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Legends of Tomorrow: The Final Frame

"That's too weird and high concept for Legends of Tomorrow."
-No One, Ever.

A refreshing return to form for Legends of Tomorrow and a really great episode.

Can I make a 'balls' joke above the break? No? OK.

Spoilers immediately below. Beware.

Aliens with godlike powers capture the Earth and use it as a bowling ball. Literally. They drill three holes in it and roll it down a wooden lane to knock down pins. Some of our characters are with the alien bowling team in the alien bowling alley watching this happen, some of our characters are on the Earth experiencing it first hand, and some of our characters are on the Waverider trying to figure out what the hell is going on. That's the set-up.

Now, it's perfectly possible to science your way out of enjoying the story. I mean, let's just be up front about it, having those three holes drilled into the Earth would absolutely cause it to crumble into bits if we want to be realistic about it. Rolling down the lane would create torsional forces that would undoubtedly pulp every single thing, human or object, beyond recognition. No question. Sara restoring the Earth by bowling it out the front door so it can bumper-pool its way through the solar system and back to its rightful spot; absolute nonsense.

And they aren't even really consistent about what forces count and which we're just ignoring. Zari is certainly able to affect the outside world of the bowling alley by shooting the gigantic hand in the sky that's about to throw a game-winning strike with the planet on which she's currently standing. There's no consistent reason why Mike the Strike's hand is affected by the ray-gun blast, and yet half of Asia isn't crushed by the Earth being clumsily dropped to the floor as a result of that exact same ray-gun blast.

And if you can't get past all of that and accept that none of it matters in the slightest, I get it. But you've just scienced yourself out of enjoying what is without question the best episode of Legends of Tomorrow in years, and that's a shame.

So, what's so special about this one then? Why does this work in a way that, just for a random example 'The Ex-Factor' didn't entirely? The difference is that here every single detail of the production are all pulling in the same direction. They're all telling the same story. And most importantly, the individual plotlines are working as a team, passing the ball back and forth with a structural elegance that we haven't seen in quite some time.

Let's take a look at how they gradually communicated the big reveal of what's really going on here to show what I mean.

We open with Sara, Mick, Astra, and Spooner in a car parts storage lot. They're looking for the last of the missing alien pods, and upon finding it discover what is clearly one of the Cenobite's puzzle boxes. They proceed to immediately demonstrate that none have them have ever seen the movie Hellraiser and try to open the box. After some judicious fiddling, the box opens and appears to teleport them all to a physics-defying bowling alley floating in space. Here is its clever usage of who is on this particular away team, because having Sara and Spooner both there instantly sells the audience on the idea that they've been kidnapped by aliens and spirited away somewhere.

OK, cool. They've been teleported off to a standard 'have to beat the bullies at their own sporting event' plotline somewhere in space. We're all on board. And that's just a fantastic misdirection, because they're using our previous expectations about things that are likely to happen to the characters to nudge us into not questioning that that's what's going on. Spooner makes the classic (for this genre) error of accidentally challenging the aforementioned bullies to a game of whatever sport we're talking about at the time. Here, obviously, bowling.

So far, so genre. But let's take a second to notice two key things here. Not long after the 'challenge' from team Legends has been accepted, we see Mike the Spike's bowling ball bag sitting slightly open, and suddenly the Earth is clearly inside it although it's not centered in the shot and I doubt anyone who didn't already know what was going on noticed it at the time. But it is there.

The next thing to notice about this transition is that we jump immediately to Zari and Nate's Alaskan camping adventure wherein they mention what seems to be a completely unrelated fact that they can't see any stars. This doesn't jump out as a clue, since pretty much everything about their camping getaway has gone wrong so far. This just feels like one more disappointment on an already disappointing date. That's the entire reason Jeff and Jamie are there, by the way. They've established that Zari and Nate's trip seems doomed to disappointment. We're not looking for reasons why the stars are gone after the much larger irritation of Jeff's blasting music and 'Rock and Roll!' screaming sexual encounters.

Which makes us not realize that the reason the stars are gone is that the Earth is currently inside of Mike's bowling bag, which we've already gotten visual confirmation of but not noticed. That's two different plot threads both telling the same story from different angles, and it works so, so well.

And then we skip to the Waverider where an over-cocky and over-juiced John Constantine interrupts Behrad's attempts to make pot brownies. And we get an implied answer to a question I'd previously wondered about; why were those four sent to Kansas to track the last pod? Oh, OK. Behrad seems to have been left behind to quarterback and John simply wasn't back before the team left. Makes sense. But then in an attempt to catch up and join the team, we're given our third clue about what's really happening: according to Gideon, the Earth can't be found.

And here's what I mean about all the pieces of the plot telling the same story. We've been shown the bowling challenge. We've seen – but most likely not noticed – the Earth in a bowling bag. We're shown that the stars are gone and told by the radio that it's night all over the world. We're told by Gideon the Earth can't be located. Fast upon that Nate and Zari discover via radio report that mysterious giant holes have appeared in Mexico, Canada, and Alaska (where they happen to be). None of those pieces, as they are revealed, appear to be remotely connected and yet of course in hindsight it's perfectly obvious how they are. All of the plot pieces are synched perfectly and purring like the engine of some car I might use to complete that metaphor if I knew anything about cars.

It's all working so well that even character beats and side-development slot seamlessly into the story being told. Want to communicate to the audience that John is more powered than he can really handle and looking to show off? Use that to have him cast the dangerous spell to locate Earth which gets them to the bowling alley, which allows Ava to realize that the Earth must be in the bowling alley, which walks us neatly up to the reveal of what's really happening. Want to take a moment to address the oddness of Nate and Zari 1.0's relationship as it currently stands? Use the metaphor of being afraid of heading toward a cliff to parallel the visual of the Earth literally being hurled toward possible destruction, and your primary plot effortlessly doubles as a visual metaphor for an unrelated theme. That's storytelling efficiency on an epic scale.

The one branch of the story that arguably isn't working toward the slow plot reveal part of the episode is of course Ava and Gary's dress shopping. And true, that one lays quietly in the weeds until it's time for the big plot reveal because that one isn't about the plot reveal. It's about the plot resolution, and seeding the theme that the key to winning is to just stop stressing out about what you look like and play as a damn team. It's why removing three fingers of Mick's glove is the key to both he and Spooner coming together as teammates and his improved skill at the game. It's why the world is saved by a reformed former demon bowling granny style. It's about French fries and nachos and beer and the various parts of your team learning to stop losing to themselves and to start winning against the enemy. Ava showing up in that absolutely ridiculous train wreck of a wedding dress was basically the establishing shot of how they ultimately win.

Plus, the dress trying on montage with Ave and Gary was just charming as hell. Honestly, I've never liked Gary more.


Everybody remember where we parked:

The away team begins in the car plot lot in Kansas City, Kansas. The lesser of the two Kansas Cities. You just don't get this sort of problem in Kansas City, Missouri.

(Non Mid-west residents – I assure you that this is funny.)

Nate and Zari have gone to Alaska for camping/date night, which is a solid choice for beautiful, romantic camping spots. I assume also 2021 since the Earth-napping seems to take place in one time zone.


Quotes:

Zari: "Nate, I think the world is ending. We need to get out of here."
Nate: "This is one of the top five worst dates I’ve ever been on."

Spooner: "Ah. We got a standard house oil pattern. A bit chilly, so the lanes will be slick. We got a dip in the 16th board."

Buddy: "Ten frames. Ten pins. And sixty feet of wood. May your rolls be true."

Ava: "We’re at a floating bowling alley in space. Thank you, everyone, for making my day about a floating bowling alley."

Jamie: "Not rock and roll, Jeff! Not rock and roll at ALL!"

Zari: "Hey, am I a bad person if I found that very, very enjoyable?"
Nate: "No, no no, they’re terrible people."

Nate: "Totally off topic, but does that cloud look like Mick to you?"

Mike: "I’m not a God. I’m just an average Joe who loves to bowl and destroy countless worlds."

Astra: "I left Hell to bowl granny style??"


Bits and Pieces:

-- Confession time - I only saw The Big Lebowski once, and it was a really long time ago. I liked it well enough, but if I'm going to re-watch a Coen Brothers film, it's going to be The Hudsucker Proxy. I'm sure there were a ton of Lebowski nods in this one, but the only one I noticed was that I'm pretty sure Buddy was wearing the titular Lebowski's sweater.

-- Nice touch that the team destined to lose to the Pin Killers first was named 'The Red Shirts.'

-- There were a couple of deep cut Douglas Adams references here that I don't think were accidental. Ford Prefect mentions a planet that was stolen to be used in a game of intergalactic ball billiards, and in the same book is lectured by an advertising executive about the importance of finding out whether or not people want fire that can be inserted nasally. Which is of course how John Constantine takes it into himself.

-- Looks like they shot this in an actual bowling alley, based on the amount of space available and how accurate it was.

-- Two little touches that really stood out on re-watch. When Buddy hears that the Legends are from Earth he positively gleams with hope that since they're from the planet that invented the game they might be able to free him from the Pin Killers. We don't really appreciate it at the time because we haven't been told what's going on yet. The second is the glance Jamie gives down to Jeff's crotch when she announces she's going to find a man whose 'truck' works. That one is less subtle, but still funny.

-- Is it wrong that I found Jeff very attractive? I definitely have a type, and should probably seek help.

-- They say this is the last alien pod for them to find. That went quickly. That kind of means that the Legends are currently without any real plotline from their point of view.

-- I think we all have to accept that they're just never again going to mention or address that Sara is a clone of the original now. That makes me sad.

-- It felt so good to have Mick back properly with the team in the same plot. And his reveal to Spooner about why he won't show his hands was just lovely.

-- Spooner never feels better as a character than she does when she's obsessing about something that appears random to us but clearly means a lot to her. Here, bowling. She has a great intensity that's really likable. I sure wish they'd given here her own episode to shine this season.

-- So, is Buddy God, or Q, or Trelane, or what? He definitely fits in the 'vast powers governed by unbreakable rules who senses important things like, say, one of your teammates having turned evil and being destined to die soon, but then doesn't interfere by actually mentioning that to anyone.

-- Of course Sara is an immaculate bowler, based on her ninja training. It's funny that Mick, coming from the sociological background most likely to enjoy bowling, is terrible at it.

-- I really, really want one of those Legends bowling shirts.

-- This episode was directed by Jes Macallan, and she did a fantastic job.

I really, really loved this. Even more so as it's so much better than the rest of the season so far. The only real flaw I could point to is that they were a little heavy handed using Behrad to talk about how great John is so they can underscore that he's turned evil-adjacent. But even there it just makes me like how supportive and positive Behrad is of his sister's relationships.

Just ever so slightly less than five out of five platters of nachos and French fries.

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...

Loved this one. Best episode this season, at least so far. It felt very Doctor Who-ish to me. And Ava's wedding dress felt like Kaley's gown in that episode of Firefly.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Ooo, the dress totally did feel like that! I can't believe I didn't think of it.

I really would love to hear from anyone who knows Lebowski well who can tell me what all references there were

Mikey Heinrich said...

I feel obligated to cite that the firefly episode in question was Shindig, written by my life-long love. Jane Espensen

Anonymous said...

Sara's alien powers will get adressed? I hope.
Have seen the Big Lebowski but aeons ago. Can't help there.
Good thing Sara won't let Ava get married in that hideous thing. Still good use of Gary.
Zari 1.O and Nate are headed for heartbreak?
Oh John..


Mikey Heinrich said...

Zari briefly thought they should just end things because they were headed for heartbreak after listening to some particularly bad advice from Rock and Roll chick. Hopefully now that Nate talked her down that's the last we'll hear of it.

They kept acting like the 24 hours before Zari1.0 had to go back into the totem was some sort of cosmic rule, but I'd gotten the impression that the Zari's just had sort of what we'll call a gentleman's agreement for lack of a better term to trade off at intervals. What's everybody else's assumption about that setup?

Anonymous said...

Anon from before assumed so too. But maybe reality will break if Zari 1.0 doesn't go back cause they broke time?
Or something.
If they can forget Sara's new alien powers why not this?