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Legends of Tomorrow: Rage Against the Machines

"I am going to need a yearlong cleanse after this."

The Legends continue their wacky misadventures in 1914 Sarajevo, and are forced to deal with a nasty case of 'Evil Robot Duplicates.'

Hey, we've all been there.

There's a lot to like in this episode, in which the Legends finally come face to face with their evil robot duplicates and fight to retake their home. Well, a copy of their home. Their 'home-adjacent.'

Unfortunately there are also a few issues here that keep me from loving this one as much as I want to. Why don't we talk about those first, so that we can end on the positives.

The first broad category of issues that bring this episode down a bit can be pooled under the general heading of 'tone.' Specifically, the way the tone occasionally works against itself both within this episode and in relation to the previous one.

Now, there's legitimate room for disagreement regarding how important it is for the tone of a show to remain consistent from one episode to the next. Indeed, one of the great strengths of Legends of Tomorrow is its ability to jump wildly between tones, moods and styles. Not just from one episode to the next but often from one scene to the next. But what makes it feel like a problem this time is the way that we spend the entirety of this episode in the exact same sets the precious episode used. Added to that, we begin with all of the supporting characters from the previous episode, celebrating Sara's victorious run on what was essentially 'Causality Ninja Warrior,' exactly as we left them.

The tone at the end of 'The Fixed Point' was joyous, coming at the conclusion of an episode that was mostly a lighthearted romp with some touching character development. The 'mean kids' had stopped being mean and become pals. The other bar patrons had gone from jeering Sara's attempts to chanting 'Take a chance on Sara Lance!' ad infinitum. They'd become the other patrons at Cheers, for tonal purposes. But then we pick up with this episode and Norm and Cliff are abruptly frog marched out back and put down, Old-Yeller style. It's an abrupt shift that felt jarring to me. And while I feel like a jerk for holding it against this episode, it definitely took me out of things for a bit.

The biggest loss of all this was the unceremonious death of The Proprietor. Last episode he was set up as someone ancient and mysterious who ran a neutral site for time travelers looking to try and fail to stop the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Did he care one way or another about their attempts? It didn't appear so. He just knew how the system worked and set up an enjoyable venue for those who wanted to participate. I liked how unknowable his motivations seemed to be, and I secretly hoped that there would be some twist reveal about who he really was.

But then we open this one with him apparently now just some kind of 'Time Freedom' guy who's not gonna let 'the man' tell him how history is gonna go. Which is just so much less interesting than he was last week. And then he gets immediately killed along with everyone else whose name isn't in the title sequence.

I get it. They had to clear the board of all the non-essential characters to tell the story they wanted to tell this week. The fact that the way things were set up required them to use the same locations except with extras one week and without them the next kind of painted them into this corner. And I'm probably making too big a deal about it anyway, since last week was last week, and this week is a whole new episode.

So let's talk about an example where the episode is fighting against itself that's self contained in this one. I speak of the snapping of Sara Lance's neck. I know part of this is the fact that I keep forgetting that Sara's invulnerable now, but everything about that scene was presented as a shocking moment of horror. The brutality of the actual neck snapping. The use of incidental music. Matt Ryan's performance as the sight of it triggers a panic attack for him. All of that was pulling in the same direction and giving a tone of shocking tragedy. But at the exact same moment we have Evil Robot Nate doing a cheesy Arnold Schwarzenegger impression for laughs and it just completely undermines everything else the scene is trying to do.

The other issue here is that the general tone of the 'Sara's doomed to stay here forever' issue doesn't really match the tone of how it's resolved. It's presented – quite well, I should add – as an inescapable looming doom for most of the episode, but it's resolved in the jokiest possible way with Nate essentially Three Stooge-ing Evil Robot Nate into accidentally taking on the task himself. I don't hate that as a resolution to the problem, but it definitely felt like the weight of the resolution didn't match the weight of the build up, if you follow what I mean by that. And as a result it felt a little bit like a cheat.

One other issue that muddied the waters a bit on this one is the way the script never really clarifies when and how history gets put back on track. We see Thawne send Gavrilo Princip out to play his role in history, then a moment later hear the gunshot and screams, so we as the audience are clear that history seems to have been returned to normal. Although it still wouldn't have been a bad plan for someone to verbally confirm it just for the sake of clarity. Particularly because Sara and others state multiple times later in the episode that they need to put history back on track, which leaves the viewer to think 'Wait, didn't we already do that? Is that still not fixed?'

There's nothing wrong with the audience having information that the characters don't have, but it needs to both be for a reason, and be clear that it's being done intentionally, and neither of those are the case here. And it's such an easy fix, with just one more pass at the script. Surely evil Alt-Gideon would sense that the timeline had been restored. She then could relay that information to the evil Robot Legends, updating their mission from fixing history to killing the Legends. That would actually make a stronger jumping off point for Gwyn's plan to create smaller temporal ruckuses, plus it would be a nice moment for Evil Robot Nate to one-up Sara before snapping her neck. 'You're so stupid, you haven't even noticed that history is already fixed. Fixing time is no longer our mission... this is! (snap)' That would tie in much better with the tone they were going for in that scene, while also providing some plot clarity.

But a lot of the above is a bit nit-picky, and there are certainly greater sins that a show can commit than 'being a bit unclear about a relatively minor plot detail.' What we also get in this one is the absolutely wonderful performance by Matt Ryan as he gets his 'episode that really makes him feel like a member of the team.' His strategizing scenes are wonderful, his growing self confidence is beautifully paced, and his immediate assumption that we put a man on the moon to punish him for something might be one of my favorite jokes the show has ever made.

Other good points – The Astra/Gary/Gideon plot-line was surprisingly touching. It hadn't occurred to me that Astra was technically human Gideon's 'mother' for all intents and purposes, and it was sweet that they used that to further humanize Astra. It was much more effective in that arena than her new relationship with Behrad. Not that I hate her and Behrad together, I just hate that the default method of character development for female characters almost always boils down to who she's dating.

Also, it would be remiss of me to not give this episode points for hitting literally every single trope of 'having evil duplicates lurking around.' Zari got the 'fight with yourself' bit, Behrad got the 'infiltrate the enemy' bit, Spooner got the 'trick them into thinking one of them is really an imposter' bit. All the greatest doppelganger hits were present here, and they were all the funnest possible versions of themselves. The only real criticism I have about the plot breakout on that front is that it left me spending way too long wondering if evil robots should really be subject to diarrhea, and even that is easy enough to head canon away based on how nebulous they've been about exactly how organic the robot duplicates actually are.

So, despite the great length to which I went criticizing this one earlier, it's still a lot of fun, and I can't stay mad at it for any significant length of time.


Everybody remember where we parked:

We're still in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914. Even the Alt-Waverider just hovers in the sky camouflaged instead of leaving for the temporal zone.


Quotes:

Nate: "Man, the ego on me."
Zari: "I mean, he’s clearly overcompensating."
Gary: "No, no, no. He’s really filling out those pants."

Thawne: "I haven’t seen that outfit in ages."

Sara: "Were you programmed to be this annoying, or is that a personal choice?"

Spooner: "Okay, so by aberrations you mean like telling them we put a man on the moon in 1969?"
Gwyn: "Good God, do we? And what was his crime, I wonder?"

Behrad: (pretending to be Evil Robot Behrad) "Yeah. I slaughtered those innocent people. Their relatives are definitely mourning them right now."

Gary: "Just play dumb. It took the Legends years to realize I was an alien."

Zari: "This! Is for making me wear cargo pants!"


Bits and Pieces:

-- Gary is unashamed about checking out Robo-Nate's package, and good for him. Gary's really come a long way toward feeling like a real person ever since he became an alien.

-- The absolute evil of ending this story with human Gideon being apparently murdered, after so much of the story was specifically about Astra worrying that that might happen, cannot be overstated. She better not be dead. And having it be the remains of Evil Robot Astra that did it was just an additional kick in the nether regions.

-- We've ditched the 1925 title sequence again in favor of a very brief title card. Which was a good call.

-- Honestly, I was ready to be done with the Evil Robot Legends long before we were done with them. Particularly Robot Nate. I feel like they were a good one-episode joke that got stretched to two episodes.

-- Did we know that Gwyn had some sort of battlefield medical skills? That seemed like new information.

-- Are there people out there unfamiliar with Big Mouth Billy Bass? The 90s were kind of a long time ago, despite what I try to tell myself. I can't imagine that there weren't at least a few people who would be shocked to learn that those really existed exactly as shown.

-- It amused me more than it should have that they had to explain that the Evil Robot Legends had replaced their toilet.

-- Evil Gary blowing up after swallowing grenade-wielding evil Spooner was a solid sight gag.

-- No one should ever say the words 'Mama Bear Astra.' Say them out loud to yourself now if it's not immediately clear why.

-- Such a good choice that Zari was allowed to finish the fight and save herself rather than having to be rescued by Astra and Gary figuring out which one of them was 'real.' It empowered her while also comically undercutting an expected trope. Lovely.

-- Ava was a bit sidelined here, as Jes Macallan directed this one. And did a lovely job, I might add.

-- I was confused by the 'Delta Key' that Zari needed to use. Another pass at the script could have clarified that as well.

-- Contrary to precedent, I didn't mind at all that Sara kept the secret about being doomed to stay there from the team. It was for less than one episode and they had a lot going on. It felt totally natural that she'd table that one until they had a chance to actually talk about it.


So, a lot of fun, some good plot developments, and a nice conclusion to the 'Legends separated from their timeship' arc, only slightly dinged by some tonal confusion and a little bit of script muddiness. I'll take that any day.

Three and a half SchwarzeNates. Which is what we'll be calling the Evil Robot him from now on.

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.

3 comments:

  1. Legends of Tomorrow returns for the final two episodes of season 7 on the 23rd. At which time reviews will happen much more promptly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I liked how unknowable his motivations seemed to be, and I secretly hoped that there would be some twist reveal about who he really was.

    Yes, me too!

    Spooner: "Okay, so by aberrations you mean like telling them we put a man on the moon in 1969?"
    Gwyn: "Good God, do we? And what was his crime, I wonder?"


    This was my favorite line this episode. Possibly my favorite line in the whole season.

    (My favorite line of the entire show is Snart talking about his strategy: make the plan, execute the plan, watch the plan go off the rails, make a new plan.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mikey, I really enjoyed all of the doppelganger tropes, too, although some of the deaths really rubbed me the wrong way.

    Odd timing -- I just reread Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which is about the moon as a prison colony. Punishment, indeed.

    ReplyDelete

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