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Legends of Tomorrow: Speakeasy Does It

"Is this a test? I’m meant to be playing the quiet game."

With the big 100th episode celebration in the rear view mirror, we now return to 1925, already in progress.

The pieces of this season's story arc are really starting to pull together in what feels like an interesting and organic way. I was initially confused at the decision to split up the team yet again in the season opener, with Astra and Spooner staying behind in Texas and Zari retreating to her new pocket dimension for post breakup self care. But now it's all making sense, from a structural standpoint. The main thrust of the story is that they need to get out of 1925. The only lead they have is a scientist who they know to be in on the origins of time travel, so they go to find him in the hopes that he can help. All well and good.

But, running parallel to that, we need to have a separate faction of the team who isn't with the main group so that they can discover that meeting the aforementioned scientist will end in disaster, and is a really bad plan. So they now have to chase after the first group in the hopes of catching up to them in time to stop them from accomplishing their stated goal of meeting him.

Zari, it turns out, was just left behind in the extra-dimensional mansion to establish that the key will work on any door, anywhere, to open into the mansion. Which means that not everybody has to be present for the actual traveling; most of the team could quite comfortably hang in the mansion and just come out when whoever draws the short straw reaches their destination and finds a convenient door to let them out. Which is indeed the travel plan they end up going with at the end of this episode. So Zari is firmly back with Team 'Scientist-Yay.'

Astra and Spooner, who we'll call Team 'Scientist-No,God,No,You'llDestroyUsAll,' were held back in Texas for two very good reasons. One, so that they could receive information the other team doesn't have, i.e. that reaching the scientist is bad, actually. And two, in order to turn Gideon into a human body and be her chaperones/guardians as she learns about how to be a human being.

This is a really solid structure to hang a season on. One team heading to achieve a goal, the other trying to catch up and stop them based on new information. Each team knows one vital fact that the other doesn't: that J. Edgar Hoover is an infinite series of robots, and that reaching the scientist will result in disaster, respectively. Let the hi-jinx ensue. That's a great structure for a season long arc. It's clean enough to easily grasp, but leaves enough open space for random adventure along the way so that it can entertainingly take its time playing out.

It's worth noting that this structure is only possible because of the way they've chosen to deliberately strip the Legends of all of their tools and crutches. No communicators to give one another the heads up, no time couriers to conveniently shorten the journey, no flash-bulb things to make the locals forget strange events and avoid having to deal with the consequences. Not only does taking all of those things away from the Legends allow them to tell one long story in a radically different way, it also is exactly the breath of fresh air that the show needed. Even if I had liked season six, which for the record wasn't all bad, it can't be denied that they'd fallen into a definite pattern. A group of 'INSERT CONCEPT' have been released all through time. We'll need to clean them up at a rate of roughly one per episode for the first two thirds of the season before pivoting to a larger threat.

Not to say that that formula didn't work. It worked really well, four out of six times. It's just that this season's totally different approach to telling the story is really, really refreshing. It's making the show feel new and unpredictable again. Once your show reaches season seven, that's kind of an important goal to achieve.


So, still rolling in the positive vibes for this season, how's this episode more specifically? Pretty good, actually. Our team – both factions of it in turn – spend some quality time in 1925 Chicago, taking in the night life and recoiling from the casual racism of the era, as you do.

One unexpected side effect of this episode was that it really made me notice for the first time how much the lineup of the team has changed. In the original lineup, six out of ten Legends were white men. One was a black man, two were women; one of color and one not, and one was a disembodied computer voice.

Currently, out of nine Legends (Matt Ryan's Gwyn Davies hasn't showed up yet) there are three men, only one of which is considered 'white enough by the standards of 1925.'  That's an impressive improvement in inclusion, and I don't know that the series gets enough credit for it. And that's before you factor in that the leader of the team is unashamedly bisexual and in the healthiest relationship on television with her wife. See, these are the reasons that no amount of Bishop could ever really destroy my love for the series. There's just too much good representation, and they almost never make a thing out of drawing attention to it.

This episode is one of the exceptions when they do, and it's a good look for them. Zari lays it out pretty starkly; this is a time and place specifically for wealthy, white men. And even Nate is only two out of those three.

Having laid out the issue of sexism and classism, the A-squad Legends happen upon one of the rare speakeasys that don't have discrimination or segregation on the menu. There's even a man in women's clothing flirting with another gentleman in the background, so clearly they don't draw the line at just ignoring race, class, and gender morays.

Sure, it's a little bit of an eye-roller coincidence that Astra, Spooner and Gideon should happen to join forces with the all-girl band fronted by the girlfriend of the mobster who threatens that exact same speakeasy the rest of the team just happens to find, despite being nowhere near one another. But it's all told so well, and is for the most part so much fun, that I find it hard to judge the episode for it.

Besides, Astra and Co. joining the Masqueradies has just enough deliberate echo of Some Like it Hot that I'm actually required by law to enjoy it. And that's a federal law, that's not just a local thing.

Where it stops being fun, of course, is when it starts to address the obvious intimidation and domestic abuse in Maude and Ross' relationship. This portion of the narrative is very well observed and respectfully handled. Staying with an abuser because you're afraid of what they'll do to the people you leave behind should you escape is a very real thing, I can speak from personal experience. It was also a good choice to express the dilemma of if it's advisable or even possible to help victims of domestic abuse from the outside perspective through Astra and Spooner. Again, very sensitively handled and they wisely resisted the urge to make a cut and dry didactic point on the subject.


Quotes:

Astra: "Steps? Who died and made you Ava?"

Astra: "OK, Captain Sharpe."
Gideon: "That’s Spooner Cruz."

Susie: "Men don’t look out, they look at. If you know what I mean."
Gideon: "You’re referring to the rampant commodification of females by males that is the societal norm in this decade."

Astra: "Where I’m from, managers and producers are dime a dozen. I learned from Phil Specter himself."

Gary: "Zari’s really wearing the pants on this mission. I think I like it."
Nate: "Ghhhhggh."

Spooner: "Maude chose this. This is her life. She said so."
Astra: "Nobody chooses this. They find themselves too deep and they have to grab on to whatever they can to keep from drowning. That is not a choice. That is survival, Spooner."

Nate: "You get off on being bossed around, you little sicko."
Gary: "You’re just figuring this out now?"

Nate: "I’m worried about you, Gare."
Gary: "I’m worried about you too, but I don’t go around shaming your pathology, do I?"

Gideon: "Gals help gals. You jerk."


Bits and Pieces:

-- They managed to justify having Behrad play guitar and Gideon sing again in the same episode, although sadly not at the same time. I say this every time, but Shayan Sobhian can clearly really play the guitar quite well, and we can all see how well Amy Louise Pemberton can sing. I will never complain about them working either of these into a story.

-- It was clever scripting the way they showed Zari experiencing racism first hand right before meeting Eddie, to underscore why she understands how important having these safe spaces for marginalized people is.

-- Nate psychoanalytically bullying Gary kind of came out of nowhere. They played it like Nate really believed he was just joking around/teasing, but there was definite cruelty buried in there, and good on Gary for calling him out on it.

-- Astra's line 'In front of your boyfriend you just disappeared' broke my heart. Such a well observed comment.

-- It was a cute detail that Astra knew and had tortured Ross Bottoni in her past but in his future.

-- Astra left Hell in mid 2019, whereas Phil Spector died in January 2021. Which means that if she did indeed learn from him, it wasn't while he was in Hell.

-- ALP is doing such a delightful job just showing Gideon react to everyday things in the cutest way.

-- It's buried a little in the mix, and I suspect was a bigger deal in an earlier draft, but there's a definite discussion being had about documenting an event versus allowing yourself to just be in the moment as it happens going on between Zari and Eddie.

-- It was a genius plan turning the mansion into a hot club and using the Bullet Blondes' notoriety to promote it.

-- Ava and Sara's dance number was so very much the Hot Honey Rag from the end of Chicago.

-- Zari can now switch between Zaris by pressing her totem. I really like that.

-- I did not however like the implication that Gary is starting to have feelings for Zari 2.0. Can we just let her be happy being single for a little while?

-- What a lovely use of the infinitely replicating bottle of whiskey.


This was a really solid episode in which they were able to start taking advantage of the new format by introducing side quests for the Legends while they make their way to New York. Bring on the next installment.

Four out of five bobbed wigs.

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.

9 comments:

  1. The 2 musical numbers combining at the end was a pure delight.....can we say it was a piece of anthology?. I sure vote yes.

    Amy LP is simplt amazing.

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  2. I'm really enjoying this season arc, for all the reasons you pointed out, Mikey. It's a good change, and a breath of fresh air. And I love the pocket dimension mansion, and never expected they would use it the way they did in this episode.

    And I had the exact same thought about how the cast has changed, because of the racist stuff.

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  3. I never saw the use of the pocket dimension mansion coming either. Really clever idea.

    I just keep wondering how on Earth I never noticed how much better the representation on this show had gotten. Is it my own place of privilege that allowed me to just not notice how non-diverse the original lineup was, or did the show just do a really, really good job of doing the work and not making a presentation of it? Probably both.

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  4. Great review as always, Mikey! These are the first ones I flock to as I slowly catch up after having fallen behind last season. I especially enjoy the discussion of structure and overarching plot.

    Small addendum regarding the season 1 lineup, I think Snart is likely written as white, but Wentworth Miller himself is multiracial, with African-American heritage on his father's side and Lebanese heritage on his mother's. I don't think this conflicts with the point you're making, I ADORE the diversity of the current lineup (with some frustration over Mona's reception a few seasons ago, being Asian American myself), I just thought it was interesting to note.

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  5. (And it's entirely possible you already knew that, in which case I apologize for overexplaining!)

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  6. Hey Robin,

    I did not know that, that's very cool! Yeah, I'd agree, the show seems to have generally presented him as white in that same way that Keanu Reeves usually is.

    I'm also hard core team Mona. They could have done so much with the Werewolf who doesn't mind being a werewolf vibe, and I'm a huge fan of the actress since her appearances on Santa Clarita Diet.

    Thank you so much for the lovely compliment, that really means a lot to me. :)

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    Replies
    1. One of my favorite Mona moments is in Legends of To-Meow-Meow where she wholeheartedly volunteers to be turned into a cat, hoping to become a fluffy calico. So much character encapsulated in one little interaction.

      Also, you may have already seen this, but I thought you would enjoy this snippet from Amy Louise Pemberton's Instagram of her recording "Future Favorite" for this episode: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CWGkDAAjoSw/?utm_medium=copy_link

      (Good lord, she's so incredibly talented, we don't deserve her.)

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  7. OH MY GOD HOW AM I NOT FOLLOWING AMY LOUISE PEMBERTON ON INSTAGRAM??

    Thank you for bringing this into my life, I had not seen it. Hard Yes, she is so much better than we deserve.

    ReplyDelete

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