This Legends of Tomorrow review contains spoilers.
Legends of Tomorrow, season 1, episode 8.
I know this episode probably rubbed some people the wrong way for a variety of reasons, but I really liked it. In the brief time it’s been on the air, it’s been really subtly progressive: it’s a diverse team where the diversity has been an afterthought, and where the most vocally progressive attitudes have come from the old white guy (when Professor Stein took his shot at Russia’s anti-gay law back when he was talking to 1986 Negative Woman). Drop them in 1959, though, and all the subtlety gets necessarily thrown out the window.
Joe Dante directs this week, and he takes all the “weird idyll” skills he developed on Gremlins and The Howling and cranks it to 11. A meteor crashes next to a couple of greasers mid-street race, and Vandal Savage, just waltzing through the woods, presumably meteor and/or truffle hunting, finds it, creeps out past the crashed greasers, and does…something… to them.
Meanwhile, the crew is settling into their 1959 cover stories. The show again does a good job of mixing character interactions up to help develop everyone: After last week’s kiss, Ray and Kendra are, unsurprisingly, a married couple moving into a new house; Jax is on his own as a high school student; Stein and Sara get to spend time together as a doctor and nurse at the local mental hospital; and Rip and Snart as MAGNIFICENT G-Men (Rip’s American accent is amazing, and Wentworth Miller Wentworth Millers all over the scenery) investigating a series of “mysterious” killings. And this is where they go right at 1959: the real estate agent selling the house to Ray and Kendra, when she realizes that Kendra is the wife and not “live in help” tries to sell them someplace in another town. Sara, Jax and Stein are at the local burger shack, where Stein gets nostalgic, then called on it by the two not-white-men at the table before he and Nurse Lance head to the asylum. This was another great moment, going right after the rose colored glasses that let one group of people be nostalgic for a time that was awful for literally everyone else. It’s great that they’re not afraid to do it, and it’s great how they manage to do it.
Snart is largely sidelined this week, and Rip and Jax exist mostly as plot propulsion devices. This week’s focus character is Sara, who hasn’t had much time in the spotlight yet, but shines. She stops being a slightly broken, otherwise unremarkable ass kicker, and we get some insight into her mind, coming back from the dead and all of the terror that would likely entail. She finds a nurse in the asylum who she likes, and the nurse likes her back. But after a conversation with Stein about it being unfair for Sara to waltz into 1959 and liberate a lesbian, then traipse back off into the future, leaving her presumably couple-night-stand alone but out, at least in her mind, in a massively sexually repressive time. And despite the fact that she pushes back on him pretty hard, she gets a little freaked out after they share a kiss. Because she’s not concerned about leaving her behind in a dangerous time: she’s concerned about getting attached to someone for functionally the first time ever in her (second) life.
This is great – yet again, the show thrives when it spends time with its characters and drifts a bit when they propel the plot. It’s probably a function of the time travel concept: “just keep going back a day” would make a lot more sense than playing timestream detectives. But Sara and Stein and Jax and Snart are so much more interesting when they’re talking about what makes them tick than when they’re shooting people to try and demonstrate it.
DC UNIVERSE TIME BUBBLES
“Nobody’s Having More Fun Than Captain Cold & Heat Wave” Update: Not true! And not just because Heat Wave isn’t there anymore. This week, nobody has more fun than Captain Cold and Professor Stein. Stein hams it right the hell up, being more playful and funny than he’s ever been before.
Speaking of which, Stein has a bad case of Comic Book Doctorate, where by virtue of having a Ph.D., it means Stein’s the science guy on everything. Even though he’s a genius particle physicist, this week he’s also a geneticist when he fixes Jax, after the younger half of Firestorm gets shot up with meteor juice and turned into a werehawk. (I really can’t believe they didn’t make the fix something simple like “Turning into Firestorm fixes Jax’s genetic code” or something).
We’re going to have to treat “Why don’t they just turn into Firestorm” the same as the time travel crappiness: YES that would fix everything quickly, but NO then we wouldn’t have a show anymore.
By the way, that’s why there isn’t much of a plot recap in this. The time travel conceit is actually a weakness to the show, because jumping around like they do only makes sense as fanservice. The reason the show is great is because they’re doing great work with the team they’ve built, developing them and growing them and playing them off of each other. I’m finding myself vastly more interested in how Snart and Rory get back together, or watching Stein and Sara’s repartee, or Jax and Rip snark on each other, than I am in figuring out how they’re going to find some random knife and stabbing Vandal Savage in the near future. If you really want to know: Savage is kidnapping teenagers and shooting them full of meteor juice to turn them into werehawks, trying to build an army for global conquest. Gideon and Stein figure out a way to fix it. Kendra tries to stab Savage. It doesn’t work. Chronos shows up and attacks the ship.
I’m sure they paid a bit for Rock Around the Clock, but it’s worth it. This show’s going to end up with a sneaky good soundtrack.
Vandal’s 1959 cover name is “Dr. Curtis Knox.” In Smallville, Curtis Knox was an immortal mad scientist who had the know-how to cure the mostly awful freaks of the week. He was apparently supposed to be Savage, but they weren’t allowed to use him.
From my notes when the meteorite first showed up: “OH MY GOD IS THIS ECLIPSO? UPDATE: it’s fucking not.” The meteorite was glowing bluish-purple, much like the Heart of Darkness gem, the purplish diamond that gives Bruce Gordon or Superman or (ugh) Jean Loring :rubs bridge of nose for a minute: or whoever’s holding it superpowers and insanity. Eclipso was created by Bob Haney and Lee Elias in House of Secrets in 1963 and is not in this episode at all.
There are a metric ton of Back to the Future jokes in the episode. No surprise, given how openly nerdy everyone has already proven to be.
“Hall H for the Criminally Insane” might be the funniest joke this show has ever told. Hall H is the room where all the big panels and trailers and movie reveals take place at San Diego Comic Con. SDCC’s crowd control and ticketing policies make this a perpetual, catastrophic shitshow.
Next week! I’m pretty sure I saw Mick in the trailer, as the Waverider crew tries to get back to the crew marooned in 1959.