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Legends of Tomorrow: The Need for Speed

My safe word is ‘Core Competency.’

The Legends have definitely re-discovered their core competency. I continue to love this season.

Before digging into the episode proper I just have to say; how great were those 1920s style opening credits? I was already over the moon about them even before they gave us our first in-show glimpse of Matt Ryan's Gwyn Davies.

Right, now that I've gotten that off of my chest we can begin.

This episode continues to be a lot of fun. All of the good choices and improvements in characterization, plotting and scripting that we saw in 'The Bullet Blondes' are still on display. However, 'The Need for Speed' has one thing that the previous episode did not. Namely, the vestigial remains of a different version of the same story.

This isn't a huge deal in and of itself. It happens all the time in scripted television. Various re-writes and/or studio notes change tone, or plot beats, or what have you, and you end up with scenes and character beats in the final broadcast that don't really need to be there for any particular reason, they're just kind of baked into the way the story was initially broken out. So maybe let's take an archeological tour of the episode's fossil record, if I'm not overburdening the metaphor.

Clearly at some point this was a story about capital 'H' History, with Nate at its center. It wanted to make the point that Hoover was a genuinely horrible person who's responsible for establishing a lot of the systemic injustice that we're still trying to dismantle. This is both fair and true. It then wanted to force Nate into the position of having to pretend to be Hoover specifically for the sake of putting him in what we might call a 'Donnie Brasco' situation. Exactly how far is it OK for Nate to go just for the sake of maintaining the illusion that he's Hoover? How many bad things is it acceptable for him to do?

This is being filtered through Nate's seeming acceptance of what is generally referred to as the 'Great Man' theory of history. That is, that history is composed of a series of 'Great Men' who caused history to happen the way it did by virtue of their being the only person who mattered at the time and therefore able to choose the course of events.

This is a super-reductive view of history and, generally speaking, Nate's take on history has been a little more nuanced than that, but they're using it to make a point.  Also, it has to be admitted that Nate went all goo-goo eyed over JFK a little while back, so he's obviously not completely immune to it. Plus it's just such a pleasant change that they remembered that Nate's a historian for once that I'm not going to make too much of a fuss. 

The point that they make, repeatedly, in the final episode as broadcast, is that from Nate's point of view Hoover is 'Important,' and Nate is not. Hoover is a 'Great Man,' if not a good one. They lay that out pretty explicitly, with Sara agreeing that that's usually the case. The remainder of the episode is thereafter set up to be Nate's journey of discovery that Hoover isn't a great man by any definition, and that he is not only just as important, but is also a much better man.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that there's almost certainly a draft of the script where Nate is forced to be super racist to Behrad in order to keep pretending to be Hoover and things got pretty dark.

That's the entire reason why the 'purse theft' scene exists. The other G-men immediately assume Behrad and Gary must be the thieves because racism, and Nate solves the crime in no time at all. And although everybody else applauds Nate's deduction, Behrad is super irritated about it. Other than heightening the tension between Behrad and Nate the scene doesn't really serve any purpose. Then, after standing up to Al Capone's men, Nate makes a formal apology for the way he treated Behrad and Gary and all is well again. Except... Nate never really treats Behrad or Gary particularly badly in the episode as broadcast. At worst he fails to stand up for them when the other agents are flirting around the edges of overt racism, but even that is pretty quickly passed over.

None of this really harms the episode to too great a degree, but it does end up causing a lot of Behrad's emotional beats to feel strangely forced this week, and it's unusual to have such clear remnants of an earlier version of the story.

One suspects that the reason they dialed back that thrust of the story, if I'm correct that they did and I suspect I am, is that there's so much else going on here. Thankfully, as opposed to some of the more splintered episodes of last season, all of the story arcs in this one feel very much like they're all telling different aspects of the same story. They're all pulling in the same direction, and the episode really works thanks to that level of scripting discipline.

Sara and Ava are honeymooning in John's pocket dimension/mansion, which is sweet. I like that they bothered to show the two celebrating their end of last season wedding, that would have been so easy to skip. Zari is still also hanging out in the mansion, getting stoned off her ass on Behrad's pot gummies while getting over her recent breakup. And both of those events are fine in and of themselves, but the confluence of them very organically leads to Ava giving Zari some exceptionally good advice, which lead to Zari finally asking the obvious question that's been hanging over the season so far, and thereby getting the story into gear.

The question of course being: Who the hell was that that blew up their Waverider?

This is such an obvious and basic question that it's a little surprising that no one had bothered to ask it yet. To be fair, they've all had a lot on their plates, and it's only been two episodes. The visual conceit of the ever increasing number of whiskey bottles was both really funny, and a great tie in to reminding the viewers at home of a lot of past friends and foes which one expects might be handy information to be reminded of going into the series' 100th episode next week. Just a hunch.

And lastly we have Spooner, Astra and Gloria. And speaking of Gloria, can she be officially declared a member of the Legends now? They could use a doctor at this stage, and she's just so wonderful I want to keep her around. In any case, the three of them are trying to help newly-anthropomorphised Gideon acclimate to her new physical form. How wonderful that after six years of being a voice without physical form Amy Louise Pemberton here gets to be a physical form with no voice for a bit.

Now, I've made no secret about being on team ALP for some time now, and I could have watched her mute wonder and frustrated attempts to communicate for hours, but they did a really nice job of using the situation to both convey the information that they have to stop the Legends from reaching Dr. Davies or they'll all be killed and confronting the elephant in the room regarding what Spooner's even good for at this point now that the only alien they need to communicate with is Gary.

Everybody remember where we parked:

Look, it's going to be the US in 1925 and the replica of John's mansion in the pocket dimension for the foreseeable future. I'm probably going to just discontinue this feature for the time being until that changes and we start going other places.


Quotes:

Zari: "You see, I found myself… on a journey… and that journey... is with these tiny, little bears."

Ava: "If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to come and find us. Actually, hesitate a little."
Sara: "Oh, hesitate a lot."
Zari: "Ew, that’s gross, moms."

Zari: "At minimum it will give me an excuse to leave this room, because you guys? Are very loud."
Ava: "What? Come on. We’re not loud."
Zari: "‘Core… Competency.’ Boop."

Spooner: "Now what will the team do with a human Gideon?"
Astra: "Probably just give her Rory’s old room."

Zari: "Oh boy. Very sad party of one happening here."

Spooner: "It’s six apples in a box, off the table on the floor."
Astra: "Thank you, Dr. Seuss."

Ava: "Ah, these guys over here. We got Time Pirates. Time wraiths. Time witches. Clones. Doppelgangers. Ourselves. Time itself."
Zari: "Ok, let’s call that the ‘why the hell not’ pile."


Bits and pieces:

-- They state here that they killed the 'real' Hoover last episode and that this robot one is a copy, but I have my doubts. If you're one of the two people who ever check out my raw notes for these over at What Was Mikey Thinking, you'll see that in my notes for 'Bullet Blondes' I mention that Hoover seemed awfully T-1000 to me when he rolled off of that car. I wonder if he wasn't also a robot, hence Gary's indigestion.

-- I have a lot of questions regarding the 'rules' for that key to the pocket dimension. Time appears to pass at the same rate as our A-plot, for instance, but they referred to it as timeless last week. Do you always have to exit through the same door you entered? Because Zari walked in through the closet in Odessa, and Sara and Ava from the Honeymoon suite on that train. Where would Zari end up if she walked out?

-- I also have a lot of questions regarding why John would set up a whiskey replicator in the refrigerator.

-- I appreciated that the episode mentioned the Palmer Raids and then gave us just enough time to wonder what they were before Nate helpfully explained them. Somebody really wanted this to be a treatise about Hoover at one stage.

-- The camera tricks they used to swap between Nate and Hoover depending on who was looking at him were really well done.

-- The conceit that they had no idea how long the illusion spell would last and that Behrad and Gary couldn't tell if it had stopped was a neat trick that paid off really well.

-- It looked a lot to me like Terminator-Hoover was initially going for non-lethal shots when he went after Capone's goons, but then later was straight up killing them. Some sort of default to do as little damage to history as possible unless necessary, perhaps?

-- Tala Ashe looked like she was having the time of her life doing all those stoned scenes. They don't often give her comedy that broad on this show. I bet she enjoyed it.

-- Nate's solution to pretend to beat up the Russian conductor was very cute, but they edited it like there was a real chance he was going to beat the guy with a lamp just to keep his cover story up. That's one of those vestigial clues that make me believe originally they were going a lot darker with Nate's plot-line.

-- The list of people who might want to kill them includes David Bowie. Ava thinks it's unlikely because he at least got a good song out of them.

-- Was calling Nate Mister Nobody a sly little Doom Patrol reference? They are both Berlanti productions.

-- Why do computers and robots audibly announce their self destruct timers being activated? He could have totally killed all of them if he'd just run a silent countdown.


I'm loving everything about this season. My complaints about this episode are incredibly minor and really fall more into the category of 'interesting things to notice about scripts that have gone through multiple writers room revisions' than actual flaws. And next we have the 100th episode. I'm one happy Legends reviewer these days.

Four and a half out of five killer robots.

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.

5 comments:

percysowner said...

I agree that they were going for a darker picture with Nate and then pulled back. His apology to Gary and Behrad was odd, since he hadn't done something that bad to them personally.

You said in your blog that Gary should have been treated like another white man, but Adam Tsekhman's family were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. The 1920s were pretty aware of "Jewish looking" people and I think Gary would have been classified that way, so not a white man then, or even now in some circles.

I do agree that the show seems to be on the right track this year and I couldn't be happier.

Billie Doux said...

I'm really enjoying this season too.

I vote that Zari should be stoned for at least half of every episode from here on out, because she was wonderful. And like you said, Mikey, I also loved that Gideon was only a voice for six seasons and here, she had no voice at all. Excellent writing choice there.

Mikey Heinrich said...

Percysowner, you're absolutely right, that just didn't occur to me at the time. Those notes are just my train of thought while watching the episode. It wasn't until I sat back and thought about it that I realized your exact point. But bless you for checking out the raw notes. I generally assume no one will be interested. I apologize for the many typos found there :) if I've never mentioned it, I really look forward to your comments on these reviews. You're always insightful.

Billie - SUCH a good choice. I wonder if it was always the plan or a stroke of inspiration.

TJ said...

I don't share your guys love for these episodes. I've been struggling with the Legends for a while now. I just think that this trying-to-be-funny-style that's been happening for quite a while now is just not for me. Maybe I should just give up on this show...

Mikey Heinrich said...

TJ - I get it. I was a huge fan of Justice League International back in the day when they switched it up to be more comedy and struggled with the exact same thing. I'm loving the current direction, but I get that it's not to everybody's taste.