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Legends of Tomorrow: The Fixed Point

"We’ve got something those hotshots don’t have, and that’s experience. Experience at failing."

Legends of Tomorrow sets up its season seven endgame and gives us one of the best episodes they've ever had. Loved this one.

Following on the final moment from the previous episode, we begin with what appears to be a jump into their personal future in which we see Sara preventing the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Only to have that moment freeze frame on us just as it's about to reach its denouement. This is a pretty standard way to set up that convention that genre shows love to do in which they show us the 'shocking ending' of the story right at the top, and then just back to where the story really begins, leaving us to pleasurably wonder how exactly we're going to get to that moment.

Well, usually it's pleasurable to wonder. Sometimes it can be tedious. Look, nothing works every time.

But this is just the first of the rug pulls that this episode has in store, since when we flash back to the Legends discussing whether averting WWI is a good idea, we're invited to consider that the whole opening sequence was just a theoretical imagining on Sara's part about what preventing the assassination might look like. Which means that we're instead left to wonder whether the cold open assassination-prevention was really a flash forward to what will happen or not. Which again is covering up what that opening sequence is actually doing. Which is seeding the idea of the assassination-preventions being repeatable, and more importantly, pause-able. Which is of course the entire crux of the final series of rug pulls at the episode's climax.

That whole opening sequence is just such a clever usage of viewer expectations based on established tropes. It gets you in precisely the right mindset for the ridiculous series of twists and revelations to come for the rest of the episode. This one never fails to zag when it's previously implied that it was thinking about zigging, should the occasion arise.

It's probably worth mentioning at this point that the Legends' plan to lure the Evil Waverider crew in is uncharacteristically solid. They'll cause such an enormous break in history that the evil versions of them will have no choice but to show up and do the actual heavy lifting of fixing the damage, during which time our Legends can hijack the Alt-Waverider. That's a significantly more solid plan than they go with at least 97% of the time.

And the first rug pull happens almost immediately, when their first attempt to drug the assassins is interrupted by a sinister seeming man who somehow knows what they're up to. That could easily have been the hook for an entire episode itself, but no, it turns out he's super friendly and is just here to explain what the actual premise of this week's story will be. And provide drinks.

Plot exposition that provides cocktails. That's just magical. At no point in any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation did anyone ever open with 'Captain Picard, we're experiencing sub-space interference from that strange cloud floating in space. And also, please enjoy this slippery nipple shot.' Although now that's all I can picture.

I love the entire premise that they build this story around. The mysterious Proprietor knows that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand is a 'Fixed Point' in time. Let's acknowledge that they lifted that term wholesale from modern Doctor Who, but they get away with it by explaining it more clearly and concisely than Doctor Who usually bothers to do, so fair on them. He also knows that this fixed point is basically irresistible to time travelers seeking to alter history for one reason or another. Or just for funsies, it appears, in a couple of cases.

Added to this, he knows that capital 'T' Time inevitably kills anyone who attempts to change the assassination.

So, what does he do with this information? He shrugs and opens a bar for the aforementioned time meddlers to hang out in while they take turns attempting to change the fixed point. He doesn't try to stop them. He doesn't attempt to convince them to give up their attempt. He just forms an orderly queue and provides full bar service for them while they wait in it. This might be the most fantastic use of time travel ever.

This of course leads to the delightful rug pull that Sara takes her turn and fails. Exactly like we were told she would. Now, I'd actually forgotten that she was invulnerable these days, so I was a little nervous about her making the attempt. And while it's true that her invulnerability did take away the potential tension of the situation, it also gave us that absolutely fantastic montage of her repeated, failed attempts to stop the assassination, and those were just priceless. Great music cues there really helped sell the slapstick of the entire bit. Have we seen 'montage of someone dying repeatedly in comedic ways while trying to accomplish something, and getting a little further each time as they come up with more and more ridiculous workarounds'? Because it felt familiar, and I can't quite place it. Regardless, that entire sequence was gold. Both Sara and Caity Lotz, as Gary observes, do indeed have impeccable comic timing.

Which of course leads to the next unexpected twist that someone is actually stopping time and causing everyone who attempts to change the fixed point to fail. And it was wonderful how masterfully they segued into that reveal from some truly wonderful character work, about which we'll talk in a moment. The talk of 'preferred types' led seamlessly into the reveal of the man in the top hat in a way that's hard to pull off when scripting.

And while the conveniently manageable 'time stoppage disrupter gizmo' is a bit of a rabbit out of the hat, the way that it led to the reveal of Thawne – itself easily the best shock reveal that the show has managed in years – made it not matter in the slightest. You can magically pull as many magic wand plot work-arounds out of whatever orifices you choose if it leads to plot reveals this surprising and interesting.

I've never been a huge fan of the Matt Letscher version of Thawne, if I'm being honest. I don't dislike him particularly; I've just never found him to be that compelling. Well, that's all changed now. In that one scene between him and Sara while they make the adult decision to just stop the pointless fighting and actually sit down over drinks and talk things through, he's a revelation. He's charming. He's a little self-effacing. He's capable of making a little joke here and there at the absurdity of the situation. Matt Letscher is riveting in that scene. And he delivers the final rug pull – he lets Sara go ahead and 'prevent the assassination,' in reality just delaying it 40 minutes in order to fake out Evil Gideon and her team. All of that setup in the final minutes for the next episode is handled so expertly, so deftly, and with such precision, that I almost don't want to watch the next episode for a while so that I can savor the anticipation of everything they've set up.

But let's talk about what everyone's probably expecting me to talk about, shall we. We're all adults here. It's time to discuss...


Sexuality: Strong, and Warm, and Wild, and Free.

Look, if Ava can quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, I feel empowered to throw a little Billy Bragg in here.

It's interesting to me that we have here not just one, but two side plots in which two characters from vastly different decades spend a lot of time with the character from further forward in time reassuring the one from an earlier period about their sexuality. They handled the discussions 100% correctly in both cases and showed a lot of sensitivity and nuance that most shows would have actively avoided. Zari's immediate gear shift from asking Spooner about what she likes in guys to what she likes in girls was fantastic. She gave the updated information exactly as much importance as it deserved, which is to say none. But then she followed up with her immediate acceptance and support of asexuality as another perfectly valid option, and it was just the best thing ever.

Look, I'm not asexual myself, and so I don't really feel empowered to speak on behalf of the asexual community. But I do know that asexuals get almost zero representation in film and television, and I do know how good that feels to get when you're used to it just not existing. I also thought they did a great job of having Zari be the mouthpiece to explain to both Spooner and the viewers at home a little starter pack of  'things to understand about asexuality' and that that starter pack began with 'asexual does not in any way mean broken.' I liked that a lot.

The other thing that they handled so much better than broadcast television tends to do is the level of respect they gave to Gwyn's point of view. It would be very easy for them to have presented that in the light of 'Look how stupid viewpoints about homosexuality and religion were back in the 1920s.' In a way, that's what we expect. But at no point in the conversation did they ever treat Gwyn's belief with anything less than absolute respect and consideration. Someone in Gwyn's position from Gwyn's time would almost certainly have felt exactly as Gwyn does here, and they resist the obvious course of having the 'enlightened woman from the future "fix" the poor ignorant guy from the past.'

Both of those plotlines – several million out of ten for how well they were handled.

Everybody remember where we parked:

June 28th, 1914, Sarajevo. Repeatedly. And it says something about the quality of this episode that never once did I stop to wonder how exactly the time mechanics of repeating that same morning over and over again but with different people doing different things could possibly work. I mean, wouldn't they just all be there doing all the things simultaneously, as opposed to the day being basically a first person shooter with a reset button?

But again, I couldn't care less. The story was too good for that kind of thing to matter.


Quotes:

The Proprietor: "You clearly don’t belong here."
Nate and Sara simultaneously: "We’re on our Honeymoon / We’re backpackers."
Sara and Nate simultaneously: "What he said / What she said."
Nate: "We really should be better at this by now."

Gary: "Astra said it should change back soon."
Gwyn: "Well, I’ll just assume that that makes sense then."
Ava: "No, that makes absolutely no sense. What happened with the Archduke?"
Gary: "Oh, we’re still waiting our turn in a sort of time travel Cheers meets Thunderdome."

Gideon: "All these years and I never even knew the fixed point had a bar."

Zari: "Wait... I can talk about people I don’t like literally all day."
Spooner: "Right?"

Spooner: "What about you, Z? Besides broody wizards, what’s your type?"

Everyone: "Take a chance on Sara Lance!"


Bits and Pieces:

-- The only thing even approaching a flaw in this episode – they didn't really establish the 'ticket' system clearly enough for them being out of tickets to feel like an earned obstacle. But then, even that provided the charming and unexpected redemption of the mean kids, so that's fine. And good on Nate for being supportive of their therapy journey.

-- How good is Matt Ryan? I mean, honestly, I literally never think of John Constantine when he's playing Gwyn, and I would have thought that that was impossible. And his little moment of excited curiosity regarding what exactly a 'Thunderdome' might be was adorable.

-- The gag reveal that only Gary could understand what the mean alien kid was saying was admirably subtle and underplayed. Maisie Richardson-Sellers directed this episode, and she totally crushed it. I hope they bring her back lots.

-- Astra and Behrad have leapt a little quickly to the dewy-eyed cutesy stage of new couples, but it totally paid off in the way it forced Spooner and Zari to spend some one-on-one time.

-- Speaking of, in a smash/marry/kill (they cleaned up the name of the game a bit for broadcast television) involving Nate/Gwyn/Gary the correct answer is obviously smash Nate, marry Gwyn, and kill Gary. Understandably, Zari dodges involving Behrad in the discussion.

-- The whole plot point about morphing the time machine into a cassette tape so they could bring it with them was curiously pointless. Was there an earlier draft of the script where that paid off somehow, I wonder?

-- In that they only identified him as 'The Proprietor,' I wonder if we're going to get some kind of twist reveal regarding who he actually is. The obvious twist would be that he's one of the Legends from their own personal future, but that doesn't seem to be the case as he's surprised by events as they unfold here. Maybe there won't be a big reveal and he just doesn't have a name. That has, after all, worked out pretty well for at least one other noted time traveler.

-- Great setup for the next episode. Sara's agreed to take over Thawne's role protecting the fixed point if their plan goes south. And come on, we all know their plan is going to go south in some way.

-- It was really well devised the way that Spooner and Zari's awkwardness totally stemmed from each of them assuming that the other one didn't like them, and not that there was any kind of dislike or hostility. They both even very politely tried to open the conversation with topics that they knew the other one liked. Makeup and guns, respectively.

-- When Nate and Sara were first brought to The Fixed Point, they got there by literally going through the looking glass. Nice touch.


So much fun, so many good jokes, sight gags, plot reveals, and setups for events to come. This one just had it all working on all cylinders.

Five out of five existential crises at the concept of Time being a literal figure that can take direct causal action. Yikes.

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.

2 comments:

  1. A very enjoyable episode, for all the reasons you said. They're doing so much better this season, aren't they?

    ReplyDelete
  2. SO much better. Season 6 and season 7 were just night and day. It's so odd, considering how little time elapsed between them

    ReplyDelete

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