This Legends of Tomorrow review contains spoilers.
Legends of Tomorrow Season 4 Episode 15
Is it possible for an episode of television to be hopelessly overstuffed and yet also supremely enjoyable? Because that’s where I’m at with “Terms of Service”, the second to last episode of what is unquestionably my favorite show on TV right now. It was brisk and fun with great character work and a ton of humor. But man, this episode was also a ton. At least thematically.
Oddly, though, it wasn’t as packed from a plot perspective. We picked up where last week left off, with Gary controlling Tabitha, his fairy godmother; Mona captured by the bureau; Neron wearing Ray’s skin; Constantine in hell; and the rest of the team getting ready to raid the Time Bureau for some rescues. It goes to hell (I’m sorry I coudn’t help myself) when Gary starts using Tabitha to force the Legends to hang out with him. Nora gets captured. Neron-as-Ray debuts a new Palmertech app designed to show magical creatures hiding amongst the populace.
Zari and Charlie, the only uncaptured Legends, make the discovery that Neron’s plan is to trick millions of people into signing away their souls by ignoring the terms of service on a magical creature identification app on their phone that will enable them to see the threat around them. Constantine figures out that this is his plan to take over Hell and offers a deal to the rulers of the realm to cut Neron off at the knees. They don’t take it and use a now grown Astra to torture him. Charlie sacrifices her own freedom to free a swarm of captured creatures from the Time Bureau onto the Waverider. Tabitha tricks Nora into taking her fairy godmother powers, then Gary accidentally sends Nora to hell. The team makes it clear to Gary that they value him so he lets them loose.
So: not a ton and fairly straightforward. But a lot of the plot moved towards the endgame, and this episode tried to do a whole lot on several different levels, and surprisingly they mostly hit.
Legends has never been a show to shy away from politics. Zari’s future is not epsecially different from most dystopias we see in popular fiction now – she is forced into a ghetto particularly because she’s a Muslim, but it’s a world that uses superhero prejudice as a proxy for most other hate. Hell, even going back to season one we got commentary about how racist the “good ol’ days” were, a blast of unexpected fresh air from a show that was still finding its way. Now most everybody has representation on the bridge of the Waverider. On another show, after the RomCon episode, I would have been googling “Is Heat Wave coded trans?” On Legends I didn’t bother checking, because if they wanted a trans person on it, they’d put a trans person on and wouldn’t mess around with coding or obtuseness.
But it feels like “Terms of Service” goes right at the politics of the moment more sharply than any past episode. Neron’s big plot is to scare people into trusting him by stirring up fear against a maligned and misrepresented group of people. Everyone who ranks in Hell is basically a stockbroker and they all hang out at a skin joint after they get off the trading floor. Again, we’re not really messing around with coding here.
Speaking of coding, maaaaaaan does this episode give it to the tech industry. The Terms of Service joke is comfortably worn, but accurate and entertaining enough that I’ll let it slide. They also pointedly go after “disruptors”, as that’s how Constantine and Satan view Neron’s plot to join the Triumverate. Neron’s app rollout is basically an Apple press conference with better tech media.
This was also the most comic-referential Legends has been in probably an entire season. There are hours worth of Constantine story in this one 45 minute stretch, and huge chunks of Vertigo and/or Sandman. The Triumverate – Belial, Satan and Beelzebub – is straight out of Sandman then Lucifer, though the team was a little different back then. Belial was swapped out for Azazel and Satan was referred to as his old name (Lucifer). Calabraxis (the big bounty hunter looking demon in Hell) is from an old Hellblazerbook. He’s apparently Jack the Ripper’s inspiration on the mortal plane. Beyond the comic references, they also pack in the magical creatures. I counted a garden gnome, the mummy, the puppet, a cyclops, a troll or two, Bigfoot, the Minotaur, and after she gives up her fairy godmother powers, Tabitha basically turns into Ursula from Little Mermaid.
It continues to be really funny, too. That shouldn’t be a shock – I was, after all, shrieking in delight last week when Gary based his heel turn around the successful return of his ghost nipple. PS he apparently wished for a spare from his fairy godmother I TOLD YOU THERE WERE SPOILERS.
The episode also gives Maisie Richardson-Sellers more to do here than she’s had to do in three weeks, and she continues to be outstanding. I am really seeing how wrong I was about her when she was Amaya. The biggest problem there was the tendency to have her function as the team’s time travel wet blanket. Charlie is pretty much the opposite. She’s there to have fun and she’s doing it, but Richardson-Sellers owns this character so hard. Her gait and posture are dramatically different from Amayas, nevermind her speech patterns. She’s been a valuable addition to the team and a source of a lot of its best comedy.
It’s not all great fun. The episode was occasionally incorrect on some of the broader issues. For example, Neron says that the news cycle is crazy now, but that a monster attack on the US Capitol “…will dominate headlines for weeks.” In a world where the sitting Attorney General lied under oath to Congress on television about the findings of an investigation into foreign interference on our elections, the press was back to reading a rancid kumquat’s tweets about what he saw on his favorite morning show not six hours later. LITERALLY NOTHING will dominate headlines for weeks. You’ve got 45 minutes to pull this off while people are still paying attention before they move on to using their password manager’s “generate password” function to guess royal baby names on air.
It should be harder to write about a show that is consistently good and successful in a way that is meaningful and interesting. Legends makes it easy by doing different things well every time out.
Next week on Legends:Charlie’s captured and about to be set upon the residents of DC to gin up a little terror. Also the preview says they have to make Heyworld to convince people the magical creatures aren’t so bad, but we all know the real way they’re going to beat Neron. One starring the shit out his app on the app store and then having it delisted for gross privacy violations.