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Legends of Tomorrow: Deus Ex Latrina

"Are you ready to save the timeline from the Legends, Captain?"

This is an episode almost entirely about Bishop. And it was pretty great.

Good day to buy that lottery ticket.

Actually, I'm going to revise that. It wasn't pretty great, it was really great. Barring a couple of structural issues, about which we'll talk in a bit, this was an excellent episode. An excellent episode about Bishop. I'm having difficulty processing that.

Now, it must needs be observed that there has rarely been as swift and comprehensive a character-salvaging retcon as Bishop gets in this episode. Apparently the reason that the older version of Bishop was such a lazy stack of hipster stereotypes? Totally a wonky robot the whole time. His plans were incoherent and kept changing? Wonky robot. Backstory didn't make any sense? Wonky robot. Actually a series of clones so clearly completely biological to the point where a large part of his plan only worked because of his DNA? Clone of a wonky robot.

And that sort of thing absolutely shouldn't work, as telling us this retroactively doesn't magically make it so those episodes were any less irritating to watch. And yet. And yet, and yet, and yet.

I'm totally fine with it.

Maybe I'm just desperate for any reason to forgive the show for season six, but when they got to the 'wonky robot' explanation of his past behavior, that, coupled with some really solid work in this one by Raffi Barsoumian, had me basically nodding and saying 'Huh. OK. We're cool then.'

So what we have here is a riff on the old ploy of 'telling the exact same story of what's happened this season, but from a different character's perspective so that we can learn about things that were going on behind the scenes and change the way we understand what happened.' This is a pretty old saw, but this episode had a twist on it that I've never seen before. I've never before come across a case where the 'big reveal' was exactly what we expected it would be, but it was just so well told that it became good, actually.

By which I mean, in last episode's review I lamented that what was happening was interesting, but was let down by the fact that ultimately the answer was going to turn out to be fucking Bishop. And in this episode they reveal that yes, it was fucking Bishop. But wait, there's a whole interesting and unexpected dynamic between him and Evil Alternative Gideon (hereafter referred to as EAG) that makes that reveal so much better than it has any right to be.

Look, I get why this all seemed like a good idea in the planning stage. They were going to have to shoot two seasons more or less back to back. Having one villain for both seasons means that you have one less cast member to vet through COVID precautions. Hiring the husband of one of your regulars, whom you would already have to have factored into your COVID plan, is just gravy. And, making lemonade out of lemons to mix food metaphors, it seems to have inspired the basic story concept that in season six we meet the older version of that villain. Then we go grab the younger version for that season's finale to help defeat the older version. Then in season seven we explore how having done that transforms him into the evil version we met in the first place.

If that was the initial idea, it's freakin' great. You justify using the same actor for two seasons, plus you get to tell a twisty-timey story with two versions of the same guy, which allows you to explore the idea of the Legends' actions having consequences which fall back on them. That could have been fantastic.

Unfortunately, the 'older, evil' version of the character that we met first was so bad, in so many ways, so endlessly complained about by me in my reviews of last season, that by the time we get to step two of the plan all we as viewers can do is recoil, thinking 'I could not care less how he became like that. I would like very much to just not spend any more time with that character. Could I not, as a viewer, simply stab myself repeatedly in the thigh with a fork and skip this plotline?'

And that sort of thinking is why it is so impressive that Bishop's journey in this episode so enjoyable. The gradual shift in the power dynamic between him and EAG could not have been handled better. By the time Bishop even notices that the shift is happening he's already completely trapped and powerless on his self-made Waverider. And it's worth noting here that Raffi Barsoumian proves several times during this episode that he was never the problem. He finds ways to make the earlier version of Bishop likeable, and sprinkles just enough moments of foreshadowing his older self's behavior that you totally buy this as the next step on his journey to becoming the asshole we met last season.

So, Bishop's escaped from the Alt-Waverider and EAG. He's hooked up with the Legends for at least the next episode, if not longer. Please, don't be longer. Does this mean that Evil Alternate Gideon will be the primary antagonist for the rest of the season? Will the Legends end up taking over this new ship as opposed to somehow un-destroying the original version? Time will tell, I suppose.

In other developments, Gwyn Davies continues to be just wonderful. The slow burn reveal of his relationship with Alan, and his guilt at Alan's death while they were on a mission together is very carefully salted with an unspoken sense of guilt at experiencing same sex attraction. He claims that he deserves to fail for his sin of not saving his friend and his platoon, but the thought of 'I deserve this punishment for being gay' is artfully expressed just below the surface. Matt Ryan is blossoming under the opportunity to play a different character for the same audience, and I am loving it.

The only real flaw in this one, and I can see how they ended up with it, is the structure of the Chernobyl reveal. We spend the first third of the episode believing Gary when he claims that they're in prehistoric times. Then we get the reveal of a radiation sign, indicating that this isn't the case. We, the viewers get that info, the characters do not. It's not until two-thirds of the run time that Gwyn, Zari 1.0, and Behrad encounter the Russian troops and learn the truth about where and when they are.

This, in and of itself, isn't terrible structure. If the time, place, and imminent event were a little less significant that would have flowed beautifully. The problem comes when they try to also spin this into the standard 'new member of the team does the emotionally correct but logistically wrong thing and totally jacks up history' plotline, and they just do not have enough runtime left in the episode to properly deal with it. Announcing the disaster and Chernobyl and saving a whole lot of otherwise dead people would have an insane effect on the timeline – clearly enough to alert the Alt-Waverider and EAG.

And yet they don't deal with the consequences of that at all, beyond Sara and Ava being momentarily disapproving. It's too big a beat to fit into the space this episode's plot has for it, and it feels awkward as a result. It doesn't ruin the episode, by any means, but it does make me wish someone had looked at the script and said, 'You know what? We don't have time to do that justice. Let's go to Chernobyl another time when we can really dig into it.'


Everybody remember where we parked:

Hooray, this section is back! Despite the fact that they're still using the very period-specific 1925 title sequence, we've started moving around in time again.

Bishop and assistant/time mistress Ava begin in Vancouver 2214, where Bishop has managed to build an exact replica of the Waverider from blueprints in the copy of Gideon's factory reset hard drive that he acquired in the 100th episode. The pedant in me needs to mention that blueprints and plans are actually very different things, but everybody uses them interchangeably, so I'm not going to make a thing of it here.

The Legends, meanwhile, have arrived at what we spend most of the episode believing to be the incredibly muddy umbrella term of 'the Prehistoric,' but in reality we're on April 26, 1986, i.e. the day of the Chernobyl disaster. Behrad must have been a huge fan of the HBO miniseries, because I lived through it happening, and couldn't have told you the date if you had a gun to my head.

Bishop, Time Mistress Ava, and EAG meanwhile plot-hop their way through 1925, from Odessa, Texas to Chicago, during which time we see EAG masterminding the android duplicates we've been seeing all season.


Quotes:

Ava: "Waverider. Are you married to that name, or can we still pitch on it?"

Sara: "Yeah, let’s go stab something."

Gideon: "I’m sorry Ava, I’m afraid I can’t do that."

Gwyn: "Talk? What do you want to talk about, then?"
Zari: "...About what happened to you... Oh right, you’re from the olden times."
You know, Zari's actually being incredibly understanding here about Gwyn coming from a time before we talked about our feelings.

Astra: "That was a phenomenal scream. Trust me, I know. I’ve caused a lot of them."

Gideon: "You’ve been living as a human for quite a while now. So you must have so many wonderful experiences."
Gary: "Yah. But there are so many more things I’d do if we weren’t so busy saving the world."
Gideon: "Like what else? Would you swim in the ocean?"
Gary: "Oh, as soon as I get the chance."
Gideon: "Mm. Would you skydive?"
Gary: "No. I’m... uh... afraid of heights."
Gideon: "Would you like to have sexual intercourse with me?"
Gary: "..."

Bishop: "Tell me I don’t become a bad guy."


Bits and Pieces:

-- Holy crap, they sold me on the idea of Gary and Gideon as a couple. They both just have such a wonderful sense of childlike innocence; outsiders finding themselves in possession of human bodies and gleefully exploring the possibilities, without any sense of internalized shame. I kind of love them together. How the hell did that happen?

-- Sara and Spooner hanging out as hunting buddies; has anything ever felt more 'right' on this show?

-- How does one find someone who loves them the way Gwyn describes loving Alan? Asking for a friend.

-- They do a phenomenal job selling the sinister undertones of EAG gradually taking control. So well done.

-- Even the episode is making fun of how stupid Bishop's motivations were in the previous season. Nicely undercut by using that moment to have Bishop begin to understand that he was the problem, not the Legends.

-- Matt Ryan and Tala Ashe still have instantly riveting chemistry, to the extent that you completely forget that they were both playing totally different characters the last time they were together.

-- Olivia Swann might be the only person on the planet who can make a relaxed pantsuit sexy. Also, her characterization as Astra has come a million light years from where she started, and I don't think she's getting enough credit for how much she's made that character work. It's easy to overlook when you're just thinking about how great she looks in the outfits.

-- I love how mature Zari and Nate are being about giving him time to think about his decision to join her in the totem. She's checking in with him but not pressuring. He's giving himself enough time for self care so that he can process the choice, AND clearly and compassionately establishing boundaries with his friends in order to give himself the space to do so. God, this show does adulting so, so well. I hope they aren't writing Nate out.

-- It's a delightful and unexpected point of bonding for Zari and Gwyn that they both lost someone they love, who had been corrupted by war, and were willing to move heaven and Earth to get them back. Wonderful character work.

-- They've finally clarified, the glasses fully turn Gary into a human body. It's not just an illusion or a morphic field or something.

-- Amy Louise Pemberton continues to just ooze joy with every movement. Turning her human might be the best thing the show has done, ever.

-- For quite some time I'd mis-read the episode title as 'Deus Ex Latina', and was thus a little confused why Spooner wasn't a bigger part of the plot.

-- The calendar in Chernobyl had 'April' written in English.


They made a fantastic episode, plotted around Bishop. I know I keep dwelling on it, but it just seems so unlikely. How on Earth did we get here?

Five out of five wonky robots. I don't even care about the minor structural issues, this episode is a freakin' miracle.

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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ava : It's alive !!!Nice shoutout to all the Frankenstein movies.

Evil Gideon : I'm Sorry Ava, I'm afraid I can't do this....Beautiful shoutout to 2001.

Josie Kafka said...

I'm so happy you enjoyed this as much as I did, Mikey, since I was actually thinking of emailing you a condolence card or something once I saw how much of this episode focused on Bishop.

How does one find someone who loves them the way Gwyn describes loving Alan? Asking for a friend.

I hear that all the cool people are on the Tikkety-Tok these days. Maybe your friend should do that!

percysowner said...

I saw this review after watching the midseason finale, so I'm going to hold most of my comments for the review of that.

I did like that they clarified that the glasses turn Gary completely human, they are at least trying to take care of the whole demon unicorn ate his nipple storyline, so good for them. I also like Gary and Gideon. I guess he doesn't always want someone who totally dominates him.

I also think the beginning of the redemption arc for Bishop was well handled. He was right that they DID kidnap him, use him for his brain, let him see himself die and then set him back into the timeline that would end in his horrible death. He had a right to be angry, although he was wrong about them being the bad guys.

Anyway, I'll have more to say next week.

Billie Doux said...

"Deus ex Latrina" might be my favorite episode title of anything, ever. Or at least it's the very best toilet-coming-from-the-sky title ever.

Gideon as Hal. Wow. "I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that" is something I say a lot. :)