This Legends of Tomorrow review contains spoilers.
Legends of Tomorrow Season 5 Episode 6
Your typical episode of Legends of Tomorrow tries to do several things:
-It works to advance the season’s narrative.
-It usually dips into one or two characters in some depth.
-It makes you laugh.
-And lately, it’s also worked in some genre pastiche/commentary.
And I love it. I’m routinely awed by how well balanced this show is when on paper it should be an unwieldy disaster. It’s a sci-fi superhero time travel show that’s morphed into a time travel workplace comedy with some superheroic elements, that thrives because of the impossibly good chemistry of the cast and the confidence of the crew.
“Mortal Khanbat” shows how difficult the balancing job is – if a couple of things are missing, and a couple of small things go wrong, you can get some pretty bad television. And at the same time, you can get some very good television.
The duality of “Mortal Khanbat” comes from how separate the A and B plots of every episode have been this season. Each episode, the team has been off trying to wrangle one of history’s greatest monsters back into a jar on the Waverider, while Constantine has been hustling to try and advance the season’s plot. The two stories have crossed paths, occasionally checked in on each other, but they’ve mostly just been running parallel to each other.
This hasn’t really benefited Constantine to this point – his parts of every episode were the weakest – but the show flipped that on its side this week, giving us maybe my favorite Constantine adaptation ever, one that proves just how perfect Matt Ryan is for the role.
Half the episode is spent following up on Constantine’s sudden aggressive mystical lung cancer diagnosis, after last week when Astra cut a deal to speed up his death. And Ryan gives us some full-blown John Constantine here – he’s not a hero, he’s a slippery, scheming asshole who’s melting down because he can’t handle losing.
He’s trying every mystical solution he can find – bringing back a pooka from last season, making Nora’s kid come to the House of Mystery to wish him healthy again, shouting at archangels to cut a deal, something untoward with Ray’s foreskin. As each attempt fails, he lashes out harder and looks and acts more pathetically desperate. It’s so good and so true to how I see the character in my head.
Even towards the end, where he accepts his death and gets a little treacly with Ray and Gary (who overdoes it a little, but his “CAN I BE YOUR FLOWER BOY” to Ray when he finds out Ray’s thinking of proposing to Nora is almost as good as “WHERE’S MY NIPPLE” from last season), he still kills himself with poison and gets shouty about his pride. Even then, in purgatory with Astra, he convinces her that he can bring back her family and make it so she never ends up the queen of Hell.
It works, and it’s shady as hell, and I love it. When one of our main characters makes an actual deal with the actual devil, it shouldn’t feel like a triumph. It should feel like a con man trying to stay in the game. And it’s precisely that.
The other half of the episode suffers from the absences. Ghengis Khan is running around 1997 Hong Kong, and the team (minus Sara and Mick, who…uh…went out to get a pack of smokes?) has to get him. This week’s genre pastiche is Hong Kong action flick, and on the surface, it feels like that’s where the A plot starts to fall apart. They try to hit all the same notes, but the action is a little confusing, and some things seem to happen out of plot necessity and not because they work in the flow of the moment, like why did the Triads start shooting at Behrad? Why do he and Charlie just let Khan walk away?
I have a theory, though. I think this part of the episode suffers not because it was rushed, but because the show minus Caity Lotz in front of the camera is a little bit unbalanced. She’s the pivot character, the one who can move the audience back and forth between comedy and character drama. With Sara around, she can pull the team back from stoner riffing and put them on the main task of the mission, and she gives Ava someone to play off of and grow through. Without Sara, Ava tries a little too hard, and the whole A-plot of this episode follows.
There are flashes of brilliance – Nate’s chromed up power slide on the scooter is great, as is the whole “Bone Zone” exchange. But even those grow out of frustrating sloppiness. Nate introducing the team to his scooter makes no sense other than “THIS IS GOING TO BE IMPORTANT LATER,” as does Ray being an uncharacteristically condescending dick to Zari about the Hong Kong/UK handoff going on when they land.
Charlie’s fate (GET IT? I’m sorry) is somewhere in between these two. When she’s interfacing with the rest of the A-plot, she’s…pretty not great. When we’re looking more closely at her relationship with Behrad, she’s better. When she’s describing to the team that she’s Clotho, one of the three muses of Greek antiquity and the one who broke the Loom of Fate to scatter around the multiverse, she’s best.
Fortunately, it seems like all is getting back to normal soon. By the end of the episode, Sara’s back, Constantine’s back and dirtbaggier than ever, and Mick is drinking, blasting some music, and talking to a man the show identifies as Prince Charles but is very clearly and obviously Tony Blair. So hopefully he gets rid of Blair and is back with us in two weeks too.