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Legends of Tomorrow: Knocked Down, Knocked Up

"I hope you don’t have any plans for the near future."

Yeah... that's kind of the problem, isn't it?

Legends of Tomorrow has reached its finale. Maybe season. Maybe series. Whichever one it turns out to be makes a huge difference regarding how I feel about this episode.

At the time of writing, no announcement has been made as to Legends of Tomorrow getting renewed for an eighth season. This might be all the Legends we ever get. And if it is, I'll do my best to be grateful that we got four amazing seasons, two pretty good seasons, and one season with Bishop in it. But then, even that one had a nice Agatha Christie pastiche, so I'll try to focus on remembering the good times.

My point is, if this is the end, we had a good run and I've enjoyed the ride. That doesn't mean I don't have a lot of feelings about how the uncertainty affects the enjoyment of this episode. I just wanted to lay claim to the emotional high ground before I start nit picking.

While I untangle my feelings about this it might be useful to talk about a bunch of other, unrelated shows to put things in context.

For anyone unaware, the show Doctor Who has been running for a few years at this point. While the main character remains the same since 1963, albeit periodically reset into an entirely new actor and personality, the supporting cast – or 'companions,' to use the traditional parlance – have come and gone quite a bit over the years. Which means that, over time, we've had a hell of a lot of goodbye scenes.

That's one of the things that frequently makes Legends remind me of Doctor Who. So much so that I feel obligated to put in a gratuitous plug for a previous article in which I rated the departure scenes of the prior Legends. And like those Legends, the various Doctor Who companion departures have varied wildly in quality and impact.

Obviously, I'm working up to trying to talk about Nate.

I don't think I'd ever let myself seriously believe that Nate might leave at the end of the season, even though in hindsight they've clearly been leading us up to it. As things played out, it worked well enough. They built it up believably. He found out that Sara had lost her invulnerability powers, and so he volunteered to go rescue Alun from combat, which resulted in his losing his powers, which cemented his decision to move on from the hero business and into the next phase of his life with Zari in the totem. It's a natural and satisfying resolution to a situation they've been toying with all season long. So why does it feel so perfunctory as it plays out here?

Well, part of the issue is that they spent the first 40 minutes (including commercials) dealing with the season villain arc, about which more later, and so the last twenty minutes, in which this entire sequence of events occurred, felt a lot like plot housekeeping. But looking into it, and longstanding readers will know that I'm not a huge fan of behind-the-scenes information, I came across a really lovely interview with Nick Zano, and it turns out that the scene appears to have been handled the way it was because that's exactly how he wanted his departure to be handled in real life. He appears to have a sort of protestant modesty that makes him uncomfortable with people making a fuss over him, and really just wanted to finish out his contract and move on without a big emotional scene. Which of course failed when the rest of the cast found out he was leaving and made a big emotional scene about how much they were going to miss him.

So, as far as I can tell, Nate's leaving scene in the show is more or less exactly how Nick Zano's leaving announcement went down in real life. A quiet, understated goodbye to a team that he believed to be bigger than himself and in which he was happy to be just one member who'd been part of them for a time and was passing on his spot to someone else. That's adorably humble, and I really respect the production team for honoring his feelings.

But, and it's a big but, that only plays in a satisfying way if this is a season finale. In that case, we all move on as Nate/Nick wanted, remembering him as just one part of a team that continues to change and evolve, and we move on with an exciting new addition to take his place (about whom also we'll talk more later.) If this is a series finale, then this can't help but feel like the show just went out of its way to casually toss away one of its most beloved members like it was no big deal just minutes before the show ended forever, as if he wasn't worth keeping around for that last bit. And even though we all know with 100% certainty that the show would never, ever want to give this impression, that can't help but feel insulting and disrespectful to the character.

So, if it's a season finale, Nate's exit is sweetly understated and works exactly as the actor and show want it to. Despite feeling rushed, I still like it for what it was trying to do. If it's a series finale, it doesn't work at all and I hate it.

Which leads me to Soap. For anyone unfamiliar, Soap was a sitcom from 1977-81, and is easily one of the top ten funniest shows of all time. The setup was that of a daytime American soap opera, mostly played for laughs. Although it could also get quite serious and heartbreaking when it wanted to. Also, it was groundbreaking in its inclusion of an openly gay character who was actually a character and not a walking gay joke, so we should all give it credit for that.

The point here is that at the end of the fourth season one of the main characters, Jessica Tate as played by the always magnificent Katherine Helmond, found herself in South America, about to be killed by firing squad. Yes, the plots in that last year got a little strange. Don't even get me started about Burt and the aliens. And then the show didn't get picked up for a fifth season, which seems to have blindsided the production. We'd never know what happened next.

Putting a pin in that for just a moment, in this episode we spend the first 2/3 of the runtime dealing with the fall and redemption of Gideon. It was handled perfectly, although it would have been nice if it had another episode to really let that plotline breathe. When Gideon, hardened by a couple months of only AI Gideon for company, confronts the Legends in 1916, everything about the confrontation positively crackles. Astra's rejoinder to Gideon about having lost her humanity was in equal parts anger as seeing someone you love doing something so fundamentally wrong and hurt at having been abandoned by someone she considered to be her own daughter for so long with no word of explanation. It's a lovely joining of plot and character motivations, and the scripting was fantastic.

Similarly, the way that they handled Gideon's temptation to abandon her humanity and get upgraded to a robot body with the painful memories removed was just lovely. I don't imagine any of us haven't experienced that moment of believing that you've lost a friend or friends forever through your own stubborn or thoughtless actions, and having Spooner and Astra be the voices of forgiveness to her was played absolutely right. Even Astra's magical reconstruction of the Waverider after AI Gideon blows it up, which could have come across as a bit of a get out of jail free card, was a perfect mirror of her failed attempt to do the same thing back in 'The Bullet Blondes' and is a very satisfactory resolution of her season long arc of trying to step our from the shadow of John Constantine.

But all that is just the first 2/3s of the episode, and there's a lot of cleanup and setup to get through still at that point. I actually really like the revelation of who 'Mike' turns out to be, although I was kicking myself for missing the five million visual clues that they gave us before the big reveal. As mentioned, I avoid production news and so when they finally said his name I was honestly surprised. I know, I know. I shouldn't have been. Rewatching it, they practically beat us over the head with hints, but somehow I was still surprised. And I liked the surprise.

And then the big cliffhanger ending when it's revealed that 'Mike' has betrayed them to some sort of time cops for time crimes, and they're all stood in front of a South American Junta's firing squad. Um, I mean they're all arrested.

You can see where I'm going with this. There's just so much that's left unclear at the end, some of which would be frustrating even if we did know we're going to get another season. Zari gave away her totem to Nate (who took it with him into the totem, however that works). So, does Zari not have powers anymore, like they were implying in the previous episode when she noticed she wasn't wearing the totem in any future pictures? Is Alun a member of the team now? Is Gwyn not going to be a member of the team, as is implied by 'Mike' not knowing him when he recognized everyone else? I hope not, I'd hate to lose Matt Ryan. But then, maybe we just lost everybody. Is Booster Gold going to be taking Nate's place on the team? We just don't know. And it's all so frustrating. Either the production crew really believed that they were getting an eighth season, or they decided to lean way into some sort of power-flex refusal to give any quarter to doubt on the point. Whichever it is, we're back to Jessica Tate territory, and it's not a comfortable place to be.

Which finally leads me to why I brought up Soap in the first place. You see, for the first couple of years Jessica Tate had a devoted butler and friend by the name of Benson, played by the always wonderful Robert Guillaume. Then he got his own spinoff, Benson, and left the show. His goodbye to Jessica on Soap when he left her for it is honestly heartbreaking. The season after Jessica Tate was left in front of the firing squad, Benson was still running. And so, as a resolution to her story, the writers came up with an episode in which Jessica's ghost showed up on Benson's show to reveal that she had indeed been killed and to say goodbye to her dearest friend.

And it was absolutely beautiful. And moving. And I saw it when I was nine, but still think of it more often than I'll even admit.

So. Season finale? We'll pick this back up sometime in the fall. Series finale? Well. Things end. Sometimes things end messily. Most of the time you don't get to say goodbye. Inevitably we all leave things unsaid, and stories unfinished. That's just life. Would I have preferred more closure for these characters that I've been watching and writing about for a good few years now? Absolutely. But tidy closure has never really been this show's thing, and you never know. Sara might just pay a spectral visit to Barry to say goodbye some day in the future.

To paraphrase from Neil Gaiman's Sandman: A Game of You – There is no moral. Except maybe take your goodbyes where you can find them. And that's all.


Everybody remember where we parked:

To begin with, Gary ends up falling through the timeline into 300,000 BC. As far as I can tell with my limited googling, the stage of mankind that we see here is more or less accurate as far as modern anthropology knows.

The Legends, meanwhile, spend about six consecutive Wednesdays getting together for potluck dinner. What six consecutive Wednesdays even means to a group of people existing in different timelines and planes of existence? Your guess is as good as mine.

The bulk of the action takes place in Mametz Wood, France 1916. I don't believe the date is specified, but it's one of those fixed points in which somebody has to live the same day over and over again to clean up any incoming time traveler issues. One fun effect of this is that we're now totally cool with one of our team getting killed and just going to earlier in the day to prevent it. I don't recall if we've ever done that before, but this show does actively discourage you from caring about the logistics of that sort of thing, and I think we should follow that suggestion in this instance.


Quotes:

Astra: "Where’s Gideon? Is she OK?"
Gary: "Which one, the human one or the computer one that tried to murder me?"

Behrad: "I appreciated the positivity."
Zari: "OK, thank you so much, you can both shut up."

Gideon: "The way they all looked at me tonight, with such revulsion... that was unbearable. And I understand their disappointment. I... I set up Gwyn’s death. The man who’s given up everything to help us. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Who am I, Gideon?"

Evil Gideon: "Don’t listen to them. This is the sort of treacly drivel that polluted your mind in the first place."
Spooner: "I can’t believe you’ve been stuck on the ship with this bitch."
Evil Gideon: "We don’t use that word on this ship."

Gideon: "You’re a big blue head, what the hell are you going to do about it."

Sara: "You didn’t kill us!"
Fixer: "Well, you said please."

Nate: "Nice, Mike. Real nice."


Bits and Pieces:

-- I did a little googling to see if mustard gas really would react to steel that way, but I only got so far before I started to worry about ending up on some sort of FBI observation list, so I think it's probably safer to just accept it.

-- Also, I don't think they've ever flat out said, but I'd always sort of assumed that Nate turned completely into Steel, not just grew a Steel exoskeleton. Am I alone here?

-- I'm not a geneticist, but my layman's understanding is that it is scientifically possible to combine DNA from two ova to create a viable human embryo. You just have to go into it know it's going to be a girl. I could be wrong, but I'm sure I read that at some point.

-- I liked the logistics of how the alien DNA allowed Sara's desire to have a child trigger the ability for Ava to impregnate her by giving her DNA in a kiss. That was kind of sweet. I also enjoyed Gary's handwave to Nate about just not worrying about the details.

-- Really wonderful initial premise to have Gary land in a time well before doors existed and having to fashion one himself in order to use the key. I wonder how legit the actual mechanism of the lock had to be to get the key to work. The sound design clearly included the sound of tumblers turning when Gary used the key, so maybe the reason he was with the cavemen so long was that he had to build an actual functioning approximation of a Yale lock.

-- Great sequence of scenes showing human Gideon go from excited about outfits and sympathetic to the aims of the people she was stopping to bitter and jaded. Well done.

-- It really bothers me that this isn't the original Waverider, but one that Bishop made from the specs. Think of all the personal stuff they lost.

-- My knowledge of Booster Gold comes entirely from Justice League International in the late 80s, in which I remember him being a lot of fun with Blue Beetle. I haven't looked, but I suspect there's the usual corner of the internet upset at the casting of Donald Faison in the role. In this review I've given the issue every second of discussion that it deserves, which is to say zero. I hope we get to see more of him in the part.

-- I'm curious to know if Sara's healing powers are gone forever, or just during pregnancy. They kept saying that the fetus had 'absorbed' them, which would indicate the former. If Zari lost her powers as well, the team is at a serious deficit at the moment. It's pretty much just Astra's magic and whatever convenient thing they want Spooner to be able to do that week, isn't it? There's still Behrad, I suppose.

-- The logic of this being a fixed point that no one ever tries to change because it leads to time travel being possible was really well handled.

-- I'm going to refer to handcuffs as 'aggressive jewelry' from now on.


This season was just wonderful. Such an improvement on last year. Spooner, Astra, and human Gideon feel like they've been core members of the team forever already, Matt Ryan was successfully replaced with a completely different Matt Ryan, and somehow Gary became an awesome character worthy of a lot of fan love.

If this is the end, they went out on a high. I still hope it's not the end, though.

Four out of five goodbyes. I'm saving one so that this won't be the end.

If it is though, it's been an honor being your Legends reviewer these last four or five years, however long it's been. I hope I've been occasionally entertaining and/or insightful. I've truly loved and valued all of your comments. I hope we're back here again soon.

-Mikey

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. Considering this finale was shot before any public knowledge about the possible sale of the CW, I'm pretty sure they were convinced they would get a renewal. The CW has been really good about giving long running shows a chance to wrap story lines by announcing they are renewed for a final season. The big hangup is the potential sale. I expect the CW doesn't want to force a buyer to take on all the series. AFAIK, none of their shows have been renewed. The signed Grant Gustin for Flash season 9, but have not officially renewed it.

    I will miss Nate. At first when they removed his ability to Steel Up, I thought that maybe they were just writing out an expensive special effect. Then I remembered that Nate was has hemophilia and that would make his doing anything physically heroic really dangerous. I did have some trouble with Zari 2.0 giving him her totem, but if they get renewed, maybe they can go into her logic here.

    I think Alun will stick around next season. I spent a lot of the season thinking that although we knew Gwyn loved Alun, we never got any confirmation that Alun loved him back. This episode pretty much confirmed that he does. The fact that "Mike" didn't know either of them gives them a chance to save the team, so I'm okay with that. I can go with Mike being pulled from the timeline before any real time meddling by Gwyn.

    I really liked this season. I'm glad you finally got this up, I kept checking to see if you had. I love your reviews. Thank you for them, they add a lot to the show.

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  2. You always say the kindest things :)
    I think you're completely right on your read of the renewal situation.

    I'd been wondering that about Alun as well. I really hope we get to see more of their relationship

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    1. And now we will never get closer, Legends got cancelled. This one really hurts.

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  3. I have my fingers crossed for a renewal, as I imagine we all do. The producers on record that the episode was written as a season (as opposed to a series) finale.

    What did you think of Gwyn seeing his life-defining moment from a third-person perspective? For anyone who's curious, the mantra he shared with Private Reece is the first three stanzas of "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. We previously heard him speak the last two lines as he prepared to activate his time machine for the first time.

    And yeah, if this really is the end, thank you Mikey for your insights week after week. It's been a genuine joy.

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  4. Mikey, thank you *so* much for reviewing this season and I am also hoping it's not the end because this would have been an unsatisfying ending. This was indeed a much better season than the previous few, and I enjoyed it. For some reason, even though I'm not much of a fantasy fan, I have absolutely loved the magical key to the manor. I would have been fine with them leaving it with dinner together every Wednesday.

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  5. The magic key has been one of the best ideas the show has ever had!

    I should thank you, Billie, for having had the privilege of reviewing this show. And all the others. For anyone who isn't Billie or I, this show is how I ended up writing on DouxReviews back in season two. Billie had posted that the site was looking for someone to take on this show, and I had been a longtime reader. I sent a tentative email asking about taking it on, fully expecting a polite 'Thanks for your interest, but you have literally zero experience reviewing, no internet presence to speak of, and you could stand to lose about ten pounds.' (OK, that last one is entirely from me. Billie would never, ever, say such a thing. It was still true though. Still is :) )

    Instead, Billie took a chance on me almost immediately, and within a week I was reviewing an episode in which Victor Garber breaks out into the banana boat song in the middle of NASA. (Season Two, Moonshot, FWIW)

    Now, five or six shows and a hundred or two reviews later, she's still being incredibly understanding about my chronic tardiness and frequently inexcusably overlong digressions, for which I'll always be eternally grateful.

    Robin, thank you, I was honestly wondering what it was he was reciting. I'll have to check out the complete work! I think the scene with Reece was a really powerful visualization of the concept of finding a way to see yourself from the outside, as other people do, and realizing that you're a better person than you've let yourself believe. It choked me up a little. OK, a lot.

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  6. Mikey, that is so sweet of you, especially since you've been such a find. You make me laugh literally every week, and sometimes twice. I'm very glad you asked if you could review Legends for us. (Imagine virtual hugs here.)

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  7. Mikey, great review!

    We usually congratulate people when they've wrapped a series, but doing so feels like bad vibes for any possible renewal. (I'm holding out hope that Netflix will purchase the show somehow.)

    I liked this episode, although I struggled a bit with Booster Gold, because it was obvious the show expected me to go "Oh! That guy! From the comics!" But I haven't read the comics, so I was just confused.

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  8. Annd Legends is cancelled. Alongside Batwoman. It was a good run though.

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