This Legends of Tomorrow review contains spoilers.
Legends of Tomorrow Season 4 Episode 14: Nip/Stuck
Everything about “Nip/Stuck” was down the middle Legends of Tomorrow fun. A bottle episode that shows character growth, some workplace comedy, light time travel nonsense, Matt Ryan in a terrible wig. All good! Nothing spectacular, but the show’s been running hot lately and meeting-but-not-exceeding the very high bar you set yourself is still doing great work! And then with about five minutes left in the episode everything went suddenly, gloriously right.
When Brandon Routh tongue kissing Mama Cosmo from Fairly Oddparents is like, the third most ridiculous thing to happen in the episode…I don’t know how they do it, man. This is a show that ended last season with a superhero team using Captain Planet rings to form a gestalt Tickle Me Elmo so they could defeat a demon with John Noble’s voice. We’ve had a Bollywood musical. Puppets. Abba. Friday the 13th but a comedy. And yet this show is still capable of surprising and delighting me.
I know I’ve said it a thousand times before, but it’s especially glaring in light of how badly some other shows on television are blowing a ton of fan goodwill: Legends of Tomorrow works because they start with the characters and let the plot flow out from there. And when you move past Gary’s new power of “nipnosis,” or the big Tabitha reveal (spoilers: Jane Carr stood in for a character named Tabitha on a daytime soap about 15 years ago and there is NO WAY that’s an accident), you’re getting honest character work out of the writers, the directors and the cast of this show, and that’s why they can hit this level of quality that opens the door for batshit magical makeouts.
There was a moment early in the episode that is still sticking with me an hour later. It picked up pretty much where last week left off – Nora has been deputized by Ava as an agent of the Time Bureau, and because Legends of Tomorrow is more workplace comedy than any other genre of television right now, she and Mona have to work on her onboarding paperwork. This is on its face ridiculous – one of the team has been possessed by an ancient demon and has kidnapped another member before hopping away through time, so why would you do paperwork rather than something actually effective – but the writers know that and lampshade it with Ava telling Nora “I know this is ridiculous but until we have a lead you might as well. I need you to be a team player.”
The easy way to manufacture some plot drama would be to have Ava be a hardass and play up Nora’s dark past to make it seem like Nora still needs to earn her place on the team. But they don’t need that for drama, and it’s more true to who the characters are and where they’ve been in the show for them to have Ava stop and tell Nora that she’s proud that Nora’s on the team. That was the better choice for the characters, so that’s what happened.
Similarly, this show gets away with all sorts of on the nose silliness because they’ve spent years earning it and they handle it in character. The main portion of the team gets trapped in Donner Pass in the ice age, lured there by Neron in Ray’s body holding Constantine hostage so he can trap them in an avalanche of their own making when they fire on Neron/Ray. Mick gives the fire order, and he and Sara are pissy with each other for a minute, but only for a minute. Each acknowledges the other’s growth as a character over the course of the show, and there’s a sweet nostalgic moment they share looking at an old picture before they decide to play Cards Against the Plot of the Current Episode of Legends (working title), a card game Ray designed and constructed himself to help the team figure out how to get out of trouble that they found in his quarters. This is so over the top on the nose and in any other show I would have shot my television to change the channel, but this moment was earned by four years of character development for Ray, Sara, Mick and Nate. Charlie, by the way, continues to be Greek chorus of the show, calling out her coworkers on their stupidity the same way the audience would be from the other side of the screen and looking generally amused at how bananapants this show is.
If I have to pick one thing to be worried about, it would probably be Constantine. I’m once again nitpicking something I love to find a problem, but it’s worth keeping an eye on him. I’m not as elaborately versed on Constantine’s history as I am some others in the DC Universe, but it’s my understanding that John, for all the nobility they write him with on TV, is a giant piece of crap in the comics. He’s on the good guys’ side mostly because they’re on his side, but there’s always a hustle going on, an angle to be played or people to be manipulated. He’s not especially like that here, and sometimes that dissonance plays with expectations in a way that’s not overly helpful for the story.
But again, this is a serious nitpick. Constantine here is perfectly in character with how he’s been portrayed on TV – he sacrifices to keep Ray alive, to help a woodland creature avoid hell, and eventually he throws himself into the pit to try and save Ray’s soul. And that’s where we’re left at the end of the episode – Neron and his fairy godladyfriend have taken Mona and Gary, while the bureau is back to normal-ish and Constantine is traipsing about hell trying to find Ray’s soul.
This show regularly reminds me of how much I love comics, but as it grows into its own thing, that happens less and less frequently. Now it’s just regularly reminding me of how much I love Legends of Tomorrow.