretending to be the show hanging a lampshade. 'Yeah, yeah' they appear to be saying, 'we're getting away without building a new set. You got us.'

But what they're really doing is again planting a seed for what will be the final resolution of the situation. All of this came from John's imagination (subconscious). And that's why the dark side of his nature has taken corporeal form and is killing off the houseguests. It's John's darker impulses that are literally destroying the people around him that love him and if that isn't a nicely laid out addiction metaphor, then I don't know what is.

But for as much as John's addiction is the heart of the story, this episode really belongs to Shayan Sobhian, who absolutely knocks it out of the park this week in just a million little ways. It's a fantastic decision to have Behrad be the one to slowly start to realize that something is wrong with John. It's a better one to have that realization be rooted in his concern for his sister, and it's a freaking amazing one to let him explicitly specify that not trusting John and not knowing what's wrong with John beyond the growing awareness that something is, does not mean that he doesn't still love John. He's scared both of him and for him. And again, if that isn't an addiction metaphor, I don't know what is.

So, the team is trapped inside a magically LARP-ed hybrid of Dungeons and Dragons and Clue, each with an assigned character amusingly appropriate for their real personality. Ava's joy at being the eccentric detective was particularly enjoyable, and let's take a moment to appreciate the clever little detail that Sara is cast as the 'Black Widow' within the game. She is also, unbeknownst at the time, the 'beast' aka the secret killer within the game that the other players have to identify. Sara, being Sara, identifies Ava as being the greatest threat and 'kills' her as the first victim. Which is totally sound strategy and exactly what Sara would do. But... this means that Sara, as the 'Black Widow' has just killed... her fiancé. And the episode never even takes a well deserved moment to point it out. That's just incredibly clever plotting, and I don't believe for a second it wasn't deliberate.

Honestly, every second they were in the Beast/Slayer game was just the best thing ever. I loved it all. I desperately wish I could play the LARP version of the game myself.

But then we have the 'meanwhile back on the ship' plot, and I just can't even with this thing. Nothing that happens (until the end) is particularly bad. I loved seeing Kayla again. Her anger is pretty understandable even though her stated version of things isn't exactly how it all went down. Mick did after all try to stay to find her, he didn't just steal her ship and run off. But she's just had to fight a planet of carrion aliens and is super-pissed, so it's not un-seeable for her to read the situation that way.

Ultimately though that plotline just served to puncture the tension that was building up in the main plot at regular intervals, and that's a shame because the direction in those sequences is first class suspense work. The cutaway shots to the player pieces on the board mirroring the characters within the game were a sinister touch and conveyed a lovely sense of doom and inevitability.

And then they go and ruin it all by saying something stupid like, 'Hey, the character of Bishop is back!'

I don't think I've ever seen something I was enjoying so much end on such a hateful, rage-inducing note.


An Agatha deep dive:

This may or may not have been intentional, but I'd like to think it was.

One of Agatha Christie's lesser known recurring characters is a man named Harley Quin. No relation to the character played by Margot Robbie. He never got a full novel of his own, but did appear in a number of short stories, most of which were collected in the book The Mysterious Mr. Quin. They're well worth your time to track down and read, as several of them are exquisite and all of them are enjoyable.

Harley Quin, essentially, was the spirit of the Harlequin. He's strongly implied if not explicitly stated to be a supernatural being who appears around mysteries related to lovers who are in some way under threat of doom. In the very first story of the collection, 'The Coming of Mr. Quin,' his entrance into the front hall of a Victorian home is marked by the stained glass window above casting its light down onto him, causing his white suit to be covered in a harlequin pattern of colors and shapes. The 'colored lights upon him' theme is actually a recurring motif in the stories.

When John collapsed in the front hall of his Victorian home, the shot strongly features the light from his stained glass window across the hall, draping him in a pattern of colors and shapes.

Doomed lovers?


Everybody remember where we parked:

Space.

We were in Space for this one. Until the end when we got to John's place. Most of the team spent the journey trapped in a magical VR version of the same house.


Quotes:

Astra: "We need to talk about your footwear."
Spooner: "Try to put a heel on me and I’ll show you where to stick it."

Sara: "Why is Barry Allen on this list? I love Barry."
Ava: "I know you do, babe, but you know that if Barry and Iris show up, there is a 100% chance that our special day will be blown up by a supervillain. So. Group D."
She's not wrong.

Sara: "Is anyone else starting to feel more like their character?"
Spooner: "I feel like shooting something, but that’s normal."
Astra: "Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to tell either."

Behrad: "Splitting up is a cardinal sin against survival. And creativity!"

Behrad: "I’m not blaming the ‘bloody magic’, John. I’m blaming you for abusing it!"


Bits and Pieces:

-- Tala Ashe did an absolutely amazing job playing both versions of Zari in one scene within seconds of each other. That could be risky to show them back to back, but instead it just showed straight up how good her performance is.

-- I'm loving the organic way that Spooner and Astra have bonded. They have too many cute moments together to count in this one. They might be my new Nate/Ray, to be honest.

-- Ava and Sara are stressing out about planning their wedding while John battles magical addiction. There's such a thing as too much Buffy Season Six influence.

-- Behrad leading yoga reminded me strongly of Worf leading whatever the Klingon version of it is over on Next Generation. Which made me start brainstorming comparisons between the two of them. They have very similar hairstyles, for a start.

-- Speaking of- Behrad, do not discourage John Constantine from getting naked for hot yoga. Maybe Nate would have joined in. OK, I'm just writing slashfic at this point, I'll stop.

-- John being the 'consumptive doctor' character felt very much like an in-joke regarding how many times they've tried to adapt the 'Dangerous Habits' plotline in various media. Even John rolls his eyes at it.

-- Have we really never seen Behrad drink? I'd totally forgotten that he was dead at the moment, back in 'Freaks and Greeks.' I wonder what the Muslim view on marijuana is.

-- Zari drinking wine, while I totally get her point vis-à-vis it being imaginary, was a nice little nod to the darkness in John corrupting the people around him. You could totally play a drinking game in this episode of 'Do a shot every time you spot a metaphor for addiction.' But that might be in poor taste.

-- Mick calls the medical machine a 'meat printer,' which is both funny and made me wonder realistically how far away we are from hospitals being able to 3-D print living tissue. It has to happen at some point, doesn't it?

-- People generally think of Agatha Christie's basic set-up as being the 'group of people trapped somewhere being killed one by one', but really it's only And Then There Were None that uses that set up. Well, a case could be made for Death Comes as the End, but people usually pretend that one doesn't exist.


I loved so much about this episode that the return of Bishop at the end felt like a visceral betrayal. I should probably be adult and not let the set-up for next episode ruin this one for me.

If anyone knows how to do that, please let me know in the comments.

Three out of five meat printers.

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.

12 comments:

percysowner said...

After a little digging around, I found that marijuana is a gray area in Islam. It's not forbidden in the Quran, but some scholars feel it falls under a passage about not using substances intoxicate. OTOH, marijuana is used in some Sufi religious rituals. Wikipedia gives the basics. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannabis_and_religion#Islam

So Behrad may well be fine smoking weed in the eyes of his religion. It makes sense. Both he and Zari have referenced alcohol being haraam, while Zari has never upbraided him for toking. The show seems to be paying attention to Islamic traditions, so I don't think they would have messed this one up so consistently.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Thanks! I agree, they do consistently put in the work to be accurate.

An Honest Fangirl said...

Death Comes As The End is my second favorite book of all time (following And Then There Were None, of cours.) It frustrates the hell out of me that literally ZERO bookstores sell it. It really deserves more love. You have romance, murder, and toxic family dynamics all set in Ancient Egypt. What more could someone want? I am still waiting very impatiently for the announced BBC adaptation, although that seems stuck in production hell.

Ahem.

Sorry, I get very passionate about Agatha Christie. I haven't been watching this season but I think I'll catch this episode simply because of her.

Billie Doux said...

Definitely a fun episode until, yeah, the end sort of ruined it. Maybe it's just always better when most of the cast are interacting at once.

I totally agree that Tala Ashe was amazing as both versions of Zari.

I read a lot of Agatha Christie back when I was a teen and enjoyed it, although I haven't read much of hers as an adult. I remember being fascinated by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd because it would never have occurred to me... and stopping before spoilage.

Behrad does indeed resemble Worf. :)

Mikey Heinrich said...

Aaand now I'm shipping Behrad and Worf. Wo-rad?

I'm LOVING the intense love of Agatha Christie here :)

Fangirl, if you haven't heard it, The audible production of Death Comes as the End is read by Emilia Fox and is quite good. Totally worth your time.

Billie - yes, that twist is legendary and still argued about in some circles today as to whether or not is was technically 'cheating'. It wasn't, in my opinion. For what that's worth.

I did neglect to mention, they made a weird point of setting up that Behrad was going home to visit the folks which made me wonder if they needed him to not be around for some reason the next episode. I haven't had a chance to watch the new one from last night yet, so we'll see.

An Honest Fangirl said...

Ooh, I will definitely check that out! I've been rewatching the most recent BBC adaptation of And Then There Were None recently, so I'm on a bit of a Christie kick. (I really should review it. I don't think it's been covered yet.)

Billie - there's also an argument that the killer actually is/could be/should be someone else. Basically all of the evidence points to them just as much as the canon killer. I'm still divided on whether or not it was cheating, myself.

Billie Doux said...

Fangirl, I might have to reread that book. It's been a long time. And I'd love to read that ATTWN review, if you're up for it.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Oh, definitely do! That's such a good adaptation. Except the random cocaine party in episode three, that's just a confusing choice.

Did you know that Toby Stephens who plays Doctor Armstrong in that one is Maggie Smith's son? I only recently found that out. Blows my mind.

Email me who the other possible killer is, I'm super curious.

Apparently Death comes as the End was also supposed to have a completely different killer and ending, but Agatha got talked out of it. Nobody apparently knows who or what it was.

An Honest Fangirl said...

Alright, I know what I'm doing this week! haha (And what are you talking about, Mikey? Being trapped on an island with a murderer is EXACTLY when you should get high out of your mind and lose ALL ability to protect yourself.)

Mikey Heinrich said...

I suppose there is a certain, 'well, we're all screwed anyway' argument to be made there.

Josie Kafka said...

I really enjoyed this episode (although I agree with your caveats, Mikey), and I'm happy to report that the past few episodes have made Legends feel like Legends again. I'm enjoying my favorite show once more!

Dominic Purcell looks so much younger with hair, even when that hair is a terrible wig.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I meant to mention the terrible wig.

Yeah, It's been great having the show back the last few episodes.

That feeling... does not continue....