This Legends of Tomorrow episode review contains spoilers.
Legends of Tomorrow: Season 5 Episode 13
There’s one, maybe two perfect episodes of Legends of Tomorrow a season, and “I Am Legends” is one of them. As the episode started to roll towards its climax, I became more and more surprised at what I was seeing, until just before the big final fight when I realized what they were about to pull off.
Legends of Tomorrow did the impossible: they made a zombie episode in a serialized superhero show that had meaningful stakes and an earned emotional payoff. And to be quite honest, the how of it is even more impressive. They did it by staring down the structural problem that makes those stakes so hard to impart on a story like this and instead, flipping it around.
Last week’s episode ended with Lachesis confronting Astra and bringing her back to the Waverider for the now-united Loom of Fate. This week starts with the Legends trapped in England, realizing that their gateway back to the ship was gone. So they start trying to get to a Time Bureau safehouse in London, while Atropos unleashes a zombie plague on England to stop them.
Meanwhile, Gary made it back onto the Waverider with Gary Jr. 2, and he has to skulk around the ship to stop the Fates from getting the Loom. The gang steals a bus that craps out on the road, and Constantine and Zari make a detour to a junkyard where he has to temporarily kill her to avoid a zombie horde, but they make it and get to the safe house, which is like a bigger Winchester from Shaun of the Dead. Also, Zari and Constantine bone.
The big problem with ongoing superhero storytelling, one that used to be fairly exclusive to comics (since Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne don’t actually have to age when they’re colored dots on a page) is that any real change can be easily undone whenever the creative team decides to.
It’s that old card about the illusion of change – readers don’t really want character growth, they want everything put back where they found it at the end of a story, so the Green Goblin is alive, Alfred’s hand got better, Jean Grey was actually an alien simulacrum, etc. etc. This leeches the importance out of serialized storytelling. If you know that there’s an issue coming out next month with a character in it, and you know that death is a revolving door, it doesn’t really matter if someone bites it, so the death scene doesn’t hit the same.
Same goes for Legends of Tomorrow. We know there’s an episode next week. We’ve all marveled at the shots of Ava and Sara in Star Trek uniforms, imagining what fresh chaos the mad scientists who make this show will throw at us. And we know the macguffin of this season, the Loom of Fate, is going to be used to bring people back from the dead. That’s the whole point of the season.
So when we get a look outside the pub to see London in flames and the city overrun by zombies, the first thought is “that’s a big thing for them to fix.” And when Sara tells Ava at the pub that she saw her own death, there was no reason to doubt that it would happen. But when Atropos killed Astra on the Waverider, that’s when it started to click that the show was going to go a little bigger than they’d telegraphed.
Even still, going big isn’t enough to sell something like this, especially when we’re so inundated with zombie fiction and when much of it seemingly exists just to shock you and occasionally complain about people sucking. You need character to add meaning, and character is something Legends always does well. There’s a scene with the team sitting around a table at the bar talking about what they’re going to do with the unlimited power the Loom gives them, and it’s another chance for the writers and actors to cut right to the heart of these characters in one sentence.
Sara’s pretty happy with her life (and even in retrospect, knowing she knows she’s going to die, this doesn’t feel fatalistic in any way – it feels contented). Nate’s surrounded by friends. Mick, who gets a much bigger chunk of this episode than others this half of the season, would go back to the simpler life of petty crime. Zari would make the world more inclusive. Constantine lies about throwing a big party, then says he’d want to do right by Astra. They’re all great windows into who these characters are right now, delivered impeccably by people who are doing great work right now.
Eventually, almost everybody dies. The team gets overrun in the pub, with Ava forcing Charlie to escape alone and figure out how to save them after the fact. Astra gets some work this episode – she was a reluctant accomplice to Atropos and Lachesis at the beginning of the episode, but Lachesis talks her into abandoning her plan to bring her mom back, showing her a vision of her mother dying of cancer.
Astra doesn’t want to bring her back to see her suffer, but a captured Gary uses his secret power of empathy to connect with her and bring her back to the light side. She’s promptly run through by one of Atropos’ bone knives. Gary hangs on long enough to get the Loom to Charlie before he gets killed by the Fates. And the episode ends with Charlie looking to deal.
Instead of making the deaths irrelevant, the Loom of Fate and the obvious resurrection plan worked like a magic trick. It got us looking at Sara’s death, obfuscating the fact that everyone was going to die, and let the acting and writing tell a stronger story about the characters in the run up. It raised the stakes by obviously, carefully, and selectively removing some of them ahead of time. This episode was great, but was elevated by how hard it is to do that well.